Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown is a 3-issue miniseries by Jeff Lemire. Set in the Flashpoint timeline, the comic follows an outcast team of monsters from the 1940s with ties to the Creature Commandos and the Agents of S.H.A.D.E. Lemire is a well-known of writer of many critically-acclaimed comics, including Moon Knight, Sweet Tooth, Essex County, and the Eisner Award-winning Black Hammer.
After the announcement of James Gunn’s Creature Commandos animated series, I was excited to dive into their comics to see what I could learn about these obscure oddballs. I started researching and quickly found out that nearly all of the characters announced for the TV series appeared together for the first time in Lemire’s underrated Flashpoint tie-in comic. In fact, the cast of characters in Creatures of the Unknown resembles the cast of characters in Creature Commandos so closely that this little miniseries might be the very basis for Gunn’s take on the team.
So let’s take a close look at Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown and see how it could be adapted for the upcoming DCU series Creature Commandos!
The story of Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown
Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown takes us back in time to the 1940s. Taking advantage of the changed timeline premise of Flashpoint, writer Jeff Lemire brilliantly creates a Tarantino-style alternate history where Adolf Hitler was killed by Frankenstein’s monster during World War II. Even in the context of Flashpoint, the discovery of Frankenstein’s monster (simply called “Frankenstein”) caused a major ripple effect across the DC Universe. The United States government launched a new wave of human-monster experimentation as they attempted to create “super soldiers” inspired by Frankenstein, leading to an alternate version of the Creature Commandos.
The story starts like a standard World War II comic but is quickly taken over by monster mayhem. Monsters vs. Nazis! But at the end of the war, the Creature Commandos are betrayed by the government. Instead of being reversed back to their human forms, they are put into cryosleep for future use and replaced with a G. I. Robot named J.A.K.E.
The comic picks up 65 years later when the Creature Commandos are suddenly awoken in the modern world, similar to Captain America with shades of Hellboy. The Commandos escape from their cells but with the government, robots, and monster hunters behind them, how long can our heroes last?
The story is filled with action, drama, horror, and a bit of comedy as Lemire plays on familiar tropes while keeping the plot fresh. I greatly enjoyed the homages to the original Frankenstein novel by Mary Shelley and the films by James Whale. Lemire writes Frankie’s dialogue with so much style that every line is a joy to read, giving him almost the literary flourish of Etrigan the Demon.
The comic ends with the re-introduction of Grant Morrison’s S.H.A.D.E. (Super Human Advanced Defense Executive), a supernatural commandos unit Jeff Lemire would later bring into the New 52.
The visual style of Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown
The only letdown of the book might be the inconsistent artwork. Each issue features a different penciller, to mixed results. For example, with Ibraim Roberson’s dark lines and Pete Pentazi’s dark colors, some of the panels in issue #1 are simply hard to discern. The problem is especially apparent when compared to the clarity of Doug Mahke’s exhilarating covers. But Roberson and Pentazi’s collaboration works successfully at times too. Their combined achievement is at its best with moody horror elements, like the terrifying face of Velcoro the vampire. While unbalanced, the artists’ bold intention to give the issue a shadow-heavy aesthetic is fitting for the story and characters.
In issue #2, Alex Massacci shares art duties with Roberson and Pentazi to significantly improved results. Roberson’s section feels like a breath of fresh air, balancing the dramatic shadows of the first issue with a softly expressive style reminiscent of Greg Smallwood. With better artwork and clearer images, the comic really starts to shine in the second issue, sometimes even downright spectacular.
Issue #3 features another change in art direction, with pencils by Andy Smith, inks by Keith Champagne, and Pentazi continuing on colors. The team tries to keep the mood of the earlier issues but fails to reach the expressive drama of Roberson in issue #2, frequently falling into standard superhero comic action.
The first two issues are lettered by Pat Brosseau. The style isn’t too remarkable, but the highlights are Frankenstein’s speech balloons, the use of green, and the gleeful sound effects. Travis Lanham takes over the lettering for issue #3 and continues the same patterns Brosseau started.
How to read Creatures of the Unknown
Being set in the Flashpoint timeline, Creatures of the Unknown is a completely standalone miniseries. But if you’d like additional context for the characters, you can take a look at the original Weird War Tales and Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein. After Creatures of the Unknown, Jeff Lemire continued the story into the New 52 with his fan-favorite work on Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. and Justice League Dark.
To read Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown in trade, look for the book titled The World of Flashpoint Featuring Green Lantern. This set collects all the Flashpoint tie-ins series for Abin Sur, Frankenstein, Green Arrow Industries, and Hal Jordan.
Adapting Creatures of the Unknown into Creature Commandos
The comic and the show feature many of the same characters, including Frankenstein’s monster, the Bride, the amphibious woman Dr. Nina Mazursky, and a G. I. Robot.
Since Creature Commandos’ G. I. Robot has a “2” on its helmet in the concept art, this must be J.A.K.E. II, a version of whom is an enemy of the team in Creatures of the Unknown. Rick Flag, Sr. seems to be a stand-in for Lt. Matthew Shrieve, who formed the original Creature Commandos in the comics. And in Creatures of the Unknown, Doctor Phosphorus joins Shrieve’s second team of Creature Commandos. In fact, this second team eventually betrays and kills Shrieve, which is a shocking twist that would fit perfectly in a James Gunn script. As exciting as all of these parallels are, I still hope the TV series plans to include the other classic archetypes from the comics like Velcoro the vampire, Warren the werewolf, and Miranda the monster hunter.
With DC doing an actual Flashpoint movie right now, there is also a chance that the Creature Commandos series could take place in the Flashpoint timeline, just as the Creatures of the Unknown comic was. Setting the TV show in an alternate timeline would give James Gunn the complete liberty to do outrageous things with the team, like having Frankenstein’s monster kill Adolf Hitler.
However this would also mean the characters in the Creature Commandos series wouldn’t be in the mainline DC Universe created at the end of The Flash. Therefore, I think it is more likely that Creatures Commandos is set in the main DC Universe. But with the Weird War Tales origin of the team, I expect the show’s Creature Commandos will find their roots in the 1940s, just as they did in the comics.
The Creature Commandos TV series will also help set up the monster side of the DC Universe, which is sure to be important for upcoming projects like Swamp Thing and the rumored New Frontier crossover event. Given how Lemire’s comic sets up S.H.A.D.E. as a modern evolution of the Commandos, I wonder if the DCU might do the same.
If you’re interested in diving into some Creature Commando cartoons now, I found an official Creature Commandos animated series made by DC in 2014. The shorts star the exact same cast as the Creatures of the Unknown comic, and the tone is almost Adult Swim in style. The short series look so ridiculous that it’s possible James Gunn might even be taking some inspiration from them. You can watch the series here: Promo | Video 1 | Video 2
My verdict on Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown
Frankenstein and the Creatures Unknown is a fun short series that remains one of the most creative comics related to the Flashpoint event. Jeff Lemire not only resurrected the idea of the Creature Commandos, but also pushed them into a new generation with the creation of S.H.A.D.E. and connections to Grant Morrison’s Frankenstein.
I also loved the emotional drama and the strong themes of family and trust. While the art isn’t always at the same caliber as the writing, there was clearly enough exciting material here to inspire Lemire’s fan-favorite runs with Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. and Justice League Dark in the New 52.
What’s more, this short miniseries seems to also be a major textual inspiration for James Gunn’s version of the Creature Commandos, similar to how he loosely based Guardians of the Galaxy on Dan Abnett’s team from the 2000s. In a similar way, this little alt-universe comic has become the cornerstone of so much lore in the modern Creature Commandos canon. So if you’d like to meet these characters before the new TV series starts, make sure to read Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown!
Who are your favorite comic monsters? Are you excited about Creature Commandos? Let me know on Twitter @vinwriteswords and remember to follow the site @MyCosmicCircus for more comics coverage coming soon!