Saturday, 21 March 2015

Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E Book 2 - Secrets Of The Dead (#8-16, #0)

"You are more than the sum of your parts" - Nina

A quick recap, this series is based heavily on Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers reboot of the DCU character Frankenstein, the monster who took his creators name and now fights monsters to protect mankind as part of the covert non-governmental organisation S.H.A.D.E - the "Super Human Advanced Defence Executive". This takes the form of a tiny city housed in a three-inch sized sphere that agents beam in and out of.  Also working for S.H.A.D.E are Frankenstein's estranged wife Lady Frankenstein, and the "Creature Commandos", Doctor Nina Muzarsky, an amphibian/human hybrid. Warren Griffith, a wolfman. Vincent Velcoro, a vampire and Khalis a mysterious mummy who is currently seperated from it's head due to events in the first volume. Running the show is an ageless human called Father Time who likes to change bodies once a century and is currently taking the form of a Japanese schoolgirl.  Also in attendence is observer Ray Palmer (who later on will become The Atom due to his own shrinking powers) who is liasing with S.H.A.D.E to see if they deserve continued funding.  The book continues to be written by Jeff Lemire and drawn by Alberto Ponticelli, although Matt Hindt takes over writing duties about halfway through.  This volume unfortunately gets bogged down in a lengthy crossover that was going on between Animal Man and Swamp Thing at the same time.  Having not read those books, my knowledge of the overall "Rotworld" plot is confined to what shows up in this book and the DC wikia, so if things get a bit inchoherent I apologise.  The first book ended on a cliffhanger with Frankenstein and his wife's son having been released from The Ant Farm's maximum security prison area and escaped to the earth below.
The story begins with Frankenstein and his Lady searching a ruined town, which Lady F regretfully realises is ruined because of their son.  Frankenstein says he is no son of his but Lady Frankenstein accuses him of having a "cold dead heart".  Frankenstein says his heart has only ever belonged to her.

We then get a flashback as to how their child was conceived.  Using mad science, Father Time combined their "unique, hybrid DNA" to create him in the lab.  But their embryonic son has a sudden growth spurt and bursts out of the tube he was growing in.  He attacks Lady Frankenstein and Frankie shoots him, leaving him presumed dead, but his relationship with Lady Frankenstein irreperately damaged.

Back in the present Frankenstein wonders how their son can still be alive.

Lady Frankenstein: "Father Time and his lab rats can do anything, Frank.  You know that.  I saw our son.  You saw a monster.  He saw a weapon."

They track him to Castle Frankenstein.  The Ant Farm is close by monitoring events.  Ray Palmer is outraged by Father Time's locking up of their son in secret.  He accuses him of toying with their lives and storms out saying he will recommend the U.N withdraw their funding of S.H.A.D.E.
Their insane son, pleads for death.
Back in the castle, Lady Frankenstein asks Frankenstein to give her a chance to get through to their son. They find him in the lab, obviously quite insane.  He attacks Frankenstein who just defends himself, while apologising to his son for shooting him before.  His son just begs to be killed and keeps attacking Frankie, leaving Lady Frankenstein to strike the killing blow and put him out of his misery.

Outside the castle, the Creature Commandos and Father Time are waiting.  Lady Frankenstein removes her S.H.A.D.E.Net implant and quits the organisation despite Father Time's protests.  She gives Frankenstein a big, farewell snog and disappears into the wilderness.  Frankenstein, while not happy with Father Time's deception says "S.H.A.D.E is all I have." And choses to stay.

The next issue is a sneak peek at the Rotworld plotline that will play a larger role in a few issues time.   Father Time orders Frankenstein and Nina to investigate the disappearance of Animal Man.  They have traced the last person he talked to, a Detective called Krenshaw.  Nina and Frank beam out to look for him.
They find him dead, horribly bloated and rotting.  The body starts to break apart and speak, calling itself "The Rot",  Frankenstein's dead flesh is somehow immune to it, and it calls him an "abomination".  No matter how many peices Frankenstein cuts the body into, the Rotlings keep attacking.  He calls down a flamethrower from S.H.A.D.E and fries the closest ones but many more appear.

Frankenstein then calls down the ultimate clearance device, the "Black Bomb".  He dives on Nina to protect her as his flesh is immune to it, and all the Rotlings are atomised.  Sadly, Frankenstein sits and contemplates recent events.

Frankenstein: "Maybe those things were right... maybe my wife was right.. maybe I am an abomination."

Nina: "I.. think you're right Frank.  You aren't a man.  You're more than us."

And she holds his hand, causing him to smile.
Silence in the library!
The next three issues see some dirty secrets of S.H.A.D.E being bought to light.  Frankenstein is also suffering from flashes of memory from the people whose bodys parts make him up. Frankenstein is attacked in the library by giant insectscalled SCARE-EB's.  Supposedly allies of S.H.A.D.E. used for covert assasinations, Frankenstein manages to fend them off.  Father Time decrees this attack means their is a mole in S.H.A.D.E and that an agent called Crowly stopped reporting in just before the attack.

Crowly is stationed in the "extra-dimensional fourth cloud.  In the city of Untropolis", a place that spontaneiously came into being five years previously.  Frankenstein and the Creature Commandos are sent to find Crowly  They have jetpacks with a "nether field" protecting them from being vaporised when they hit the extra-dimension.  They arrive in the sky city and Frankenstein goes to find Crowly alone.  After a chase he finds her and grabs her and demands to know who the mole is.
She says she got a message from the "Leviathan" field office that Frankenstein was going to turn traitor.  He lets her go and she fires a steam vent at him, knocking him off the walkway and sent plummenting down through the city.  He falls and as he hasn't got his nether field equipped jetpack he will be vaporised when he hits the city interface with the rest of the world.

At the last minute, Nina flies over and grabs him.  Her jetpack protects them both and the fall out of Untropolis and into the Atlantic.  Father Time tries to get Frankenstein to come back to base, but Frankenstein wants to find the informant - Satan's Ring - in the Leviathan.  Right on time it comes swimming by and Frankenstein picks up Nina and they jump inside it through a hole.
The Leviathan
Inside they find a normal looking town, they sneak inside a safe house and Frank tells Nina about his visions.  He gets all emo about his monstrous nature again, Nina tries to comfort him, but she brushes her off and says they must carry on and find Satan's Ring and the true nature of the Leviathan.  Using a holo-emitter, Frankenstein disguises himself as a human and gets one of the town's inhabitants alone, then threatens him into revealing the history of the Leviathan.

Turns out it's the place where S.H.A.D.E forcibly retires all it's ex-agents, especially ones who know things that could change the world.  Their only way out is if the Leviathan dies, which Frankenstein decides to implement.  He gets into the Leviathan's hind brain and starts slowly killing it.  He believes this will bring out the S.H.A.D.E mole.  S.H.A.D.E send Khalis down into the Leviathan who heals Nina of her injuries sustained when falling out of Untropolis.  He is supposed to stop Frank but the whole population of Leviathan town are on Frankenstein's side.

The dying Leviathan crashes into the Leviathan graveyard where S.H.A.D.E's deep sea base of operations is.  Frank kicks his way into the base and finds Crwoly again.  She tells him the mole is below them, and he is revealed as Mycrift, Keeper of The Leviathans.  He'd seen the future, in which Frankenstein kills him and had tried to pre-empt that, but caused a self fulfilling prophecy.
Good job, Mycroft.
There isn't a mole network either, the ring is an "O-Ring", future predicting S.H.A.D.E tech he got out of storage.  He activates a spell, before Frankenstein can kill him, but that reacts badly with Khalis's healing abilties, and everything in the graveyard starts to heal.  Frankie kills Mycroft then attacks the resurrected Leviathan.  He somehow catches fire and blasts the Leviathan apart leaving him very badly burned and injured.

Khalis heals him and Nina, who no longer needs her helmet thanks to Khalis, joyfully greets Frankenstein as he awakes, no longer plagued with visions.  They embrace, and it turns out the organic material needed to repair Frankenstein was donated by the ex-S.H.A.D.E agents.

Belroy: " He won them over.  Turning potential enemies into and army of allies."

Father Time: "But armies for what, Belroy?  What aren't you telling me?"

Belroy: "Victor is back sir, and he's brought the Rot with him."
So before we jump into the Rotworld plotline, we get a zero issue detailing Frankenstein's backstory, narrated by a S.H.A.D.E report on him.  Victor Frankenstein awakes Frankie in his lab.  Almost immediately Frankenstein attacks him and frees the humans Victor was using in his experiments.  He then leaves having shown "an immediate sense of justice."  Victor becomes a "dangerous loose end" that S.H.A.D.E fail to neutralise, though they take the materials needed to create Lady Frankenstein from his lab.

Victor then starts hunting Frankie with a group of mercenaries.  Frankenstein has taken refuge with an Amazonian tribe who accept him unconditionally and help him find his "Humanity".  Unfortunately Victor arrives with his goons and decimates the tribe.  Victor and Frankensteinend in a one-on-one fight, which goes poorly for Victor.  With him dead, a beautiful woman appears to Frankenstein and introduces herself as Father Time, and with that he is recruited into S.H.A.D.E.
Victor gets pwned.
S.H.A.D.E report: "And he has gone on to perform years of covert service.  Averting disasters.  Changing the course of wars.  Rooting out evil that no other could."

And the zero issue ends. It's here that we hit the three issues dealing with the massive "Rotworld" Animal Man/Swamp Thing crossover that was going on at the time.  I'm going to skim these issues because they are borderline unreadable if you haven't been following the story in the main comics involved.  Here's a brief description of the Rotworld plotline from the DC wiki.

DC Wiki: "Rotworld was a crossover between the books Swamp Thing and Animal Man, telling the story of the struggle for dominion between the three elemental forces of The Red, The Green, and The Rot. The story begins as Swamp Thing and Animal Man emerge from the Rot one year into the future, to find that the Rot has overrun the planet, and overtaken any and everyone save those who have a connection - if tenuous - to the Red or the Green. The story unfolds as two separate arcs: The Red Kingdom and The Green Kingdom, in which each hero tries to make his way to face Anton Arcane and reverse the Rot's effects. The two arcs converge at the climax, as Arcane is defeated, and the two heroes are returned to the present day."
Victor's back, with some friends.
Unlike Swampy and Animal Man who time travel a year in the future to deal with Arcane, Frankenstein and The Creature Commandos and all those he rescued from the Leviathan have to take the slow path and live out that year.  Frankenstein's foe during this time is a Rot-resurrected Victor Frankenstein, and the key to defeating him and the rest of the Rot creatures lies in a device built by Victor Frankenstein called "The Soul Grinder" which he split into pieces and hid inside various humungous beasts around the world. 

It was Victor Frankenstein's plan to reassemble it and use it to overthrow Arcane when the time was right, but slowly and on horseback Frankenstein and Velcorro start months of travel collecting the pieces, while the others hide out in a desert wilderness far from Rot-corruptible flora and fauna.  Although Victor killed everyone on the Ant Farm at the beginning of the Rot outbreak and the year of hell's start, they can still use their implants to communicate between each other and Frankie and Nina keep in touch.  Velcorro is killed taking down one holder of a soul grinder piece, and a mysterious race of golden women help Frankenstein kill the final monster and the Soul Grinder is assembled, Frankenstein kills Victor by forcing him through it.
Victor gets killed for good.
The ex-S.H.A.D.E agents pass through it rendering them immune to the Rot, and then... the story ends.  Sorry folks, this story wraps up in volumes three of Swamp Thing and Animal.  But safe to say, they win, though I don't know if history resets and wipes out the memories of that year or if Frankenstein and Nina etc still remember even though it never happened etc.  The final issue of this volume shows the status quo back at the Ant Farm restored, Velcorro is alive and I have no idea what happened to the ex-S.H.A.D.E agents.

The final issue has all the hallmarks of something that was planned to run longer and got severely truncated.  Some weird looking people under survelliance from a guy from Homeland Security seem to be conjuring up the Rot style virus and also have a missile.  As the Homeland Security watches, Frankenstein comes dropping in and takes out the missile.  We then get a flashback of Frankie and the others are being given the job back at the Ant Farm.
Back to business as usual.
Later Frankenstein admits to Nina that he wants to quit S.H.A.D.E, Nina is somewhat saddened as she thought they had shared a moment together and started a relationship.  We arrive back at Frankie taking out the missile before the rest of the Creature Commandos move in and finish the virus carriers off.  When the Homeland Security guy is bought before his superiors to explain what happened, they find his story of mythical monsters combating evil to be incredibly farfetched, calling his report "insane".
And with that Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E becomes an ex-comic.  Despite the three issue tie-in to Rotworld, which was almost ceratinly done to boost flagging sales of the monthly, this book still has a lot going for it.  Big ideas, bold characters, brilliant artwork and other things beginning with B. The world of Frankenstein here is a compelling one and he remains an interesting hero, with the zero issue giving us some much needed insight into his history. This was not the end of Frankenstein the character though, his disatisfaction with S.H.A.D.E ends up with him joining The Justice League Dark, the group of magical and anti-heroes working in the DCU.  I don't follow that comic so I don't know if he is still there or if he continued his relationship with Nina or if he had a totally clean break from S.H.A.D.E.  All I know is once again, DC cancelled a fun comic with plenty of potential still left in the premise.  Curse you DC!


  1. Interesting. You could say that humans are made up of disjecta membra as well, just like Frankenstein. So are we more than the sum of our parts? Or is that just anti-scientific sentimentality? Of course, comics get to have their cake and eat it, because they can have gods and science fiction in the same strip.

    The meaning of S.H.A.D.E. sounds a lot more convincing/realistic than the meaning of S.H.I.E.L.D. or S.T.R.I.K.E. (the latter is from Captain Britain's continuity).

    If S.H.A.D.E. have discovered how to house humans in a sphere approximately 7.5 cm in diameter, why on Earth aren't they solving the Earth's housing problem, raking in the cash and winning the Nobel prize? Why must science only be used for blowing stuff up? Probably 'cos it's run by men, innit.

    Y'know, I just can't take a vampire seriously if he's called Mr Velcro.

    I hope that Frankenstein and Nina don't need to sleep, because after seeing the Rot I would never sleep again. It's 6:47pm and I hope I forget it before I turn in tonight. Forgetting is underrated.

    "Untropolis" sounds very China Miéville, huh?

    If I looked like Frankenstein I'd jolly well get emo too.

    In Greek myth all prophecies are self-fulfilling, including what is probably the most famous one, that made about the baby Oedipus. So Mycroft clearly did not have a good classical education like what they have at Eton an' ting, or he'd never have even tried to fight prophecy. It's like trying to outwit Batman: ain't no way you're gonna win.

    I'm sorry, why did Victor split his MacGuffin into separate pieces and scatter it all over the world???

    Apparently Frankenstein is no longer in Justice League Dark. Boo, hiss, etc.

  2. S.H.A.D.E is all about mad science, boring stuff like solving the housing shortage wouldn't interest Father Time! Who is only a man every other century :D

    Untropolis was a great idea, and did remind me of Dial H and China Miéville, sadly we got far less of that and instead way too much of a dull tie-in that wasn't even resolved in the comics pages. Which you may note is something of a pet hate of mine...

    .. as for why Victor split his MaGuffin up, eh, lazy writer uses plot that tends to power videogames, is my thought. I guess he hoped the comic would continue and he could get back to the cool stuff, otherwise that odd issue at the end makes no sense. If I'd known in advance my comic would be cancelled one month after featuring a tie-in, I'd have wrapped up the loose ends pertinent to the series in that final issue and given everyone a proper send off.

    As for Frankenstein getting all emo, he does however have a hot ex-wife and a sexy new half fish girlfriend, not bad going. Must be the sexy scars and brooding Byronic temperament.

    Sad to hear he's no longer in JLD, but you have saved me the cash I would have spent buying the series to get annoyed by this fact, cheers!

  3. You're welcome *bows*

    I'd freakin' love to know what Frankenstein and Nina's babies looked like...

  4. Just one more thing DC has robbed us of! DC why for do you hate your weird and offbeat strips? *sadface*