By: Jeff Lemire (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (artist), Jose Villarrubia (colorist)
The Story: Now you know why I never go swimming in natural bodies of water.
The Review: We tend to understand Frankenstein’s monster from his portrayals in Mary Shelley’s original novel and its subsequent adaptations: as a gross perversion of the human body, composed of parts that long ceased to have human value to them. He spends most of his artificially-induced life attempting to attain some approximation of humanity; whether he succeeds or fails is left to us to decide on our own understanding of what it means to be human.
That metaphysical question aside, we can all agree that Frankenstein definitely isn’t like one of us. Maybe his monstrous nature has something to do with it, or perhaps his strict moral code is at fault, but this issue gives weight to Frank’s previous assertions that he works alone. When he backslaps (for lack of a more conservative term) an old lady essentially for being a liar, you realize he’s not given to the sentimental, give-people-a-benefit-of-the-doubt nonsense we are.
But this issue also hints that Frank may warm to his new team in time. He might not have any use for Griffith’s attempts at camaraderie (“Trying to earn some babysitting money, Agent Frankenstein, sir?” “…I do not appreciate humor…let’s move.”), but you can see that he takes to a mentorship role just fine. He exercises remarkable patience with Nina, whose only combat experience is yoga, and offers very effective practical advice: “Kill them before they kill you.”
Everyone has at least a cursory familiarity with Frankenstein, but while his teammates all act as analogues of popular monster archetypes, they still have very human origins worth exploring. Lemire gives us the first of these in Nina’s extended flashback/journal sequence, which proves that anyone who chooses to transform herself into a hideous creature must have some serious personal issues. She means well, but she might not be ready for this kind of excitement.
No Lemire tale is complete without some backlog of grimness that goes way back. Our heroes learn the true reason why Bone Lake has the name it does, a sickening testament to the dangers of superstition. Even crueler is the later revelation that all these atrocities were committed for nothing; while the local populace thought they were doing what they must to stave off a demonic invasion, the “demons” saw it as nothing more than a curious amusement.
Possibly the best feature of this series is the seamless mixing of sci-fi and the supernatural: these monster commandos as the result of genetic tampering; the pentacle-shaped “firewall” S.H.A.D.E. casts over Bone Lake; Nina’s Seer of Mental Brain Image Energy (S.O.M.B.I.E.), which takes in brains and reproduces the knowledge within for all to see; a wormhole to dead space serving as an alien Hellmouth—you just want to see what Lemire will come up with next.
Ponticelli’s rough style makes a good fit for the title, but occasionally its messiness interferes with the storytelling, and with all the underwater scenes in the issue, and the multitudes of water bubbles, it gets a bit hard to see what’s happening. Otherwise, Ponticelli serves fine work, especially in making the monsters look as human and personable as possible (love Griffith’s drooped ears and abashed hand on head when Frank doesn’t take to his joke).
Conclusion: The action and adventure go non-stop, and the ideas keep flying, some old, some new, all engagingly written and drawn. Sheer fun in less than thirty pages.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – A microscopic prison within a microscopic city. A man’s gotta feel pretty small in there, huh?
– Does anyone notice how in Nina’s flashback, we see that tiny, spike-haired scientist from the opening of last issue, only he’s of normal human stature? What accident shrank him, you’ve got to wonder.