EXCLUSIVE REVIEW: ‘The Modern Frankenstein, Issue #1

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Modern Frankenstein #1 - But Why Tho?

The Modern Frankenstein #1 is published by Heavy Metal as part of their new Magma Comix creator-owned imprint. Written by Paul Cornell with art by Emma Vieceli. The colours are by Pippa Bowland whilst the letters are from Simon Bowland. The story focuses on Elizabeth Cleeve, a brilliant medical student in the middle of her studies. One of her primary teachers is the cold but charismatic Doctor James Frankenstein. His skill and passion for medical science draws her in while her promising talent also captivates him. One of the other faculty members warns Elizabeth, telling her to not get too close. But when her very ill mother suffers a health emergency, she is forced to trust the doctor.

The plot is interesting, combining a classic horror with what could be considered a medical drama. After the creepy cold open, the story is told with a slow pace and simple structure. It is clear that Frankenstein and Cleeve’s relationship builds over a period of time. This extended first issue allows this relationship to be constructed without rushing it and feeling forced. The writer also shows changes in the dynamic, with events within this first issue affecting how Elizabeth feels towards her mentor.

The tension is there from the first scene; the reader is always aware that there is something unsettling happening. The twist at the end diverts this adaptation even further from the Mary Shelley story. It creates ethical questions within the medical setting whilst also propelling this tale into the modern setting it belongs in. Perhaps one small addition that may increase the authenticity of the location is more precise vocabulary. There aren’t many references to procedures or ailments yet, detracting from any specificity within what happens in the operating theatre.

The setting of this retelling is a brilliant choice by Cornell. A pristine, state-of-the-art hospital is the perfect contrast to an old, eerie castle. The Modern Frankenstein #1 uses the medical drama aspect of it to address scientific themes. Questions regarding the ethics of certain procedures will be crucial to the series going forward.

Both of the main characters are superbly defined. Cornell reveals so much about them within this first issue but also leaves room for change. They are both very similar—devoted to science and medicine. Frankenstein is further down that road as Elizabeth is still in her formative years of study. She is the protagonist and is a strong character to follow.

Vieceli constructs a terrific world and really in-depth characters, aesthetically speaking. So much of the comic is spent with just these two characters, so it is vital that their looks are right. Elizabeth has a great design, eyes often hidden between large but stylish glasses. She has a fantastically drawn hairstyle that has multiple layers of detail. Her outfit changes multiple times, which works really well. For a “real” character to enter a different world, Cleeve wearing a new outfit every day feels authentic while allowing the artist to have fun creating new looks for the character.

Her willingness to diversify is juxtaposed by Doctor Frankenstein, who remains exactly the same every time he is seen. He is tall, beautiful and imposing. He is always in a long lab coat and dress shirt. The physical dynamic between the two characters is as fun to read as the emotional. The way the surgeon will lean into or over Elizabeth shows his eagerness to be the most powerful person in the room. The facial expression is unflinching too, forever stoic.

The colours are beautiful. Bowlands’ style is important as it instills that intense cleanliness that is found within hospitals. The walls and objects around the building are completely smooth and unblemished. The white of Frankenstein’s jacket is flawless and untainted by marks or creases. Vieceli does not use much detail in the background of her panels, but the colourist will add texture. This varies panel to panel and is not overused. For much of it is a halftone pattern, small dots next to each other. But there are also occasionally paintbrush strokes that add variety to the shade in the background. This gives the reader’s eyes much more to enjoy and process.

The letters are really good. Bowland uses a formal but stylish font, matching the scientific theme of the comic. Any variations in size suggest a change of tone, and the low frequency at which this happens makes it very noticeable when alterations are made.

The Modern Frankenstein #1 is a fascinating retelling of one of fiction’s most beloved tales. Cornell fully adapts the story whilst still capturing the themes and concepts. It is very interesting how horror can be manipulated just by placing it in the pristine confines of a hospital. The small cast allows for an incredibly in-depth exploration of the two main characters. Their relationship grows so much within just one issue, just a small peek at how much it could evolve through the entire series. The art fits beautifully and will surely be crucial in adding much more disturbing imagery as the doctors’ work continues.

The Modern Frankenstein #1 is available where comics are sold from April 28, 2021.

The Modern Frankenstein #1
4.5

TL;DR

The Modern Frankenstein #1 is a fascinating retelling of one of fiction’s most beloved tales. Cornell fully adapts the story whilst still capturing the themes and concepts. It is very interesting how horror can be manipulated just by placing it in the pristine confines of a hospital. The small cast allows for an incredibly in-depth exploration of the two main characters. Their relationship grows so much within just one issue, just a small peek at how much it could evolve through the entire series. The art fits beautifully and will surely be crucial in adding much more disturbing imagery as the doctors’ work continues.