By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Doug Mahnke (art), Christian Alamy & Keith Champagne (inks), John Kalisz (colors)
The Story: To prevent the undead, Batman must rely on the undead.
The Review: Frankenstein’s recent popularity gives me a lot of hope for the state of comics. That such an unconventional character can be featured in two ongoing series (one being a weekly series) and guest-star alongside the Dark Knight Himself is evidence that superhero comics haven’t become completely formulaic and bland. Given that he is rather unusual, however, what accounts for his appeal?
Much of it has to do with Grant Morrison’s original conception of the undead warrior, of course, along with Jeff Lemire’s fierce, no-nonsense characterization in Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., which most other writers have picked up on since. Between his zealous pursuit of justice and his tendency towards melancholy reflection, Frank just doesn’t sound like anyone else in the DCU. It’s when both aspects of his personality come together that he delivers his choicest lines: “I came back here looking for solitude to renew my…fortitude for the forever war ahead of me.”
Flying in the face of traditional notions of masculine strength, Frank tempers his potentially furious temper with gentle compassion. Having caught Bruce’s neck in a vice-like grip, Frank growls, “I only want two things from you, Batman.”
“Yeah, what’s that?”
After an inscrutable pause: “I apologize.”
“And tell your dog to stop chewing at my leg.”
What’s fantastic about this pairing is Frank may be the only character in the DCU as hardcore as Bruce. In a funny, somewhat uncomfortable way, when you look at Frank, you’re seeing a possible glimpse of Bruce’s future if things don’t turn out well for him in Gotham. They relate extraordinarily well in this issue, even more so than Batman may do with Superman or Nightwing. After he recounts his extreme trials in Nanda Parbat, Frank asks, “So, what did you learn about being dead?”
“I found it to be a waste of time.”
“I could have saved you seven weeks in a hole and [told you that.]”
In this sense, Tomasi makes far better use of Frank’s guest turn than he did with Aquaman or Wonder Woman, though we could’ve used even more Frank-Bruce interplay. Unfortunately, a good chunk of the issue is tied up in the two characters catching each other up on what’s been happening in their respective titles—and that’s only really necessary for Frank, as we already know what’s going on in this title. The rest of the issue finds Bruce and Frank encountering a host of wendigo-like creatures whose origins are left completely unexplained. Like the Neekta of #30 or the mutant Damians of #29, they’re written purely as an obstacle for our heroes, lest they reach Ra’s too soon. Indeed, by the time Bruce finds his son’s captor, he murmurs, without allowing us to see, “No…I’m too late..”
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s observed the similarities between Patrick Gleason’s work and that of Mahnke, and Mahnke’s guest pencils in this issue reveal just how much he’s influenced Gleason’s dramatic composition and sophisticated storytelling. I love the quartet of tall, narrow panels depicting Bruce, Frank, and Co. descending the depths of Nanda Parbat, their height suggesting how far down the company must travel, and their number suggesting the time it takes. And with every panel, the suspense builds as Kalisz slowly narrows the light of the company’s torches, allowing the cavern’s shadows to take over.
Conclusion: Too much exposition and feet-dragging brings down an otherwise enjoyable team-up between two unlikely sympathetic characters.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – I hope Nanda Parbat’s removal from the Earth doesn’t mean it’s completely inaccessible.
– Can it be a rule that Titus joins Batman in all his adventures?