By: Jeff Lemire (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (penciller), Walden Wong (inker), Jose Villarrubia (colorist)
The Story: Frank and Bride learn good parenting sometimes means tough love (read: violence).
The Review: As a pure sci-fi adventure series, Frankenstein doesn’t seem all that interested in laying down big plotlines that build up over half a dozen issues then hit paydirt later. What we have here is more of your old-school done-in-ones, although Lemire’s craft allows each issue to link near seamlessly to the next. This may be the title’s greatest charm: it can veer any moment into a completely unexpected story, yet feel like a natural development of its own mythos.
Since #2, Lemire has played with the idea of genetic tampering as a kind of creationism, where scientists “give birth” through bio-technological processes, and their creatures become their children. Yet this series has also emphasized the horror these pseudo-parents experience when they gaze upon the offspring they’ve unnaturally brought into the world. Essentially, Lemire has been reworking the themes of Mary Shelley’s novel, thereby proving it has as much relevance in our modern world—perhaps even more so—than ever.
And just as the original Frankenstein indicated that such playacting of God can only lead to tragedy, so does this series. The relentless action of past issues has disguised this point, but Frank and Bride are, at their core, tragic figures. Bride sums up their grim fate in the third act: “That’s the only thing we could ever give…death. It’s the only thing we know…” In a larger sense, she means that even though she and her husband live and move through the world, theirs is a mockery of life; they can mimic the living, but they can never truly attain it themselves.
Lemire makes this realization even more painful by showing how for one brief moment in their hopeless “lives,” Bride and Frank did nurse a hope of having a life. What exactly soured their marriage has always been a nagging question in this series, and now that we see it for ourselves, we understand it’s not so much that they lost their feelings for each other. It’s more like they recognized their feelings come from undead hearts, and so whatever relationship they have, its legitimacy will always be uncertain. When Bride gives Frank a parting kiss towards the end, it’s cool and perfunctory, with only a vestige of genuine warmth—perhaps as much as she can offer.
The issue’s conclusion leaves S.H.A.D.E. in a state of disarray. Not only does it lose one of its primo agents and is on the verge of being stripped of financial support, the motives of its leader has been shaken, perhaps fatally. Time’s actions were undoubtedly out of line, but you can see that at least in the beginning, his motives were pure. He did genuinely wish to reward Frank and Bride for their dedication by granting them their hearts’ (such as they are) desire. His shock that it all went awry thus seems genuine. Is it at all possible that what seems like abject cruelty on his part was actually an attempt to make amends? If not, then it’d be unfathomable why Frank would follow Time back to the Ant Farm, going so far as to call it “home.”
With Wong’s careful inking, Ponticelli does some of his best work thus far here. His close-ups and action sequences look more convincing than ever, the intensity flying off the page. That metaphor seems particularly apt in describing the scene where Frank’s son leaps out to claw at him with all four arms, sending jars, lab equipment, and a dismembered corpse flying. Ponticelli’s storytelling has grown quite a bit as well; each panel builds upon the tension of the one before, at times leaving your heart racing before it eases off.
Conclusion: You have to admire Lemire for consistently wrapping up stories in less than six-issue arcs, but this one has so many emotional ramifications and leaves open so many questions that an extra issue would not have hurt at all.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – At the risk of making a wild generalization, Bride and Frank have a particularly German propensity of vacillating between heartfelt sentimentality and coldness, which is very well in keeping with their fictionally German origins.