The adage ‘the whole being greater than the sum of its parts’ is put to the test by Magna Comix as this week sees the release of the Modern Frankenstein. Offering a modern twist on the Shelley classic, Magna have assembled a stellar team in superstar Writer Paul Cornell, artist extraordinaire Emma Vieceli and the colour and lettering powerhouse couple of Pippa and Simon Bowland. Have Magna put together the pieces for a monster success or is this one comic that lightning can’t bring to life?
Publisher: Magna Comix
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: Emma Vieceli (art), Pippa Bowland (Colours), Simon Bowland (Letters)
Price: £2.65 from Forbidden Planet
The Modern Frankenstein tells the story of Elizabeth Cleve, a doctor training under the brilliant but enigmatic Dr James Frankenstein. However, despite her respect and infatuation for her mentor, Cleve finds herself intrigued and concerned about his mysterious dealings within the walls of a closed off ward within the hospital. But that all changes when illness takes Elizabeth’s Dementia-ridden mother, leading to an encounter where Frankenstein not only offers up a miraculous cure for her mother’s ailment, but also to bring his protege into his secret world of science without limits.
Paul Cornell has created an intriguing story with The Modern Frankenstein, one which seems incredibly relevant in the times we live in (and even subtly referencing them). This is also a story which feels like a spiritual sequel to his work on ‘I Walk with Monsters, with the events that transpire in this first issue implying that the Modern Frankenstein is a proactive answer to the question I Walk with Monsters reactively answered.
Both of the characters are compelling individuals, which helps as it is their dynamic which drives much of the intrigue. Elizabeth Cleve, effectively the reader’s POV character, comes across as something of a scientific zealot, almost in direct contrast to her mother’s religious zealous nature. However, she is something of an enigma in this first issue as her actions question whether she is motivated by blind obedience and belief in science or controlled by her attraction to her mentor. As for the titular Dr Frankenstein, Cornell seems to have based him upon the classic Mister D’Arcy to some degree as the character gives an air of not just emotional unavailability but superiority (possibly to an almost Godlike degree). This is evidenced throughout the issue by not only his arm-length approach to Elizabeth early on but also a feeling of blasé-ness Cornell imbues in Frankenstein’s dialogue when discussing those who ‘help’ him with his work.
That said, it’s the dialogue which is also the issue’s biggest stumbling block, as the words and exposition do feel a little cluttered, leading to a disjointed pacing. Of course, this may be due to a need to get all of the ‘backstory’ out of the way early, but an extra couple of pages at the expense of the back matter advertising might have helped the issue breathe a little more. Also, given the title, I also expected more body parts, but that’s more a fault on my part and doesn’t detract from this (literally) cerebral story
On the other side, Emma Vieceli’s art is absolutely gorgeous here, with her style maintaining its similarity to her webcomic Breaks but looking much cleaner and smoother in its line. This gives The Modern Frankenstein a look which is reminiscent of Rahsan Ekedal’s art in Think Tank (another science heavy comic series). However, she also brings a real sense of horror-esque unease to the comic, best exemplified by her terrific rendering of an exposed brain in all it’s Frankenstein-esque glory.
Of course, Vieceli’s work is heightened by the inclusion of Pippa Bowland’s colours, which really gives The Modern Frankenstein this very clean, cold, surgical aesthetic that meshes well with the world it portrays. That said, she also does something unexpected by depicting Elizabeth and her homelife in warmer tones, hinting at a possible conflict between both of Elizabeth’s worlds in the future. Finally, Simon Bowland also provides solid lettering work throughout, but his opening sound effects of an escaped patient are really haunting in their style, helping solidify the unease of the scene early. In fact, when it comes to the visuals, the only downside is again a limit on pages as had the comic been a few pages more, it might have allowed the art to breathe and show off it’s look in a few panels without dialogue.
The Modern Frankenstein sets up a truly compelling story with two very different questions: ‘Should you break the rules for the greater good?’ and ‘Can love blind you from the truth?’ However, while this first issue is a slow burn, it’s complex characters and truly beautiful visuals, coupled with the questions it will leave you pondering on, will very much hook you and have you back to dig up more.