By Warren Ellis (writer), Marek Oleksicki (artist)
“The modern age is created here,” Warren Ellis insists on the back cover of his latest original graphic novella. “In lost moments, in a ruined castle, on a day never recorded”. In the early years of the 19th century, Mary Wollestencraft, Percy Shelley, and Clair Clairmont came across Castle Frankenstein, which one-hundred years earlier was home to the alchemist Johann Dippel, a man consumed with the thought of extending life through the manipulation of raw materials.
Alone, Mary enters the castle and explores its depths. And it is when she’s alone that she first encounters the gaunt, long-haired man with knowledge in his eyes and terrible scars etched into his face. Note quite man, note quite monster, this humanoid takes Mary on a journey through time and sorrow and shows her how she is destined to become mother to The Future.
Warren Ellis has made Avatar Press his breeding ground for pet projects like this. Some, like Crecy, I really enjoyed. Others, like Aetherial Mechanics, I found to be strangely disappointing. Frankenstein’s Womb tends to fall in the latter category. For a $7.00 price tag, I was shocked with the lack of entertainment this book offered. Even for such a dramatic work as this, I was disappointed to find myself flipping through pages wondering what I was reading, and why.
I understand the metaphor Ellis tried to build his story around here, that by writing Frankenstein, Mary Wollestencraft Shelley gave birth to the Modern Age. I do not, however, think he succeeded in building a convincing theme. This novella read like 44 pages of the suggestion of a story without ever quite becoming one. Additionally, I was annoyed by the Dickensian presence of The Monster. Why and how is he able to quide Mary through visions of the past and future like they were throwaway characters in A Christmas Carol? Why is Mary not even the slightest bit terrified to be in the presence of the Monster? And is the Monster even real, or merely a convenient hallucination?
Such important plot questions are deliberately ignored; I suspect, presumably to develop a plot that sadly is never fully realized. The result left me feeling underwhelmed, as if I’d read a story that should have been great, but never quite got there.
If there is a redeeming factor to this book, it would have to be the phenomenal artwork of Mark Oleksicki, whose tight, intricate pencils, are the perfect compliment to Ellis’s Gothic story. The black and white pages, coupled with Oleksicki’s fantastic attention to detail, fully immerse the reader in the environment and convince you that you are in the carriage with Mary, Percy, and Clair as they descend upon Castle Frankenstein.
Frankenstein’s Womb had some incredibly lofty ambitions that I felt it failed to deliver on. Despite being blessed with stellar artwork, it was a rather lackluster story that you do not need to spend $7.00 to read.