‘Angel’ flashback: ‘Angel vs. Frankenstein’ (2009-10) (Comic book reviews)

While Joss Whedon himself brought Dracula into the Buffyverse with “Buffy vs. Dracula” (“Buffy” 5.1), comic-book legend John Byrne brought another Universal Monster into the fold with two “Angel vs. Frankenstein” comics – “Heir” in October 2009 and “Fragments” in October 2010. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is the backstory for the monster, who calls himself Frankenstein in these comics because he sees himself as the heir of the mad doctor who made him.

It’s neat to think that if I crack open Shelley’s novel, I’m reading a Buffyverse story, since Byrne’s panels of backstory are very faithful to the book (which marks its 200th anniversary this year). It also makes “Angel vs. Frankenstein” hard to reconcile with Mel Odom’s “Image,” a 2002 “Angel” novel where we learn that Angelus and Darla personally knew Mary Shelley, and wherein the demon they fight inspires her to pen the famous novel.

I slightly prefer that story, but writer/artist Byrne’s work is certainly fun. It’s not the best example of his tie-in fiction – to cite one example, “Jurassic Park: Devils in the Desert” is superior – only because the stories are rather predictable, but he does nail the characterization of Angelus (part one) and Angel (part two).

His art is of the type where you remember it being in black and white and sepia tones, even though there is some color here and there. IDW uses hard-stock board for the first issue’s cover, and regular (rather than glossy) paper for both, further enhancing the old-timey mood of stories set in the 1800s (part one) and in the wake of World War I (part two).

On part one, Byrne delivers the artist’s equivalent of David Boreanaz’s performances as Angelus: He does cruel things we can see coming from a mile away (although his victims can’t) and is grinning the whole time. In Geneva, Angelus aims to steal the monster’s supposed family fortune by killing him and then posing as him, but the monster – drawn more like a scarecrow than the standard Boris Karloff style – keeps surviving.

Then in part two, Angel is brooding. This is one of many stories – “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been” (“Angel” 2.2) and “Why We Fight” (A5.13) are others — that says “No wait, he wasn’t literally eating rats in back alleys for a century before Whistler came along. He laid low but did the occasional good deed.”

Here, Angel is working at a mental asylum in New York City, and he’s actually made himself presentable for his night janitor’s job – so much so that it took me longer than it should have to realize “Joseph Smith” is really Angel.

Very conveniently, Frankenstein’s monster happens to be held at this asylum, and Angel ultimately works to help the monster finally achieve suicide, while also trying to keep his vampire identity from his colleagues on the job. With the monster being suicidal and Angel bordering on it, I think “Fragments” could’ve been a more emotional story.

“Angel vs. Frankenstein” is respectable work by Byrne, and it’s neat to think of Frankenstein’s monster being in the Buffyverse, but the arc comes off as more of a trifle than a deep story. It’s Angelus in vintage form, then Angel in vintage form, but we don’t learn anything new.

Click here for an index of all of John’s “Buffy” and “Angel” reviews.

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