Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Frankenstein Mobster #1

Frankenstein Mobster #1, December 2003, Image Comics
by Mark Wheatley
alternate cover by Mike Wieringo

A few of my friends have asked me what I think Cloverfield will be about, perhaps because they know that I heard producer J. J. Abrams talk about it at Comic Con earlier this year. Though I know Abrams really wanted to make a memorable monster movie, I usually simply say, "Well, it looks like Blair Witch meets Godzilla," a concept that seems to stimulate the post-fifth senses. I wonder if the film's already dynamic marketing campaign would've benefited from that tagline, sprawled under that haunting poster image of the headless Lady Liberty. Interestingly, that's the only way we seem capable of comprehending anything original anymore, by combining two concepts that are already done and that we can easily understand.

Try it. Write your ten favorite movies on separate little slips and divide them between two hats. Pull one from each to generate a completely new idea! The Usual Suspects meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? I'm listening . . .

Seriously, when I saw the title for Frankenstein Mobster, I thought it might be a by-product of this phenomenon. I can see writer/artist Mark Wheatley writing a few archetypal characters on slips of paper, like mobster, pirate, detective, and Frankenstein, picking the first and last ones and thinking, "Mobster Frankenstein? No, Frankenstein Mobster! Genius!" Fortunately, his concept is a little more complicated than that. Set in Monstros, "a city of crime and monsters," Frankenstein Mobster stars the amnesiac spirit of a slain detective on the run from a few fellow but more criminal ghosts. When all of them rush toward and get caught in a harnessed bolt of lightning, they find themselves trapped in a ragtag zombie body, built by the sexy but seemingly sinister Dr. Solva (yes, interestingly, a woman), apparently a mob agent assigned to build an ultimate soldier. The potential for this gruesome monster's sophisticated internal conflict is rife for exploration, more so than any villagers' torch-wielding scorn. Good direction, great visual connection.

In the context of my number one issue analysis, this issue's letters column revealed that there's a Frankenstein Mobster #0 haunting back issue boxes somewhere, so technically this number one isn't the first issue. Fortunately, I didn't know that until the end, and the story was well contained to keep my unadulterated interest. Also, Wheatley's art started strong, a synthetic blend of thick ink lines and digital coloring effects, but lost a bit of its coherency toward the issue's resolution. The inclusion of a cop that turns into a lion was an unnecessary, surreal touch, perhaps offered only to explain the name of Wheatley's monstrous metropolis, but definitely giving Mike Wieringo reason to create his eye-catching cover. It's a shame back issue treasures like this will be the only way I'll discover eclectic 'Ringo works in the future.

Interestingly, the X-meets-Y way of describing something suits a Frankenstein story just fine, considering the monster's origin as a patchwork of people. In any incarnation, Frankie is really just limbs-meets-torso-meets-lightning bolt . . . but garb him in gangster attire, arm him with a Tommy gun, and you get the pieces of a potentially great story. I've reviewed some of Mark Wheatley's stuff before, but Frankenstein Mobster proves that, like both ends of his hero's namesake, he's best off working alone.

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