ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘The Modern Frankenstein,’ Issue #4

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Modern Frankenstein #4

The Modern Frankenstein #4 is published by Heavy Metal Magazine, from their imprint Magma Comix. The writer is Paul Cornell, and the art is by Emma Vieceli. The colours are by Pippa Bowland, and the letterer is Simon Bowland. This is the penultimate issue.

Talented young doctor Elizabeth Cleeve finds herself infatuated with one of the tutors at her hospital, the handsome but cold Dr James Frankenstein. She quickly finds herself connected to him and his brilliance, and he grows attached to her as well. When her mother has a near-fatal heart attack, James not only saves her life but cures her dementia as well. Elizabeth joins him in his private wing, featuring intensive and unethical trials on human subjects. The two doctors form a very close working and romantic relationship, making massive progress in their research. They kidnap a far-right author, experimenting on his brain. But it backfires, and the author escaped, killing a family and forcing Frankenstein and Cleeve to kill him. To make things even more complicated, Elizabeth finds out she’s pregnant with James’ child.

The consequences of the last issue leave James and Elizabeth in real trouble. Much of what they were up to was partially revealed when the author escaped, leading to investigations and scrutiny. At the same time, the extent of how close the lab partners are is beginning to be made clear to those that know her outside, and Dr Cleeve reveals her pregnancy to her lover. As their work is threatened to be torn down, their relationship starts to fracture…

Whereas the first two issues of this series could be considered slow, issues three and four have been onslaughts of action. The structure and pacing of the plot are fantastic, with both the horror and dramatic sides of the story being blended into one. Cornell has weaved the two key sides of this story beautifully: the scientific and unethical experiments that have led to bloodshed and pain with the romantic chemistry between the main characters. Once kept separate, they now threaten to tear each other apart. And the horror has started to affect all of these aspects. The Modern Frankenstein #4 has a moment midway through it that may start to raise warning flags amongst readers before a horrifying and powerful gut-punch sends shivers down the spine. 

The characters are expertly written. The characters have grown as the series has unfolded, but their core personalities have stayed strong. Cleeve is very clever and intuitive, her ability bringing her to Frankenstein’s attention in the first place. Her infatuation with him and ultimate agreement with his methods resulted in her being complicit with everything, even becoming the one who ends lives. She never once shies away from this, even as their freedom looks unlikely. The strength and determination within this single protagonist have been one of the most endearing features of the book.

As for Frankenstein, he has done wonders in convincing both the reader and the audience that he does possess ethics. He has been nothing but eloquent and polite with Elizabeth, appearing to be as drawn towards her as she is to him. But there are still elements of his character that make him incredibly creepy. He was a cold, difficult person in the beginning, and parts of that resurface in The Modern Frankenstein #4.  

The difference in philosophy between the central characters is fascinating and in-depth. Elizabeth appears to want to solve a particular problem, like her mother’s health. Her experiments have an end date, a finality. Her mother is safe and healthy means success. She’s a doctor, she wants to fix people’s injuries. But James is always seeking for things to be better, to improve. And if they don’t show improvements, they are failures and disappointments. He is a scientist always looking for new problems.

The art continues to be impressive. Vieceli is superb at switching between illustrating what could be mistaken for a twisted medical drama and an out-and-out horror comic. The violence in The Modern Frankenstein is understated, often used in a brief but impactful exposure of gore. The artist’s use of panel placement results in some superb reaction shots. The only real criticism of the art is that there are two characters, Frankenstein and his test subject, that look too similar from particular angles. When they are in a room together, it can be difficult to tell them apart. This happens only once in this issue.

The colours have been consistently exceptional. Something that hadn’t been noticed in previous issues is that Bowland will only have one object of a distinct, vibrant colour within the panel, all shades of a similar colour. A pink that darkens all the way to a deep purple can be seen on the shirts of Elizabeth and the head of the hospital, Angela. Around them is a myriad of white, greys and violet within the nighttime scenes. The panels are clean and clear, and this focal colour draws the reader’s attention to the important things on the page.

The letters are easy to read, and the formal font Bowland uses is very fitting within the medical, scientific sub-genre of the comic.

The Modern Frankenstein #4 is glorious and terrifying. This adaptation uses modern scientific tactics and current control techniques to tell an old story with new ideas. At an initial glance, it may not have been clear how many moving pieces within Cornell’s plot there were. But now, going into the last issue, so many plot aspects are about to collide. With intoxicating characters and a superb art team, the creators have set up what will likely be a remarkable climax.

The Modern Frankenstein #4 is available where comics are sold.

The Modern Frankenstein #4
4.5

TL;DR

The Modern Frankenstein #4 is glorious and terrifying. This adaptation uses modern scientific tactics and current control techniques to tell an old story with new ideas. At an initial glance, it may not have been clear how many moving pieces within Cornell’s plot there were. But now, going into the last issue, so many plot aspects are about to collide. With intoxicating characters and a superb art team, the creators have set up what will likely be a remarkable climax.