Monday, March 07, 2005

Spawn of Frankenstein, part 1

I'm sure most of you are familiar with many of the major players in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers event; Klarion the Witchboy has made several past appearances, as has the Guardian in whatever incarnation, and I dare say that there are very few comics fans alive that aren't aware of Our Lady of the Fishnet Stockings and Top Hat, Zatanna. One player you may not be all that familar with, however, is the Spawn of Frankenstein. Now, I know, who hasn't heard of the Frankenstein Monster, one of the oldest and most durable fictional characters ever? Well, not too many people, that's for sure. But I'm thinking that not too many people are all that familiar with DC's version of the Monster, which appeared as a back feature in eight issues of the Phantom Stranger comic back in 1972-1974. As the Comics Code relaxed, both Marvel and DC went monster-happy in the early 70's; there were very few of the classic archetypal monsters (and other, less derivative beasties) that both companies didn't rethink and present in updated form. DC had been featuring horror and supernatural stories in its anthology comics like House of Mystery and House of Secrets since the late 60s; they had been publishing the adventures of a character first introduced in a short-lived title, the Phantom Stranger. Another character that had been appearing here and there, and was eventually worked into the Stranger's comic as a supporting character, back-feature and foil was Dr. Terrence Thirteen, a professional skeptic and debunker who was totally convinced the Stranger was a fraud and a charlatan, and was determined to expose him as such. This went on and off and on for the first twenty-odd issues, but writer Len Wein had seemed to grow a bit tired of the cat-and-mouse game, because Dr. Thirteen found himself a non-participant in the big "Stranger vs. the Dark Circle" arc that had begun sometime around issue 19 or so. After a couple of non-PS related Dr. Thirteen backup stories, it was decided that with issue 23, the Stranger would get a new backup feature, with an all-new character of sorts:

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Image Hosted by ImageShack.usWhat I hope to do is provide an overview, with scans, of the first four Spawn of Frankenstein appearances, from Phantom Stranger #'s 23 through 26. There were four more SoF stories, in issues 27 through 30, by a different creative team which I don't own. The first three were written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by Mike Kaluta, the next one, a crossover event with the Stranger and the Monster, was written by Wein and illustrated by PS's regular artist at the time, Jim Aparo with a Kaluta cover. The last four stories were written by Aquaman and Hawk and the Dove (among others) scripter Steve Skeates and illustrated by Bernard Baily, the artist and writer of the Golden Age Spectre in what surely must have been his last work in comics, because his skills had eroded significantly- and the last story arc suffered because of it.

In the first appearance, in Phantom Stranger 23, we are taken to the Arctic and introduced to someone named "Victor", no last name given, who makes the discovery he's searched for for five years- the frozen body, preserved in a block of ice, of the Frankenstein Monster. In the caption, we are informed that this is August 6, 1972, so we know right off the bat that this is taking place in the modern day. When Victor returns to the university where he works, where he confronts a review board about his experiments in the duplication of cellular structure, and presents his discovery. The Board doesn't see how his ambition to revive the monster coincides with his cloning experiments, forbids him to continue, and Victor quits in a huff.

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He goes home to his wife Rachael, angry at the pigheadedness of the University suits, and informs her that he's going to the lab despite her pleas to stay home tonight. Frightened, Rachael phones the one person she believes will listen to her story and be able to speak to Victor- Dr. Terry Thirteen. Dr. Thirteen and his wife Marie agree to travel to Victor's lab, in a "crumbling manor", and talk to him. When they arrive, they're unsure where Victor's lab is- Rachael has never been there, even though she knows where it's located- so they decide to split up and look for him. Victor, unaware of the new arrivals, continues with his experiment, and bombards the creature's body with "modified laser beams" to bing him to life 70's style. Problem is, Vic needs more power, and as it occurs to him to harness the lightning from the convenient thunderstorm outside, lightning obliges and strikes a lightning rod on the roof, sending a power surge into his laser cannon, which causes it to overload- electrocuting Victor and jumpstarting the monster enough to enable him to sit up and break his bonds. And it's at that precise moment that Marie Thirteen enters Victor's lab.

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Victor's dead body, slumped over the laser cannon, causes it to swing over and zap Marie. The Monster sees her pain, leaps off the table, hits the cannon and causes it to shut off. It's at this time that Doc Thirteen and Rachael, hearing the commotion, find Victor's lab and see the Monster standing over Marie's body. Dr. Thirteen, erroneously assumes (as he so often did) that Franky has harmed his wife and attacks him with a steel bar. Rachael, for her part, assumes the Monster has killed her husband.

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Even though Dr. T is whaling away on him with that rod, Franky looks up, sees the ceiling is collapsing, picks up a steel grate, and holds the ceiling up until the Thirteens and Rachael can get away.

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Dr. Thirteen, ever the stick, vows vengeance on the creature he believes responsible for the death of his friend and the injury to his wife, who is now in a coma. And so, we're off! Next issue: the SoF goes clothes shopping! I'm not kidding!

All in all, a not-bad opening chapter despite Wolfman's often florid prose (in all fairness, this was the style the Stranger was written in as well, and Wolfman went on to take the same approach in his run on Tomb of Dracula) and some classic comic-book science. Kaluta's art was kinda rough in places, as this was still early in his career, but he was proving as suited for gothic stories as we was the sci-fi of DC's Burroughs books of the time where he first got noticed. I hope to do these as soon as possible, as fast as I can scan the panels anyway- so the plan is to get chapter two posted today. Stay tuned!

This is all ©DC Comics, by the way. Pages scanned from my personal collection.

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