Review – Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE

Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE #3, cover by J.G. Jones

Over on Animal Man, Jeff Lemire is telling an extraordinarily well-executed horror/superhero mash-up with artist Travel Foreman.  Foreman’s spare, chilling art fits perfectly with the story Lemire is trying to tell.  I say all this because, as I put down Lemire’s other title in the New 52, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., I’m having trouble deciding why I’m not enjoying it.  Lemire’s script is full of inventive ideas.  Alberto Ponticelli’s scratchy, cartoony art seems like the perfect fit for this pulpy monster adventure.  And yet, for me, they aren’t cohering in an enjoyable way.  Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE #3 continues the series’ trend of being just good enough to make me come back for more.

When we last left off, Frankenstein and his team had dropped through the portal to Monster Planet after clearing the town of all its menaces, and were fighting for their lives alongside Frankenstein’s ex-wife and fellow agent, the Bride.  Lemire picks up right in the midst of battle, the group slowly being overwhelmed until Khalis, their most mysterious member, wipes out all the monsters with a single attack – and leaves himself crippled.  After confronting a massive monster, they realize that if they truly want to stop the invasion of Earth, they need to find and defeat the other two Titans that are birthing the monsters… in the three hours before the planet collides with Earth.

Now, I cannot stress this enough: everything I just wrote there was awesome.  Lemire  has crafted what I feel comfortable calling the coolest book of the relaunch, with every new twist guaranteed to make your jaw drop or your head spin.  And Alberto Ponticelli does a pretty good job conveying most of those twists.  You ask a man to draw a team of mythical beasts battling thousands of spider monsters, well, I don’t know who would do it better than Ponticelli does here.

But it just isn’t quite enough.  The action shots, which should ostensibly be thrilling, exciting, or at the very least dynamic, feel instead more like static images, with no movement or action suggested.  The first of the Titans, an immane spider-like beast, should be terrifying, should have the awful magnitude of, say, the colossi from Shadows of the Colossus – but instead, it looks like a very mildly larger but otherwise perfectly normal monster.

And it’s unfair to blame Ponticelli entirely for the issue’s lack of cohesion.  Lemire, whose scripting on projects like Animal Man and Sweet Tooth always seemed very tight, jumps around here like a kid with ADHD.  Last week’s cliffhanger, which saw the agents of S.H.A.D.E. confronted with thousands of monsters, is ended quickly by a cheap deus ex machina we had no reason to suspect was possible, while Lemire breezes through the introduction of the first Titan, his defeat, and the gang’s new mission in a few brief, suspense-free pages.

I don’t want to suggest that this is a bad book; it isn’t.  It’s just a book that isn’t quite working yet.  It’s unbelievably cool, it’s fun to talk about and think about.  It’s surprisingly funny at times.  Anyone with even a mild interest in monster mayhem and pulp adventure should absolutely check it out – I can almost guarantee you’ll find something to enjoy.  But Lemire and Ponticelli are a ways off from finding their creative voice as a team, and that makes Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE – an otherwise solid book – seem extraordinarily disjointed.

Cal C.

read/RANT

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