Saturday, November 19, 2011

DC 52: On the 1s & 2s: Frankenstein

About, oh, two weeks ago, I asked folks for examples of DC 52 books they might be interested in seeing reviews for. I had the idea for reviewing two issues of a series at once, largely because I wanted to use the "on the 1s and 2s" phrase, but, also, because it has felt like there isn't always enough meat to the single issues of this relaunch to fairly judge just one. The first up is Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

The first thing I noticed when going over this selection was how at odds the cover art seems to be with the interior. Employing JG Jones on covers doesn't just give you art that is at conflict with the interior pencils, but suggests practically a brand difference.

But then breaking past that initial concern, I'm faced with yet another apparent contradiction. The story elements, on the surface, seem to suggest more action movie than indie drama. But the muddied, moody art (including the way coloring is employed) suggests the type of story you'd see in Vertigo books, where the action is rarely THE THING, but mostly there to service the story. The coloring, in particular, really seems to fit what I more often have seen on Vertigo product than DC Universe: larger sections of one solid color, rather than more intricate detail. Which, separate from a review, makes me wonder if there's some manner of cost savings in such a move, rather than simply being an artistic decision.

This is not to say I don't enjoy Alberto Ponticelli's art at all. I do, despite some of the inconsistencies (namely Frankenstein's monster looking like several different characters throughout the book). His art is always effective, tells the story ably and can handle the blend of action, humor and drama well. One of the strongest stretches for the art appears with a flashback in the second issue. In relating a supporting character's history (and, also, informing us on some of S.H.A.D.E.'s history), the art team perfectly evokes the feeling of old, grainy home movie footage.

The book uses classic horror movie characters, which would seem to suggest the style of art is fitting, as moody/muddied is often found in horror comics. But the cast is really a swerve, as it is much more of a sci-fi book with huge, bloodied battlefields through the first two issues; a sort of "sword and raygun" fantasy that might be better served by cleaner pencils.

The writing is very strong. I'll be honest: despite my warning above regarding single issues being hard to judge a property by in DC's 52, I had decided to stray away after the first issue, until this book was suggested for review. I'm very glad for the opportunity, as the additional installment casts the whole in a different light. It's difficult to pinpoint where and why there was a change, but suddenly everything clicked much more nicely once I was several pages into #2. Ideas seem less thrown out there, but are, instead, part of well-executed world building and character depth. Not every note is perfect (the gag about no one telling the doctor that Frankenstein's monster was such a gentleman comes to mind), but, somehow, the accumulation of bits between the issues starts to gel, without there being anything to put my finger on as being done differently from one issue to the next.

Lemire deftly weaves horror concepts into sci-fi properties and makes some of his sci-fi concepts feel all too real. Whether we're talking their base of operations, the prison within it, the communications system or the nature of the external threat in this first arc, all of the ideas just work.

Except when it comes to lettering. Of all the things to still have difficulty adjusting to, it was the method of delivery for communications. The lettering was an x-on-black style (where x could be white or, more commonly, some other color that was used in large amounts elsewhere on the page) that was a bit of an irritant to my eyes. Why the purpose was clear (setting itself apart from other captions/bubbles), the combination of using it in such dark areas of art and often using non-white colors (making it stand out slightly less well on the black) was a source of frustration. Hopefully, it is something they can adjust and I can adjust to going forward.

Overall, this is an enjoyable series with a talented creative team. I think I'll be adding this to my regular purchases going forward.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review. This is a book I'm also currently reading, but I don't know how much longer I will stick around. This and Resurrection Man are on the top of my drop list right now if just because I haven't been sucked into them the way I have been by other of the new 52 books.


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