The Sweet Tooth and Animal Man writer goes big, crazy action in this New 52 reinvention of Frankenstein (the gun and sword-toting monster, that is), the Creature Commandos, and an updated version of the mysterious mad science organization S.H.A.D.E. (think S.H.I.E.L.D. if Nick Fury was a domino mask wearing school girl). Lemire spoke to MTV Geek by e-mail recently about making such an abrupt shift pivot away from the more sensitive, character-driven work with which he’s normally associated to Frankenstein totally wrecking stuff. We also learn a little about the pleasures of working with Unknown Soldier artist Alberto Ponticelli, and what went into creating a new version of the Creature Commandos for the New 52.
MTV Geek: Any time a story starts in small town America, it’s simply doomed. Why do you think they make such good settings for these kinds of big horror tales?
Jeff Lemire: I love setting my creator owned work like Sweet Tooth and Essex County in quiet, realistic rural settings, so this was kind of me taking that preconception and then destroying it by plopping some monsters in there! I love the idea of these [quaint] rural communities harboring all kinds of dark and terrible secrets.
Geek: Between this, Animal Man, and Swamp Thing last week, there seems to be a lot more horror-tinged story in the new DCU. Was this a conscious direction for you guys?
Lemire: Definitely for me. I wanted to get away from regular superhero stories, which can often seem stale and generic to me. I wanted something with more edge and something darker I could sink my teeth into and really push the storytelling a bit. Play with the idea of what a superhero comic can be.
Geek: Tell us a little about your take on Frankenstein. There’s a little bit of grumpy old soldier to him.
Lemire: He is absolutely humorless, which in turn leads to a lot of humor down the line. But he is a noble soldier, an unstoppable killing machine with the heart of a poet and the manners of a Victorian gentleman.
Geek: When you hear his voice in his head—with his stylized speech bubble and all—how does it sound?
Lemire: He sounds like Mother F****** Frankenstein!!! How do you think he sounds!!???
Geek: What was your pitch for S.H.A.D.E. as an organization and its place in the revamped universe?
Lemire: In a world getting stranger by the day, S.H.A.D.E. and their weird and over-the top science division, became the go-to military organization to deal with it. It’s mad science gone right and funded by the taxpayers to protect us from the horrors we can’t bear to face on our own.
Geek: Likewise, for those readers not familiar with the character, what can you tell them about Father Time?
Lemire: He is a seemingly immortal being who regenerates a new body every decade and has been at the command of S.H.A.D.E. for decades. Little beyond that is known… for now.
Geek: How did Alberto get involved with the book?
Lemire: I asked for Alberto. I loved Unknown Soldier and knew he was a great storyteller, but I also knew he was dying to draw monsters. I thought he would bring that gritty, expressive energy to the work that so many European cartoonists have.
Geek: Could you tell us a little about what you and Alberto discussed in terms of the look of the new Creature Commandoes?
Lemire: Very little to be honest. We just jumped right in and he sent sketches almost immediately that just nailed it. We hit the ground running. I believe Jim Lee was involved in some early discussions with him, suggesting a few things here and there. My favorite detail is Velcoro’s checker-board sleeves. It reminds me of The Specials. Very punk.
Geek: The last incarnation of the team was kind of this group of sad/tortured freaks and monsters, but you made a conscious effort to make these guys proud to be what they are. What was behind that?
Lemire: Just wanted to be clear this was a new DC Universe and a new version. I wanted these guys to be a part of S.H.A.D.E. , which is proud to be weird and wild and over the top. But that outlook may change as the series progresses and they start to learn new secrets about their origins.
Geek: This kind of sprawling, bloody action comic is a bit of a departure from some of your other work. What was the appeal?
Lemire: Exactly that. I wanted to do something that was 180 degrees from the slow, emotional kind of stories I’m known for with Sweet Tooth and even Animal Man. I wanted to show readers that I could also write action, humor and sci-fi. This book is my releases from all my other stuff.
Geek: Are there any of the Commandoes that you have a particular affinity for at this point?
Lemire: Nina is my favorite. Particularly because I created her, but also because she’s the most “normal” of the group… the most relatable. In many ways she’s becoming the heart of the book as I move into scripts 5 and 6.
Geek: For those readers checking out your work for the first time here, what would you like to tell them to get them to come back next month for issue #2?
Lemire: Next issue…Frankenstein vs. Monster Planet. Nuff said.
Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is available in both print and digitally now.