May 29, 2012

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Frankenstein Alive, Alive! #1

Written by Steve Niles
Illustrated by Bernie Wrightson
IDW

Long thought dead, the Frankenstein's Monster still lives, playing himself in a carnival freak show.  Find out just why this unholy creature still walks the earth and look at history from his massive shoes in this new series from contemporary horror writer Steve Niles and legendary horror artist Bernie Wrightson.

I love horror movies and horror comics, so a horror comic based on the novel that inspired a Hollywood horror icon was something I eagerly awaited as soon as I heard this was coming out from IDW.  And while I felt like I wanted more of the current life of the creature and less of his mental torment at the hands of a ghostly vision of his creator, this issue really delivered in terms of a quality story, a sympathetic monster, and visuals that are just unbelievably good.

In this version of the story, Frankenstein's Monster somehow ends up working at a carnival, dealing with the fact that his story his been corrupted and that the reality does not meet the expectations of the masses.  I wasn't expecting that twist on the idea of a living monster, and Niles deserves a lot of credit for mining what I think is a genuinely new idea out of ground that has been trod on by so many others after Mary Shelly.  It's also a neat idea to have the creature find a home among other outcasts, which I imagine will be taken away from him as tragically as possible at some point in time.

A little less effective, at least for me, is the angst that goes on for just a bit too long from the mid-point of the issue. I understand that we need to see the monster's desire for death, but seeing it twice was once more than we needed.  I hope that next issue moves things along just a bit faster.  Victorian pacing is okay for a 19th century novel, but a comic should keep going forward, at least within the bounds of a single issue.

For a lot of people the draw here will be Bernie Wrightson, and that's hard to argue with.  Good as Niles' script is, Wrightson's artwork steals the show.  If anything, he's even better than he was in the 1970s and 1980s, giving the monster a skull-like face that somehow is more expressive than many others who draw the creature with flesh.  The character placements and background settings are pitch-perfect, needing no color to enhance their quality.  There's one panel in particular, where Frankenstein's head bores into the back of the skull of his creation, taunting him visually even as Niles puts the screws on as well with his dialog.  Wrightson is one of the masters of the comic genre, and having him back on a series is magic on the page.

Frankenstein Alive, Alive! is off to a great start, and gets my highest possible recommendation for horror comic fans, but I think even non-horror buffs will like its take on Shelly's mythos.  I am eagerly awaiting issue 2--you should get issue 1 now so you are caught up and ready.