Off the Shelf: Madame Frankenstein

madame frankenstein coverNutshell: Madame Frankenstein is an interesting take on the usual Frankenstein myth.  There are no true good guys; everyone is a shade of grey that seem almost one-dimensional in their drive for vengeance/truth.  Looking forward to how these shades warp and woof if there’s a Vol. 2.  Illustrations are slightly fuzzy, offset by crystal-clear, beautiful letters…and one hell of a cliffhanger.  It is a cliffhanger, right guys? Grade: A-

Story:  Boy meets girl.  Boy loves girl.  Girl is meh.  Girl dies.  Boy gets a chance to create “perfect” girl…

Thoughts:  Madame Frankenstein is a welcome change from all the vamps and brain-eaters I’ve read lately.  Not that I don’t love me some fang and shuffle, but it’s nice to get something different sometimes.  The story takes the bare-bones of the Frankenstein myth and while keeping it in the 30s, drops it into the lap of Harvard University and prohibition.  Love the current/flashback panel-by-panel storytelling during climactic scenes.  The pacing in this book is excellent, and writer Jamie S. Rich knows how to get readers hooked.

In drawing Courtney/Gail — the “creature” who gets the jolt of a(nother) lifetime,  I was reminded of Veronica, Archie’s love/nemesis. Levens’ art is on-point and definitely lovely to look at.  In it’s almost apple-pie wholesomeness, it lets the darker parts of the characters break through to the surface with a jolt; just because these characters look good doesn’t mean they all are good…  And while the art itself is great, the images on the pageare blurry.  The letters are crystal-clear (Crank! does his usual A+ job — loved his work on Hack/Slash.), which makes it feel like a mistake rather than an artistic choice.  Definitely an unsual vibe.  And one I’m not sure was completely intentional.[NOTE: I read an Advance Reader Copy/ARC of this volume, and the Madame Frankenstein FB page had noted some problems in production…so the finished product could be 100% crystal clear.]

The story does veer off the usual Frankenstein tale quite a bit.  Wait.  For example: tiny nekkid Tinkerbell fairies on page 20?  You’re losing me, people. (Don’t worry though; they’re explained on page 46…)  It seems like there’s more than one myth Rich and Levens are harking back to. But besides the basic structure of those tales, they’re bustin’ genre norms all over the place.  While it’s a touch disconcerting for my old-school horror brain, I have to bow down to the excellent storytelling here.

As always; Vincent – the “creator” – isn’t doing this for the love/benefit of the one resuscitated.  He’s doing it for power, for the sheer ability to do so.  And once created, the re-animated Gail is nothing more than a trophy.  “Too much stimulus at once!”  Perhaps if you’d let her come around on her own, rather than pumping her full of adrenaline?  He slaps her hand away rather than gently instructing her.  He uses fire to control Gail, rather than being kind and understanding.  He forms her into his ideal, rather than letting her choose for herself what kind of person she’ll become.  So guess who the real monster is?  Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Henry, Vincent’s “brother” (thanks to a wartime accident that killed Vincent’s father and had Henry’s take Vincent in as part of their family) is no better.  Vicious, vindictive and spiteful, he never stops letting Vincent know that he’s only “the chauffeur’s son”, and will never be truly posh.  The bitter rivalry between Henry and Vincent is pointless and stupid, as most bitter rivalries are.  And if you think you know where the story is going, you have no idea.  Hint: fans of 50s camp horror will definitely have a knowing smile on their faces after the final page is turned.

Personally, I hate how the story ended.  In a “no — don’t leave me like this!” kinda way.  So here’s hoping Vol. 2 is a reality, rather than a fever dream my desperate brain cooked up.

Extras: Sketch gallery, variant covers.

Publication 411:  Collects Madame Frankenstein #1-7.  Released May 18th, 2015.

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