When a fatal car crash robs him of his beloved, Doctor Vincent Krall turns to science, making a desperate move that is unmistakably foreshadowed in the title of Jamie S. Rich and Megan Levens’ “Madame Frankenstein” #1. With solid character building, Rich leaves readers with an enjoyable — if enigmatic — protagonist and a handful of accessible allusions to both literature and film while Levens contributes a beautifully clean and expressive style to the book with thick, dark inks.
From the get-go, Rich spins Krall into a complex character with many layers — which is more than appropriate, since he doesn’t leave much time or space to dwell nearly as long on Krall’s assistant Irene and the creation. However, this tactic works well in that it decisively splits Rich’s characters away from the source material; Krall’s motives are emotionally — instead of intellectually — driven, and Rich quickly establishes some sort of prior relationship between Krall and his creation pre- and post-mortem. As influenced as this book may have been, Rich makes it clear that this is his story, not just some other rehash of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, through his development of Krall’s character. Through this, Rich quickly and cleverly dismantles expectations that arise out of his chosen source material. What’s more, Rich fleshes Krall out to be sympathetic — if, ultimately, a little twisted in his approach to this problem. He leaves a lot to be explored in the upcoming mini-series, while rounding out the issue by giving readers a firm grasp of Krall’s character.
Although Rich lays some great groundwork here, the issue has a few hiccups, not the least of which is its title; the book certainly borrows its Frankenstein’s monster concept from Shelley, but it seems to be a whole lot more reliant on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” to which Rich does homage several times. In fact, upon picking up the book, I assumed the book’s subject would revolve around Frankenstein’s bride; as such, the title is a little misleading. (Additionally, Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster, so Rich contributes to a common misconception here.) Likewise, the issue goes in a lot of different directions at once, throwing in some fantasy elements (or perhaps visions) that feel a bit out of place, at least in this issue, and take up page space that could have been dedicated to fleshing out the narrative.
With a book of this nature, Levens’ black and white style was absolutely the right way to go. Her reliance on thick, black lines and shading adds to the issue’s classic horror movie atmosphere. Further, her fluid layouts are dramatic and cinematic; her opening two pages transition beautifully from a gorgeous outdoor party to Krall’s dark dungeon lab with an astounding level of grace. Like Rich, she does great homage to vintage horror films with clever Easter eggs peppered throughout the story, up to and including electric tower in the beginning of the issue. Her figures feel animated and lively, each with their own distinct set of characteristics that make them instantly recognizable; her style — in its unabashedly cartoony approach — reminds of Bruce Timm in all the best ways. Her outfit designs are lovely; her transitions, ingenious.
“Madame Frankenstein” #1 marks a strong start for both Jamie S. Rich and Megan Levens. In Rich and Levens’ capable hands, this first issue will certainly make readers come back for more with its quick pace, phenomenal artwork and healthy dose of intrigue.