Frankenstein returns to the pages of the Hellboy Universe with “Frankenstein: New World” #1, a tale set in the far future beyond the world-ending cataclysm of Ragna Rok. Beyond the initial premise, it’s impossible to talk about this book without spoilers, so we’ve ignored our usual policy of keeping issue #1 reviews spoiler free.
Written by Mike Mignola, Thomas Sniegoski, and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Peter Bergting
Colored by Michelle Madsen
Lettered by Clem Robins
Mignola’s Frankenstein monster returns!
Safely tucked away inside the hollow earth where humanity survived after Ragna Rok, precocious young Lilja receives visions of a new darkness taking root on the surface. Defying her elders, Lilja awakens the timeless oracle–once known as Frankenstein—to investigate the warnings and, perhaps, even explore the new world above.
Frankenstein: New World, from Mike Mignola, Thomas Sniegoski, Christopher Golden, and artist Peter Bergting, explores a new chapter in the world of Hellboy!
Mark Tweedale: In 2002, Mike Mignola teamed up with novelists Thomas Sniegoski and Christopher Golden to work on the first major Hellboy Universe spinoff, a series called “B.P.R.D.” The story they set on begins when Abe Sapien has a vision of Liz Sherman in need of help, and so he and several other Bureau agents voyage into the Hollow Earth. . . Now, twenty years later, Mignola, Sniegoski, and Golden are teaming up again, this time for a story about a young girl called Lilja, who has had a vision of the “Star Lady” in need of help, and so she and Frankenstein voyage out of the Hollow Earth to the world above.
There’s a symmetrical structure at work here that feels incredibly deliberate.
James Dowling: It absolutely feels like a momentous book due to that narrative shape, to me this felt like a strong introductory chapter in a new story cycle for the Hellboy Universe. Where “Sir Edward Grey: Acheron” was more of an epilogue, “New World” is firmly a prologue. It mixes artistic and thematic elements of the Hyperborean creation stories longtime readers are familiar with, with hallmarks of post-apocalyptic and cli-fi lit.
From the start, this book had a premise that was both bonkers and exciting to me, only because of how deep in the myth of Mignola’s writing it is. Frankenstein’s still so authentically cut from Shelley’s novel, but is so far outside its context—it’s such a novel premise. That said, it’s one that could be unfriendly to new readers, despite the regular exposition fed to the reader in this opening issue.
Mark: Yeah, I feel like a new reader would have to be willing to shrug off a lot, just accept that they don’t know certain things and that’s OK. I keep finding that with the Hellboy Universe stories set post-Ragna Rok, they’re not really trying to be new-reader friendly. These are stories set beyond the end, and they’re not going to recap nearly thirty years of stories before telling a new one. That said, this is a new world with almost no familiar characters. Even long-time readers may find this story a bit alien.
I can only really react to my own experience of the book here, because I get the feeling this is one people are going to come away feeling very differently from each other. For me, the big thing here is Peter Bergting, after working on Mike Mignola books for eight years, finally working in the Hellboy Universe. And, I might add, on a book that plays to his strengths. Bergting draws the natural world magnificently, so to have him get to define a strange new natural world is really exciting and I feel like he made the most of it in every page.
James: Yeah, there’s a familiar rhythm to this story that helps new and old readers alike shrug off the saga that came before, Lilja and Frankenstein are both unconcerned with that past, so the reader has little to fuss over either. I really loved Bergting’s work here too! His figures are beautifully simplistic, with that very deliberate simplicity you see in other artists like Elsa Charettier or Darwyn Cooke. But unlike them, he’s primarily concerned with taking that same minimalist approach to huge landscapes. It gives all his environments this storybook feel to them, where they’re boundless but made from shapes that are easy to grasp.Continued below
I did think there were moments where his style worked against the scale of the book. In some sequences everything just feels too easily contained in the page, but Bergting’s lucky enough to be supported by colorist Michelle Madsen and the persistent Clem Robins, who add their own vibrancy to those sections. This is most obvious in the sequence where Frankenstein first leaves the village, everything grows dark yet lurid, every panel’s crawling with fluorescent sound effects—it’s a strong sensory moment.
Mark: That cave section neatly divided the human land in the Hollow Earth and the world above, contrasting strongly against both environments. It also demonstrates Bergting’s flexibility. He modifies his style when he’s referencing moments previously drawn by other artists. I don’t know how many of our readers know this, but there’s an image he drew once of Hellboy that keeps on being put into so many articles about Hellboy, but the art is almost always erroneously credited to Mignola. Anyway, it’s a skill he uses throughout the issue to summon up Mike Mignola and Laurence Campbell without directly mimicking either one. Especially coming off of “The Sword of Hyperborea,” where Campbell was referencing some of these same moments himself, it’s nice to see how well they mesh together.
James: Absolutely! The fleeting moments where he mirrors Campbell were such a pleasant surprise. We’re used to seeing other artists incorporate and reinterpret Mignola’s motifs, but seeing Campbell-by-way-of-Bergting felt really special. It also led into arguably my favorite moment of the book, where Frankenstein thanks the corpse of Agent Howards. Especially after reading “The Sword of Hyperborea” it gives the reader this nice sense of camaraderie between the two as we know they’re both in various stages of afterlife, unstuck in time, commiserating together. It’s like a more subtle version of the conversations in Hell between Koschei and Hellboy.
Mark: “Frankenstein: New World” was actually in part inspired by an image Ben Stenbeck drew as a stretch goal for the Mike Mignola documentary kickstarter, with Frankenstein and the Hyperborean blade, but mounted on a staff.
Currently. Ben Stenbeck is busy with “Koshchei the Deathless in Hell” and couldn’t take on this story as well, so for me this scene between Howards and Frankenstein almost feels like a moment of passing the torch. That’s totally just my reading of it, but it’s got that energy to it, you know?
James: Yeah, I was deflated when the announcement came that Stenbeck wouldn’t be on the book, but this does more than enough to showcase why Bergting is worthy of the book. Readers are used to Frankenstein under the pen of Stenbeck, but it’s sort of refreshing to have a different talent bringing a wizened, older version of the hero into this post-human world.
Mark: It’s the titular New World that I loved seeing the most. I can’t help but see “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” in those mushroom-filled landscapes—not just because they’re mushrooms, but from the tone in which they are portrayed. They’re alien and beautiful; there’s something ominous in them, but they’re not overtly hostile either.
James: That’s a great comparison. It definitely has that Ghibli feel—lots of Princess Mononoke in there too! It reminded me of Andrew Maclean’s surreal fantasy world from “Head Lopper” a little, too. The mushrooms were an interesting spectacle too, there’s something about the swayed shape to them that reminded me of the Ogdru Hem we saw marching across cities in “B.P.R.D.,” whether that makes these the actual overgrown remains of those creatures or it’s just an allusive design remains to be seen.
Still, it’s little flourishes in design like that which help sell this story’s malignant and vaguely defined new evil. We don’t really know what it is or how it will manifest, but there’s something familiar echoing through the environment.
Mark: God, that image! It’s stuff like that which puts me in the headspace of “Hellboy in Hell” without a direct link. There’s so much sadness in a world built on bones.Continued below
I found the ending is abrupt in the way that it’s written, but this is a case where the art makes it work. That said, we read digital versions of these stories for reviews, and so endings like this one are extra abrupt. If you get sucked into a story, with a physical book you can’t possibly lose a sense of how far from the end you are—that’s definitely not the case with digital. The final page of “Frankenstein: New World” is so well constructed that it stuck in my mind long after reading it.
I know I’ll never be a monthly comic reader, it’s just not the way I’m wired, but there is the rare occasion when something forcing me to stop for a while can make me appreciate it a little more. I feel like that was the case with the final page here.
James: Yeah, I didn’t mind the ending. I’m usually a trade-waiter too, so when a book resists the urge to put in a last-page reveal I’m happy.
Mark: I’m definitely not a fan of the “and then a monster jumps out” cliffhangers. I like something more meditative.
James: That’s probably the word of the week for this writing team. I was worried it could be a “too many cooks” situation with Mignola, Golden, and Sniegoski all sharing writing duties on a miniseries, but they’re such regular collaborators now that it feels organic.
The opening narration really reverberated for me, especially. Throughout there’s a lot of dialogue that falls flat, but it’s the throughline of narration that helps keep the characters in tandem with the scope of their setting. That said, by the end of the first issue I have absolutely no reason to care about Lilja as a character, she’s sort of just a tonal counterweight, the point-of-view character made to remind the reader how new and exciting this world is, when the art can easily do that on its own.
That said, I usually have an ax to grind with child characters added to media as a way of raising the stakes in violent situations. When it’s done lazily, it just becomes a way for writers to get around having to think of more inventive high-stakes scenarios.
Mark: I get the feeling readers are going to split on Lilja. I read this story shortly after climbing a mountain with my niece, who was extremely excited to tell me everything she’s been reading lately, talking a mile a minute and barely stopping for breath, so I couldn’t help but be endeared to her. I get that she’s not for everyone though.
That said, her being a little girl is, I suspect, extremely important. There’s a history in the Hellboy Universe of young girls being able to tap into Vril. The most obvious, of course, is Liz Sherman, but it goes all the way back to King Thoth’s seven daughters (one of which is bonded to Frankenstein, by the way). This story element also played a rather prominent role in “Rise of the Black Flame” where young girls were being kidnapped by a cult for their potential. Lilja is already sensing a connection to Liz and even to Frankenstein, so I think it’s pretty likely she’s one of these gifted girls.
James: Yeah, this could quite likely be a story to pass the torch from Frankenstein to Lilja. Just like Abe and Hellboy, he was an outcast everywhere he went in the Old World, the original persecuted monster. But after Ragna Rok, all humans who leave the Hollow Earth are the aliens, so having Lilja on a solo title, rather than continuing to share the page with Frankenstein going forward would facilitate that.
It definitely feels like this book is being used as a way to not necessarily alter the character of Frankenstein, but affirm the themes of his character arc and project them further out into a world that resembles him. We see this when he insists once again that he’s not a monster. It’s why he took his father’s name, instead of going by “Frankenstein’s Monster.”
Mark: It’s quite a leap to go from where we left Frankenstein at the end of “Frankenstein Underground” to where we find him at the beginning of ‘New World.’ He was so lonely before, and had so much self loathing. It does me good to see him at peace with himself. The way he interacts with the monks, when he says, “My guidance is simple. Live, and be kind,” demonstrated this change so well, especially in the light of the reverence the humans have for him. His legacy ultimately became something far more beautiful and nurturing than his cruel beginning. It’s presented simply here, but I found it moving.Continued below
James: Absolutely! He’s a far cry from the prosaic monologues of his tortured past. The prophet lifestyle is a good fit for him. In a way, ‘Underground,’ ‘New World,’ and the unfinished “Frankenstein: Undone” all find ways to tackle the idea of body dysmorphia and identity in a hostile world, the only difference now is that Frankenstein gets to be the mentor in someone else’s journey, rather than the victim of a world he can’t understand. It’s a really beautiful image and I can’t wait to see where that dynamic takes us.
Mark: You put that perfectly. I’m actually glad this issue isn’t in too much of a hurry to get on with the plot. Simply seeing Frankenstein at peace for page after page, seeing the New World just existing, seeing the bones beneath. . . Those moments alone make this issue a story that I not just enjoyed, but I needed. I’m going to give this issue a 9, knowing this may be a divisive one. The relative “scenic tour” pace of this issue did me good.
James: I absolutely agree that a more decompressed story was the right call on this issue. Personally, I’m still reeling from ‘The Devil You Know’—I don’t need more calamity and end-times. There was some flat dialogue and shaky framing that held this issue back for me on a technical level, but “Frankenstein: New World” is shaping up to be a comic that’s bold, curious, and thematically eloquent, and so it’s hard to be cynical. It’s an 8 from me.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – “Frankenstein: New World” #1 is both quintessentially a Hellboy Universe book, and yet like nothing else we’ve seen before in the Hellboy Universe before. Bergting’s art truly transports us into a new world, while embellishing it with compositions and pacing that tap into a Mignola-esque mood.