Written by: Neil Davies, Special to CC2K
Mike Mignola and Ben Stenbeck breathe new life into a lifeless tale.
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Ben Stenbeck
Colors: Dave Stewart
Frankenstein Underground is the newest comic from award winning writer Mike Mignola, known for Hellboy, B.P.R.D, Abe Sapien and many other titles, and artist Ben Stenbeck. Set within the Hellboy universe (Mignolaverse), this new series focuses on the tragic story of Frankenstein’s monster (who we’ll just call Frankenstein, because isn’t constantly calling him a ‘monster’ more offensive than calling him Frankenstein?) and his journey to find peace and belonging.
This character’s introductory tale is simply one of the best. Mignola quickly sets up Frankenstein’s origin through flashbacks, showing the brutality and misfortune he has endured for the better part of two centuries. As he happens upon a benevolent priestess/sorceress living among Aztec ruins, the reader learns his history, his struggles and his desire for peace. The kind, gentle and intelligent nature of this tortured creation blossoms from the page, and your heart aches for him.
In addition to the fascinating reimagination of Frankenstein, Mignola establishes a villain that is simultaneously intriguing and terrifying. This antagonist understands the unique brilliance of Frankenstein and wishes to keep him as a kind of pet or trophy. Readers of B.P.R.D comics may recognize this villain or his minions, but newcomers will immediately identify the malicious intent of this character without needing to know his background.
Stenbeck’s art style is perfect for this story and flawlessly captures Mignola’s bizarre imagery. Not only does the art reflect previous Hellboy volumes, but it also manages to straddle the line between ‘rough around the edges’ and expertly detailed. The reader is visually introduced to this mystical world through the juxtaposition between the divinity of nature and the harsh rigidity of the man-made world.
Apart from the amazing art and story, what makes this comic unique is its accessibility to new readers. Too often comic books can become an all-too exclusive club. Series get bogged down in elaborate origin stories, overwhelmingly common deaths and resurrections of characters, and the constant mixing and matching of romantic plotlines, which can leave readers in the dark by the time they decide to jump on board a new series. Even trying to start at an issue #1 can give comic book newcomers more frustration than enjoyment. Ironically enough, this story-writing practice is what’s been slowly killing the soap opera medium over the past 40 years.
Frankenstein Underground is the exception to the rule. While the protagonist’s introductory story has ties to previous Hellboy comics, this series is individual and unique. It welcomes newcomers to the “Mignolaverse” and uses Frankenstein himself as a transitory device to slowly introduce new readers to the world and characters of the Hellboy universe.
What is especially refreshing is the effort put forth by Dark Horse Comics to create stories that are accessible to comic book newcomers. Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie understands that Hellboy’s universe is a strange one, to say the least. However, by using a well-known character from modern lore, new readers won’t feel lost and can effortlessly transition to other volumes in the Hellboy franchise.
“If you’re curious about Mike Mignola’s books but haven’t known where to start, Frankenstein Underground is a standalone series establishing his version of the monster while introducing readers to the strangest parts of the mythology he’s been building his whole career,” explained Allie in a recent email.
Fans and newcomers alike will be absolutely satisfied with this comic, and intrigued by where the plot takes them. Rather than the raging monster traditional media has shown him to be, Mignola has taken Frankenstein and created an emotional and intelligent underdog to empathize with and root for. Together Mignola and Stenbeck have breathed new life into an otherwise lifeless character.
4.5 out of 5.0