DC New 52: S.H.A.D.E. s of mid-‘60’s comics greatness
FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. #1 – 6 (DC COMICS) Jeff Lemire, writer. Jeff Lemire & Dan Didio, story #5. Albert Ponticelli, artist. Jose Villarrubia, colorist. Pat Brosseau, letterer # 1-4. Travis Lanham, letterer #5-6. J.G. Jones, covers.
Great story and great art make for a winning combination. Of all the NEW 52 titles I have read, this one provides the most pure entertainment. I believe it may be the “sleeper” title of the new lot, the one that slips past the radar of most readers. I hope to correct that by drawing more attention to FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. so that it is never threatened by cancellation.
What I especially appreciate about this book is that it recalls the type of books I read during my formative comics years in the mid-to-late 1960’s = THE AVENGERS; NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.IE.L.D.; LOST IN SPACE; CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN; MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER; BLACKHAWKS - - - all books that were highly entertaining and fired a young imagination. If there was ever any symbolism, political or social commentary, cynicism or editorializing in those books it went right over my innocent and naïve adolescent head. I was reading those books solely because they fueled my inner fire for astonishing tales featuring monsters and scientific gadgets, etc. That’s what I get the most out of FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. There may be some inner meaning or symbolism in the book, but on the surface it’s a classic tale of adventure and fantasy.
In short, if you are search of plain old-fashioned entertainment and just want to have fun with a continuing book - - then FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. is your ticket to ride. You will enjoy the story, marvel at the art, and also recall those fabulous days at Marvel when giant monsters dominated their books with eye candy artwork from Kirby and Ditko.
For more information on the beginnings of this title (Issue #1) and it’s predecessor limited series (FLASHPOINT: FRANKENSTEIN AND THE CREATURES OF THE UNKNOWN) go to the BC Archives for 2011 and read my article from September 26 = “DC NEW 52: FRANKENSTEIN - - before and after.” At that time I commented that I preferred the FLASHPOINT Frankenstein series to the NEW 52 version. I have changed my mind - - I now give my thumbs up acknowledgement to FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. It’s not as dark as the former series. There is less moralizing and philosophizing from Frankenstein and a lot more light-hearted fun in spite of the dire situations that occur. (S.H.A.D.E. equals Super Human Advanced Defense Executive.)
The menacing threat of a small town overtaken by monsters that surfaced in Issue #1 continues to its final resolution in Issue #4. Frankenstein and his new team (a merwoman, werewolf, vampire, mummy and later his four-armed green ex-wife) learn that the invasion of Bone Lake, Washington has its roots off-planet in another dimension. Some of the team are honored to work beside Frankenstein, and others have less respect. He shows his soft spot for the proper care of young children as well as his apparent lack of a sense of humor in the way he handles the discipline of a misguided matronly caretaker. During the evacuation of the children, a joke from Griffith (the wolfman) doesn’t amuse him. Turns out there is a wormhole under the lake which serves as a portal to a dark pocket dimension. This “monster planet” may not be a willing host to the hordes of creatures that inhabit and abuse it. (I don’t want to spoil it for you beyond that). We are also treated to a brand new origin for Nina Mazurksy (the merwoman), one that is more interesting than her FLASHPOINT beginnings and also more disturbing. She is a most interesting secondary character, and later seems to be developing a deep affection for Frankenstein. Before things wrap up S.H.A.D.E. central command has to unleash something from their “toy box” - - a refurbished gigantic “war wheel” which highly resembles the same device from one of my favorite BLACKHAWKS stories from the early ‘60’s.
In addition to an engaging opening story with lots of interesting subplots and hints of things to come, we are favored with some outstanding art in these four issues. There are tons of amazing panels depicting the monstrous S.H.A.D.E. in desperate battle with even bigger and deadlier monsters by the hundreds. Artist Ponticello does a fantastic job of jamming as many monsters into each panel as possible. The coloring in this series is some of the best of the NEW 52- - - very bright, very vivid, lots of colors in use that just want to pop off the page.
I normally don’t like cross-over stories that begin by suggesting that I pick up an issue of another title before reading the story in front of me, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the tale in Issue #5 where Frankenstein goes up against O.M.A.C. (looking more like a certain space gladiator from an X-book). I ignored the Page One disclaimer for O.M.A.C. #5 and it didn’t matter a bit. In fact, if you wanted to explore the FRANKENSTEIN title but only want to grab a single issue, this would be a good choice. You get a good idea of the Frankenstein character (hey, it’s not smart to use him without his knowledge) and the supporting cast at S.H.AD.E. HQ as well as some insight into the NEW 52 version of O.M.A.C., Brother Eye, etc. (which doesn’t matter, since that book has been canceled).
One of the other continuing characters that I didn’t like so much - - Father Time - - doesn’t grate on the nerves so much now that the story is progressing. This ancient scientist and leader of S.H.A.D.E. who currently inhabits the form of a raccoon-masked, pig-tailed little girl, as been more fully defined and acts much less obnoxious than in the first issue.
One of the other intriguing concepts in FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. is their headquarters - - - a giant complex dubbed the “ant farm”, as it has been reduced in size to inhabit a small 3-inch globe, utilizing “a hybrid of shrink teleportation and shrink technology” . This was designed by scientist Ray Palmer (the Atom), an expert on shrink tech. (Curiously, the latest version of Marvel’s SECRET AVENGERS features a new HQ for that team which is very similar in size and also employs a mix of teleportation and shrink technology designed by Dr. Henry Pym, another expert on size change. )
Issue #6 begins a new story arc which opens with a nice flashback sequence featuring Frankenstein’s days in the Vietnam conflict. This monster has been around his share of conflicts! We also get some new information related to the Humanid manufacturing and re-processing center which most likely will serve as a major plot element in issues to come. The Humanids are the short-lived, recyclable artificial drones that do all the grunt work in the ant farm. Issue #6 also re-introduces the original Creature Commandos. Once again, the story is fun and stimulating while the art is monstrously fantastic. Get this book and join the excitement !
NOTE: I’ve just learned that Issues #1 – 7 of FRANKENSTEIN: AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. will be included in the Volume #1 trade paperback that will be released in June 2012.