Monday, September 26, 2011

DC NEW 52: FRANKENSTEIN - - before and after

 

FLASHPOINT: FRANKENSTEIN AND THE CREATURES OF THE UNKNOWN #1 – 3  (DC)  Jeff Lemire, writer. Art by Ibraim Roberson (Issue #1  + page 1-11 of Issue #2), Alex Massacci (page 12-20 of Issue #2)  and Andy Smith (Issue #3).

NOTE: This article starts out with my expression of displeasure on a certain issue.  If you would rather just read the review of these books, skip ahead to the sixth paragraph after the cover images . . . . . .

flash frank #1 flash frank #2 flash frank #3

If I understood the early press releases for FLASHPOINT correctly, it was intended to be the bridge between the old DC and the NEW 52 DC and give readers an early preview of what’s coming.  Perhaps I and other readers may have interpreted that news incorrectly.  I approached the events of some of the FLASHPOINT titles as if I was reading a prelude to THE NEW 52 and it got me excited for the bold changes I envisioned for the new series.  - - - Aquaman and Wonder Woman as world conquerors intent on making human civilization subservient to them! - - - An alternate and much older Batman with a somewhat different agenda and more brutal methods of operation!   Some of the publicity helped to fuel my intensity as well as keep me hanging onto those false hopes.  A good example is the article about FLASHPOINT that www.digitalspy.com  ran on July 7th, even referring to a USA TODAY interview:

“Flashpoint #3 has begun to hint at the genesis of DC Comics' 52 new ongoing titles.
The publisher's line-wide
September relaunch is due to spin out of the pages of the current event.
Flashpoint editor
Eddie Berganza told USA Today that it should start to become clear how some of the new titles will emerge from the storyline.
"They're starting to figure out where these 52 are coming from, and it's staring them right in the face with Flashpoint," he said.
"A lot of the concepts, a lot of the ideas, they're cropping up within the pages. You have a book called Frankenstein in the Flashpoint world, and guess what, we're doing Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. You'll see a couple of other background players start showing up that become more important as we go into September."

The hard reality is that FLASHPOINT is/was nothing more than an extended series of “ELSEWORLD” mini-plays. (This opinion is based on my limited exposure to FLASHPOINT - - just like THE NEW 52,   I sampled the FLASHPOINT titles  rather than read every book.  If  the entire body of work turns out to disprove my comments, I would welcome someone entering a counter-opinion here.)   Now, as far as I know DC never actually claimed anything else other than a transition point or interlude between old and new versions of their characters.  But the articles, interviews, and advance publicity sure implied a more direct connection - - at least it appeared that way to me from what I was reading.  That is deception - - a marketing method that I do not care for.  I would rather accept some exaggerated marketing claims than be deceived by  advertising that pretends there is more inside.  . . . . . . . . .

Okay, I just needed to get that off my chest.  It’s one of my personal “hot buttons” for things I dislike.  Plus, I’m still going to read more of these DC titles.  (It’s not like they are the first comic company to use some deceptive marketing. I’ll just stop now rather than name any more.)

Also, there is a lot more similarity between FLASHPOINT Frankenstein and THE NEW 52 Frankenstein than there is between the FLASHPOINT versions of Aquaman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and their NEW 52 beginnings.  Unfortunately,  I think I prefer the FLASHPOINT: FRANKENSTEIN & THE CREATURES OF THE UNKNOWN to the NEW 52 version.

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So, what happens in the FLASHPOINT: FRANKENSTEIN mini-series?

In an opening sequence that will remind some readers of the 1960’s thaw-out and revival of Captain America but is actually more in keeping with the actual events that occur in author Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN (subtitled THE MODERN PROMETHEUS) - - - U.S. soldiers in the frozen North Atlantic of World War II 1942 stumble across the now unfrozen form of the Frankenstein monster, who immediately takes their side against the Nazis and saves them from a deadly ambush.

The monster (who I’ll refer to as Frankenstein from this point forward) is recruited and joins Project M (for Monster) , the Army’s plan to create super soldiers that also evoke deep-seated fears in their adversaries.  Other members include  a Mer-woman (resembling the classic Universal movie icon Creature From The Black Lagoon), a Death’s Head vampire with bat wings, and a were-wolf.  They join forces with a commando group led by Lt. Shrieve who then invade Hitler’s bunker and end his evil empire.

An ungrateful Army then shuts down Project M and puts the members in a type of suspended animation – just in case they are ever needed again.  An unexplained disruption sixty-five year later revives Frankenstein and he ventures out with the other members to explore the modern world.  The Army soon discovers their disappearance and dispatches a fabled monster hunter who turns out to be the grand-daughter of Lt. Shrieve.  She reluctantly accepts the help of the Army’s robotic soldier.  During the pursuit the Project M members meet up with Frankenstein’s wife (now working for S.H.A.D.E).   No, it’s nothing like Elsa Lanchester in a fright-Afro (from Universal’s THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) but more like a character from JOHN CARTER OF MARS - -  a green-skinned four-armed pistol-toting mama.

In the process of flight and exploration the history of the project and some of its members is revealed. The monsters of Project M display more human heart and nobility than the Army that relentlessly pursues them, now with giant sized soldier robots.  Project M prevails, but not without casualties  and departures, and the series ends with Frankenstein, his wife, and newly reformed monster hunter Shrieve riding off into the sunset.

What did I like about it?

1) Frankenstein, as interpreted by Jeff Lemire, is a moralizing, philosophizing good Samaritan  with a nose for evil and an innate distrust and dislike of it. Many of his short comments are like mini-sermons on how to lead a decent life.  He can also be judgmental.  It’s a more serious tone similar to his depiction in the original novel  (it’s been many decades since I’ve read it). 

2) The other monstrous characters are also fleshed out and developed during the course of the mini-series and bear empathy if not sympathy.  I especially like Nina, and the secondary storyline of her discovery of her actual origins versus the manufactured (and equally dismaying) version.

3) This book has a somewhat dark aspect to it  (but not pitch black, just lots of dark gray) - - and artist Ibraim Roberson really helps depict that atmosphere.  I missed his little touches while reading the last issue-and-a-half of the series.

What didn’t I like?   No explanation yet of Frankenstein’s marriage. And, he never refers to her by name - - just “wife”.  She calls him “Frank “ or “Frankie”.  Other characters address her as “ma’am”.  Can’t anybody give her a name?  Annoying!

Love it, Like it, Neutral, Dislike it, Hate it?   Love it.  It has heart.

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FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E.  #1  (DC)  Jeff Lemire, writer. Alberto Ponticelli, artist.

frankenshade #1

Same writer.  Same main character.  Different style and tone, more light-hearted in nature and slightly humorous where the former series was more serious and darker.  New artist, with an equally pleasing style (and quite different from Roberson).

So, what happens in Issue #1?

This opens with a quiet, pastoral scene that could have been a page taken from Lemire’s epic ESSEX COUNTY TRILOGY - - an elderly man and dog fishing with his grandson at a small lake.  Turn the page and watch it get bloody as the monsters show up shortly afterward.  An invasive swarm of giant monsters decimates a small Washington State  town and threatens the few surviving residents.

S.H.A.D.E.  (Super Human Advanced Defense Executive) is asked to form a rescue mission, led by agent Frankenstein, returning characters Dr Nina Mazursky (amphibian), Warren Griffith (were-wolf), Vincent Velcoro (vampire) and newcomer medical officer Khalis (mummy).  Frankenstein has extra motivation in that his wife (still no name) was part of the first aborted rescue mission, now missing.

The members of S.H.A.D.E. fight their way through wave after wave of monsters and make their way to a stronghold where the remaining residents are hiding – only to find out they are all children  (plus a church lady who resembles a wacky Aunt May).

What did I like about it?

1) The cool inventive headquarters of S.H.A.D.E. - - a vast complex much larger than the S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier that inhabits a 3-inch globe that floats around, made possible by “a hybrid of teleportation and shrink technology.”  In a nice aside to the DC universe , this “ant farm” was designed by scientist Ray Palmer (Atom).  I can imagine some good future storylines that occur when the teleportation and/or shrink tech start to malfunction. 

2) The Frankenstein character remains the moralizing, sermonizing humanitarian of the FLASHPOINT: FRANKENSTEIN mini-series and also maintains his distrust and dislike of technology.

3) The art style has nice touches, and reminds me of the better art seen in the Marvel monster books that preceded their super-hero titles back in the early 1960’s.  A little Kirby, a little Ditko, a little Walt Simonson, a little hybrid of influences  - - nice blend of styles.

What didn’t I like?

1) New character Father Time, whose exact role has yet to be fully defined.  He/she’s apparently in charge of S.H.A.D.E. and needs to generate a new body every so often. This particular time it’s a pig-tailed little girl with a raccoon mask.  Talks like a know-it-all scientist, with body language and expressions you would expect from a little girl.  This character annoys me. Brainy kids don’t always work.  I would have thought Lemire could pull this off - -  but I have no warmth for this character.

2)  Please, just  name the wife of Frankenstein, will you?

What’s my general rating/feeling for this book?

My reservations aren’t enough to off-set what I like about this.  I like this book.  I think most readers would have fun with it.  I’m interested to see where Lemire takes it from here.  Although, if I could only read one of his DC books - - it would be ANIMAL MAN, no contest.

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