In the latest of our comprehensive series of reviews of DC Comics' 52 relaunched titles, we take a look at Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1.
Who's it by?
Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 is written by Jeff Lemire (Animal Man) and drawn by Alberto Ponticelli (Unknown Soldier).
What's the history?
Frankenstein's monster is, of course, the legendary creation of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the animated composite corps who should require no introduction. As a character in the DC Universe, he debuted in a Batman story in Edmond Hamilton and Bob Kane's Detective Comics #135 in 1948, and later starred in Len Wein's 1970s series Spawn of Frankenstein.
The modern incarnation of the character was revived, after years of being largely forgotten, by Grant Morrison for Seven Soldiers of Victory, portrayed as both a Victorian action hero and a maudlin monster. He appeared in the background of Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis, and more recently starred in the Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown miniseries, which was also written by Lemire.
Frankenstein is one of the new titles that would for the most part have fitted easily into continuity before the relaunch. The titular hero is largely unchanged - but for some apparent tweaking in his relationship with his estranged 'bride' - and he alludes to his past as established in Seven Soldiers.
Ray Palmer makes a surprise appearance in the pages as the UN's science liaison to the S.H.A.D.E. organisation. He is credited with S.H.A.D.E.'s new shrinking technology, but we are yet to see if he retains his Atom identity.
The issue also features a new iteration of the Creature Commandos, a team of military-made monsters originally created by J.M. DeMatteis and Pat Broderick in 1980. They were most recently seen alongside Frankenstein in 'Flashpoint'.
Frankenstein opens with some frightening goings-on in the small Washington town of Bone Lake, firmly establishing its horror credentials.
The story continues with Frankenstein's arrival at the bizarre new S.H.A.D.E. headquarters, where he meets Palmer and the surprising new incarnation of his boss, Father Time. He is quickly dispatched to Bone Lake, where he is united with the new Creature Commandos and sent directly into the fray.
What's the verdict?
In Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Jeff Lemire shows us once again that he is a name to watch among the DCU's newer writers. This issue is fast-paced, action-packed and expertly executed.
Whereas Animal Man was centred around the grounded, family life of Buddy Baker, Frankenstein launches off in the opposite direction of the wonderfully bizarre. The reader is thrown into a world of all-too-human monsters and miniaturised headquarters floating above New York City, populated by an army of synthetic worker drones.
New readers may be confused by the appearance of Father Time, freshly incarnated into the body of a little girl. The issue does not offer much in the way of explanation of the character, but it is hard not to enjoy the feisty little girl with the old man's leer who is clearly the boss of everyone.
Alberto Ponticelli's art seems to have taken on the spirit of Lemire's own scratchy style, which is initially a bit hard to comprehend. However, his rough lines are certainly well-suited to the grotesque world that Frankenstein inhabits, and recalls something of Doug Mahnke's excellent work on the Seven Soldiers miniseries.
This is certainly one of the more new reader-friendly titles to be put out by DC. Tying directly into the horror genre, the star and the Creature Commandos will have an immediate resonance with many people. Beyond the mystery of Father Time, the comic requires little knowledge of the DCU from the reader. Older fans receive plenty of nods to keep them happy, and will be left guessing whether Ray Palmer has or will ever don the mantle of The Atom.
The Creature Commandos are effortlessly established as the team moves forward to meet its first monstrous threat. Lemire manages to give us a clear impression of each character in only a few panels, without ever having to slow down on the action or force feed the reader with artificial-sounding introductions.
Lemire has done it again with Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., offering something utterly different but just as brilliant as Animal Man. This is expert storytelling that is exactly what DC needs to lure in new readers.
> Buy the digital version of Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1
> Read our review of Batwing #1
Watch The New 52 introduction video from DC Comics below: