From its setting to its storylines, “Madame Frankenstein” shows a real knack for adding layers and complications — to everything except its title monster. Though the combination of fairies, family drama and mad science is developing into an interesting world, the recently resurrected Courtney still shows a disturbing lack of agency. While on some level I understand that her treatment is supposed to bother the reader, she’ll need to show at least a glimmer of self-awareness for the story to get moving.
I’ll start with the good: “Madame Frankenstein” has taken a unique blend of elements and made a many-angled, multilayered plot out of a straightforward Frankenstein story. Jamie S. Rich has crammed a whole lot of character development and backstory into only three issues, and he has a beautiful ear for vintage dialogue that doesn’t sound hokey. Getting to see past Courtney in this issue was a treat. With her snappy lines and command of a room, it was easy to understand how Vincent and Henry fell in love with her. The narrative’s movement between past and present is also fascinating, and it could have been utterly confusing with a less skilled writer and artist.
Speaking of the artist, Megan Levens’ work feels refreshingly effortless. Her body language is readable at a glance, her faces are expressive and her period details never feel like obvious chronological signposts. They’re just seamlessly, quietly integrated. Perhaps it’s not particularly inventive, but it’s one of the most natural and unforced styles I’ve seen in a while, even with the strong stylistic choice of only black-and-white. It’s truly a pleasure to read.
However, the character development remains problematic. Modern Pygmalions aren’t at their most interesting when they’re at their most Ovidian. Instead, they take much of their dramatic power from showcasing the limits of a patriarchal imagination — the ways in which a living and breathing woman is not, in fact, an object to be revered and remolded. “Madame Frankenstein” has thus far neglected to engage with any of that. Courtney is submissive and frightened, easily coaxed by Vincent and eager to please. She still can’t really speak, but he speaks to her — pouring his hopes and fears into her.
It’s clearly meant to creep the reader out and reveal Vincent’s egomaniacal monstrosity, but it does make for uncomfortable reading. If Courtney isn’t going to come into her own a bit anytime soon, “Madame Frankenstein” would really benefit from a “voice of the audience” character or narrative add-on, just to reassure the reader that the creative team isn’t on Vincent’s side.
It doesn’t help that Vincent’s rival, Henry Lean, is such a one-dimensional villain. His petty classism and competitive resentment seem to spring from nowhere, with no end goal aside from hurting Vincent because he can. This sets up Vincent as a sort of hero, because compared to Henry, he’s worth rooting for. It’s a bit awkward that issue #3 is built to drum up so much sympathy for Vincent and emphasize his connection to Courtney, considering what he’s done to her in the present.
Despite my criticisms, I’m rooting for “Madame Frankenstein.” There’s a lot to like, and more importantly, a lot to build on going forward. This looks like one of those series that’ll get motoring after the halfway point — I’d recommend staying on board for when it does.