MARVEL'S MONSTER MASH
MARVEL'S BRONZE AGE STRUGGLE
|MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN|
warming and the effects that climate changes may have are
now a general concern and topic of discussion, but very
few people are aware of the fact that one of fiction's best
known characters - the Frankenstein Monster -
owes its existence largely to similar circumstances: a
temporary but pronounced change of climate. The volcanic
eruption of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa (today
part of Indonesia), which lasted from 5 - 15 April 1815,
ejected massive amounts of volcanic dust into the upper
atmosphere, where two previous eruptions in the Caribbean
(1812) and the Philippines (1814) had already deposited a
substantial amount of dust. As a result, less sunlight
passed through the atmosphere, leading to abnormal
climatic conditions (and subsequent food shortages)
throughout 1816, the"year without summer"
In July of that year, 19-year old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and her lover (and later husband) Percy Bysshe Shelley visited Lord Byron in Switzerland at the Villa Diodati on the shore of Lake Geneva, but the climatic disturbance prevented them from enjoying the outdoor activities they had planned:
Byron then challenged Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft and his personal physician John Polidori with a contest to pass the time:
This wake dream, according to Mary Shelley's own description, planted the seeds for what would become one of the great classics of romantic horror literature:
"It was a dreary night of November" eventually became the opening line of chapter four of the final work which she entitled Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.
|First published anonymously in 1818, the standard edition generally referred to is the revised third edition of 1831, published in London under her name of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Basically the first literary work to feature the concept of the "mad scientist" (Tourney, 1992), its success was instant: while most early Victorian reviewers were critical of what they considered sensationalist and gruesome elements, most of them praised the author's imagination and powers of description (Bomarito, 2006).|
adaptations appeared very shortly after the publication
of Frankenstein, the first being Richard
Brinsley Peake's Presumption: or the Fate of
Frankenstein, which opened at the English Opera House
on 28 July 1823. It would pave the way for many more
adaptations to come, in the sense that
"adapted" would more often than not mean
"changed". Peake - who was under pressure from
conservative moralist groups - changed the plot in order
to avoid boycotts and, to that purpose, introduced an
assistant to Frankenstein by the name of Fritz, who
served as on-stage moral commentator for the audience. Mary Shelley
herself attended one of the performances but found that "the
story was not well managed" (Baldick, 1990) - a
more than understandable reaction. But her creation was
already so popular in England and Europe that by 1826 -
only eight years after the first publication of the novel
- Frankenstein had seen more than a dozen stage
dramatisations, all of which had already changed the
general plot considerably by discarding central themes
and adding aspects which were not to be found in the
novel, such as the assistant and the creation of the
monster in a laboratory setting (Shelley did not reveal
how Frankenstein actually animated his creation).
Ironically, even Mary Shelley herself could not resist
the influence of these stage presentations entirely as
she made certain adaptations to the text for the third
edition in 1831 when she strengthened the cautionary
elements of the story and introduced Frankenstein's
allusions to lightning and galvanism as the basis for
resurrecting the lifeless form.
Following the motion picture's development from a travelling vaudeville novelty to an established large-scale entertainment form since 1895, Frankenstein became the first horror film in 1910. Produced by Thomas Edison and directed by J. Searle Dawley, it was filmed over several days in January at the Edison Motion Picture Studios in New York and premiered on 18 March 1910. The film, which ran for 16 minutes, was received favourably by critics, but not by paying viewers, and whilst some films stayed in circulation for years, Frankenstein quickly faded from the public's memory - so much so that it was believed to be lost until the 1970s when a sole surviving print was discovered (Drees, A.N.).
these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the
first Frankenstein movie had no lasting
influence on later visual depictions of the monster.
Actor Charles Ogle, who played the monster and was also
responsible for his own make-up (as was generally the
case in those days) thus failed to leave his mark on the
general public's idea of what the Frankenstein monster
might look like. Ogle's visual portrayal was, in fact,
fairly consistent with Mary Shelley's description of
Frankenstein's creation in the novel:
|Subsequent film adaptations (Life without Soul [USA 1916], Il mostro di Frankenstein [Italy, 1921]) were no success either. No prints are known to have survived, and information with regard to the visual appearance of the monster is virtually non-existant (Fournier, 2007).|
|VISUALIZING THE MONSTER|
|When Universal Pictures, the leading studio in the horror genre with films such as The Phantom of the Opera and Dracula, decided to take on Frankenstein in 1931, chief makeup artist Jack Pierce, director James Whale and actor Boris Karloff thus had a blank canvas upon which they could project their visual interpretation and rendition of the monster.|
resulting image of Karloff in undersized clothes and
heavy boots with a flat head which displayed clamps,
scars and bolts, would became the definitive
impersonation of the monster and is since virtually
synonymous with the word "Frankenstein".
influential horror image of all times quickly became an
icon of popular culture, as did the setting in which it
Stylistically influenced by German expressionist movies of the silent era, Victor Frankenstein's tower and his laboratory are imposing architectural features, with huge walls and irregular stairs, and strange machines, electric devices and bubbling test tubes which together with the actors cast eerie shadows everywhere. As the Monster is lifted to the top of the lab's tower and is exposed to lightning, the claps of thunder almost drown Frankenstein's both triumphant and hysterical cry - "It's alive!".
The script of the movie deviates extensively from Mary Shelley's novel in a number of core points, but it would become the definitive rendition of Frankenstein's tale, not only in terms of imagery, but also in terms of narrative. Subsequent adaptations of the theme would be influenced by and indeed base themselves on Universal's movie rather than Shelley's novel.
Comic books were not only under the influence of the Universal mould, they were more or less forced to conform to it in order not to disappoint the visual expectations of their readers, despite the fact that Universal held a copyright on the make-up (Frank, 1974).
|An early example from Marvel's Atlas
era pedigree is the 9 page story "The Return of
the Monster" in Marvel Tales #96 (June
1950), pencilled by Syd Shores, which was reprinted in Where
Monsters Dwell #32 (November 1974) with a newly
pencilled cover by Larry Lieber. Another example -
coincidentally scripted by a certain Stan Lee (with
artwork by Joe Maneely) - is "Your Name is
Frankenstein!" in Atlas Comics' Menace #7
(September 1953) which conforms almost completely to the
It also highlights an aspect of the rendition of Shelley's novel in popular culture which is often criticised: the equation of the monster with the name of its creator, i.e. Frankenstein. Neither the novel nor the Universal film attribute a name to the monster, but the all-in movie title Frankenstein was, of course, not without influence.
movie also had the most direct influence on
comics possible by leaving an indelible impression in the
mind of one of the most important and noteable artists of
the industry, Gene Colan, whose credit to fame includes
Marvel's classic Bronze Age horror title Tomb of
|EARLY MARVEL MONSTER|
|The brand Marvel
Comics was introduced on 9 May 1961 when Amazing
Adventures #3 (cover date August 1961) was the first
post-war comic book to display the "MC" box on
its cover. By that time, Frankenstein's creation had
already experienced a period of absence from the
company's output, and the hiatus would grow even longer
as the newly introduced and highly successful superhero
formula created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko
caused a general switch from the horror genre to
It was not until January 1968 - way into the so-called Silver Age period - that Frankenstein's Monster made its first appearance in a Marvel comic book when X-Men #40 featured an android version of Victor Frankenstein's creation. Written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Don Heck (pencils) and George Tuska (inks plus cover), the core element of the storyline was that the Frankenstein Monster is - a robot, created by an alien race and deployed to Earth in the hopes of facilitating communications. However, the messenger was mistaken by those who saw it for a monster, and after a malfunction which led the "monster" to menace humans, the aliens pursued it to the arctic circle where it was frozen in a block of ice.
the android was found by a museum expedition and brought
to New York for study.
As the robot was unfrozen, it smashed its way out of the museum lab but was intercepted and destroyed by the X-Men after they gleaned the android's origins through a telepathic scan by Professor X.
This rather sub-standard story concept (which wasn't very well executed either) was probably influenced to a large extent by the ruling restrictions of the comics code at the time (Nyberg, 1998), which in all practicability ruled out a "straight" monster.
|As the restrictions of the comics code were relaxed a few years later, the concept of having an android as source of inspiration for Mary Shelley's book and thus explanation for the existence of a Frankenstein monster in the Marvel universe would be dropped. In terms of visuals, the monster robot was a very close take on the Karloff image.|
name Frankenstein next appeared in - of all titles - Silver
Surfer #7 (August 1969) when a descendant of Victor
Frankenstein attempts to create a monster of his own -
just as the Silver Surfer is flying by. Deceived into
helping the scientist animate his creation, the Surfer
finds his powers duplicated into the form of an evil Doppelgaenger
(later dubbed the "Frankensurfer") by
The Surfer finally becomes aware of his grave mistake and clashes with his evil spit image, eventually destroying it amidst utter destruction.
Scripted by Stan Lee and drawn by John Buscema, this was another fairly unbalanced and slightly oddball appearance, although noteable for the way it generated storyline interest by having a Frankenstein monster "inside" an outward appearance which was completely removed from all the classic Universal movies' monster images.
In this respect, the approach by Lee and Buscema was highly unconventional both for its time and the comic book media, even though the final result didn't really live up to the amount of innovation the basic plot provided.
|The Silver Age was not a period for horror genre characters at all, as can be seen by the simple fact that the classic monster par excellence only featured in two Marvel comic books throughout the entire period (other classic characters weren't present at all) and that even those two appearances were disguised one way or the other, i.e. as android or "Frankensurfer".|
The illustrations presented here are copyright material.
Their reproduction in this non-commercial context is considered to be fair use.
Text is (c) 2008-20014 Adrian Wymann
BALDICK Chris (1990) In Frankenstein's Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-Century Writing, Oxford: Oxford University Press
BOMARITO Jessica (ed.) (2006) Introduction - Gothic Literature, Gale Group (available online at www.enotes.com/gothic-literature/shelley-mary-wollstonecraft, accessed on 30 August 2007
DLUGOS Jenn (2002) Gene Colan Interview, available on-line and accessed 9 June 2008 at www.classic-horror.com/newsreel/gene_colan_interview
DREES Rich (----) Edison's Frankenstein: Cinema's first horror film, available online aat www.filmbuffonline.com/Features/EdisonsFrankenstein1.htm, accessed 2 June 2008
FOURNIER Pierre (2007) Silent Frankenstein, available online at frankensteinia.blogspot.com/2007/11/silent-frankenstein.html, accessed 3 June 2008
FRANK Alan (1974) Horror Movies Octopus Press
MANGUEL Alberto (1997) Bride of Frankenstein, British Film Institute, London
NYBERG Amy Kiste (1998) Seal of Approval: History of the Comics Code, University Press of Mississippi
SHELLEY WOLLSTONECRAFT Mary (1831) Introduction - Frankenstein, Colburn & Bentley
STOMMEL Henry & Elizabeth (1983) Volcano Weather - The story of 1816, the Year without a Summer, Seven Seas Press
TOURNEY Christopher P. (1992) The moral character of Mad Scientists: A cultural critique of science, in Science Technology & Human Values Vol. 17, No. 4, 411-437
page originally published on the web 10 September 2008
revised and posted to wymann.info/comics 1 March 2014