Comics ‘N Coffee: August 26th 2013

Published on August 26th, 2013

Well, I ain’t evil, I’m just elated –
Start a pot of coffee, and get caffeinated –
I’m a thirsty man –
But I don’t want decaf –
If you mess with Frankie –
It might be yer epitaph!

As I listen to podcasts concerning modern comic books, I hear a great deal of angst in how writers often create interesting and clever stories but can’t “close”. The term “close” in this case refers to finishing a book with as much flair, energy and enjoyment as its beginning. When a good comic book story gets off to a roaring start, it’s disappointing if it does not come to a satisfying conclusion. In 1973, a character beloved by followers of fantasy worldwide was given his own Marvel Comics Group magazine, and it started off on a strong note! While they had no plans to have him “battling with Spider-Man on 42nd Street” (according to artist Mike Ploog), the contributions of Ploog, Gary Friedrich, Sal Buscema, Doug Moench, Val Mayerik and others brought The Frankenstein Monster to the Bronze Age of Comics. Yet it was Boisterous Bill Mantlo who was tasked with issue #18, named “Lady of the House!” (which, like many marvelous mags, had a different title on the cover: “Children of the Damned!”

The Monster has been misunderstood throughout his life and often persecuted for no other reason than his monstrous appearance. Marvel creators gave the Monster a series of adventures up until the 1890s, but then placed him in suspended animation until his revival in modern times (the 1970s). In the last issue, a misunderstanding between the Monster and a metallic automaton named “Beserker” concluded with the two becoming fast friends, and mutual outcasts. Near the inspiring beauty of the Swiss Alps, the duo march in search of safety, which the Monster is certain can be found “where no eyes will find us!”. The story quickly turns into a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book (or a game of Dungeons & Dragons) when they are faced with a crucial decision. Do they continue on toward the endless plains and meadowlands, or do they penetrate the dark depths of the forest? With the Monster’s suggestion that “there are no eyes in the forest”, the Berserker trusts in his friend’s judgment, which has been the only thing in its short life to not result in suffering. Unfortunately for them, there’s no bookmark to come back to their decision point if they make the wrong choice.

The automaton – which is never completely defined as pure robot, artificial intelligence or partly human – carries his left arm in his right hand, which I’m sure was torn off in the previous issue’s conflict. He is shown to possess human emotions, but expresses himself in a very computer-like manner. When he decides to discard his detached arm, he states “Observation: Erratic behavior displayed in the act of carrying a useless appendage. Programme: Correct behavior pattern.” The Monster, however, can’t bear the thought of his friend tossing his arm away for lack of sentimentality. Therefore, “Monster carry arm for friend”, which spurs feelings within the Berserker which it describes as “gratitude”. The monster begins to doubt their friendship when the Berserker won’t drink water by his side, but then realizes that it is because the automaton cannot consume water. Thus, the Monster also will not drink because he wishes to display solidarity with his companion. It is solidarity which may be needed for their survival, however, for we see the travelers being watched by shadows within the forest.

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When the observers decide to attack the Monster and his friend, the Berserker grabs his broken limb and starts to swing, adding “Observation: Amputated appendage is no longer useless!”. The diminutive attackers use their sheer numbers to overwhelm their prey, and the last thing Frankenstein’s Monster sees before slipping into unconsciousness is his friend’s mechanical head being pulled from its body. Dozens of small creatures calling themselves “children” drag and lift the Monster’s body through a path out of the forest and toward a fog-covered castle where “mother” awaits.  Before we meet “mother”, however, a strange hunchback named Igor greets the children at the castle door, and orders them to bind the Monster with chains in a great common area. His strength, however, is too great to be held by old iron, and he begins to vent his rage for the murder of his friend against the small ones who fail to stand against his fury. The only thing which gives him pause is the dreaded threat of fire! Igor wields the torch with menacing threats, but the Monster’s anger compels him to lay the hunchback low, readying a killing blow. His wrath is stymied by a shout from the top of the staircase, a woman’s voice who claims to be mother to Igor, the “children” and even the Monster himself! He has questions for the strange woman, most importantly “Why kill? Why hurt Monster’s friend?”. Her only answer to his simple-minded inquiry is to call him a “bad monster”, reminding him that he killed the man who made him… her great grandfather… for she is non other than Baroness Victoria von Frankenstein, the direct descendant of his creator!

We begin this issue with a cover co-illustrated by the great Bernie Wrightson, which sets a high bar for drama and horror. The interiors are equally as beautiful and haunting, despite the simplicity of the story itself. We don’t get much in the way of answers this issue, but this is standard fare when Bill Mantlo gets a request to fill in for someone else in the middle of their long-range plots. In a great number of his comics, Bill is faced with the challenge of developing an interesting story without interfering with the regular writer’s plans. In this case, it’s another success. I enjoy how Marvel decided not to present Frankenstein’s Monster as the Universal Studios version made popular by Boris Karloff. The Monster is much more expressive and articulate while still coming across as untamed and directionless. As said before, it is frustrating when a good story doesn’t get the conclusion it deserves. In this case, that fate came to pass as #18 became the final issue of The Frankenstein Monster, and we never got to find out the next adventure of our reaminated hero or the plans held for him by the Baroness. It is only fitting, however, that the tragic story of a man brought back to life made from parts of other men reaches an unsatisfying ending. A lack of conclusion is ultimately its own tragedy, one almost on par with running out of fresh coffee. Fare Thee Well!

The Frankenstein Monster #18 is eloquently written by Bill Mantlo, alluringly illustrated by Val Mayerik, lovingly lettered by Karen Mantlo, carefully colored by Phil Rache and intensively edited by Len Wein, with a cover by Val Mayerik and Bernie Wrightson. Today’s column title adapted from lyrics by Alice Cooper with great respect and appreciation.

Rick “Smash” Hansen
Rick@ComicImpact.com