Today, Scott and Drew are discussing Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E 15, originally released December 12th, 2012. This issue is part of the RotWorld crossover event. Click here for complete RotWorld coverage.
Scott: Perspective is everything in storytelling. Storytellers can have a profound impact on how a story is received based on the information they have access to and how they choose to present that information. Really good storytellers include personal touches that show their passion for the subject, giving emotional weight to the story. I would venture to guess Frankenstein is not this type of storyteller. Frankenstein has fairly simple tastes; he likes killing monsters and not being around people. So how do you elegantly tell a story about a character whose preferred mode of communication is a disinterested grunt? Take the story out of his hands and tell it from a third person point of view, which writer Matt Kindt does to beautiful effect in Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. 15.
The issue begins with Frank trying to collect the last piece of the Soul Grinder, which is being guarded by a giant beast on a small Pacific Island. The inhabitants of the island, golden women warriors who were created with nanotechnology and capable of transforming into anything, assist Frank by turning themselves into a giant fire-sword, which Frank uses to slay the beast. Frank then makes the long journey to join Nina and the other survivors at their rallying point in Monument Valley. He is attacked by Victor’s army of rot monsters, but Khalis sacrifices himself to the mob so Frank can get away. Nina swoops in and takes Frank up to their camp atop a large butte, but Victor follows and tries to strangle Nina. Unable to pry him away, Frank forces Voctor and Nina through the newly assembled Soul Grinder, which destroys Victor while turning Nina into a Frankenstein type of creature. The remaining survivors are sent through the Soul Grinder, creating an army of creatures impervious to the Rot. Oh yeah, and Nina is pregnant with Frank’s baby. But he doesn’t know yet.
We don’t find out until the very end that Nina is the narrator of the story. There are hints along the way that we are getting the story from a source that is not completely objective. Frank’s journey is glorified and poeticized such that it’s clear the narrator admires him, much in the way you might expect an ancient Roman to recount a tale of Herculean feats. I think it’s a nice touch by Kindt. Not often does he get to use these sorts of grandiose sentiments in the context of Frankenstein, and while the bombastic language would likely get tiring if overused, I think it’s a refreshing change of pace in this series.
Even though Agent of S.H.A.D.E. often uses recognizable settings, it can be easy to forget the scope of this series. But the narration makes it feel huge, like Frankenstein is the chosen one- the only hero who can save the world from the Rot. That these words come from the mother of Frank’s unborn child adds a dimension that was not there before, both to her character and to the emotional complexity of the series.
Nina’s baby news isn’t the only heavy moment we get in this issue. The Burning Women sacrifice was touching, and artist Alberto Ponticelli did a beautiful job with what must have been a very difficult sequence to illustrate. In an issue full of words and images complimenting each other perfectly, this moment was a standout.
Is there more to these women that I am missing? It seems too convenient that they would just come out of nowhere at the end of the last issue just to save the day and be gone three pages into this one. Either way, I enjoyed the narration describing their backstory enough that I’m willing to overlook those qualms.
I’m also a little hazy about the concept behind the Soul Grinder, especially regarding what it has to do with souls and grinding. I like the idea of Victor being destroyed by his own creation, but I wasn’t fully satisfied. I feel like it needed one more degree of explanation as to why he was not affected by the machine in the same way as everyone else. Does he not have a soul? What even happened to him after he went into the grinder?
All in all, I found this to be the most enjoyable issue of the series so far, which makes it all the more disappointing that DC has decided to cancel the series after the next issue. This issue flashed some real potential, but it’s too little too late, unfortunately. The conclusion of Rot World will make for a natural enough ending for the series, I suppose, and it appears Frank and Nina will get the happy ending with the bright future they deserve. How do you feel about the series Drew? Did it ever stand a chance?
Drew: Scott, you’re absolutely right about the narration. The epic scope and brisk pacing of this series have always seemed at odds to me, but adding a clearly subjective narrator completely alters our expectations.
This is no longer a dispassionate account of facts that conveniently glossed-over the boring parts — it is now a work of modern myth making, where the boring stuff is understandably excised. (Because honestly, who gives a shit how long it took Hercules to travel from labor 4 to labor 5?)
That small tweak actually absolves this issue of a lot. The romance between Frank and Nina isn’t particularly well-developed here. I can appreciate that reading the series from the start might give us a better sense of their relationship, but based on the events of the crossover, this feels much more like Odysseus and whats-her-name reuniting than Meg Ryan and whats-his-name. Again, because this is told as a myth (and one mythologizing Frankenstein and his journey, not any kind of romance), I’m totally willing to excuse that I don’t really feel their love emotionally.
That also means I’m willing to excuse some plot elements that are a little too convenient. Myths are littered with this kind of thing — the Cyclops didn’t just have sheep: he had sheep so large a man could hide under them — and a group of robot women who show up only to sacrifice themselves to the cause certainly feels mythological. I suspect those robots might have some greater significance in the DCnU, but I don’t recognize them, either. (Commenters, who are they?)
I kind of feel the same way about the soul-grinder. In the zero issue, we were made to understand that this was some kind of device powered by souls (you know, the same way a meat grinder is powered by meat) that somehow gave life to Frankenstein’s cobbled-together corpse. Here, any living thing can pass through the device, and it turns them into an undead monster, just like Frank — complete with stitches and green skin. It really doesn’t make any sense — Frankenstein wasn’t made this way, and his stitches and green skin reflect the way he was made. Why the soul grinder would do that (or how — does it have a sewing machine arm that pops down from the ceiling?) is beyond me, but I guess we needed a way to tell they had gone through. I suppose we always knew this machina was going to have a deus in it, but it’s weird that it was this particular deus.
It’s nice that Kindt has the opportunity to send Frank out on his own emotional terms, having passed Frank’s Rotworld involvement over to Jeff Lemire in Animal Man 15. The final issue — ominously teased as “The Monster Bomb” — sounds like the perfect farewell to these characters. I’m inclined to think this will be a happy ending for Frank and Nina, but who knows? Maybe that Monster Bomb is their baby. Nothing seems too outside the realm of possibility when your mom is a fish-person, and your dad is Frankenstein’s monster.
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