Graphic Novel Review – Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. Vol 1: War of the Monsters by Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli

As part of the New 52, DC Comics has revived Frankenstein and his Creature Commandos for new adventures in a world of monsters, robots, and strange scientific inventions. Jeff Lemire pens the new series, while Alberto Ponticelli contributes the artwork for this graphic novel compiling the first six issues of the series. As unlikely of a superhero Frankenstein might seem, the comic takes liberties with the source material of who Frankenstein’s monster was, and this allows Lemire to explore what Frankenstein could be if put towards the greater good.

Agent of S.H.A.D.E. isn’t just focused on Frankenstein himself, however. The Creature Commandos, engineered by Frankenstein’s father and a woman who has devoted her life’s work to creating genetically mutated beings, work beside Frankenstein to stop major threats to the world of Metropolis. They comprise of Velcoro, a flying beast being, a wolf man named Warren Griffith, a mysterious mummy named Khalis, a mermaid woman named Nina Mazursky, and Lady Frankenstein. Together, they must face a few different baddies in this first volume.

Agent of S.H.A.D.E. plays out much like a video game would; the Creature Commandos are given a mission to accomplish – in this case, destroy three monsters on a planet, stop a rogue superhero with extreme strength, and finish off a radioactive superhero who simply wants to die after his gruesome transformation. Then the Commandos go to town, throwing out witty one-liners as they fight massive hordes of monsters on different planets or in different areas of the world, like the ocean.

You can imagine that this is both exciting to read and extremely fun to look at thanks to Alberto Ponticelli’s colorful artwork. But the comic never seems to generate much substance to it. The characterization of each Creature Commando, besides Nina Mazursky, is kept to a minimum, and most of them seem to pull powers out of thin air when they need to – I’m looking at you, Khalis, you deus ex machina.

The same is true of other areas of this graphic novel. In a tight battle, Victor Frankenstein happens to pull out a new technology that obliterates the enemy – it almost seems like the Creature Commandos are too powerful, that nothing can really stop them.

As I stated before, Nina Mazursky does get the most characterization here; we’re shown what drives her to create new life, and though it works well to develop her, there’s none of that here for the other monsters. And each of these storylines are small offshoots, not developing bigger plots to work from, so there’s little here to follow throughout each of the issues. It doesn’t generate a sense that Agent of S.H.A.D.E.‘s story will be spanning some vast expanse.

The most egregious part of this whole thing is the lack of Frankenstein himself. His character feels shallow, and Lemire hasn’t done the work to develop him much at all. He’s supposed to be mysterious and reserved, sure, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get something from him. The issue focusing on his buddy from Vietnam comes the closest to giving Frankenstein some feeling, but even that only works for 30 pages before the comic goes back to its normal routine.

Agent of S.H.A.D.E. has since been cancelled after 16 issues. While I won’t say that it was evident from this graphic novel, it did seem as though this series was going nowhere fast; the video game feel made it a fast and fun read, but it never managed to pick up anything more solid as its plot base.

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