REVIEW: ‘The Modern Frankenstein,’ Issue #3

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Modern Frankenstein #3

The Modern Frankenstein #3 is a horror comic published by Heavy Metal Magazine as part of their Magma Comix imprint and written by Paul Cornell with art by Emma Vieceli. The colour artist is Pippa Bowland, and the letters are by Simon Bowland.

Young doctor Elizabeth Cleve finds herself being mentored by the handsome and brilliant Dr James Frankenstein. Both find themselves intrigued by each other’s intellect and longing for knowledge. When Elizabeth’s mother suffers a heart attack, Frankenstein not only saves her life but also cures her dementia. Frankenstein decides to invite his young apprentice into his private wing of the hospital. Here he performs radical and illegal experiments on live test subjects. Elizabeth eagerly joins the project as both the professional and personal relationships between her and James grow deeper entwined.

The human trials take a darker turn in this issue as the two doctors collect another test subject. This time it is a minor celebrity, a right-wing author who also operates as a pseudo-scientist. As they bring in this Dr Tark, the experiments also get more extreme and remorseless. Getting lost in each other and the potential rewards of their work, Cleve and Frankenstein aren’t prepared when one of their subjects attempts to escape.

If the horror elements of the series seemed to have subsided in the last issue, they have returned with a vengeance in The Modern Frankenstein #3. The pace and stakes have increased as Frankenstein becomes bolder in his experiments. There is an intensity to this issue that has not been present before and electrifies the comic. The medical drama is replaced by all-out slasher horror in the book’s second half, filled with suspense and action. And the ending is a gut-punch of a surprise, something that wasn’t considered a possibility by either the characters or the readers.

The two central characters are superbly written by Cornell. Something that should be highlighted regarding the “protagonists” is that, whilst there is a leader, they both are complicit in these experiments. In other adaptations, the person who collaborates with Frankenstein may have been manipulated into his service. There has been little of that within this series. Elizabeth is not only utterly transfixed with the beautiful man next to her, but she also agrees with his methods and destination. This is possibly due to her “praise kink” and her longing for accomplishment.

Cornell has created a powerful main character who can cope with dangerous situations without buckling. The sexual tension that permeated every page of the last issue still lingers, but that is completely evaporated when everything the couple has built may come crashing down.

Another interesting aspect of the characters is that Frankenstein is also surprised by how much of a leadership role his protegee takes in these human trials. One of the defining words regarding The Modern Frankenstein is “complicity.” Dr Cleve has been offered an out on several occasions, even by her teacher; she is a willing and eager participant. This has unsettled James, and it could be argued that her aid has encouraged him to take more risks and go even further with his experiments. 

The dialogue is incredibly powerful, especially when things start to go wrong. Much of the conversation between James and Elizabeth is clinical and blunt, even when they are casual with each other. But when it looks like everything is about to come crashing down, the gravity of the situation is heightened by the delicious conversation. 

The art takes a refreshing change because we finally leave the hospital environment. Vieceli’s art is terrific when it comes to vicious horror. The violence is unrelenting and unforgiving. The brutality of what happens is gloriously captured by the artist, the smooth textures and small lines allowing for precise details. The other remarkable feature of the art is how amazing the facial expressions are. Vieceli’s ability to show true terror and rage is frightening on the page. When this happens, the subjects look robbed of their humanity.

Leaving the hospital takes Elizabeth and James out of their comfort zone, and this is suggested by the colours. Bowland has shown it to be intensely bright inside the hospital, with whites and blues fitting the setting. When an alarm blares, the room is plunged into red. But as they go outside, it starts to get progressively darker. Not only does this change the atmosphere of the book, but it will also jolt the readers’ memory. This happened before, inside the cold open of the very first issue. This is a very clever technique and unsettles the audience.

The letters are always easy to read, and for perhaps the first time in the series, they have been altered. There are larger word balloons and changing colours as the issue reaches its climax and as the characters find themselves in real danger.

The Modern Frankenstein #3 is a fantastic horror comic. The previous two issues had creepy elements within them, but some moments are downright terrifying inside these pages. Every part of the series has been ramped up, with a spark added that was needed to prevent the issue from getting static. Cornell uses a small cast to give huge amounts of character development to the few that are present. It is an emotionally charged issue, too, with the heavy ramifications of what our protagonists have been doing beginning to appear. The relationship between the main characters is brilliantly written, and the art is terrific. The series needed shaking up, and this issue absolutely made sure of that.

The Modern Frankenstein #3 is available wherever comics are sold.

The Modern Frankenstein #3
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