Sunday, March 4, 2012

It Came From the Back Issue Bin! #26: Night Force and Agent Frankenstein

Night Force #1
“The Gatherers”
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: Tom Mandrake

While writer Marv Wolfman has a rich pedigree in superhero comics from Amazing Spider-Man, to The New Teen Titans and to Crisis on Infinite Earths, Night Force has always been something really special for him. The original series from 1982 surfaced a bit too early to join the Vertigo wave that would take comics into the darker corners of the DC Universe during the late 1980s and 1990s. This 2012 take on the series is the third attempt and is setup as a 7 issue miniseries.

The series is still centered around the mysterious protagonist Baron Winters who is a master gamesman, gathering his Night Force and putting them into play as an chest player would. However, the pawns have to real clue as to what the stakes really are. Interestingly, in this incarnation, Baron Winters still seems to be bound to his house, but is about twenty years younger.

I was initially excited to see Tom Mandrake’s name on the title as I have fond memories of the amazing work he did on the Spectre in the early 1990s. However, I was a bit let down. There were some amazing pages with captivating layouts, but then there were other pages that were pedestrian and uninspired.

On DC’s blog THE SOURCE, writer Marv Wolfman shared the following:
“When I first conceived NIGHT FORCE in the 1980s (which was then illustrated by the amazing Gene Colan) my goal was to create the first graphic horror novel, something the industry had never seen before. Dark, frightening, adult in theme and content, and heavily character driven. I thought of NIGHT FORCE as a series of horror novels about 'real' people - as opposed to those with super-powers - who find themselves caught up in situations far beyond their control or understanding.”

Night Force #1 was a decent setup to a miniseries that poses a lot of questions, but lacked the emotional attachment to any characters that would make us care about waiting for answers to those questions. I’m hoping that once I’ve seen the series as a whole, there’ll be a better payoff.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1-4
“War of the Monsters”
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Alberto Ponticelli

The first four issues of this series stands as the first story arc, “War of the Monsters”, and Lemire does a masterful job at setting up the series and introducing all the characters. The Frankenstein monster is a super-agent with an organization dubbed S.H.A.D.E., the Super Human Advance Defense Executive. S.H.A.D.E. is run by a young girl who is actually the housing the intellect of the chief scientist known as Father Time.

Lemire also cleverly integrates some facets of the DC Universe, for example, Ray Palmer, better known as the Atom, created SHADE’s sub-atomic base of operations and acts as one of the science agents and Father Time’s right hand man. Also, Frankenstein is joined by a motley crew of other monsters called the Creature Commandos, which is a great reuse of b-list characters whose various series never managed to make the cut as an ongoing.

Frankenstein leads his Creature Commandos against a horde of parasitical monsters who have ravaged a dying planet and mean to relocate to a new host planet, Earth!

You can’t help but draw similarities to Hellboy and B.P.R.D., but there’s an off-the-wall perspective that makes it different enough. Given enough time, I feel that this series will be able to make itself distinct enough. Unfortunately, writer Jeff Lemire will be leaving the title after issue #9 as he jumps over to Justice League Dark.

The artist, Alberto Ponticelli, has a great eye for dramatic storytelling, especially with his amazing double-page and full-page spreads. However, there’s a lack of detailed finish in his work that seems almost counter productive. Ponticelli gets better with every issue and keeps up with the story that expands exponentially in scope and size. And actually with issue #7, an inker, Walden Wong, steps in and makes a world of difference, cleaning up the pencilled art and adding a layer of smoothness to the finished product.

--Jason Shayer