Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Alberto Ponticelli
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is one of the odder choices from DC Comics to be part of the big re-launch of their line. A comic about a group of classic monsters working for a secret organization to stop strange things is hardly the sort of book that feels commercial, after all. But for readers who aren’t scared off by analogues of the Wolfman or the Creature from the Black Lagoon, there’s enough in Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 to make this title feel like it fits in with the larger DC Universe.

Writer Jeff Lemire is in a strange position with Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.; despite this being the first issue of the series, he actually got an earlier stab at the title this summer with the three-issue miniseries Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creature Commandos. Looking back now, that story felt like a warm-up rather than an actual prelude. Leaving out the more important fact that Creature Commandos was set in an alternate timeline and "didn’t happen" in regards to Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., this newer series feels like it’s taking a slightly different and potentially more interesting tactic than its predecessor.

Here, Lemire is playing up the strangeness factor of Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. After all, this is a character that got brought back into the spotlight a few years ago courtesy Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke in the Seven Soldiers mini-series, and that pair of writer and artist exude nothing both strangeness whatever they work on. So here, we get a barrage of big concepts and creations in the first handful of pages; a headquarters hovering above the Earth that you need to be both teleported and also shrunken into, humanoids created for 24 hours that are then absorbed back into headquarters, an aging leader randomly regenerated into the form of a little girl. It feels almost like Morrison’s Doom Patrol on fast-forward, with Lemire throwing out these ideas in rapid succession to try and grab the reader’s attention before they can catch their breath and look away from the comic. So far, the idea feels like it’s working. It’s not the smoothest of information dumps at times (although the S.H.A.D.E. Net computer answering Frankenstein’s questions throughout the comic is a nice touch), but there are enough little sparks throughout the comic that I felt myself nodding along with the different ideas. It balances out the only-slight bits of characterization for the supporting cast, but since they only even show up at the halfway point of the first issue, I’m willing to cut Lemire a bit of slack on that front.

Alberto Ponticelli is an interesting choice for Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., in no small part because Ponticelli’s art style is quite similar to Lemire’s. Both draw in that raggedy, textured style that is full of excess lines and edges; it’s the antithesis of smooth. (Why they then put the incredibly-smooth-lines of J.G. Jones on the cover is slightly beyond me, mind you.) It’s a good choice for Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., with the S.H.A.D.E. headquarters coming across as dingy and almost alien, or the ghoul invasion in the town feeling that much more violent and dangerous. And boy oh boy, can Ponticelli draw monsters. One big difference between Ponticelli and Lemire’s art, though, is that Ponticelli’s feels a tiny bit more exaggerated in places. It actually brings to mind the deliberate grotesqueness of Mahnke’s art when drawing the character years ago, and it feels like Ponticelli is trying to bridge the gap between then and now.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 is a solid debut. I’d like to see more about the supporting cast, but as an opening issue it achieves its purpose. We get an instant feel for this monsters-fighting-bigger-monsters series, and the hints of strangeness to come is an attraction. Lemire’s proven on books like Sweet Tooth and Animal Man that he’s not afraid to go down strange paths, and I fully expect Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. to show us more and the same. I’ll be back next month, absolutely.

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