As a true champion of creators and all things weird throughout their multi-decade history, it was exciting when the long-running Heavy Metal Magazine announced they would be launching their own line of creator-owned comics under the leadership of longtime editor and author Denton J Tipton.
Among their first wave of titles is The Modern Frankenstein from Paul Cornell and Emma Vieceli, with letters by Simon Bowland. It’s a retelling of the classic monster tale combined with an illicit romance between teacher and student that adds just the right amount of flair for a very solid and promising debut issue.
The story kicks off in a short prologue that wastes no time delivering on the Frankenstein portion of the premise. A naked bald man flees into the night in terror, evidently escaping some looming building that glows ominously in the background. As the art zooms in closer, we see that a large portion of his brain is exposed beneath the flesh, hinting at something gruesome.
The story proper begins when we shift to a surgery room full of attentive young students looking to cut their teeth, so to speak. While some of them struggle, it’s clear that protagonist Elizabeth Cleve is not. She’s brilliant, driven, and has caught the eye of her professor, the rockstar surgeon James Frankenstein. These scenes are reminiscent of a Grey’s Anatomy vibe in the best way, immediately thrusting us into an intense medical world that is informed and illuminated by the personal relationships among those trying to save lives.
Outside the classroom, the affection between student and teacher is clearly mutual, but Elizabeth oversteps when she begins to pry into the nature of her mentor’s work and is met with stiff resistance. That is, until later on when Elizabeth’s dementia-ridden mother becomes hospitalized and James Frankenstein agrees to treat her with some questionably experimental methods involving certain injections in the brain.
This is where the pulp elements of the story take off and we can get some delicious tropes. There is a secret wing of the hospital that’s off-limits to everyone until Elizabeth is invited to catch a glimpse, a professor that hints that Dr. Frankenstein’s genius might be somewhat sinister, and a monologue from Frankenstein himself explaining how his work will change the world — or at least, why he thinks so.
The story is supported well by some great artwork from Emma Viecli, beginning with the cover art that so effectively captures the essence and aura of the series. Elizabeth and Dr. Frankenstein hold one another in something between a fighting grip and an embrace, posing almost like a dance with a scalpel in hand. The blood spatters along the border are also a really nice touch that highlights everything we need to know about the heat and danger that will no doubt coexist in this relationship.
As far as the storytelling itself, the penciling is excellent here and compositions feature a great mix of environment-building wide shots mixed in with close-ups that almost always feature solid background colors to evoke mood and enhance the pulpy genre elements. One particular scene where Elizabeth is left with a warning about Dr. Frankenstein ends with a large panel of her in a medium shot – she’s slanted in a dutch angle and half her face is covered in shadow, perhaps showing the crux of her good and evil that will be tested by this relationship.
The Modern Frankenstein is a great start to a limited series that provides everything the genre-fusing title promises with an engaging plotline, fantastic artwork, and an engrossing mix of modern romance with classic horror.
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