Today I'll be reviewing two new comics from IDW hitting stands this Wednesday: Frankenstein Alive, Alive! #1 and Trio #1.
Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein Alive, Alive! is a must-read for any fan of the old Marvel horror comics and Creepy magazines. It's as atmospheric and gloomy as hell (you can almost smell the mist and gently rotted flesh), but paradoxically also carries a great deal of hope -- for this time around, the Monster has found a home, a job, and friends. Working at a circus freakshow, he has scored the monster movie equivalent of a comfortable civil service job. But will things remain so relatively peaceful for the creature?
A lot of the first issue takes place in flashbacks, referencing the finale of the original Mary Shelley novel and chronicling the Monster's attempts to kill himself. Niles's writing here is melancholy and believable, really getting inside the misunderstood protagonist's head. But this is really Wrightson's showcase (and I'm sure Niles, who is a big fan of the artist, would be the first one to agree), with page after page of preternaturally lush black & white art. These are images that stick with you, wiping away (at least, for the moment) the mass-marketed image of the green flat-topped "Frankenstein."
The gulf between the pop-culture icon and the Monster of the Shelley novel (as well as Wrightson's own classic 1983 version, which this new series is apparently a sequel to) is explicitly touched upon in this issue, as the audience at the freakshow boo him for not being the "real thing" (even though he is the real thing). The Monster has a certain resignation to his fate as not only being rejected by the man who created him (never even bothering to give him a name), but rejected by the public for not living up to his hype; he takes on the incorrect name "Frankenstein" just so he can have a sense of identity. Slightly meta, sure -- but as a long-time fan of the big guy, I always yearned to see that point addressed.
If the fantastic superheroes gracing the cover of IDW's new comic, Trio, seem familiar to you -- well, whaddya gonna do? Isn't this a long-standing tradition in comics: teams and characters that bear an uncanny resemblance to other ones? Rip-offs, you might say? Hardly. I like to call them "homages". Or, as I assume in comics legend John Byrne's case, they're just classic concepts done right.
If the big rock-guy (nicknamed "Rock") on the cover and the stretchy lady haven't tipped you off by now: Trio is Byrne's version of the Fantastic Four. You know...with three instead of four. And technically the young cute hot-shot dude with the scissor-like arms is not on fire like the Human Torch. And the female character is not elastic, but made of paper.
Yes, this team is based on Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Now that we got this out of the way, I can also report that Trio is a fun, fast comic that definitely hearkens back to the good old days of comic books (circa, say, 1985). Even the coloring by Ronda Pattison is in that retro palette that held sway for so long before the dawn of extreme computer effects (albeit with Photoshopped rock texture for Rock). Our heroes are decent -- though, at this early stage of the game, quite mysterious -- folks that love helping humanity and don't approve of killing. Add in a sub-plot about deadly mermen, and a hybrid merman that may or may not be a good guy (Submariner, anyone?), and you've got a nice little story that doesn't pose grand philosophical questions like Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four but simply entertains.
This all boils down to the debate as to whether comics now are too complicated, too "adult," too "real life." Were comics better back in the day? I think we can have both. I know some readers who have consistently gravitated towards the sort of fare that Trio provides (like the Man of Steel fan who only read Superman Adventures and not the main titles because he felt they had lost the idea of fun) -- and if you are among them, you're going to love this book.
There's also the aspect that this is John Byrne writing and drawing this -- he is one of the industry's most prolific living legends, and I'll pretty much read anything he puts out, including the illustrated highlights of C-SPAN and the nutritional information on the packaging of my granola bars. So there's that.