By Rob Lamberti
2018 was a year of anniversaries, of the good, the bad and the profound.
The First World War ended 100 years ago. And it also marked the 50th anniversary of the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and of Apollo 8’s first manned orbit of the moon.
2018 was also the 200th year of one of the most enduring horror — and maybe science fiction —novels. Frankenstein by English writer Mary Shelley. The story is a tale of caution, an allegory about science, which can run amok and challenge the foundations of its ethics.
But there is also a more human side to Frankenstein. The “monster” shows people how they should behave and that the sum of his parts is worthy of our respect as he reacts with anger against injustice and to his abandonment by his creator, Victor. Maybe the monster is in the mirror.
However, and whatever, the many meanings story for its readers, Frankenstein remains a staple in modern storytelling, including comics. Hollywood rarely stayed true to Shelley’s literary masterpiece, and for the most part turned it into a simple horror tale, or comedy.
Frankenstein was also interpreted as erotic by comic storywriters and artists.
An eight-page tale based in 1930s New York City in Prize Comics 7, which retails for about US$7,000 in Near Mint to about US$480 in Good, published in December 1940 is among the first — if not the first — appearances of Frankenstein. The version by writer and artist Dick Briefer, who used the name Frank N. Stein, resembles the character portrayed by Boris Karloff in the 1930s movie franchise by Universal Studios. Briefer’s version was comicdom’s first on-going horror story and it would expand with Frankenstein’s monster taking on Nazis and other bad people.
Briefer followed the anthology series by transforming the character into a humorous one in Frankenstein Comics by Prize Publications, a title that ran for nine years during the post-war era.
The character first appeared in the DC universe in May 1948 in Detective Comics 135 — which guides about US$1,700 in Near Mint and about US$100 in Good — where he battles Batman and Robin in The True Story of Frankenstein.
Classics Illustrated published 19 editions of its Frankenstein, but 21 versions including a misprint in the sixth edition, between 1945 and 1971. The artists were Robert Hayward Webb and Ann Brewster, one of the few female artists of the Golden Age. The eighth edition’s cover was a painted rendition by Norman Saunders (1907-1989), which retails at about US$35 in Near Mint. The painting sold at auction for US$13,145, including a buyer’s premium, in 2007.
A more modestly priced modern reprint of the Saunders’ cover edition was issued in 2016.
Among the myriad of Frankenstein titles — such as Marvel’s Monster of Frankenstein — it was master macabre comic artist Bernie Wrightson in 1983 who reached a pinnacle yet to be matched with his rendition of the timeless tale.
Wrightson took about seven years to complete the one-shot graphic novel published by Marvel, which was later reprinted by Dark Horse in 2008. He worked on the project on his own time between paying jobs. Wrightson wanted, and I feel he succeeded, to recreate the art style invoking the era. Unlike the other Frankenstein stories, Wrightson’s work is based on the details within Shelley’s book, not those fabricated by Hollywood.
The artwork is intricate, and its complexity leaves the reader in awe. Wrightson’s detail is breathtaking, leaving his work more powerful than spooky. Indeed, there are not enough superlatives to adequately describe the work. There are special editions available, including one from Amazon, that are beautiful but maybe a little pricey. The original softcover runs at U.S.$70 in Near Mint to about U.S.$4.50 in Good.
This work was followed with Frankenstein, Alive! Alive! It is a mini-series by Wrightson and Steve Niles started in 2012, and the story begins where the 1983 edition ended. So does the art.
And the last of the major Silver Age creators at Marvel Comics, whose House of Ideas capture our imagination, has passed on.
Stan “The Man” Lee died Nov. 12, 2018. He was 95. Born Stanley Martin Lieber on Dec. 22, 1922, in New York City, he joined his cousin’s publishing company housed in the McGraw-Hill Building in 1939. He became editor two years later.
The aspiring novelist would taste success as editor for the comics wing of Martin Goodman’s publishing empire — as well as almost losing everything in a tough comics industry — fame and glory stated to amass as he and artist Jack Kirby — who died in 1994 — together created the Marvel Universe in the 1960s with the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Avengers, Thor, Ant-Man and Giant-Man, and many others. With Steve Ditko, who died last year, the duo spun tales of Spider-Man, and with Bill Everett, who died in 1973, they felt their way through storylines with Daredevil.
So, true believer, I imagine him saying to fans, this last No Prize on the shelf is for me. ‘Nuff said, and Excelsior.