Monday, June 3, 2013

Frankenstein and its sequels

Museum of Modern Mythology and Pop Culture

The Monster of Frankenstein, Nos. 1-6
By Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog
(Marvel Comics, 1973)

The Cross of Frankenstein 
The Slave of Frankenstein
By Robert J. Myers
(Lippincott, 1975 and 1977)

Brittle Innings
by Michael Bishop
(Bantam, 1994; Fairwood Press, 2012)

Dean Koontz's Frankenstein (5 vols.)
By Dean Koontz
(Bantam, 2004-2011)

     Mary Shelley never wrote a sequel to Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, but that hasn't stopped others from continuing the story.
     If you're not familiar with the novel (as opposed to the many film and TV adaptations), the novel begins in the Arctic, where the captain of a ship sees a man being pursued by another man across the frozen waste. The second man collapses, is rescued, and tells the tale of how he, Victor Frankenstein (not a doctor, by the way, nor a baron), created life, only to be horrified by his achievement and abandoning it. The manlike creature survives, educates itself, but is rejected by everyone it encounters save for a blind man who can't see what he looks like. This makes him a misanthrope who kills a member of Frankenstein's family, then frames a servant for the crime, before confronting Victor and demanding he make another creature, a female, to be his companion. In exchange for this, he promises they will go to the wilderness and live apart from man. Victor at first complies, but cannot go through with it because of the possibility that they would spawn a race of monsters to torment mankind. In retaliation, the Creature kills first Victor's friend, Henry Clerval, and then his bride, Elizabeth. NowVictor pursues the Creature, and we're back to where we started. Victor dies soon after, and the Creature visits his deathbed, promising to self-immolate itself in the wilderness because, without vengeance, it has nothing left to live for. The end.

     Now several writers and commentators -- including Lawrence Wolff, annotator of The Essential Frankenstein -- have questioned whether or not the monster would actually go through with his suicidal plan. My response: Yes, he would have, because that was the ending Mary Shelley intended. But that didn't stop a couple of writers from speculating anyway.

From Club des
     In 1973, Marvel Comics launched a comic book sequel, The Monster of Frankenstein (available in The Essential Monster of Frankenstein, Vol. 1). The plot: In the late 19th century, a man leads an expedition to the arctic to find the monster's body. He does, frozen in ice, but a fire onboard ship melts the ice and revives the monster. Over the course of the first four issues, the novel is also retold (altered slightly; for instance, the monster's bride is briefly animated before Victor destroys it). Midway through the fourth issue, events immediately after the end of the book begin. The monster encounters an Indian or Inuit tribe, befriends and is befriended by them, until they are killed (I forget if it was by a rival tribe, natural disaster or wild animals), and the monster falls into the icy water and is frozen, bringing us back to his fate at the beginning of the comic. His current companions also die by the end of the issue, and, alone, he goes in search of a descendant of Victor Frankenstein whom he is told is still alive and might be able to help him.
       I stopped reading the comic after a couple more issues because, between one issue and the next, the monster had decided to kill this Frankenstein, too (why? I don't remember), and it looked likely to be a series of mad doctor encounters. The art style had changed, too, and the title of the comic book became The Frankenstein Monster. Later, apparently, the Monster was revived again in the 20th century and actually had adventures alongside or in conflict with Spider Man, the X-Men and Iron Man.

     Marvel's take on the monster was that he was more sinned against than sinning. Victor treated him atrociously by creating then abandoning him. His early murders were attributed to his parent's neglect. But other writer's see the monster as a villain, pure and simple.
     A couple of years later, a writer named Robert J. Myers wrote a couple of followup novels, both out of print. I read the first, The Cross of Frankenstein, which involved an illegitimate son of Victor's who is contacted about a formula of his father's for an artificial blood called "The Fluid." He suspects this was from a page of his father's notebooks for creating the monster, and that it might mean the monster is still alive and in need of a blood transfusion. Eventually he meets the monster, who has formed a cult of some sort and is planning to make an army of creatures like himself, though I can't quite recall why (to take over the world, I guess). The book ends with the monster's plans temporarily thwarted, Victor's two girlfriends (or at least two women with whom he had sexual relations) killed by the monster, and the notebooks still in the monster's possession.
     I didn't read the next book, The Slave of Frankenstein, but it took place in the U.S. where the monster has co-opted John Brown's slave-freeing operations for his own ends (another army, I guess). I believe it was left open-ended, but maybe there was no demand for or interest in further sequels.

     A more interesting sequel was Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop, in which a 1943 minor league ballplayer named Hank Clerval turns out to be the monster, still alive. As bizarre a plot as that sounds, it's a surprisingly moving story, told from the viewpoint of a 15-year-old rookie with whom he bonds.

     More recently best-selling horror novelist Dean Koontz has written a series of five novels under the umbrella title Dean Koontz's Frankenstein, each involving an immortal and immoral Victor Frankenstein, opposed by his still-living original creation, herein named Deucalion (for the son of Prometheus in mythology). I haven't read any of these, but they seem popular enough to have spawned movie interest.

     And one can't talk about sequels without mentioning the films from Universal and Hammer. Universal got around the issue of whether Frankenstein was the villain or not by having him not abandon the monster, and by the monster's brain being an "abnormal" criminal brain. Even so, in the first two films, the monster is more of a child, doing wrong by accident or in frustration at society's rejection of him. At the end of The Bride of Frankenstein, he even tries to commit suicide. By the third film, Son of Frankenstein, he is a dangerous but simple-minded character (after his near-death in Bride, he was struck by lightning also), with the genuinely evil Ygor using him for his own purposes. In subsequent films, he becomes more of a robot and loses all personality.
     In the Hammer films, Frankenstein himself is actively evil, and none of his creations lives beyond one film.

     There will no doubt be further sequels to Frankenstein, though none are needed. I'd be more interested in an alternate universe version in which Victor doesn't abandon his creation and how things might have developed differently.


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