Most of DC’s “Dark” themed books are fun to read because they show how the supernatural fits into the superhero realm of the New 52. It’s for this reason that Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. stands out amongst its counterparts. The Super Human Advanced Defense Executive is about as pulpy and over-the-top as it can be—and that’s exactly how it should be. Frankly, it’s already a stretch of the imagination to make Frankenstein’s Monster a freedom fighter, but putting him to work for an organization whose headquarters is located in a miniaturized sphere, literally employs monsters as agents, and has a child as a leader is just a stroke of genius.
Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #13 is part one of “Secrets of the Dead”, the series’ crossover with the “Rotworld” event currently playing out in both Animal Man and Swamp Thing. The connections between these three series weren’t ever necessarily evident as much as they were subtly implied—Frankenstein is an ageless monster that is dead, yet cannot decompose. As the Rot spreads throughout Metropolis, Frankenstein seems to be the only living thing that can stand against the decay.
Matt Kindt is taking this arc as a chance to tell the story of the earth-side battle against the Rot while Animal Man and Swamp Thing are stuck in the realm of the Rot. Spoiler alert (if you haven’t caught up on Rotworld prologues as yet), we lost a year of time when the two of them descended into Anton Arcane’s domain, so it makes sense to want to know what happened during that time. Sure, a few panels of explanation are sprinkled within Animal Man #13 and Swamp Thing #13, but it’s mostly expository instead of really giving readers a tale set during this time frame.
That being said, this issue feels a bit half-baked—a lot of ideas are thrown at Frankenstein all at once, but not much is or can be done about them in a single issue, so the entire plot comes across as introductory instead of delving into the story. Let’s not forget that Victor Frankenstein himself is still around and kicking, all because he dedicated his life to the Rot and Arcane. Good connection, but Victor basically just disappears after the first few pages, with no real explanation as to why, and only Frank’s visit to Metropolis as a motive.
Then again, Frank’s motives in general seem fairly unstructured, as he normally has distaste for S.H.A.D.E. and their restrictive ways, but now he’s out to find them “no matter what!” Why the sudden change of heart? Up to now, it very much felt like Frank only tolerated Father Time and her organization so as to better protect humanity, but if he clearly knows that he needs to be fighting the Rot, why the impulse to find and secure S.H.A.D.E.? The answer comes down to the name of the series and Frank’s connection to the group. But as a plot-point it just feels out of character.
But amidst what feels like heavy contrivance, Kindt brings us to one of the best sequences of the New 52 yet. A scene where Frank encounters The Horse, an Emissary of the Red. The messenger of the Red is one deadpan guy. But it’s a momentary interaction that adds to the overall tone which is a counterpoint to apocalyptic atmosphere.
The Red needs Frank to help fight the Rot, but Frank just wants to find S.H.A.D.E. It’s only when fellow Creature Commando, the Vampire Velcoro makes his triumphant return that Frank learns about the destruction of S.H.A.D.E. headquarters. I suppose this is as good a cliffhanger as any, but again, it feels half-baked. So what if the headquarters were destroyed? We know Father Time and the other tertiary characters aren’t dead because then how would this series have its big grand finale in January? I don’t like suspense for suspense’s sake—if you want to give readers an invigorating moment, make it mean something instead of just making something go “BOOM!” and calling it a huge revelation.
This all might sound overly-harsh and like just so much nitpicking from a self-professed lover of this series. But it’s because I’ve enjoyed Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. so much in the past that it makes me sad to see the easier road being taken on a crossover with such potential. I’m confident Kindt will make something of the current chaos, it’ll just be hard to wait another month for some plot advancement.