If I were to sum up Frankenstein Underground in a single sentence, it might go something like, “Imagine an Edgar Rice Burroughs yarn featuring Frankenstein as a tragic protagonist.” If that’s enough to tickle your fancy, then you should certainly give this comic a shot. If you need a little more persuasion, then allow me to do some persuading.
Frankenstein Underground, written by Mike Mignola and drawn by Ben Stenbeck, stars Frankenstein’s Monster (referred to for the rest of this review as, simply, Frankenstein) in a story of redemption. It is set against the backdrop of an intriguing revelation regarding the mythology of the “Mignolaverse,” the shared universe of Hellboy, the B.P.R.D., Lobster Johnson, and many other characters familiar to fans of Mike Mignola.
Fresh from an off-panel fight with Hellboy in Mexico circa 1956, Frankenstein stumbles into the Central American jungle, wounded and seeking refuge in what appears to be an Aztec pyramid. There, he meets an old woman who heals his wounds, offering succor and words of kindness. She knows this creature, for the gods have spoken to her about Frankenstein’s heartbreaking past of hatred and conflict at the hands of those who misunderstand him or seek his destruction.
Pursued across the gulf of time by foul actors with nefarious designs, a demon is sent to kidnap Frankenstein, who fights back, defending himself and the old woman. In the battle, the woman is killed, and Frankenstein, consumed by rage, wrecks the old Aztec temple. In the chaos, a pit is opened, dragging Frankenstein to the very bowels of darkness. Believing himself to have fallen into Hell itself, Frankenstein begins to explore the vast caverns, where a prehistoric beast drags him further down, deep into the heart of the Hollow Earth. Our hero soon discovers that while this place may not be Hell, he has somehow stumbled into a subterranean world that holds secrets just as dark.
With art by Ben Stenbeck, Frankenstein Underground should feel very familiar to Mignola fans. Stenbeck captures Mignola’s style with swaths of black, lean and lanky appendages attached to husky torsos, and the shriveled, puckered faces of the ghostly dead. Whereas Mignola often leaves his characters with very neutral expression, Stenbeck ratchets up the emotional quotients with faces that, in some panels, distinctly take on a feel that I swear are Mike Allred-esque. By far, the most visually satisfying aspect of Frankenstein Underground are the colors, courtesy of (nine-time Eisner Award winning colorist) Dave Stewart. Stewart makes this stuff look easy—the boldness, the single-color panel backgrounds, the deceptively simple three or four-tone character and creature studies. All of his techniques add up to an arresting spectacle. I must confess, however, that I felt a powerful longing for Mike Mignola himself to have contributed more than just the covers for this mini-series. In too many Mignola books, it seems that artists (or more likely, their editors) are loathe to deviate from that certain je ne sais quoi that makes a Mignola book a Mignola book. While it’s tremendous that the “Mignolaverse” has a distinct aesthetic, I would either like to see some more wildly different interpretations of the various characters and series in the “Mignolaverse,” or I would like to see Mignola himself taking up the pencil more often.
by Mike Mignola
Art by Ben Stenbeck, and Dave Stewart
Dark Horse, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)