“Follow me; I seek the everlasting ices of the north…”:

DC’s Frankenstein in Post-Millennial Publication, Part Two

We left the last article after establishing various conventions of the Creature and ended on the discussion of a crossover and crisis event. We begin this article with another company-wide crossover and crisis event.

To recap, 2011′s Flashpoint posited a wildly divergent timeline within current continuity. This wasn’t a parallel world or the simple day dreaming what ifs of an Elseworld. Something or someone had upset the timestream to the point that all prior continuity had been radically altered if not erased entirely.

As one of the myriad titles within the Flashpoint event, the adventures of our brutal but courteous Creature fell into the hands of Jeff Lemire, Ibriam Roberson, Pete Pantazis, Pat Brosseau, Alex Massaci,  Andy Smith, Keith Champagne, and Travis Lanham for the three issue series Frankenstein & the Creatures of the Unknown. Doug Mahnke returned as well, his toweringly vast powerhouse gracing the covers and no doubt influencing the other artists interpretation of the character. Lemire would go on to write Frankenstein in much of Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. as well as contributing star turns to the New 52′s Animal Man and Justice League Dark amongst others. These three titles alone seemed to signify mainstream DC continuities embrace of such avant garde ideas and metaphysical horror normally associated with certain Vertigo titles.

The divergence in the Creatures timeline soon becomes apparent. Whereas in prior continuity he escaped the ice that ensnared him at the end of Shelley’s novel, going on to have many, many adventures. To the reader, it soon becomes apparent that the Flashpoint Frankenstein still shared his creator, Victor’s fate, and succumbed to the frigid depths. When he awakens though, in a touch of almost fractal deference to Morrison, Lemire has the Creature utter word for word the exact same dialogue he expressed when he rose from supposed death in Seven Soldiers.

Frankenstein’s return is framed by the events of World War II, and his first appearance is preceded by a stand-off between American and Nazi troops. The sole remaining American soldier looks on as the creature swiftly dispatches the fascist foot soldiers who until then held the upper hand.

The narrative then jumps forward a year as Frankenstein’s companions, the Creature Commandos, are introduced. Firstly we have Nina, the daughter of the architect of Project M, Doctor Mazursky. The we have Captain Vincent Velcoro and Private Warren Griffith. These three have been transformed by Mazursky into a Mer-woman, Man-Bat, and Werewolf respectively. When the Doctor expresses his admiration for and inspiration from the Creature, the Creature is quick to remind him of a similar scientist he knew and his eventual fate. Though we didn’t know it at the time, Lemire would carry the three creatures over into Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. with only a few changes here and there. One can’t help but wonder if Lemire uses Frankenstein & the Creatures of the Unknown to sound out ideas and test the ground for the subsequent series.

Issue #1 then begins apace, taking Morrison’s reverence towards classical literature or lofty concepts and placing them firmly into the surreal and the absurd as a blueprint of sorts. Over the space of a few pages, Frankenstein and his comrades go on to kill Hitler and effectively end the war.

The ramifications alone of this in the timeline would indeed be world altering. However we do not see too much of this. Instead, for their bravery, the Creatures of the Unknown are rewarded with betrayal and an enforced slumber. But not before we are introduced to a new reason for the Creature’s supposed immortality, which in turn sadly retcons the character of Melmoth, as the Creature is swiftly defeated by G.I. Robot.

As the first issue ends, Frankenstein & the Creatures of the Unknown affirms its place in the greater narrative of Flashpoint when our protagonists awaken and escape their slumber into that timeline’s present day. The issue ultimately closes with a cameo from someone we presume to be Man-Bat. A character whose only function it seems is to die and facilitate the cliffhanging introduction of Shrieve, the vengeful child of a former ally.

Returning to the prior article and it’s discussion of monstrosity and humanity we find in issue #2′s first two pages a touching moment of humanity, albeit tinged with a sense of sadness. Doctor Mazursky and Nina share some personal truths. Nina, her fear of monsters; and her father, his certainty of their non-existence. The sadness comes from a sense of error. Not so much because many may see Nina as a monster, but because of her father’s naivety. Monsters do exist, and if we have learnt one thing from Frankenstein both as a novel and a comic, it is this: Monsters wear a human form.

We then return to the present as the Creature and his compatriots continue in their search having been led to Gotham’s Slaughter Swamp for the answers. Project M, it seems, was a project born of necessity. Nina having developed respiratory issues as a child was transformed into her hybrid state to save her life. This, in turn, caught the military’s attention leading to the creation of the other two commandos, Frankenstein’s recruitment, and their current predicament.

True to the form of many similar narratives, the reader senses that the truth seems far too convenient and all may not be what it seems. After some exposition from Shrieve — that conveniently explains her misplaced hatred for the Commandos and some unexpected heroics from Griffith and Velcoro — things seem to be all over. Having the Bride of Frankenstein intervene and save her erstwhile husband simply adds to our growing list of homages to Morrison’s use of the character, and with this the second issue ends on a cliffhanger.

Issue #3 of Frankenstein and the Creature of the Unknown is where the fun really begins, but it is also where our journey sadly ends. Once again we meet S.H.A.D.E. who are as shadowy and as conspiratorial as ever. More importantly, we are reminded that humanity is the real monster. Utterly brutal in its treatment of anything it considers inferior or alien.

On its own Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown is a simple, self-contained tale even with Frankenstein and his Bride riding off into Flashpoint‘s overarching narrative at its conclusion. This, in itself, perhaps unintentionally alludes to Morrison’s use of the character in Seven Soldiers. Furthermore, when informed by it’s predecessor, a sense of nostalgia is evoked between the reader and the work.

All this and yet at no point does Lemire attempt to one up Morrison. Rather he drops tidbits here essentially letting the reader know he in all likelihood read Seven Soldiers and, like us, liked what he saw.

Only in Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. will Lemire seem confident and content enough to take what Morrison had established and make it — and a few other DC icons who stumble across the Creature’s path — his own.

And this, dear reader, is what we’ll look at next…

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Having spent his college years filling his head with the eccentricities reading The Invisibles would David Whittaker is perpetually amazed and grateful for the chance Sequart gave him. He views his contributing role as the opportunity to nurture and hone his craft while celebrating the comic medium and sharing it's interpretation and importance. To that end he ensures its endurance by sharing his love of this unique marriage of art and literature not only with anyone willing to read his work but also with his nine year old daughter and three year old nephew.

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3 Comments

  1. ...randall ramirez says:

    Morrison’s handling of the Creature placed him in the 1800, modern times and the far flung future. The Creature himself doesn’t seem to know the difference, pacing forward, armed with a code of honor and a determination more ruthless than Wolverine and Magneto combined.

    What’s best is Morrisons’s Frankenstein works best in the weirdest of situations. The scenes in the steampunk past to the super-super future like something out of Jane Fonda’s Barbarella. Upsetting, compelling and utterly absurd. The way comics should be. That was lost when Lemire and the bunch took over. DC editorial seemed more intent on making a poor-man’s version of Hellboy with a boring old fashioned team-book dynamic.

  2. I want to read this series so badly.

    • Please do. In retrospect I feel I may have given this series the most glib of evaluations no doubt in a sense of wanting to get to the main focus, Agents of S.H.A.D.E. sooner.

      I do like Creatures of the Unknown, it’s a nice self contained little jaunt.

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