“Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E.” #0 by Matt Kindt and Alberto Ponticelli is an acceptable jumping on point to the series, providing a clear but hasty origin story of the titular character which puts a DC Comics spin on the classic horror tale.
With only 20 pages to work with, Frankenstein is the lone Creature Commando in this issue as his regular co-stars in the series, Griffith, Velcoro and Nina never make an appearance. Although someone else who was a central character to the title early on makes an origin-related cameo.
The focus is all on Frankenstein and his relationship with Dr. Victor Frankenstein, his creator. Upon coming to life and sensing the evil within Victor’s lab, Frank snaps and ruins Victor by informing his wife of the horrific experiments being conducted there. We’re never shown Victor’s compassionate side, so when this revelation proves to be his impetus to destroy Frankenstein, it feels off. Kindt doesn’t clarify if Victor is more angry about losing his wife or his lab. One would think his lab, which Frankenstein left in ruin, but with no clear answer we’re left to assume Dr. Frankenstein’s obsessive mission to destroy his creation is rooted in a lost love which is difficult to believe.
Once the story leaves Dr. Frankenstein’s lab it begins to feel rushed. Kindt sends Frank to the Amazon, where he’s taken in by an indigenous tribe to do some soul searching on his true nature and what intangibles reside inside his patchwork body and mind. In defense of the native tribe, he purges a great evil in the form of a baby stealing squid-like demon monster. All of this takes place over three pages and more time spent on these scenes could have helped propel the emotion in the piece which was lacking early on. This all gives way to an eventual showdown between Frankenstein and Dr. Victor Frankenstein which ends surprisingly quickly, but reveals the influence Victor’s actions had in making Frankenstein who he is today.
S.H.A.D.E.’s computer system narrates the issue under the premise of opening Frank’s S.H.A.D.E. file for reasons we never find out. We’re not told who accessed the file or why — it’s just playing out for some reason, to the benefit of the reading audience. This proves to be an annoyance by the issue’s completion as it leaves hints of a grand reveal that never comes. As a result, the overall story satisfies in the moment, but ends up being vanilla.
What isn’t vanilla and puts the issue over the hump of ordinary is Alberto Ponticelli’s artwork. Over the last few issues of this series he’s cleaned up his style from a year ago, and where his lines were loose and wild before, here they’re tighter and more restrained without losing any energy or detail. His monsters look awesome and it’s unfortunate there aren’t more of them. The opening shots of Victor’s lab provide vivid imagery of the grotesque activities conducted there, indicative of how Frank came to be. I must admit my mind drifted to Marvel’s Hulk when Frank first came to life, looming over Victor as a muscular green giant in tattered gray pants. Inker Wayne Faucher helps to layer Ponticelli’s work and the color palette of Jose Villarrubia gives off all the right vibes, especially in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab and during Frank’s brief battle with the Amazonian squid creature. More shadows and lighting effects would have been cool, but aren’t imperative.
This #0 is a suitable origin story and jumping on point for a new reader, but lacks the punch needed to hook them long term. There are better entry points into the series and characters — the #1 issue from the initial New 52 launch or the first collected volume which is already available. Even Jeff Lemire’s “Frankenstein” miniseries from the forgotten “Flashpoint” event has more bite to it and serves as a better introduction. Regular readers have the gaps filled in on Frank’s origin, but since the necessary emotion isn’t conveyed they’ll likely walk away feeling the issue could have been summed up in a few pages. Still, for $2.99 it’s a worthy choice but even Ponticelli’s artwork may not be enough for this #0 to survive a future collection culling.