Frankenstein Alive, Alive! #1

Written by Steve Niles
Art by Bernie Wrightson
32 pages, color
Published by IDW

In comics, Bernie Wrightson is probably best known for co-creating Swamp Thing. Outside of comics, though, it might be his illustrated edition of Frankenstein. I remember looking at the beautiful illustrations back in the mid-’80s and being entranced by the gorgeous drawings of Frankenstein, the monster, and the situations that Mary Shelley had come up with back in 1831. Frankenstein Alive, Alive! #1 is in many ways a spiritual heir to that project, operating as a direct sequel to Shelley’s novel with a story written by Steve Niles. And so far? It’s got that tone down pat.

Set a century after the original novel, Niles and Wrightson cast Frankenstein’s monster as a member of a carnival sideshow, appearing day in and out to scare bystanders that have paid to see… himself. By this point the novel Frankenstein has passed into the public awareness, but believing it as a piece of fiction rather than a true story. It’s a neat little twist for a sequel, a strange sort of mixture of our world and that of Frankenstein itself. Frankenstein’s monster (who in accordance with pop culture goes by just Frankenstein himself now) is trapped in a corner in terms of surviving in any other way, and the entire set-up makes perfect sense.

More importantly, Frankenstein Alive, Alive! #1 captures that dark, melancholic tone that I remember from the later chapters of Shelley’s novel. That gothic horror is alive and well here, with Frankenstein yearning for death even as he continues to live on well beyond his creator. The comic might be called Frankenstein Alive, Alive! but in many ways this is more of a living death for the poor creature, desperate for oblivion but unable to achieve it. It’s a good first chapter to this story, one that will eventually look handsome on a shelf next to the Wrightson-illustrated edition of the novel.

Wrightson’s art looks gorgeous here; it’s shot off of his black and white illustrations, but with touches of blue added to some of the backgrounds of the book. The end result is a visual that’s as moody as the writing itself; the deep blues are anything but cheerful, reminding me of dark watercolors that threaten to drown the characters of the book. I could look for hours at each page; the trim on the monster’s robe as he talks to his creator, the individual snowflakes, the crests of snow ridges as the monster a century earlier seeks an icy tomb. There’s so much to marvel and take in here, with Wrightson carefully creating intricate buildings and streets in a town, or every little plant in the background as the monster crawls through the forest. Wrightson’s a master of the comics industry, and this comic is a firm reminder on how he achieved that status.

My only quibble is that I found myself wishing that Frankenstein Alive, Alive! had been published right away as a graphic novel instead of as a serialized comic. IDW sweetens the deal by including the first third of Shelley’s novel in the back of the comic, as well as a conversation between Niles and Wrightson about Frankenstein, but this is a book that I think will read better as a unified whole. Still, it’s a handsome comic, and one for which I’m eager to see more. All in all, good stuff.

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