“Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.” This quote from Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein figures prominently in issue number one of Victor LaValle’s comic Destroyer from Boom! Studios.
Destroyer posits that Victor Frankenstein was a real person, that the monster still lives, and there is one last living descendant of the doctor. That descendant is a woman named Dr. Josephine Baker, a brilliant, reclusive scientist, whose young son was killed in a police shooting. The first issue opens in Antarctica with a figure sitting underwater observing a whale. After the whale is harpooned, he destroys the whaling ship & all aboard. Nearby, the crew of another vessel observes. Spotting them, he comes aboard. The crew is wary, and rightfully so, considering what they’ve just witnessed. The captain’s daughter is quick to assure him that they're not like the whalers, they try to stop them. She talks with the newcomer, who seems to know who and what he is; meanwhile, her father retreats and relays a message to land about their new visitor.
Things go poorly when the ship comes in to dock and the action turns to other locations as a woman known as the Director issues orders to go round up all the “alchemists” and bring them in, after 225 years, the monster has been seen.
Two men, named George Byron and Percy Shelley, are sent to retrieve Dr. Baker and bring her in. We learn from them that she is reclusive, having scrubbed her image from just about everywhere, so they weren’t sure what she even looked like at first. She leaves them behind after telling them to pretend they never found her and retreats to her home & basement laboratory. The whole time, she's talking with someone, seemingly, an AI. The conversation gets much more personal, however, the longer she works in the lab. Finally, it culminates in a question answered with “…because that’s when you died.” And you know full well what she’s been up to.
The characters we meet in the first issue present differing viewpoints of the monster. The whalers view him as a horror and ultimately their executioner; the captain’s daughter views him as a useful tool, and the captain himself sees him as the monster and knows he must be reported. The Lab’s motivation seems to be capture and containment, and in one instance of issue #2, they seem to infer they’ve done more experimentation along that vein. This comic is very well written, the heavy influence of Frankenstein combined with the modern horror of police violence is both powerful and relevant. A side note to characters, I found myself wondering if Byron and Shelley are code names or ranks rather than given names. Perhaps we’ll learn more on that in later issues.
The art for Destroyer is fantastic. Illustrator Dietrich Smith and colorist Joana Lafuente do a great job making people and things look realistic, the most sci-fi elements seem possible. Of particular note to me was Dr. Brown’s hair, the white streak being reminiscent of the one from the old Bride of Frankenstein movie – although she opts for a much tamer style.
After reading the first two issues of Destroyer, I am eager to explore more in this world. I love that LaValle ran with a “what if Frankenstein was real?” approach and married it to such modern, serious material, it really packs an emotional punch and makes the reader think. Currently, there’s 5 issues out, with a 6th due in October. On Boom!’s website, it appears some issues might be unavailable as a physical copy, but do check around. I’ll be keeping an eye out for a collected edition, I have a feeling it will be worth the wait.