Shiny Shelf


Doc Frankenstein #1

By Mark Clapham on 12 December 2004

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Can the Wachowski Brothers redeem themselves through the medium of comics?

Well, they probably shouldn’t have to. Whatever the disappointment many ‘Matrix’ fans had over the two sequels, far worse cinematic crimes have been committed in recent years, and both movies had their standout set pieces. The writing/directing brothers would be quite within their rights to roll their eyes at the more vitriolic critics, and not worry too much about poor reviews or raging fanboys.

I suspect that’s exactly what they’ve done, banking their hefty sequel cash and setting up a comics company, Burlyman Entertainment, as their next project. Nevertheless, whether they feel like there’s something to prove or not, the first Burlyman comic is a startling reminder that the Wachowskis still have an eye for compelling, inventive action stories. They also – as the ‘best Superman fight in the cinema ever’ scene at the end of ‘Revolutions’ ably demonstrated – have an understanding of what makes good superhero action. It may not always, if you excuse the expression, fly with less imaginative cinema audiences, but in its home medium, this stuff is still great.

So, here’s the first Burlyman publication ‘Doc Frankenstein’, created by comic book artists Steve Skroce and Geoff Darrow, who also served as conceptual designers for the ‘Matrix’ films, and drawn by Skroce with scripting by the Wachowskis. The ‘Doc’ of the title is Frankenstein’s monster, who has spent the decades since his creation acting as assassin, warrior and all-round action hero. His world is a compelling combination of the absolutely everyday and the absolutely daft – the first couple of pages show Doc in the aftermath of battle, having killed a giant, Godzilla type monster on behalf of George W Bush’s administration. His life has led him from his ‘unholy’ creation, through adventures with Yeti and a stint as a cowboy, to his current role as patchwork James Bond and founder of a city for refugees and the oppressed. But, as in all versions of the monster’s story, the forces of reaction mass against the monster, in this case in the form of a high tech fleet of religious fanatics.

The Wachowskis have written a little introduction to this first issue, stating their belief that the comics medium can, and should, provide rich visuals and action that no other medium can. To be quite honest, they didn’t need to mention it up front – the story speaks for itself in this respect, offering up endless spectacle from Skroce’s pen. See Doc fight the Yeti in the ice caves! See Doc knee-deep-in-the-dead in the old west! See crucifix-emblazoned warplanes make a full-on assault on a futuristic haven in their war on tolerance! See Doc Frankenstein catch a giant missile and throw it back.

Exciting stuff, and the sort of thing Grant Morrison and the like keep campaigning for. What’s more, unlike Warren Ellis’ torturously slow approach to widescreen comics, events happen thick and fast, with all of the above occurring in one punchy issue. Skroce’s art is just lovely, and ably assisted by sumptuous colours from Jason Keith, letters from Comicraft and high quality paper. The script knits together the spectacle into a cohesive whole, using a sympathetic internal monologue from Doc to provide a context to his struggles. It’ll be no surprise to anyone that the Wachowskis write Doc as a slightly troubled hero trying to find his place in existence, but this is just the right material for that sort of approach, and they certainly have a way with the odd compelling phrase. Particularly memorable is the western flashbacks reminiscent of ‘Unforgiven’, and the moral discoveries Doc goes through in a mere few pages. The narration also remains pointed, without going into the excessive, wordy rambling that can clog up a visual narrative.

Whether you are a ‘Matrix’ completist, a lapsed ‘Matrix’ fan or someone who prefers the Wachowskis earlier, more lesbian, movies, this is well worth a look. It’s good comics, well made. Give it time, and Burlyman could live up to its name and logo, becoming a new industry strongman. Here’s hoping.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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