MARVEL'S MONSTER MASH
MARVEL'S BRONZE AGE STRUGGLE
|MARVEL'S BRONZE AGE OF HORROR - APPLYING THE SUPERHERO CONCEPT|
Stan Lee had been asked by the US Department of Health to
do a comic book story which would depict drug abuse as
negative and dangerous, but the Comics Code Authority had
refused to approve the resulting story arc in The
Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (May to July 1971)
precisely because of the presence of narcotics.
Insisiting on the relevance of the cause, Marvel
published the books without CCA approval and seal. The
books were so successful and well received by critics
that they virtually forced the CCA to revise the code
that same year. Without any real intention to do so, Stan
Lee had reformed the comics code (Lee & Thomas,
1998), and as a side result the horror genre was granted
more flexibility as vampires, ghouls and werewolves would
now be allowed if "handled in the classic
tradition of Frankenstein, Dracula and other high caliber
literary works by Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, Conan
Doyle" (Nyberg, 1998).
The revision of the code opened up many new possibilities, and only five months after launching a non-CCA-approved issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel's best-selling comic title again made an important contribution to the horror genre when issue #101 (October 1971) featured the debut of Morbius the Living Vampire - and the first instance and example of what would become Marvel's principal Bronze Age approach to the horror genre: applying the superhero concept and letting loose, so to say, superheroes from the crypt. The guiding principles were fairly simple and had mostly been tested previously. The real novelty was, as often, the approach of combining these different threads into one formula - something which Marvel was still virtually unbeatable at even ten years after the inception of the Fantastic Four.
The central idea was to create a character which would feature as the central figure of a continuing saga of individual episodes. As a result, the focus would shift in comparison to most popular culture storytelling, making the source of horror (e.g. Dracula) the main character of the plot and the subject of a continuous storyline. This was very different to what had been presented in colour comic books before, which had focussed on standalone stories of a couple of pages length. Marvel already knew from Dr Doom in Astonishing Tales (which premiered in August 1970) that turning the "bad guy" into the main character of a comic book - its "anti-hero" so to speak - worked and was accepted by the readers. The first "superhero from the crypt" was the classic Werewolf, who made his debut as Werewolf by Night in Marvel Spotlight #2 (one of Marvel's tryout magazines) in February 1972, followed by Dracula in April 1972 with Tomb of Dracula #1.
|SUPERHERO FROM THE LAB IN A FAITHFUL LITERARY ADAPTATION|
the extremely successful launch of the two classic horror
characters Dracula and the Werewolf, Marvel introduced
the Frankenstein Monster in January 1973. Editor-in-chief
Roy Thomas took charge of the conceptual framework
and - unlike the previously launched Tomb of Dracula
which included characters based on Bram Stoker's novel
but otherwise employed a completely original plot -
kicked off the title by going back directly to Mary
Assigned writer Gary Friedrich and artist Mike Ploog thus started The Monster of Frankenstein with a four-issue adaptation of Mary Shelley's original novel amongst much ado from the House of Idea's editorial board:
ended her novel with the monster bidding farewell to the
explorer Sir Robert Walton somewhere in the vast
emptiness of the Arctic Sea, and this is where Friedrich
set out from. The year is 1898 and readers are introduced
to the explorer's great-grandson, Robert Walton IV, who
is about to reach the goal of his mission - finding the
Monster. Once the block of ice encasing the creature is
hauled onto the ship, Walton IV retells the classic tale
from Shelleys novel to a young midshipman.
A fairly ingenious framework to present the basic corpus of Shelley's novel, the adaptation was - as had been announced in Marvel's advertising - indeed faithful to the original literary work and, in actual fact, did far better than most other adaptations by featuring almost all of the story's elements and characters and even including the narrative framework of the original novel which provides various different viewpoints of the monster's story.
the course of this discussion. the lonely and rejected
monster demands a female mate which, however, is
destroyed by Victor before it is fully completed. As an
act of revenge, the monster kills Frankenstein's fiancee
Elizabeth before the last confrontation with Frankenstein
in the Arctic.
Gary Friedrich's focus in his rendition of the novel is on the emotional relationship between the protagonists, who are driven by a vicious and eventually fatal circle of pretension, hate and revenge. True to Shelley's portrayal, he depicts the monster as a miserable and pitiful creature caught in a predicament which is solely due to the arrogance of its creator, Victor Frankenstein.
The changes and additions introduced by Friedrich are few and far between and generally insignificant. At the end of the novel, Shelley leads the reader to believe that the monster will voluntarily perish in the ice of the Arctic:
It is only at this point that Friedrich introduced a substantial deviation from the novel in his adaptation, although this is, of course, a logical one. Marvel did not intend to end The Monster of Frankenstein here, and therefore, the monster had to survive after Frankenstein's death in the Arctic.
Friedrich weaved his continuation of the plot neatly into the end of his adaptation of Shelley's novel in The Monster of Frankenstein #4 by showing how the monster survives and finds a surprising joy in life after joining a tribe of outcasts characterized by their small physical appearance. The monster is accepted by the tribe and lives among them until they are attacked by a group of human warriors and all wiped out without mercy save Frankenstein's creation who, as a final gesture after the massacre, drags the tribe's dying chieftain to the ancient burial grounds when a rock slide sends the monster plunging into the icy waters of the Arctic sea. At this point, Friedrich reaffirms the plot device introduced in the opening pages of the first issue, namely suspended animation of the monster for a lengthy period of time if frozen in ice (which in itself was, of course, nothing new - Stan Lee himself revived Captain America after years of "frozen suspended animation" in Avengers #4 in March 1964). Now, as Robert Walton IV lies dying, he tells the Monster that there is one last descendant of his creator Victor Frankenstein living in Ingolstadt, and the Monster sets out on a raft to find him.
|With regard to the visual rendition, Stan Lee took no chances and selected a proposal from several sketches submitted to him by assigned artist Mike Ploog via Roy Thomas (and reproduced in the 2004 Marvel Essentials Monster of Frankenstein) which didn't copy the Universal imagery too closely but remained well within the range of the Karloff mould.|
|Whatever - Universal returned to the "standard" black trousers and coat for their remaining Frankenstein movies, and Ploog created a visual design for the monster which was original enough to clearly mark it as "Marvel's Frankenstein Monster".|
|From here on, Friedrich was on his own, and what had seemed like a blessing at first - namely the much applauded and successful adaptation of the original novel - quickly turned into a curse as he now had to come up with an original plot which would meet the high expectations set by the first four issues.|
proved extremely difficult to "go on from
there", as Roy Thomas had put it, and the fact that
Friedrich opened his first full issue of original plot -
still set in the year 1898 - on the splash page of The
Monster of Frankenstein #5 with a quote from the
lyrics of CCR's 1969 song "Bad Moon Rising"
would, with hindsight, be unintentionally fitting for the
struggles with specific time frames and settings which
would befall the title for most of the remaining saga.
In order to establish the narrative frame for his rendering of Shelley's novel, Friedrich had advanced the monster in time to the year 1898. Whatever the logic behind that move (Gary Friedrich admits not remembering much about his work on The Monster of Frankenstein (N.N., 2008)) this time frame certainly provided an excellent period backdrop for the tale of the monster's origin, but otherwise the end of the 19th century was an uncharted map in terms of the Marvel Universe.
In an attempt to fill this void, Friedrich sent the monster back out into the world in search of the last surviving descendant of Frankenstein. On his way, in The Monster of Frankenstein #5, the monster saves a young woman from being burned at the mast of a ship set afire by villagers who accuse her of being possessed by a demon.
and caring towards the monster at first, the girl soon
vanishes and as Frankenstein's creation searches for her
the monster is attacked by a werewolf which - when killed
by the monster after a ferocious fight - transforms into
Werewolves somehow seemed an obvious period choice, but the range of 1898 storyline options already seemed limited after this issue - so much so that The Monster of Frankenstein #5 was paralleled in September 1973 by Monsters Unleashed #2, a black and white magazine format title which featured a story about the monster set in contemporary times. "Frankenstein 1973", as this main feature was titled, was also written by Gary Friedrich but pencilled by John Buscema and inked by veteran Syd Shores.
The fact that Marvel labelled its newly launched line of black and white magazines as featuring "mature content" in comparison to its colour comic books did little to clear up the situation for readers of The Monster of Frankenstein who were being sent a very mixed message through that editorial statement in August 1973 - after all, where exactly was the colour comic book they had now been reading for four issues (and which had so far consisted of an adaptation of Shelley's novel) "leaving off"?
Over the next 18 months Marvel would try to make the monster dance to both tunes. The contemporary saga continued after a one issue hiatus in Monsters Unleashed #4 (February 1974) and unfolded over the next six issues until the penultimate Monsters Unleashed #10 in February 1975. As of Monsters Unleashed #6 (June 1974), Doug Moench took over the scripting and Val Mayerik was in charge of pencils.
initial plot was set up around neuro-surgeon Dr Derek
McDowell who, having read Shelley's novel, is obsessed
with finding the monster. Eventually, his search is
successful when he finds Frankenstein's creation as part
of a fun fair freakshow. A fire on the carnival grounds
reanimates the monster, and Mc Dowell secures possession
of the monster and transfers it to his laboratory
in Manhattan. There he tries to use the monster as a
basis for creating a young and healthy body, with the
ultimate goal of teleporting his gravely ill associate's
Certainly a classic mad scientist storyline with an interesting modern Frankenstein touch to start with, Friedrich's plot started to fall apart when further characters were seemingly introduced for the sole purpose of teleporting all kinds of brains into and out of the monster's body. And on top of it all, McDowell was killed by his associate inside the monster's body (after he didn't like what he saw in the mirror) only to be revived by voodoo practice by a disfigured individual known as "the Master".
When it all came to an end in September 1975 (when the headliners of the various cancelled b&w magazines were regrouped in Legion of Monsters #1 - which would remain the only issue published), the final story returned to a much simpler but also far better formula and featured the monster at a fancy dress party. Mistaken, of course, for an average party guest - praised for his superb outfit - the cheerful event goes awry when treachery and murder strike, and in the end, the monster wanders off into the world once again, disillusioned by humanity.
contemporary plot in Monsters Unleashed
continued, Marvel tried to recalibrate the colour comic
book, and the first move was to change the title after
five issues from The Monster of Frankenstein to The
Frankenstein Monster in October 1973 - in order to "emphasize
the name 'Frankenstein'" (as the editorial
statement on the letters page of The Frankenstein
Monster #10 put it).
Friedrich was only two issues into his post-Shelley storytelling, but already Marvel's tale of the Frankenstein Monster started to become unbalanced.
a Scandinavian fjord in issue #5 the monster had now
advanced to Ingolstadt in search of the last of the
Frankensteins in The Frankenstein Monster #6.
The town was, of course, where Victor had studied and
where all the gruesome events had their beginnings.
Although this brought them geographically close to the
original again, Friedrich and Ploog (who also wrote the
plot) began to stray as they tried to define a concept
for the monster's story beyond the novel. The idea of
combining the monster with antagonists which could have
come straight from a black & white "B"
horror movie - a mad local police chief (initially
mistaken for the "last Frankenstein")
assembling his own army of zombie-like slaves by exposing
prisoners to a giant "mind sucking" spider
within the walls of the almost derelict Castle
Frankenstein - resulted in a surprisingly entertaining
story for one issue but made it difficult to see where
exactly the title was intended to be heading. As a first
consequence of this approach and the growing amount of
editorial wavering with regard to timeframes, Mike Ploog
resigned as artist:
joined by sterling Marvel penciller John Buscema (who was
already pencilling the Frankenstein Monster for the black
& white features in Monsters Unleashed),
Gary Friedrich was looking both for suitable period
material and a shot in the arm for the title, and he
found both in the form of a story arc running for three
issues (Frankenstein Monster #7 - #9) which
featured Dracula, Marvel's most successful horror
character by far. But once again, the chosen timeframe
proved an awkward limitation, as the House of Ideas
couldn't really cash in on this cross-over appearance as
it took place roughly 75 years prior to the storyline of
the Tomb of Dracula series, making a cross-title
appearance and story impossible and thus waisting an
excellent marketing opportunity to get readers from one
book to buy and discover the other title (such as Marvel
had done with Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf
Buscema's visual rendition of the monster followed the pattern set out in the black & white Monsters Unleashed stories. Based on Ploog's design, the monster's appearance was inched a bit closer to the Karloff look but retained the original traits injected by Ploog. Buscema's style was somewhat less "heavy" than Ploog's (who had mostly also inked his pencilling himself) and largely received favourable comments from the readership. The problem for Buscema and Marvel, however, was the fact that the other main character of the story arc - Dracula - had already found his definitive master in artist Gene Colan.
As it was, the set-up of these three issues of Frankenstein Monster virtually begged for a side-to-side comparison with Tomb of Dracula, and whilst both scripting and artwork are always a matter of taste, the almost spellbinding atmosphere which had already become a hallmark of Tomb of Dracula was curiously lacking in Marvel's tale of the Frankenstein Monster. In this respect, Tomb of Dracula and Frankenstein Monster went off in completely different directions: Whereas Dracula had experienced a rather difficult start with three writers for the first six issues and only found its overall plot stability once Marv Wolfman took over with Tomb of Dracula #7, the Frankenstein Monster had seen a fortissimo launch and successful start but then found itself dipping even though the book remained in the hands of one and the same writer for its first eleven issues.
make comparisons - and matters - even worse, Frankenstein
Monster #7 ended a three issue trial run of monthly
publication in November 1973 during which the title,
again quite unlike Marvel's prime horror titles Tomb
of Dracula and Werewolf by Night, had
obviously not shown the required market potential.
These opposite developments had their reasons, and they were cruelly highlighted by the Dracula story arc in Frankenstein Monster. Whereas the readers of Tomb of Dracula not only had the horror character adversary but also a regular cast of individuals fighting him and adding identification potential together with a continuity framework, the Frankenstein Monster was in a complete flux.
The settings and backdrops kept changing issue after issue - from the Arctic to Germany and then Transylvania - and plot continuity was reduced even further by having all characters other than the monster itself come and go almost issue by issue. Even Dracula was more or less just parading by - the monster is misguided by an old gypsy to revive him but kills Dracula again shortly after he has turned a girl the monster befriended into a vampire. It is quite significant in this respect that Gary Friedrich, asked in an interview what it was like to write a tale combining two iconic horror characters, replied:
The title had lost the momentum of its initial four issues. In addition, Friedrich and the editorial board now started to make unfortunate decisions, such as depriving the monster of its ability to speak, which was explained as the result of a fight with a vampire in Frankenstein Monster #9 and the damage afflicted to the monster's vocal chords by the vampire's fangs. Apart from the fact - perhaps not known to Marvel's staff in charge - that turning the Monster into a basically mute being in Son of Frankenstein in 1939 cost Universal their main attraction as Boris Karloff quit the role thereafter because he felt that such a degraded monster left little room for development and would turn it into an "oafish prop" (Jones, 1995), Marvel's editorial handling now also came across as increasingly confusing. In reply to a worried reader's letter printed in Frankenstein Monster #10 (May 1974), the editorial staff answered:
However, by the time this statement was printed, few readers could have failed to notice that the monster had already lost its ability to speak in the previous issue. An otherwise trivial snippet of editorial output thus turned into a communication revealing what seemed like a more or less complete lack of certitude as to what the editorial and artistic staff wanted to do with this character and his colour comic book.
After sixteen months and ten issues, Marvel had serious problems with the Frankenstein Monster. Only a month later, in June 1974, Friedrich and Buscema - now the established team on the colour Frankenstein Monster - were replaced by writer Doug Moench and artist Val Mayerik on the present-day black & white Frankenstein stories published in Monsters Unleashed (which was now published in alternate months to The Frankenstein Monster).
|Friedrich remained on the colour comic book and returned to the monster's quest to seek revenge on the last descendant of his creator after the battle with the vampire count was over by having the last of the Frankensteins - Vincent Frankenstein - appear in the last two panels of Frankenstein Monster #9 at the entrance to the cave in Transylvania where said struggle had taken place.|
even with the use of such a rather simplistic deus ex
machina - most convenient but completely improbable
- Friedrich just added to the general plot's
inconsistencies: Whilst Victor Frankenstein adresses the
monster with a courteous greeting and an offer for help
on the final page of issue #9, the subsequent splash page
of Frankenstein Monster #10 (May 1974) shows
that very same man calling to the monster in a very
threatening and hostile way. Friedrich had managed to
present the reader with two completely conflicting
personalities for one character on two consecutive pages,
albeit with two months having passed in between. In many
ways, this was symptomatic: the authorship seemed unable
to make its mind up about things, and the editorial team
appeared to be hoping that nobody would remember what had
gone on in the previous issue.
Over the next two issues, Friedrich would have Vincent Frankenstein and his hunchback servant Ivan - both characters constantly hovering between agressiveness and empathy - transport the monster to London by ship and then on to Frankenstein's laboratory. Eventually, Ivan comes to understand Vincent Frankenstein's deceitful plan to insert the monster's brain into a new, more human body and the hunchback's brain into the body of the monster.
The ensuing fight results in Frankenstein killing Ivan and wounding the monster with a gun, but in his wife's room, Vincent himself is shot - by the household maid who has seen his wife die before her eyes and feels that she might have survived had Frankenstein attended to her instead of his laboratory. As the monster leaves behind the dead body of Vincent Frankenstein with the only regret of having been unable to kill him personally, it is revealed that Frankenstein's wife gave birth to a son named Basil - the "last Frankenstein" - just before her death and that the maid vowes to take on the baby as her own and prevent the world from ever knowing his real family background.
The introduction of a "last of the Frankensteins" who will yet need to be discovered by the monster and maybe others in future issues to come was a clever twist of introducing new interest, but apart from this, Frankenstein Monster #10 and #11 brought no substantial improvement to the book's generally confused situation as the inconsistencies in the plot became even more glaring. After calling at a dock in London, Vincent Frankenstein has his packaged cargo - the Monster - drawn by horse to his city dwellings, which are unmistakeably portrayed in Frankenstein Monster #10 as a large Victorian house with an underground laboratory. But when the Monster surfaces again from the lab towards the end of Frankenstein Monster #11, the Victorian mansion has miraculously been transformed into a castle.
|Marvel's struggle to provide the book with a reliantly defined and thus stable framework was even taken to the cover appearance, where the visual rendition of the title was changed again - after only four issues - with Frankenstein Monster #11. Whilst this entailed no further change of the actual title, the larger letters used for the word Monster rather than the name Frankenstein (as had been the case before) did seem to indicate a shift in emphasis. Eventually, however, it just boiled down to using what seemed like a more horror genre appropriate typeset.|
it is no wonder that the creative team at work so far
started to leave or was being replaced.
John Buscema had already quit drawing the black & white monster stories and did so also for the colour book after issue #10 in May 1974. Veteran artist Bob Brown, who had drawn just about every conceivable comic character in his long career, was brought in to replace Buscema, although this would prove to be a one-issue shot only. Brown brought yet another different graphic style to the title, with a visual rendition of the monster which was the closest to Universal's Karloff mould so far. Unfortunately for him, he had been assigned to The Frankenstein Monster at one of the worst moments possible. After having adapted Mary Shelley's novel so well, Friedrich had not only moved away from her portrayal of the Monster by setting it up as a dumb, non-speaking brute, but had also injected far too much instability and inconsistency to make the title a real success. Now, after 18 months and 11 issues, his time on the book was up.
|Despite the criticism which Friedrich's own original storytelling - following his truly superb adaptation of the novel - can hardly fail to attract, it must be pointed out that his plots were never boring nor cheesy. Despite the fact that The Frankenstein Monster never managed to reach the heights of Tomb of Dracula, it nevertheless didn't compare too poorly with other Marvel horror genre characters such as the Living Mummy or the Golem. The bottom line is quite simple: Given the successful literary and popular culture background, Friedrich could (and perhaps should) have done better.|
|Marvel desperately needed a winning strike - in fact, nothing short of a home run would get The Frankenstein Monster out of its predicament: a comic book stuck in a completely alien time frame for Marvel with no clear storytelling direction and a single main character with no regular - let alone supporting - cast at all. It was high time to inject some new life into the Monster, and in September 1974 Marvel finally drew a line and assigned a completely new artistic team to the book.|
the face of things, however, writer Doug Moench ("a
newcomer to the Marvel Bullpen but a veteran in the
mystery/horror comics genre" (Letters Page, The
Frankenstein Monster #11, July 1974)) and penciller
Val Mayerik weren't exactly new to the subject as they
had already taken on the Monster's black and white
stories in Monsters Unleashed three months
earlier in June 1974.
Moench took up where Friedrich had left off, both in terms of plot and inconsistency, as the opening splash page of Frankenstein Monster #12 shows the wounded Monster (shot in the arm by Vincent Frankenstein in issue #11) now stumbling away from an imposing "Castle Frankenstein" (which had been a Victorian mansion in issue #10 and then a minor castle in issue #11) into a deserted and wild landscape (which had been the streets of London in issue #10).
Given the inconsistencies of the previous few issues, Moench is, however, hardly to blame for setting up his plot in a way which best suited his intentions, i.e. transfering the Monster to the present day by reverting to the proven method of a landslide on a snowy mountainside causing the Monster's plunge into icy waters and the subsequent freezing in an ice block - after all, there simply are no icebergs in the river Thames.
|Spending decade upon decade in this state of "suspended animation", Frankenstein's creation is finally discovered and hauled aboard a ship in the year 1974 where the crew doctors find themselves confronted with a medical riddle.|
|From here on, Moench follows Friedrich's original plot for the first present-day Monster story as presented in September 1973's Monsters Unleashed #2, which is recapped in a few panels.|
creation has become part of a fun fair freakshow, is
discovered by neuro-surgeon Dr Derek McDowell, and
finally reanimated by a fire on the carnival grounds.
Mc Dowell later on secures possession of the monster and transfers it to his laboratory but is killed by the Monster, which now walks the streets of New York City.
Moench handled the transfer of the Monster to modern times in a no-fuss way which worked well in comparison to the preceding unstable storytelling.
within the Marvel Universe was of utmost importance to
the editors at the House of Ideas at the time, so Moench
even linked up the switch from 1898 to 1974 with the
story arc of the first issues written by Friedrich for
the black and white format Monsters Unleashed.
The result was an instant sense of improvement in terms of the general plot logic, giving Marvel the fresh and promising new start the book had needed so desperately - including some very atmospheric artwork by Val Mayerik.
The letters page had originally been called Monster's Mailbox before being renamed Let's be Frank! as of issue #11, and the new heading seemed highly appropriate as the editorial staff openly communicated their loss of direction over the past issues to the readers (although these could hardly have failed to notice the "wavering" in any case). But above all, the transfer of Frankenstein's creation to the present is an almost singular example to illustrate just how stringent the logic generated by the Marvel Universe had become by the mid-1970s: the constant interaction of Marvel characters in the form of team-ups, crossovers and guest appearances had virtually turned that common stage into a conditio sine qua non for Marvel characters. Whilst one could still, in theory, imagine a Marvel character in its "own world", the case of the Frankenstein Monster clearly illustrated that it would not work - because Marvel comic books and characters were built upon a fundamental system of interactivity. As a consequence, even the most far-fetched horror titles and characters would receive their share of genre crossovers and even mainstream superhero appearances during the second half of the 1970s.
Marvel - having previosuly been starved of such
possibilities - lost virtually no time at all to link up
the Frankenstein Monster with the rest of Marveldom when
Moench (who himself had only just climbed into the saddle
of Marvel's Werewolf by Night in August 1974)
presented a Werewolf / Monster crossover story in Giant-Size
Werewolf by Night #2 in October 1974, a mere month
after Frankenstein Monster #12 hit the
The 30-page story "The Frankenstein Monster meets the Werewolf by Night" started out on a promising road when the Monster overhears a Caucasian youth complaining to his Afro-American friend about being discriminated on the account of his long hair. This triggers a discussion on the topic which ends in the conclusion that although one of them could in theory cut his hair whilst the other can not change the colour of his skin, none of them would like to do either, because it is part of their personality and they would like people to simply accept them the way they are.
The position of Marvel Comics on social awareness was always a very strong one, and the message was conveyed regularly to readers, although not always as outspoken as the famous statement on this topic made by Stan Lee in 1970:
|Moench was, of course, setting up an interesting scene where the Monster was feeling included in the demand for tolerance voiced by the two youth, but when Frankenstein's creation steps out of the shadows of a dark alleyway and reveals itself, the two youngsters run off in horror. A classic case of the divergence between theory and practice, Moench put forward an interesting question - just how did the Monster fit in to what Stan Lee had so poignantly said?|
the question was not pursued further and the remainder of
the story - and with it the first contact of the Monster
with the Marvel Universe of 1974 - was, to say the least,
sobering. Following the frustrating experience with the
two youngsters discussing prejudice and tolerance, the
Monster hears of the leader of an obscure
occult sect (the Brotherhood of Ba'al) who claims that he
is capable of performing "the transfer of
souls". The Monster decides to find out if this
could provide him with a new body and stowes away on a
train bound for LA, gets mixed up with the sect and is
attacked by the Werewolf by Night.
When the Monster realises that the Werewolf is there because the sect has abducted his sister as a human sacrifice for their cult, the two jointly smash the Brotherhood's place to pieces. When a fire starts, only the Monster, Werewolf and his sister manage to esacpe alive. The Monster, once again disillusioned, wanders off alone.
The story - which lost speed and content quality after each page - was helped in no way by exceptionally unbalanced artwork by Don Perlin (who was the regular Werewolf penciller since Werewolf by Night #17).
|Compared to Mayerik's interpretation of the Karloff mould in Frankenstein Monster #12 (which he would eventually develop into Marvel's very own visual character rendition in future issues to come), Perlin's pencilling was simply below standard. Even the cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer could not prevent Giant-Size Werewolf by Night #2 from being little more than a huge disappointment.|
|URBAN JUNGLE MONSTER|
|Nevertheless, it finally gave Marvel the opportunity to insert references to other comic books into the pages of The Frankenstein Monster.|
the story of Frankenstein Monster #13 (November
1974) starts out with the Monster arriving at La Guardia
airport in the cargo department of a plane out of LA, the
editorial staff did most certainly not miss the chance to
point out that readers could find out about this
excursion to the West Coast and the events linked to it
by turning to Giant-Size Werewolf by Night #2.
The Monster had finally arrived within the Marvel
Propelling the Monster into the present time was, of course, only the beginning of the work which lay in store for Doug Moench. Now, alongside the new era, the plot needed a new reasoning if the storyline was to have a meaningful direction which generated depth and interest. In that respect, the intermezzo in LA featured in Giant-Size Werewolf by Night #2 clearly was of no help at all. Based on his own initial experience with the scripting of Werewolf by Night and possibly looking sideways to Marv Wolfman's plotting in Tomb of Dracula (there seems to be no first hand statements by Moench on the subject of his work on Frankenstein Monster), Moench took steps to finally set up a vital ingredient those comic books had which The Frankenstein Monster lacked: a regular supporting cast.
The first member of this important group of role characters, introduced in Frankenstein Monster #13, is Ralph Caccone.
|Saved by the Monster from going under in a street fight, Ralph turns out to be one of the few individuals who don't make a straight run for it in the presence of Frankenstein's creation.|
he quickly grasps who his opposite really is, as the
Monster shows him a copy of Shelley's novel which it
previously took from a bookstore window display.
Moench - in a very slick and clever way - thus reinforced another natural law of the Marvel Universe for those who missed the very first issues of The Monster of Frankenstein: the real-life literary source of any character adapted into Marveldom is not negated but, therefore, must be not a work of fiction but an account of factual events.
|But there's even more to Ralph Caccone: his father is a geneticist who dabbles very much with the same murky twilight zone of science which Victor Frankenstein had ventured into - the creation of life.|
|At the time of Doug Moench's writing,
the advent of cloned sheep "Dolly" from the
Roslin Institute in Edinburgh in July 1996 was still so
far away in time as to be virtually in the realm of
science fiction - the genre in which Aldous Huxley had
explored the subject in his 1932 novel Brave New
World - but it proved an original and fairly
ingenious plot assumption to move away from the
previously over-exploited storyline circle that any
experiments regarding the creation of life would
automatically have to be linked to a descendant of Victor
The way Shelley had seen Frankenstein as "the modern Prometheus", Moench now very logically portrayed geneticist Steven Caccone as "a modern Frankenstein". And just like Frankenstein, Caccone faces the blunt end of his experiments in the form of the "Jigsaw Monster", which is inadvertently created when Caccone's wife tries to sabotage her husband's studies in order to have him refocus on her. Killing both of Ralph's parents, the abominal creature had the dubious distinction of being called a different name almost any time it was mentioned: "Clone Creature", "Jigsaw Nightmare", "Night Creature" - the choice was as varied as the creature's different animal components (of which a boar and lizard seemed to dominate). Arriving at the Caccone home, Ralph and the Monster face the Jigsaw Monster, which runs from the scene after a struggle with Frankenstein's creation.
|All the while, Moench pursued the task of establishing a regular cast of characters further in Frankenstein Monster #14 (January 1975) and added a private investigator by the name of Eric Prawn.|
|Prawn is hired by a mystery client
with orders to help locate the Monster and take it back
to Switzerland (seasoned readers, of course, knew pretty
well in which direction this lead pointed) as well as
I.C.O.N. - an "amusing acronym"
(quote) for "International Crime Organization
Nexus". Bent on world conquest, the organization is
headed by codename "Rainbow" and keeps a close
watch on Prawn through codename agent
"Cardinal" in order to lay their hands on the
Monster and gain vital information for their plans to
create an army of mindless artificial creatures.
There was clearly nothing original about I.C.O.N., but it added some unexpected story interest with shades of Nick Fury and James Bond, and the speed of the plot picked up enormously. Nevertheless, the title was still struggling to gain a true sense of atmosphere and still lacked visual continuity as Val Mayerik's artwork was assigned to a different inker every issue. On the plot level, Ralph Caccone and the Monster are eventually captured after some urban jungle chases by I.C.O.N. in Monster of Frankenstein # 15 (March 1975) and held prisoners in the organization's lab in New York City.
|But before I.C.O.N. can perform its planned experiments with the Monster, the still rampant Jigsaw Monster crashes in. The force of the ensuing struggle sets fire to the lab, and the Monster finally hammers the Jigsaw Monster into unconsciousness and the East River, where it is presumed to have drowned.|
|Into the midst of Moench's three issue NYC story arc for Frankenstein Monster #13 - #15 and the carefully lined-up introduction of Caccone, Prawn and I.C.O.N. as supporting cast, a curious flashback to the Monster's state of suspended animation - as depicted in Frankenstein Monster #12 - served as the basis for an encounter of Frankenstein's creation with one of Marvel's best-loved superhero teams in The Avengers #131-132 (January - February 1975).|
|Written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Sal Buscema and inked by Joe Staton, the Monster's second rubbing with the Marvel Universe took place in the context of a highly metaphysical story which involved old-time Avengers foe Kang the Conqueror (who has two alternate identities in two different timeframes, Rama-Tut and Immortus). The three entities coexist in the realm known as Limbo, outside of time itself, where Kang gathers his "Legion of the Unliving": super-beings from different points in history, plucked out of time moments before their deaths and put under Kang's control. Among those selected are the Frankenstein Monster, the original Human Torch, Wonder Man, Baron Zemo, Midnight, and the Ghost. Eventually, the Avengers themselves are displaced in time by Kang and transferred into Limbo, where they are forced to face off the Legion of the Unliving. The first joust is between Thor and the Monster, whilst other members of the Avengers fight the rest of Kang's army.|
his control is gradually fading, and eventually the
entities of Immortus and Rama-Tut send all the Legion
members back to their own times and restore the
previously killed Iron Man and badly wounded Vision to
What sounds slightly irky in plain text synopsis made for an entertainingly far-fetched piece of Avengers lore in comic book reality. Although set in a highly unusual context of the Monster's continuity, it had now also established its Bronze Age presence outside its proper genre in the field of superheroes, not the least with two appearances on the cover of the Avengers.
|HOMEWARD BOUND AND BACK TO THE ROOTS|
of timeframe to the present day was now settled, and as a
consequence, Marvel shut down the black & white
contemporary stories involving Frankenstein's creation in
Monsters Unleashed #10 in February 1975. Besides
the fact that the black & white magazine itself was
running on its last breath and Monsters Unleashed
would be cancelled after the following issue, the
popularity of the character (or rather the lack thereof)
could not justify having two basically parallel
One question which still remained open, however, was the locale. Having explored the urban location of New York City in his Monsters Unleashed scripts, Doug Moench must have reached the conclusion that the potential was limited. Somehow, the Frankenstein Monster did not fit in very well with the major stage for Marvel's characters - perhaps because it is so very much tied to a background of quintessentially European atmosphere.
sideways to the highly successful Tomb of Dracula
would also seem to indicate this as a recipe for success,
as the title had now been running for 25+ issues and was
predominantly taking place in European locations. In May
1975, Moench made the decision for a change of scene
which sent the Monster homeward bound and, in a way, back
to its roots.
With I.C.O.N.'s main laboratories on fire and the organisation's plans thus thwarted for the moment, Frankenstein Monster #16 sets out with private eye Prawn instructing the Monster and Caccone at gunpoint that he is going to follow through with his client's orders and take the Monster back. The destination of the private jet plane they board can therefore only be - Switzerland.
|Landing in the Swiss Alps, the trio enter the fortress ("chalet" in the words of Moench) of Prawn's client, who turns out to be a woman: Veronica Frankenstein, granddaughter of Basil Frankenstein (the baby boy born in Frankenstein Monster #11). All of this takes place to the great surprise of nobody other than Prawn, Caccone and the Monster, as the teaser line "Next: the lady's name is Frankenstein!" at the end of Frankenstein Monster #15 was, of course, an absolute give-away...|
Veronica Frankenstein, who reveals herself as being completely unlike her male ancestors which the Monster had met so far, offers to perform surgery on the monster's larynx and thus restore its ability to speak. However, right in the middle of that surgical operation, I.C.O.N. appears on the scene in full force and deploys a number of their remaining "undead warriors" who assault the castle.
|As these are taken out of action by
Prawn, I.C.O.N. agents "Indigo" and
"Cardinal" send in their ultimate weapon - an
android with code-name "Berserker" who is
programmed for one task only - to retrieve the Monster.
Prawn and Ralph succeeded in fighting off I.C.O.N. long
enough for the surgery to be completed, and the now
awakened Monster incapacitates the Berserker. And
finally, the Monster speaks its first words after 7
issues and 14 months: "not a hero...but...who am
Doug Moench filled Monster of Frankenstein #16 right up to the brim with action and plot interest, and it is easily the fastest paced issue of the entire series. The change of scenery in the form of the Swiss Alps and the Frankenstein fortress as a backdrop adds atmosphere and a sense of authenticity, Veronica Frankenstein is a fresh character and not the run-of-the-mill Frankenstein so overused in previous issues, the attack of I.C.O.N. provides the by now regulars Prawn and Caccone with real tasks to tackle, the "Berserker" is a far more believable antagonist than previous agressors which crossed the Monster's way, and on top of all this, the whole underlying dilemma of the Frankenstein story is once again unravelled, only that this time it includes the Monster again, which through its regained ability to speak returns to the focal point of the story.
had finally managed to take the title back to its roots,
to a plot which reflected on the story from a perspective
very close to Mary Shelley's, whilst at the same time
adding new elements from the modern setting which
actually worked and provided increased plot value and
story interest. It was a long way from some of those
awkward twists and turns which had plagued some earlier
issues of Frankenstein Monster, and it was done
in the same swift but determined way which Moench had
displayed in transferring the Monster to the present
timeframe. Moreover, he brought back the drama of the
Frankenstein theme by asking the quintessential questions
raised by Shelley's novel: is Frankenstein just a
misguided scientist who actually means good, or is he a
madman, a megalomaniac who sees himself as God? And where
does his creation take its place in life, if at all?
Returning to these roots immediately sent Frankenstein Monster rocketing to a higher league within Marvel's line of comic book titles.
|The artistic rendering by Val Mayerik
leaned heavily on established visuals from the classic
Universal movies (most prominently when the basic story
of the creation of the Monster is recapped on one page),
and Mayerik (who was a mere 25 years old) was constantly
gaining stability in developing his Karloff-based but
nevertheless distinctive Marvel monster look - on the
whole, his artwork fitted Moench's handling of the title
and its developments very well.
Nevertheless, it is fair to assume that if Moench's effort on the plot level had been complemented by artwork from an A list Marvel artist, someone like Gene Colan, at this point, Frankenstein Monster would most probably have sold much better. Incidentally, Colan would have been interested in the book but it was never offered to him by Marvel's editors (Field, 2001). Essentially, Colan would have been interested in the atmosphere the title could offer.
|And even though things had improved considerably on the plot level, Frankenstein Monster was still lacking precisely that basic horror atmosphere which would normally be associated with the theme. Put rather simply, there was just too much light and not enough shadows. Nevertheless, Doug Moench successfully continued his multi-layer approach from the previous issue in Frankenstein Monster #17 (July 1975).|
|On the action level, I.C.O.N.
contacts Schmidt, one of their agents who works at the
castle and is thus able to reactivate the Berserker. The
android forces his way out of the Frankenstein fortress
and follows the Monster, which has set off on its own
into the snow-covered Swiss mountains. On the metastory
level of character development, Moench instantly took
advantage of the newly regained ability of the Monster to
speak (which was even heralded in a blur on the cover of Frankenstein
Monster #17 - "Because you demanded it --
the Monster speaks!") and depicted the
Monster's thoughts as centering quintessentially on the
question of its identity:
These opening lines on the splash page immediately redefined the Monster. It was no longer the lumbering, mindless heap of flesh whose sole driving force is to wreak bloodshed and revenge upon the descendants of its creator, but rather an essentially human being faced with terror and fear, both inside and outside its hideous body shell. And before it can come to terms with anything, the Monster, like all human beings, needs to know and understand its roots - its identity.
|Much of what is commonly referred to as identity is generally associated with the human brain, and at this point Moench introduces an interesting question which is left aside completely in Shelley's novel: whose brain was brought back to life by Victor Frankenstein inside the Monster's skull? An intriguing aspect, this question had been raised before in the letters pages of Frankenstein Monster, but surprisingly Moench closed the lid on this almost immediately after he opened the subject by having Veronica Frankenstein inform Caccone, Prawn and the Monster that all of Victor Frankenstein's notes have been lost over time. The Monster leaves the trio behind as it seeks "help, not pity", and sets out into the solitude and silence of the snow covered Swiss Alps.|
|Left: Original art for The Frankenstein Monster #17 (July 1975) pencilled by Val Mayerik, inked by Bob McLeod and lettered by Artie Simek (scanned from the original in my personal collection). Right: the same page as it appeared in print (colours by Don Warfield). [click for larger images]|
is at this point that the series reached its best in
terms of the depth of storytelling and plot handling
besides the adaptation of the original novel in the first
four issues, and Mayerik's art throughout these pages is
amongst his best on the title as he depicts the white-out
of the Monster's thoughts and feelings in a similiar
Frankenstein Monster #17 wraps up with the Berserker finding and fighting the Monster, but the struggle is brought to an abrupt halt when the Monster ripps off one of the android's arms and, feeling a surge of sympathy for his "injured" opponent, seizes to lash out at the Berserker and voices concern about the damage he has inflicted. This outpouring of empathy by the Monster and simple key words like "pain" and "life" cause the Berserker's programming to crash, and the android too becomes peaceful and begins to gain self control over his actions. The end result is two bewildered behemoths, uncertain about their future just as they are uncertain about their place in this world, walking off together into the wilderness of the foothills of the Swiss Alps.
The last panel on the last page of Frankenstein Monster #17 carries the caption "FIN", and in many ways, this was fitting, even though this issue would eventually not become the final one. But the book did end there for Moench, who brought his plot and storyline to a point which culminated in a last scene which equalled many Hollywood closing takes in the tradition of "Casablanca".
Mantlo's early work at Marvel included a short stint as
colourist but he soon transitioned to being a writer, and
eventually he would become Marvel's "fill-in
king" of the late 1970s.
|Taking Doug Moench off the Frankenstein Monster at this point was as good as any indication which readers would get regarding the sales figures of the book. Obviously, they had not risen, in spite of the improvements made.|
already smallish readership always seemed to be divided
virtually into halves in terms of opinion, no matter what
the changes or lack thereof were. And on top of this, the
title remained an awkwardly difficult item to market in
the Marvel Universe. Handing the title to Bill Mantlo was
therefore just a case of finding a free writer with no
reputation to lose on a title bound for cancellation if
nothing short of a miracle would happen.
Mantlo tied up the remaining threads of the I.C.O.N. subplot by having Veronica Frankenstein, Prawn and Caccone realize that Schmidt is the traitor and put an end not just to Schmidt but also "Cardinal" and "Indigo" as Caccone blows up the waiting I.C.O.N. helicopter.
These matters settled (and a good part of the supporting cast built up by Moench over several issues discarded for good in a few panels), Mantlo focusses entirely on the Monster and the Berserker who have by now reached the foothills. Making their way through a forest, the two artificial lifeforms - one biological, the other android - are increasingly becoming an odd couple of "friends".
|The Monster's dialogue at this point appears rather too close to what might be expected from the Hulk, consisting of utterings with two word sentences only - quite unlike Moench's portrayal. All of a sudden, the serenity is shattered when the Monster and the Berseker are attacked by a large number of disfigured dwarfs. In the ensuing struggle, the android is decapitated and thus destroyed (exit another of Moench's characters) and the Monster, even though fighting with rage ("Little men... kill friend! Little men... die!") is overwhelmed, captured and taken to a castle, where he is to meet "Mother". The walls which now hold the Monster prisoner are those of Castle Frankenstein, and in the last panel of Frankenstein Monster #18, "Mother" reveals herself to be Baroness Victoria von Frankenstein.|
|Mantlo had set up the storyline in a
fairly straight procession to reach this cliffhanger
revelation, but as this would be the final issue of Frankenstein
Monster, many explanations for the events described
in those last pages would only become available at a
later point in time.
Most importantly this concerned the disfigured dwarfs, the "Children of the Damned" - which would later be portrayed as the results of failed experiments conducted by Basil and Ludwig von Frankenstein (all of a sudden the family name had gained the aristocratic prefix "von"), locked away in the castle's dungeons and later discovered by Victoria Frankenstein.
Those readers who would never catch up with Marvel's Frankenstein Monster in other Marvel titles again, however, were simply left with a story dangling in mid-air.
Mantlo only had one issue of Frankenstein Monster to
work on, but his influence is generally underestimated
simply because the mark he left was irrelevant due to the
immediately following cancellation of the title. In
effect, however, he turned around almost everything Doug
Moench had set up during his shift.
Most importantly, and virtually with one stroke, Mantlo reversed Moench's attempt to go back more closely to Mary Shelley's portrayal of the Monster and instead presented a brute with lots of physical but barely no intellectual assets - clearly, his Monster owed more to the Hulk (which Mantlo would go on to script in 1980) than to Shelley's novel. But once again, the editorial staff gave every reason to suspect that nobody was really reading what was being edited.
The amount of change introduced in Frankenstein Monster #18 not just to the central character but also to the "stage" on which it acted serves as another indication of the nothing short of hopeless market position the title was in by mid-1975. After Mantlo got rid of the Berserker halfway through the issue, every indication of the current time period seemed to evaporate into thin air as the attire of the "Children of the Damned", the ancient castle, and "Baroness von Frankenstein" looked and felt like 19th century props more than anything else. And on top of this, Mantlo (who would go on to produce a refreshingly imaginative run on Iron Man) also reverted to the uninspiring and already overused plot template of reducing the storyline focus to setting up the Monster with - yet another - descendant of Victor Frankenstein.
All of this was in stark contrast to the comments published on the letters page of Monster of Frankenstein #18, which lamented the previous decline of the title but praised the upward turn Moench had produced with issue #16. And yet again, the editorial reply completely ignored the fact that by the time these praises were published, the title had gone off in a completely different direction which effectively made the favourable comments redundant.
These were, no doubt, slick words in the best of Marvel's tradition, but as they were completely out of touch with reality, they effectively became meaningless. Once again, the book was drawn into a wildly spinning downward spiral - but more importantly, this was also true for Marvel and the entire comic book industry.
|REASONS FOR FAILURE|
mid-1975, Marvel had lost $2 million and found itself in
bad financial shape. Although sales remained strong,
profits had dropped - the number of distribution outlets
was shrinking fast and rising paper prices were cutting
into earnings. In response to this financial crisis,
Marvel Comics owner Cadence installed a new company
president, who cut down the number of titles produced,
firmed up publishing schedules, and reorganized sales and
distribution. Not something to be done in a day or two,
Marvel would spend the rest of the 1970s cutting back on
expenses and new publications in an effort to remain
profitable (Daniels, 1991). As a direct result, Marvel's
grand pandemonium of horror titles virtually collapsed in
late 1975 - by the time the autumn production run
preparations were due, the fate of many Marvel horror
title was sealed, and by the end of the year, the total
of Marvel's colour horror comic books was down from 19 to
9 (see THOUGHT
In addition to all the problems Marvel had as a comic book publisher, the horror genre itself was undergoing fundamental changes as mainstream Hollywood began focussing on disaster movies and thrillers such as Spielberg's 1975 box office hit Jaws, whilst independent filmmakers came up with disturbingly explicit and gorey "splatter" movies such as the 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the hit movie Halloween (1978). Also on the rise was the occult horror film, following up on the box office success of The Exorcist in 1973, which prompted major studios to release movies with big name stars and high production values, such as de Palmas Carrie in 1976 (based on a book by Stephen King) and Hollywood legend Gregory Peck in The Omen that same year. The classic "gothic" horror theme, in contrast, was over and out - but almost all of Marvel's horror titles clearly represented this, the more "old-fashioned" school of the genre (see THOUGHT BALLON #7).
After 32 months and 18 issues, it was the end of the road for The Frankenstein Monster, and the title became the first high-profile victim - by name and popular culture status - of the 1975 horror genre cancellation wave when there was no issue #19 to follow up on Frankenstein Monster #18 (September 1975). Only one month later, the Monster would be followed by Man-Thing and the Mummy - another classic horror character. The times were changing, and fairly soon there would be a time for laser swords and death stars in a future which took place in outer space, not vampires and other ghostly appearances rooted in the earthly reality of the present. The same market which had demanded horror comic books a few years back would be yearning for science fiction, and according to Jim Shooter, editor-in-chief at the time, Marvel would come to owe its survival to the flagship of the newly arising genre:
Marvel's range of horror characters and comic book titles played a very substantial and important role in the diversification the House of Ideas underwent as it progressed from the 1960's Silver Age to the 1970's Bronze Age period, but it was not an overall Bronze Age period phenomenon - it virtually exploded onto the Marvel comic book scene in 1972/73, peaked in 1973/74, was just as swiftly reduced in output quantity by 1975/76, and only played a very minor part in Marvel's total output of comic book titles for the remaining years of the 1970s.
Given this background, one could therefore easily come to the conclusion that the cancellation of Frankenstein Monster was due to unfavourable circumstances. But this reasoning can only explain the sudden cancellation of the book, which took place without announcement of any kind and right in the midst of the storyline (usually, Marvel tried to wrap up things in such cases). The reasons for the cancellation itself, however, are to be found within the pages of the Frankenstein Monster.
Other publishers before had experienced great difficulties in transfering the Frankenstein Monster to comic book format, but despite the fact that the House of Ideas had produced the longest running stand-alone comic book Frankenstein title by far, the conclusion at the end of Frankenstein Monster #18 had to be that Marvel had run the theme more or less straight into the ground. After a widely applauded adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel, Marvel's initial choice to set up the title in a timeframe which was completely removed from the mainstream Marvel Universe was an approach which, despite its innovative potential, did not pay off and eventually even backfired as the average reader's expectations - nurtured by the overall logic of the Marvel Universe - weren't met and the creative team quickly found itself tangled up in stereotype storyboard settings. Reader feedback often seemed to be almost split in half on certain issues (such as the timeframe), which led the editorial team to adapt a policy of handling the title almost in search of "popular approval". The result, not surprisingly, was a high overall sense of instability, which was not helped by the fact that over a period of 32 months and the publication of 18 issues, a total of 3 writers, 4 pencillers and 10 inkers were put to work on Frankenstein Monster. Instead of a title with a clear sense of direction (which it had briefly acquired under the pen of Doug Moench), Marvel produced its own Monster Mash. And when the end of the series finally came about, it became evident that whilst Marvel was able to make the most out of Dracula as a classic horror figure in Tomb of Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster simply failed to leave a lasting mark.
|THE END? NOT QUITE ...|
enough, not all of Marveldom's followers around the globe
were left with a story dangling in mid-air when Frankenstein
Monster #18 turned out to be the last issue of the
title - readers of Marvel comics in Germany, Switzerland
and Austria got an additional slice of the story.
Following sporadic releases since 1966, the line of German language Marvel comic books was completely relaunched in January 1974 as publisher Williams Verlag in Hamburg set up an entire line of titles which were also distributed in neighbouring Switzerland and Austria and included two horror titles, "Die Gruft von Graf Dracula" (Tomb of Dracula) and "Das Monster von Frankenstein" (Frankenstein Monster). The latter provided readers with the most up to date Marvel material (the superhero titles all featured classic Silver Age stories) but soon caused problems as all German language titles were published either monthly or fortnightly. Given the fact that Frankenstein Monster was published bi-monthly in the US, it soon became clear that the German title would catch up on the original material all too soon. In an attempt to slow this down, Williams Verlag started to split the original material in half and spread it out over two issues, beginning with Das Monster von Frankenstein #12 in December 1974 which featured the first 9 pages of Frankenstein Monster #12 (September 1974). This solved the problem for a brief period of time (although readers of Das Monster von Frankenstein were just as unhappy about Atlas period reprint material as US readers were on other occasions) until the original title was cancelled in September 1975. At that point in time, Williams Verlag published Das Monster von Frankenstein #21 (featuring the second half of Frankenstein Monster #16) and thus now only had enough original material for four issues left if split in two.
The German publisher's solution to this dilemma was to go for the originally black and white material published in Monsters Unleashed #2, 3 - 10 and Legion of Monsters #1, which would be coloured to better suit the market.
|But rather than just paste the two
different and completely incoherent threads together,
Williams Verlag opted for what must be an almost singular
event in the international distribution of Marvel comic
books: to continue Bill Mantlo's fragmentary story in a
custom issue created solely for a non-English language
market. Published in February 1976, Das Monster von
Frankenstein #26 featured a 12-page story entitled "Baronesse
von Frankenstein" written by Hartmut Huff (who
otherwise acted as translator and editor) and pencilled
by Spanish artist Leopold Sanchez (who worked for Warren
and, briefly, Marvel).
Whilst this was a brave move for the production crew involved, the end result did not really justify the extra effort as Huff picked up the storyline where Mantlo had left off but eventually failed to push the plot onwards and missed the opportunity to either provide a fully fledged ending or a coherent link to the upcoming story from Monsters Unleashed #2.
In the end, Das Monster von Frankenstein #26 remained an oddity, unknown to all but a small handful of readers outside Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Das Monster von Frankenstein was cancelled with issue #33 in September 1976 - just one story (Legion of Monsters #1) short of once again running out of original material.
|Although one would assume this to be a unique and singular event, it seems that the publisher of Marvel comic books in Brazil, Bloch Editores, also produced its own material in order to be able to continue the title on its home market. The exact extent of this Brazilian production - reputedly written by Ruben Francisco Lucchetti and drawn by Jose Menezes, Mario Lima and Julio Shimamoto - is however unclear, despite several references to its existence [NOTE 2].|
|RELEASED UNTO THE GUEST STAR CIRCUIT|
|It was common 1970s Marvel practice to slip discontinued horror genre characters into the guest star circuit and have them reappear from time to time in other titles. In the case of the Frankenstein Monster, the next crossover encounter with another of Marvel's great superhero characters (following the Avengers earlier on that year) happened in August and September 1975 and thus actually ran in parallel to the cancellation of its own title. The superhero was Spider-Man, and the book was Marvel Team-Up #36-37.|
production team (writer Gary Conway, penciller Sal
Buscema and inker Vince Colletta) had no previous
experience with Frankenstein Monster, and whilst
a brief recap of the origin of the Monster is given which
actually mentions specific points such as the fight with
Dracula or the encounter with Ralph Caccone, there is no
cross-reference to any specific issue of Frankenstein
Monster or even the title in general - which would
indicate that the cancellation was known to the editorial
team whilst it was preparing the issue for the printers.
Apart from this origin flashback, however, the story
spread out over issues #36 and #37 of Spider-Man's
purpose designed crossover title was completely removed
from the characters and events in Frankenstein
The plot opens with Spider-Man getting in the way of two bankrobbers but being taken out by a blast out of nowhere before he can arrest the wrongdoers. When Spidey regains consciousness, he utters to himself "I couldn't have been unconscious for more than a minute - I should be on a dirty New York street". Alas, he is not, and instead finds himself strapped to what looks like an operating table in a dungeon-like surrounding. Stranger still, right next to him, the friendly webslinger sees the Frankenstein Monster, caught up in the very same predicament. An ensuing brief conversation is interrupted by the maior domus, who introduces himself as Baron Ludwig von Shtupf, although he tells his two prisoners that "you may call me the Monster Maker".
as a sidenote, is without any direct link to the
Frankensteins, and the events about to unfold seem to be
taking place somewhere - according to the cover splash -
in the Balkans.
This brief synopsis of the storyline set-up is enough to illustrate just how whacky - and sometimes outright cheesy - the general plot of Marvel Team-Up #36-37 was. It continues with Spidey and the Monster escaping form their prison, a flashback to the origin of the Monster, and the two companions seemingly falling for a trap set by Von Shtupf - which, however, turns out to be an operation by S.H.I.E.L.D.
|They are told that Von Shtupf is planning to "create an army of monsters ... sub-humans who can stand extremes of climate... who have super-normal powers. In a word, he wants to combine your abilities into a monster supreme!" Not a very original plot idea by any standards, there is at least some humour creeping in when the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent tells the two protagonists that "This operation will require stealth. You're too much on the obvious side." The action returns to the castle of Von Shtupf where the trio (Spidey and the Monster joined the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent anyway) discover that the madman has "engaged another specimen in the same manner I captured you" (although the exact means to achieve this "teleportation" are not explained) - which turns out to be the Man-Wolf.|
|Events are continued and wrapped up in Marvel Team-Up #37, after an all-out clash between Spider-Man, the Frankenstein Monster and Man-Wolf. Retaken by Von Shtupf as prisoners but freeing themselves once more, Spidey and the Monster overwhelm the mad Baron. After another fight between the webslinger and the Man-Wolf, the latter disappears into the wild, Spidey and the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent take a helicopter back to civilization, and the Monster roams the mountain wastes all alone.|
|The Frankenstein Monster thus disappeared from sight for an entire two years in real time before reappearing in the pages of Iron Man #101 and #102 in August and September 1977. Bill Mantlo was in charge of the title, and he actually took up some of the threads from his dangling plot of Frankenstein Monster #18 in a story entitled "Then came the Monster!" which was pencilled by George Tuska and inked by Mike Esposito (the cover was pencilled by Frankenstein Monster artist Val Mayerik).|
his return journey from an encounter with the Mandarin in
East Asia, Iron Man's plane is shot down over Yugoslavia
but old shellhead manages to propel himself out of
immediate danger before crash-landing himself in the
Swiss Alps. In a scene reminiscent of Frankenstein
Monster #18, Iron Man is discovered by the Children
of the Damned and taken to nearby Castle Frankenstein,
where the Monster is now residing together with Victoria
Having thus basically linked up the storyline with the last issue of Frankenstein Monster, Mantlo then introduces Bram Velsing (the name obviosuly owes much to Stoker's Abraham van Helsing from the novel Dracula, but the characters have nothing else in common), who worked as a scientist for Dr Doom before attempting to gain more power himself.
When Doom discovered Velsing's attempts at treason, he permanently grafted a skull-like cybernetic helmet to Velsing's head and then left behind the now-mutilated Velsing in the Swiss Alps to die. Discovered and then nursed back to health by Victoria Frankenstein, Velsing eventually gained a variety of weapons (including a flying mutant horse) - and now calling himself Dreadknight, he then attempted to force more resources from Victoria Frankenstein in order to take revenge on Doom.
|The hopes of the Children and the Monster that Iron Man might free them from Dreadknight are set back when Iron Man and the Monster are overwhelmed and bound by Velsing. However, as he begins to torture Victoria Frankenstein in order to gain possession of the notes of Victor Frankenstein (which she doesn't seem to have), the Monster is so infuriated that it breaks free from its chains and also frees Iron Man. In the final struggle, Dreadknight ends up as a comatose, wounded shell and is given over to the custody of Victoria Frankenstein and the Children. Leaving the Monster behind in the Swiss Alps, Iron Man heads for Paris to catch a plane back to the US.|
horror characters from the Marvel Universe (e.g. the
Golem), the Frankenstein Monster thus found a dangling
storyline caused by cancellation wrapped up years later
in a different Marvel title. Bill Mantlo added something
of a happy ending to his storyline from Frankenstein
Monster #18, showing the Monster "at home"
and at peace in the midst of Victoria Frankenstein - now
depicted as kind and caring - and her Children. Somehow
the picture thus painted must have felt so complete and
serene that nobody would bring up the Monster again for
Mantlo had, effectively, put the Frankenstein Monster to rest and closed the book for good, as the final Bronze Age appearance highlighted two aspects which Marvel had unfortunately bestowed on the Monster more than once: a flip-flop in timeframe and a creature which turns out not to be the actual Monster created by Victor Frankenstein.
August 1978, Invaders #31 featured a story
entitled "The Invaders meet Frankenstein!",
which was scripted by Don Glut, pencilled by Chic Stone
and inked by Bill Black. By way of the inherent logic of
this title the storyline took place in a timeframe
defined as the period of World War II, as the Invaders
were made up of the "original" Captain America,
Human Torch and Sub-Mariner (with occasional help from
other WW II herores such as the Union Jack). Thus, Marvel
presented yet another period appearance by the
Frankenstein Monster - before, that is, it turns out to
be a different creation, just as in X-Men #40 (January
1968) and Silver Surfer #7 (August
In Invaders #31, Basil Frankenstein - the son born in 1898 and briefly introduced in Frankenstein Monster #11 prior to the Monster's transfer to the current timeframe - has become a Nazi scientist who follows in his ancestors' footsteps. Together with his Japanese assistant Dr. Kitagowa he has moved to his ancestral castle in Switzerland (which, by the way, remained neutral throughout WW II) in order to continue his mission of creating an army of artificial Nazi soldiers. As the Allies learn of his plans, the Invaders are sent to investigate. Soon thereafter a fight with (Basil) Frankenstein's Monster ensues, during which the creature is knocked into a wall of electrical equipment.
resulting jolt breaks the mad doctor's control over the
Monster's mind. It grabs Frankenstein and Kitagowa and,
high upon the Castle's parapets, proclaims its wish to
die again. Eventually, the Monster takes a plunge
together with both mad doctors - Frankenstein and
After this, it would take Marvel 22 years to bring back Mary Shelley's creation - in Spider-Man Unlimited vol. I #21, August 1998. The Monster has since appeared several times, but although always rooted within the Marvel continuity of the character, these appearances are always anecdotal - just like the Monster's own Bronze Age title.
|In October 2015 Marvel published a Collected Edition paperback of its Bronze Age Monster of Frankenstein material (ISBN 978-0-7851-9906-9). Unlike the 2004 Essential edition, this not only features colour but also includes the Giant-Size Werewolf by Night and Marvel Team-Up issues and therefore makes all of this readily available again, with Marvel's promotional text displaying the usual enthusiasm.|
The illustrations presented here are copyright material.
Their reproduction in this non-commercial context is considered to be fair use.
Text is (c) 2008-2015 Adrian Wymann
page originally published on the web 10 September 2008
revised and reposted 7 March 2014
updated 13 December 2015
COMIC ZONE RADIO (2006) Michael Ploog Interview, available online at michaelploog.comiczoneradio.com and accessed 10 June 2008
COOKE Jon B. (1998) The Man called Ploog - Bronco-busting to Eisner to Frankenstein, originally published in Comic Book Artist #2, available online and accessed on 1 July 2008 at www.twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/02ploog.html
COOKE Jon B. (2001) Son of Stan: Roy's Years of Horror, originally published in Comic Book Artist (issue 13), available on-line and accessed 10 September 2007 at www.twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/13thomas.html
DANIELS, Les (1991) Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics, Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
FIELD Tom (2001) The Colan Mystique, originally published in Comic Book Artist #13, available online at www.twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/13colan.html and accessed 14 August 2008
JONES Stephen (1995) The Frankenstein Scrapbook: The Complete Movie Guide to the World's most famous Monster,Carol Publishing Group
LEE Stan & THOMAS Roy (1998) Stan the man & Roy the boy: A conversation between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, originally published in Comic Book Artist (issue 2), available on-line and accessed 4 September 2007 at www.twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/02stanroy.html
N. N. (1979) Bill Mantlo and the Micronauts, interview originally published in BEM #24 (July 1979), available online at www.innerspaceonline.com/BEM24-1.htm and accessed 25 August 2008
N. N. (2008) Gary Friedrich talks Frankenstein, Horror Comic Book News, available on-line at www.comicmonsters.com and accessed 11 June 2008
NYBERG, Amy Kiste (1998) Seal of Approval: History of the Comics Code, University Press of Mississippi
THOMAS Michael (2000) Jim Shooter Interview, accessed 5 May 2008 and available online at www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=147
 This quote, for which the direct source could not be found, is attributed to "an interview with Mark Gruenwald that ran in Comics Mainstream about ten years ago", accessed 27 August 2008 at www.comicon.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=2;t=003886;p=2
 Amongst these sources are an addendum by FELDMAN Mike (----) in Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe: The Frankenstein Monster, available online at www.marvunapp.com/Appendix/franknst.htm as well as GUEDES Roberto (2005) A Mumia de Julio Shimamoto e R. F. Lucchetti, available online at www.bigorna.net/index.php?secao=noticias&id=1128596507. A cover is featured at www.nostalgiadoterror.com/bloch_editores.html