Monday, December 2, 2019

Monster vs. Monster!

For us, the time was late 1973--but for a certain comics character, it was the 1890s, when the Frankenstein monster roamed through Europe, seemingly doomed to face a mixture of panic and persecution from those who regarded it with loathing and, most definitely, fear. Yet they also feared another menace, those creatures that came in the night and left blood and death in their wake--and in the seventh issue of his series, the monster would face the threat of vampires... and one vampire in particular.

The Frankenstein Monster (renamed from The Monster of Frankenstein after five issues) was a fairly interesting effort by writer Gary Friedrich to bring the classic monster from Mary Shelley's novel "mainstream" in a continuing series--with Marvel even bringing the monster forward in time to the 1970s at one point, an understandable decision considering that you could only do so many stories featuring angry villagers with torches and pitchforks.

Friedrich would pass the reins to Doug Moench for that segue, who would take the series through nearly the rest of its run of eighteen issues before cancellation. In hindsight, perhaps a limited series might have been a more practical way of handling this concept; even Tomb of Dracula, featuring another horror character who occupied a "niche," struggled to maintain its readership before ceasing publication with its sixtieth issue. But while Dracula was far more mobile and pursued a variety of interests, the monster was like a land-bound Hulk who could only roam from village to village.

Yet before the meeting pictured above would take place, we get a fair idea of what The Frankenstein Monster brings to the table, with its weaving of mystery and the macabre that worked surprisingly well for its title character. Even so, vampires offer a spike of interest to a story that no self-respecting monster shouldered with carrying his own series would turn down.

To provide some context here, Madame Marguerita is part of a band of gypsies who have temporarily offered sanctuary to the monster, and obviously there was more to her than initially met the eye. It's really her granddaughter, Carmen, who comes to accept and establish a bond with the monster; but as we'll see, it's Marguerita who has some some sort of agenda in play here--and with the monster so keen to find the last Frankenstein, she plays him like a violin while methodically maneuvering him (and, to an extent, her tribe) to a location where she will make use of his might.

Unfortunately, with the discovery that vampires are at large in their midst, the nearby villagers are blaming the gypsies for their presence, forcing Marguerita and the others to flee for their lives; but with the monster at her side, they both survive the villagers' pursuit, and soon they approach the tomb of the man whom Marguerita has brought the monster to see. You'll hardly need three guesses to realize just who that will turn out to be--but since this story's preamble took place in an issue which offered nothing on its cover that might alert the reader to its fanged guest-star (only a generic "shock ending" caption), the reader is suitably provided with a tantalizing step-by-step ending that may have actually come as some surprise.

(I don't know, Mr. Dracula--if I wanted to keep villagers from torching my coffin on sight, I doubt I'd identify its occupant with a shiny name plate that tells them the worst horror Europe has ever known is within.)

The question which this scene likely provokes--"Which of these two is mightier?"--is one that will take yet another issue to answer in the visual sense. On paper, normally that person would be Dracula; but having just been revived after who knows how many years of not slaking his thirst, his strength isn't even close to its peak (though you wouldn't know it by the zeal he's displaying here). As a result, the monster's confidence in its ability to take him is perhaps justified--assuming Dracula gives him the chance.

It's unclear who "Esmerelda" is, Mr. Thomas--but it's telling that you're not keeping track of the characters in the mag you're editing. (Marguerita wouldn't take it kindly, either.)  Though on the subject of editing... since Dracula doesn't spend much time praying, we can assume the monster wants to stop him from preying on all mankind, eh?

And speaking of Esmer... Marguerita, she unwittingly provides Dracula with the opportunity to slip away when she attacks Carmen for coming to the monster's aid--thus rendering Round One of this battle inconclusive, and Marguerita certainly more dead than she was before.

As for the monster, he becomes incensed when he and Carmen come across the village mob's handiwork--the entire tribe of gypsies, slaughtered to a man (and woman), their possessions destroyed. And the only one to avenge them is one who has been the recipient of more than his share of betrayal and pain--surviving it all, only to see those who befriended him killed out of panic and fear, two reactions which he has become more than familiar with.

Meanwhile, Dracula is ravenous--yet the townspeople have taken the precaution of shielding their loved ones from a vampire's attack using the tradition methods, which forces him to widen his search. Sadly, Carmen, now on her own, is a good distance from town, and completely helpless to resist the one her grandmother is responsible for loosing upon the world once more.

In town, however, the villagers face an attack of a different sort, from a different monster--indeed, one who shows no mercy and takes his vengeance on them without an ounce of remorse. Eventually, a shot from a sniper ends his rampage, and he is subsequently bound to a lamppost and surrounded with wood which is then set aflame. But the villagers become alarmed by a scream from a woman nearby who has been attacked by Dracula while they were occupied, forcing them to abandon their own victim and race to the scene; but they are too late, with Dracula now having drained another of their blood and in the process restoring him to the height of his power.

The lord of vampires, facing his attackers with a mixture of arrogance and unwavering confidence, manages to easily escape, leaving the mob to turn their attention once more to the monster, who has managed to free himself; but instead of paying them back in kind, the monster takes another approach, one that Carmen would almost certainly have approved of.

Unfortunately, Carmen, in her new un-life, is the first to greet the monster when he arrives at Dracula's cave-tomb. And as she attacks, the monster is visibly forlorn at being forced to drive a stake through her heart, even knowing he must bring an end to her curse. But there is a vampire yet to be dealt with--and this time, their match will indeed have an ending.

As you may have noticed with some surprise, artist John Buscema (inked by Marvel's Production Manager, John Verpoorten) has shown up in a most unexpected assignment here to make a notable mark on this brief series--not enough of one to turn the tide, but turning in a fine job nonetheless in the time he stayed on the book. For the curious among you, the entire run of the series is available as part of a TPB, which also includes the monster's appearances in Giant-Size Werewolf and Marvel Team-Up--plus additional material from Monsters Unleashed and Legion of Monsters. You're not the only one tempted to lurch forward and grab a copy.


Greg said...

I was pleasantly surprised to recognize mighty John Buscema's hand at work here! How many issues of this series did he partake in? Also... it is truly unfortunate that the coloring chores weren't handled by a more sensitive talent. Some of those super-saturated tones really kill the great drama of the well-rendered artwork!

Comicsfan said...

Might be the digital conversion of the original in play, Greg--there have been times when I've chosen to use original scans from Tomb of Dracula and other titles when I've felt the conversion didn't do justice to them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your hard work and effort in making this blog always fun and interesting to read. Best wishes and I look forward to your next posting.

Anonymous said...

I first read #8 as a kid and thought it was just fantastic. I saw it on a spinner rack in a grocery store and hollered out "Ma!!"
What more could a young kid who's obsessed with monsters and the supernatural ask for? Of course I hadda wait years before I found a used copy of #9 and most of the issues (it helps to have a car and a paycheck) in a comic store, but it was worth the wait. I think this is the high point of a series that was pretty uneven, to put it charitably.


Comicsfan said...

Thank you so much for the nice words, Anon--they're very much appreciated. :D

M.P., I think most of us had the sense that The Monster of Frankenstein/The Frankenstein Monster had an uphill battle even having the advantage of a recognizable name. Like Night Nurse, Amazing Adventures, Shanna the She-Devil, Kull The Conqueror, The Cat, Marvel Feature, and other comics published in the early '70s, I suppose the feeling was to brainstorm a dozen or so concepts, toss them all in the ring and see which ones would catch on. TFM may have lasted longer than expected; and in hindsight, it was easy to understand why the character may have been brought forward to the 20th century, in order to take advantage of greater exposure within the contemporary Marvel universe. Even so, it would be interesting to hear from anyone who felt the concept was ever a sustainable one.

Anonymous said...

I don't blame them for bringing Frankie into the 20th Century. Obviously he was gonna show up in MTU. And I enjoyed seeing him in the Avengers and Iron Man
And I think that's great, I just don't think they handled the transition very gracefully in the monster's own comic. And why do a suspended animation thing at all? You could have stories about him lurching around different periods in history, which is exactly what they did in Tomb of Dracula. Like maybe the monster meets Bonnie and Clyde, or Wild Bill Hickock.
But I do have a stubborn fondness for the title, just like I do for Supervillain Team-Up.
It was a gnarly, spooky little Marvel comic from the '70's, with all the inherent goofy charm of that. They're still fun to read.


Big Murr said...

There was an independent comic called Doc Frankenstein published a while back. It was well-written, if occasionally a bit too lurid. It put forward a monster that went to the Arctic to die and couldn't. The electricity of the ether that created him made him immortal. He returned to the world and his adventures were as M.P. said, following him thru the Wild West, World Wars and forward. I agree that it would have been the way to go with this Bronze Age version. If it t'were me, I'd take the long view and have each story arc in a new decade until we reached the present day.

As with the monster in C.F.'s sample here, Doc Frankenstein was an insightful and articulate being. I wonder if that quality turns some fans off? My gut suspicion is most people expect the grunting, growling brute and are confused by a monster capable of discussing the ideas of Socrates. I know in the last decade of my comic reading, the monster appeared in Daredevil and SHIELD as mute palooka.

Tiboldt said...

Is this the same Frankenstein's Monster that was in X-Men #40 or Iron Man #101?

Comicsfan said...

No and yes, Tiboldt (in that order). :)