Saturday, March 4, 2017

Wachowski Reloaded, Part 6: Doc Frankenstein

             Part 6, in which the Wachowskis return to their first love...

             After the “48-month labor that led to the birth of the twins Reloaded and Revolutions,” as the Wachowskis put it in their introduction to Doc Frankenstein #1, it was somewhat understandable that the siblings would want to take something of a breather. But an artist’s mind has little room for rest, and although they were maybe not going to jump into anymore $100 million movies any time soon, they decided to return to their first love and first medium of publication: comics. And so was born Doc Frankenstein, the Wachowskis very own series of their very own comic book company, Burlyman Entertainment.

            Illustrated by the siblings’ Matrix storyboard artist and former Ectokid collaborator Steve Skroce, Doc Frankenstein is bristling with the sort of imagination and wild storytelling that can only be accomplished in the comic book medium; a series that feels like a Catholic schoolgirl gone to college who’s been sheltered her whole life and can now let loose with wild abandon. As the Wachowskis basically state in that afore-mentioned introduction, a film set is a place restricted by time, money and constant compromise, and they jump back into the comics world in force, where the only budget you have is the bounds of you and your artist’s imagination.

            Doc Frankenstein tells of the modern-day adventures of Mary Shelly’s indelible creation, who has moved to America and taken up the cause of social justice and scientific progress. With a hundred-year history that’s seen him equally as a bounty hunter of the Old West and offering his services to the Scopes trial, Frank spends most of his time helping those in need and fighting monsters - be they of the giant, radioactive variety or draped in liturgical black and white. He's accompanied by his pals Tex (a werewolf cowboy outlaw), Monica (his leggy, scientist-adventurer lady friend) and Vickie (the original Dr. Frankenstein’s super-smart, twelve-year-old great-great-great granddaughter, who also has an intelligent dodo companion, Einstein). If you couldn’t tell already, it’s a subtlety-by-way-of-sledgehammmer approach to that ages-old debate of science vs. faith, and the series is rife with proclamations such as, “I am a caesarian inflicted upon the womb of your reality.” Truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

            If we’ve learned one thing about the Wachowskis during this revisiting of their career, it’s the desire to merge the so-called “high” art with the “low” - a fierce interest in religion and philosophy and ideas that also understands the simple pleasure of the Frankenstein monster tearing off the arm of a werewolf and using it as a weapon to fight off other werewolves. This duality is what keeps me coming back to their work time and time again, as so many other artists think that the two schools of thought must remain separate, and thus settle to give us either plodding bores or hollow spectacle. Doc Frankenstein is a rejection of almost all of that: in the great Jack Kirby tradition, the siblings keep adding on the craziness throughout the six issues released thus far, piling on ideas and concepts like you’d keep piling on the syrup and the whip crème to your stack of pancakes. It doesn’t always hold together as well as you’d hope (and feels a bit dated when read now, what with its George W. Bush cameo on the very first page), but damn if it doesn’t taste good. What other series mixes the Universal Horror tropes with pulp sci-fi action and religious sociopolitical commentary and Jesus and fairies and the blasphemous, secret origin of the big guy himself, Yahweh? What other comic could hope to compare with the wonder of this double-page spread:

            If there’s one real fault I can find with Doc Frankenstein, it’s that it’s incomplete. The series was notorious for being late (putting out only six issues in the span of two years), and the last one released all the way back in 2007 ended with a cliffhanger, with Doc flying back to the Catholic army stronghold that took him prisoner in search of answers to the reason why he was still alive. A few years back, the first four issues were finally collected in a nice TPB, with the promise of a second volume that would publish the rest of the story, finally concluding the saga of Doc and his pals. True to Doc Frankenstein form, it has yet to come out - apparently due to issues with the colorist. Yahweh willing, it will be released some time this century. I mean, it took me two years to finally finish this thing, so I'm in no place to judge.

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