Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: FRANKENSTEIN: AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E.!
The Concept and Characters: Imagine the 1931 Boris Karloff version of the Frankenstein monster acting as a rampaging, futuristically Conan-esque operative in the mold of Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Does that even make any sense?
How about if you take that character and then give him a squad of monsters, the “Creature Commandos” to lead, as they travel through necrotic dimensions and fight planetoid evils. Pretty hard to imagine, right?
Well, that’s what this comic is about, and it sounds like one of the most exciting concepts to come out of the DC relaunch.
This is no typical superhero comic. Nor is it your average monster comic. Or action/adventure series. Or space-hopping secret agent spectacle. It’s all of those things, pulling characters from Grant Morrison’s ambitious Seven Soldiers series from 2005-2006, and combining them with military monsters taken from a 1980 installment of Weird War Tales, and recombining them with a variation on an alternate reality take on the concept from this summer’s Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown.
The writer of that series, Jeff Lemire, is also the writer of this new ongoing title, and while Lemire will surely attempt to replicate some of the sense of wonder and gleeful energy that Morrison brought to his incarnation of Frankenstein and The Super Human Advanced Defense Executive (S.H.A.D.E.), Lemire has strengths of his own that will help flesh out the unusual characters at the center of this comic.
Really, though, the other 51 titles debuting in September will have a hard time competing with this series in terms of pure enthusiasm-of-concept. Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. has more manic ideas in its title than most of the comics will have in their entire first issue.
The Creative Team: Not only is the concept outrageous enough to be enticing, but the creative team for this series is one of the strongest DC has to offer. Writer Jeff Lemire, also scripting this fall’s Animal Man comic, has been doing critically-acclaimed (and Eisner-nominated) work on Superboy, and his previous work, whether for Top Shelf (like the Essex County Trilogy) or for his own self-published graphic novel (like Lost Dogs), has shown him to be a cartoonist with the power to craft emotionally resonant stories. He’s still just getting started as a pure writer (though he’s eternally drawing his own comics as well, with Sweet Tooth still coming out monthly from Vertigo, and another graphic novel for Top Shelf next year), but he’s already excellent.
Lemire has good story instincts, a passion for comics of the past without the apparent need to slavishly follow their style, and the ability to create evocative (and provocative) characters. It’s wonderful to see a guy of his talent on a knock-down crazy idea like this series.
Alberto Ponticelli is another Vertigo alum, coming off the cancelled Unknown Soldier series. Ponticelli draws with a stark crispness to his line, and in his Vertigo work he was able to alternate between gritty and lyrical, devastating and beautiful, as the situation warranted. His previous series was a work of realism bound in nightmares, and that approach would suit a tale of high-fantasy, like Frankenstein, amazingly well. Ponticelli will be able to ground the characters in a believable physicality, while he captures the insanity of their escapades.
Recommendation: Buy it, without hesitation. The absurdities of the superhero comic book marketplace (where anything, no matter how good, without an iconic character in the title sells a fraction of what the worst Batman comic sells) make this series worthy of immediate attention. It’s certainly worthy of that attention no matter what, with one of the best concepts of the year and one of the strongest creative teams working in mainstream comics, but it’s a series that will kick off its run already on life support. It’s going to be good, without a doubt, but it can’t afford the trade-waiters.
Buy every single issue of this one. You won’t regret it. And it will get to hang around, so we can all keep enjoying its viciously delightful, exceedingly well-crafted, madness.
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.