Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Monster Team-Up!

When it comes to the monster of Frankenstein, all is fair in love, war--and especially fiction, where the monster made a second home for himself after Mary Shelley had loosed him upon us in her novel of nearly 200 years ago. I wouldn't have expected the monster to have made much headway in the world of comic books, where characters often scoff at or mock such figures from "real world" literature; yet characters such as Dracula, the werewolf, the mummy, et al. have managed to do pretty well when weaved into a comics story, so it's clear that having a background in real-world literature need not be an obstacle to crossing over into the world of comics.

The tricky part is: What is to be done with the monster, other than rely on him for shock value or the expected rampage? On several occasions, the Marvel stories which featured the monster worked around the situation by only dealing him in for the short term--even to the point of working around the monster himself, by providing a facsimile rather than the actual monster of literature and horror movies. The real monster of Frankenstein would need considerably more care if he were to be weaved into comics stories on even a semi-regular basis. For instance, having characters constantly react to him with phrases like "The monster of--Frankenstein? But... but, that's just a story! A fictional character! You can't be him!" would get old fast. (Even the monster would probably get to the point of rolling his eyes at it.)

If memory serves, the earliest instance of seeing the monster of Frankenstein in a Marvel comic (if you're not counting its predecessor, Atlas Comics) was in early 1968 in a copy of X-Men. Not only was the resemblance of the monster true to our expectations, but the cover left no doubt as to his identity--or so it seemed.

"The X-Men Meet Frankenstein! 'nuff Said!" Au contraire, as that caption would be screaming "false advertising" by the time this issue concluded.

From there, we'd shift to the pages of Silver Surfer over a year later, where the cover copywriter had learned a thing or two about blatantly misleading the reader and instead realized that the word "Frankenstein" is sufficient and enticing enough on its own:

In this story, the monster again was a no-show--but he's at least established in comics as a once-living character, thanks to the many assessments by Frankenstein's evil ancestor of that fateful night's work.

(You can learn more about "Experiment X" and its results in a full review of that issue.)

Four years later, The Monster of Frankenstein is launched by Marvel--a bi-monthly series for much of its run, which would be renamed as The Frankenstein Monster after five issues. The title would end after eighteen issues, but would eventually shift its time frame and establish the monster in the mainstream Marvel universe beginning with its twelfth issue, where the creature is discovered in the present-day in suspended animation.

Heh--"'s alive." A nice touch, and famous last words in every sense.

But the waters are muddied a bit when, in an appearance which in hindsight might have been seen as a sign that the monster might not be enough of a draw for his own title and could be headed for the grave again, he shows up as one of the Legion of the Unliving, where he engages in a rather one-sided battle with Dr. Donald Blake's alter-ego.

It's not until a month before the TFM book's cancellation when the monster makes an appearance in the pages of Marvel Team-Up mag, where an evil scientist named (I am not kidding) the Monster Maker has brought the monster and Spider-Man to a mountain castle as part of an experiment to merge their abilities.

And since the monster's appearance in the 20th century may come as news to those who aren't reading TFM, the story provides a nice summary that brings readers of MTU up to speed:

Ordinarily, the monster sharing the billing with Spider-Man in the popular MTU mag would be a practically guaranteed sales bounce for his own title--but with its cancellation imminent, the influx of new readers (assuming that would be the case) would unfortunately be too little, too late.

After the end of The Frankenstein Monster, it would be two years before the monster would appear again, this time in Invincible Iron Man, where writer Bill Mantlo would link the developing story he'd written for the final issue of TFM with his two-part story taking place in Iron Man, both involving the mysterious great-granddaughter of Victor Frankenstein. A woman that Mantlo writes somewhat malevolently in the closing panels of TFM:

...but whom he rewrites into a more sympathetic character in Iron Man, someone who's gathered other victims of the Baron's experiments in order to care for them.

(That's assuming her "children," as she refers to them, had also been in suspended animation for over a century, since they would otherwise have long since passed away. Mantlo really doesn't address that aspect of this story; we could assume that she was referring to the ancestors (plural) of the original Frankenstein, and not Frankenstein himself.  If that's the case, it would be just an oversight here of an apostrophe ending up in the wrong place.)

Another ancestor of the Baron showed up a year later, this time in World War II in a story from The Invaders--Basil Frankenstein, tasked with creating an army of artificial Nazi soldiers. You can probably guess what form his own creation took, complete with swastika armbands:

Aside from that, there seemed to be a dearth of stories that featured the original monster interacting with other characters in the Marvel universe. Filling that void would be an odd story that found the monster on the planet created by the Beyonder for the "secret wars," where Ben Grimm remained behind for a time. Once again, however, this monster was something other than what was expected.

As for the original monster, for all intents and purposes he seemed to be a dead issue as far as Marvel was concerned--an experiment of their own, which didn't work out as successfully as hoped. However, if the subject of the Frankenstein monster and its adaptation to Marvel comics interests you, be sure to continue on to a far more comprehensive (and quite well-written) look at the monster's evolution in this medium by writer Adrian Wymann, who offers more perspective on the subject and behind-the-scenes anecdotes.


Anonymous said...

All of these Marvel versions of the Frankenstein Monster look similar (but not TOO similar) to the famous Boris Karloff version - in Mary Shelley's novel the monster is called repulsive and hideous etc but he is never actually described in detail (as far as I remember) so he could be portrayed in any way - I suppose Marvel drew him similar to the Karloff version otherwise nobody would recognize or accept him as the Frankenstein monster :)

Comicsfan said...

Colin, it seems eventually they got away from the Karloff resemblance, counting on the monster's pallor, stitches, and general bulk to set him apart. I think they even ditched the neck bolts, which was a shame. :)

Anonymous said...

I was to young to have read the X-men and Silver Surfer comics except as reprints, but if I had, I would have been pretty annoyed at the bait-and switch. What a gyp! As a kid I woulda thought I got hosed!
At least in the, er, encounter with Thor, we got the real Frankie.
I guess maybe I understand Stan the Man not having the monster fight the Silver Surfer. That would have been as goofy as trying to have the Surfer fight Drac-oh. Nevermind.

Comicsfan said...

m.p., an apt observation!