With the destruction of S.H.A.D.E. in Event Leviathan, Frankenstein has been left behind in Monstertown - ready to face new adventures and gather a new team around him in Gotham City Monsters.
Written by Steve Orlando with art by Amancay Nahuelpan, Gotham City Monsters joins Frankenstein with Killer Croc, Lady Clayface, Orca, and Andrew Bennett, a.k.a. I, Vampire, as well as introducing a new monstrous character called the Red Phantom.
The team will fight against Frankenstein nemesis Melmoth as they deal with the fallout from “City of Bane” in Batman, the destruction of the Multiverse in Justice League, and the aforementioned fallout from Event Leviathan.
With so many different events and DC series tying into this book, Newsarama talked to Orlando and Nahuelpan about how Monstertown became the story’s ideal setting, how this plot fits with the other current events in the DCU, and what readers can expect from the new DC character Red Phantom.
Newsarama: Steve, this story references what’s happening in Batman and Event Leviathan. Did it spin out of that, or is it something you’ve been wanting to do for a while?
Steve Orlando: I love DC’s take on Frankenstein, so I’ve been trying to get my hands on him since I’ve been with the company - especially the original miniseries. He’s so uniquely down and dour. The first book was so creative and unique in tone that I just had to find a way to work with that character.
The stuff that’s been going on with Event Leviathan, as you said, and the “Night of the Monster Men” event and the Batwoman book that Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV, and Steve Epting did - it all became a good opportunity.
We wanted to see what Frank was up to. It was a place to make him sort of an undead loner again, now that S.H.A.D.E. has been destroyed in Event Leviathan, along with a lot of the other intelligence agencies.
So we took all these things that were going on in the DC Universe and saw an opportunity in them. And that’s where Gotham City Monsters came from.
We’re putting Frank up against characters he hasn’t really interacted with a ton before. Everyone he knew is seemingly gone, and so there’s this opportunity for him to find a new community to push him into some new places.
Nrama: Amancay, what did you think of the project when you were first approached about it, and why do you think your style fits with something like this?
Amancay Nahuelpan: When I first got the email from the editors, what I liked the most about the project was the different personalities of the characters. You have all a lot of different personality types, and that was really interesting because you go through a variety of different textures to draw. When you’re an artist, you want to draw fun stuff, right?
For a long period of time, a lot of people would tag me as having a gritty style. I think that fits pretty well the nature of Monstertown and Gotham City. I love drawing the backgrounds and giving it this mood that Gotham City has, which makes it so special, compared to the other fictional superhero cities.
I loved it from the very beginning, and I’m having fun working with these characters.
Nrama: Let’s talk about the story. What’s the threat that these characters are dealing with?
Orlando: In the previous Frankenstein mini-series, he thought he defeated his arch-enemy, Melmoth, by chopping him up and feeding him to these flesh-eating insects on Mars. He thought that was the end.
But you’ll see in issue #1, they found a way for Melmoth to return.
In his mind, he’s doing the right thing. He’s trying to protect humanity from something worse. He’s someone for whom the end always justifies the means.
He comes up against Frankenstein, because Frankenstein is something who is almost clinically short-sighted. He cares about the evil right in front of him. And if there’s some other, greater evil, he’ll deal with that after. But he’s never willing to sacrifice - say, a billion lives to save a trillion lives. But these are the things Melmoth thinks weigh on his shoulders.
He’s back because, much like when his ex-wife was threatening all of us, as you’ve been seeing in Justice League and as you’ve been seeing in the DC Universe for the past year, there’s a hole in the Source Wall, and it’s causing the death of the Multiverse.
So he is there, in his mind, to again roll up his sleeves and do the dirty work and save the rest of us, even if it means killing a lot of us. And Frankenstein is there with his team to say, you know, we can’t make decisions like that. We’re going to try to save everyone.
Nrama: You mentioned earlier that you started with Frankenstein, and it sounds like he’s the one driving this story. But how did you pull together the team that would surround him? And who’s on the team?
Orlando: We found out who we could use and who made sense with the story. So we have Killer Croc, Orca, Andrew Bennett, and Lady Clayface, who hasn’t been seen in a long time. And that’s not to mention the new character we have, the Red Phantom, that Amancay designed, and that I’m super, super excited about as well.
Nrama: How much does the setting of Monstertown play a role? Amancay, I know you were taking earlier about drawing it. From what I’ve seen, it’s the main setting, right?
Orlando: Yeah, it’s been a nice terrarium for the story. This story came together like a junction on a highway - we have Frankenstein as a nobody because of the events in Event Leviathan. Melmoth is here because of Justice League and what’s been going on in that book. And then Monstertown - that’s why this story can even take place right now, because this is also during “City of Bane” in Batman.
You’ll see that as the characters sort of sneak around Gotham, the Riddler, and Mr. Zsasz and Joker are policemen, and Bane is running the city, but Monstertown is the place - nobody really thinks anyone gives a sh*t about those people. Even though Bane is in control, he hasn’t really gone in because it’s not like anyone wants to get out either. It’s sort of its own ecosystem. It’s where the people that nobody wants - it’s perceived to be the place where people that can’t go anywhere else go.
That fits with the motivation of the characters in the book as well. Killer Croc is an ex-con at this point. He’s been paroled from the Suicide Squad and is trying to find work and start again, and he ends up in Monstertown because everybody just judges him on who he was.
So Monstertown allowed us to tell this story during “City of Bane.” When they venture out, it’s extremely dangerous, as we’ll see as the series goes on. But within Monstertown, they’ve been allowed to live their lives because in the eyes of traditional looking people and the people that are not deemed creatures and monsters by society, why would anyone want to go to Monstertown?
So that perception both drives our characters and gives us the opportunity to tell this story during this bigger story that Tom King and his team are telling in Batman.
Nahuelpan: And the fact that it’s been this abandoned place that nobody cares about gives me the liberty to actually play around with the look of it. We have these big skeletons from the “Night of the Monster Men” that happened, so there are these huge kaiju-looking things that are in the middle of the city that nobody has bothered to pick up.
And the look of it, I tried to give it a little bit of a 1970’s New York look, with the dirty streets and all that. I love that era of the way New York looked like. I mean, I know it wasn’t the most pleasing time of the city, but the look of it is just fantastic. So I tried to use that.
And obviously, in the background is Gotham City, which is always fun to draw.
Nrama: You mentioned this new character you’re introducing. What can you tell us about the Red Phantom?
Orlando: I don’t want to say too much about him. But I will say that there’s a building in Monstertown where no crime has been committed successfully in over a hundred years. And the mystery of that, and the reason for that, ties back to the Red Phantom.
It’s pretty unique in a city like Gotham.
That’s really all I want to say about the character, but Amancay, you can talk about the design…
Nahuelpan: Steve came up with a description of the character, and when I read it, I started doing research. It was something like a 1930’s theater or Broadway actor or something like that.
Can I talk about the two sides of him?
Nahuelpan: So he has two forms - a human form and a demon form. And for the human form, it was this good-looking actor. And I wanted to come up with something very slick, with a suit that would make him look dapper. And then the monster was the total opposite. He was bigger, and he’s kind of skinless, and boneless. I was thinking of the monster from Stranger Things. I can’t think of its name…
Orlando: Oh, the Demogorgon.
Nahuelpan: Yeah, like a Demogorgon, but with more of a demon face.
So it was fun to have these two opposite sides of the same character.
Now, in issue #2, we get to see a lot more of that, and it’s really fun to work with the demon side of him.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell people about Gotham City Monsters?
Orlando: The fact Frankenstein is one of the leads in this book is really all you have to know about what type of book it’s going to be. Previously, he was part of Seven Soldiers, and for people who love that book and, as Amancay said, just this strong confluence of personalities and insane creative action - that’s what you’re going to get in Gotham City Monsters.
We’re coming from all these events, but now these characters have their own venue and their own stage in this book. So you don’t really have to read anything else to know what’s going on. You just have to know that the Multiverse is in danger and Frankenstein is assembling the strangest team and the strangest Seven Soldiers he has yet to save them.
Nahuelpan: And the fun thing is that you don’t need to read all the other books - and not even all these characters, because in this story, we give a very good description of who these characters are. So it’s a great book to read for people who do or even people who don’t know the DC Universe. And it’s been a lot of fun for all of us, so I think it will be fun for the readers too.