Today, Patrick and Scott are discussing Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E 14, originally released October 10th, 2012. This issue is part of the RotWorld crossover event. Click here for complete RotWorld coverage.
Patrick: 2003 was supposed to be the year that the Matrix series ruled the world. To follow-up their genre defining 1999 masterpiece, the Wachoskis planned an all-out media blitzkrieg. Over the course of six months, they released two enormous science-fiction action movies, a set of animated shorts that tied directly into those movies and a AAA video game whose narrative wove throughout the movies and the shorts. Naturally, the movies were the flagships of this Matrix armada, so when they weren’t very good, the whole fleet sank. But I played the everloving shit out of that Enter the Matrix video game. It worked because Enter the Matrix had to embrace conventions of a video game directly, instead of stylishly dancing around them (as the films did). It might have seemed strange when Morpheus would tell you to collect three keys to access the next level, but there’s something refreshing about that objective-based narrative — especially considering that the terms of victory in the Matrix movies were becoming ever more grim and convoluted. Frankenstein is the Enter the Matrix of Rotworld: what it lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in clarity of objective.
Frankenstein and this yellowy gargoyle dude name Velcoro are tasked with finding three pieces of Victor’s Soul-Grinder machine. Each piece is guarded by one of the Rot Collosi. The pair stops by a S.H.A.D.E. cache of semi-magical weapons and then sets off on their fetch quest. While Frankenstein is all brute (and a kick-ass brute at that), the first two Collosi are actually taken out by an increasingly cocky Velcoro armed with S.H.A.D.E. weaponry. This makes Frank grumpy. But, y’know, they got a job to do. The third Collosi sustains several magic-gun blasts to the face and promptly EATS VELCORO. Just as Frankenstein is about to apply his own brand of muscley justice, an army of golden women appear and they don’t appear happy to see him.
This is a game we’ve all played before: you travel the countryside searching for three objects — each guarded by monster of some kind. Pining for your absent love, your only companion is cocky little fuck who won’t shut up. Particularly if you’ve played a Zelda game in the last 15 years,then this narrative is familiar to you. It’s incredibly simple storytelling, and in the light of Swamp Thing and Animal Man, it threatens to trivialize the hopelessness and horror of Rotworld. In the most recent issues of both of those series, the heroes are essentially resigned to the fact that the majority of life on Earth has been obliterated — their only options at this point are revenge. That’s an absurdly bleak scenario, and even their victory would leave me a little ambivalent — the world still being dead and all. But Frankenstein’s only goal is to collect the three pieces of the soul-grinder. Frank doesn’t even seem to care when his only ally gets CHOMPED.
Well, that’s not fair: at the end of the issue Frank probably isn’t yet aware that Velcoro’s been killed. But the fact remains that Frank doesn’t like Velcoro very much. That’s partially because Velcoro accidentally blasted him with the gun that makes you experience your worst fear (Scarecrow should look for a new job). But he’s also nothing like our quietly-butchering hero: jabbering incesantly as they roam the US. Frank makes no illusion of caring about his partner.
It’s an interesting game that writer Matt Kindt plays with this character. He kinda takes two sidekick tropes and conflates them. The first being the new recruit that is characterized for the sole purpose of pretending it is meaningful when they’re killed; and the second being the chatty sidekick that annoys the noble hero (and usually the audience). There’s also the weird little hiccup that he’s more effective at felling Collosi than Frankenstein. It’s a rich tapestry, and somehow Kindt’s Velcoro transcends any single shallow archetype. I don’t think I’m going to miss him, necessarily, but he served as an unmistakably human component of this “FIND THREE THINGS” adventure.
Aberto Ponticeli’s art captures a lot of moody urgency, but isn’t particularly inventive. The gray fog that looms over the ruins of the Brooklyn Bridge effectively portrays just how lonely and scary this Rotworld is.
The Collosi are also appreciably large and, by virtue of their largeness, terrifying. But perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Steve Pugh and Yanick Paquette’s drawings of Rot Monsters, because the straightforward design of these creatures was a bit of a let down. The first one is just a big bull. The second is a little less recognizable as an animal, but it still lacks the disgusting awe inspired by similar creations elsewhere in Rotworld.
It’s also kind of surprising that Ponticelli opted not to depict the effects of that fear-gun in any visual way. We get to see a flash of Nina’s corpse, but that’s only after Velcoro asks Frank what he saw. There’s got to be a more active and dynamic way to illustrate that. I mean, come on — whatever the Collosi saw made it DIE OF A HEART ATTACK. What kind of artist does want to take up the challenge to illustrate that?
Scott: It seemed to me that Frank was well aware that his sidekick had been killed and just didn’t give a hoot, but I was pretty shocked that they killed off Velcoro like that. Their relationship in this issue reminded me of that episode of Breaking Bad where Mike begrudgingly takes Jesse along as he drives all across the desert doing his pickups. In fact, change the names around and add in a “Yo” or two, and all of Frank and Velcoro’s horseback conversations could very well be direct quotes from that episode.
The big difference between these two relationships, however, is that (**minor spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen all of Breaking Bad) Jesse eventually proves his worth enough that Mike comes to respect, and even care for him. And that’s what I was expecting to be the big turning point in this issue. As Velcoro continued to dispatch Collosi, I became more and more convinced that he was going to win Frankenstein over, that the two would become buddies and actually have a little fun carrying out their mission together. But it never got to that point and before I knew it Velcoro was being unceremoniously bitten in two. I think I actually will miss him, Patrick, but I also think the impact of his death could have been ten times greater if he and Frankenstein had formed a meaningful bond.
I totally agree that the lack of an illustration of the fear-gun effects was a major let down. I was also surprised that, given the success they had with the fear-gun against the first Collosi, they didn’t even try to use it against the second Collosi. It’s hard to imagine what might be frightening to a hideous beast like that, but perhaps fear is a valuable weapon against them. Whether or not all of the rot monsters will have heart attacks when confronted with their greatest fears, the gun could at least put them out of commission long enough for Frankenstein to cause some real damage.
One thing I’ve been enjoying about this series is that it continues to set its action in really cool locations. Last month there was a battle on the streets of an abandoned Metropolis, and this month has Frankenstein diving off of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Later, Frank and Velcoro land on Easter Island. I don’t know why, but somehow I derive joy from seeing them carry out this scavenger hunt in places that have real-world significance.
All in all, this is essentially the plot I expected to see in his issue, I guess I was just hoping Kindt would be able to spice things up a little more. There weren’t any twists to keep me on my toes or major developments to really draw me deeper into the story, and most of the special S.H.A.D.E. weapons introduced here were too convenient to really seem cool. Patrick, I don’t have any knowledge to share about the golden women who appear on the last page, but if Frankenstein is able to accumulate an army of sexy-C3POs, then “Agent of S.H.A.D.E.” may have just bought itself a couple more months on my reading list.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?