The 19th Century adventures of Mary Shelley’s famous monster conclude with Issue 12 of Marvel’s The Frankenstein Monster as the new creative team of writer Doug Moench and artist Val Mayerik begin the drastic process of updating the series to the present-day.
The Monster is dying of a gunshot wound inflicted by Vincent Frankenstein in the previous issue. After surviving an attack by a pack of wolves, the Monster falls off a cliff into an icy river. The story then jumps ahead to 1973 as an oil freighter hits an iceberg containing the frozen body of the Monster. This being a comic book, the Monster never died of his gunshot wound since the ice preserved him in a state of suspended animation.
The sailor who spotted the Monster trapped in the ice has a brother who runs a carnival. They conspire to steal the body before it can be turned over to the authorities. We are then introduced to a young neurosurgeon, Dr. Derek McDowell who sees the Monster exhibited at the carnival and correctly concludes that it is the immortal creation of Victor Frankenstein.
From here we segue to the pages of Marvel’s more mature (as in free of the censorship imposed by the Comics Code Authority) comic magazine, Monsters Unleashed which first launched the Frankenstein 1973 feature in their second issue the preceding year under the aegis of Gary Friedrich and John Buscema. The events of The Frankenstein Monster # 12 would now be considered an example of ret-conning in order to retroactively satisfy the continuity established in the sister magazine.
Friedrich’s portrayal of Derek McDowell is far from appealing. He’s an abusive hippie loser who beats up his fiancée, Tisha in frustration when the carnival refuses to sell the Monster to him. McDowell believes he has the skill to bring the Monster back to life whereas Tisha just wants things to go back to the way they were before he became obsessed with the journals of Robert Walton and the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation. To this end, Tisha decides a little arson at the carnival is in order.
The fire ends up not only disfiguring Tisha, but ironically melting the ice and reviving the Monster. The military is called in while the Monster climbs to the top of a roller coaster. He’s shot with a mortar, falls to the ground, lands on some cables and is electrocuted. The issue ends with the hard luck Monster who can’t seem to catch a break apparently killed off mere minutes after he awakens from his 80-year slumber.
Monsters Unleashed #4 sees Friedrich and Buscema continue their Frankenstein 1973 feature with an entertainingly sleazy two-part storyline that starts with corrupt cops selling the Monster to Derek and continues with an introduction to Derek’s mad scientist mentor, Dr. Wallach. The pair succeeds in their plan to revive the Monster (again). Now able to control the creature via remote control, Dr. Wallach entrusts Derek with the task of acquiring a new brain for the Monster. One botched attempt and two murders later, Derek resolves to transplant Dr. Wallach’s brain into the Monster by gassing the mad scientist in his sleep. The scheme works and Wallach now walks and talks inside the powerful body of the Monster. Unfortunately his first action is to murder Derek and plot to find an attractive body for himself and restore the Monster’s brain to in order to make him his servant so that he can…yes, rule the world.
Issue 5 sees the Wallach-Monster commit a string of bloody murders until he procures an ideal specimen for his mind transfer scheme in the body of an athletic young acrobat. The magic mind transfer somehow works and Wallach’s mind now inhabits the body of a strong and handsome young man. Of course, the revived Monster quickly kills the Wallach-acrobat before wandering off as yet another off-beat issue concludes.
Issue 6 brings aboard Doug Moench and Val Mayerik from the monthly comic to take over the re-christened Frankenstein 1974 feature of the magazine. As expected, Moench takes the storyline in a very different direction with an unseen manipulator reviving Derek McDowell as a voodoo zombie bent on revenge against Dr. Wallach. Zombie Derek murders an innocent bystander when he surfaces out of the river and then reaches Wallach’s laboratory where he resurrects the acrobat and conducts another mind-transference. Now Derek inhabits the body of the acrobat and succeeds in tracking down and subduing the Monster with a tranquilizer gun. The reader is doubtless confused with so many mind transfers going on. The Monster takes advantage of the chaos and after recovering and breaking free of his restraints, he murders both the acrobat and Derek for a second time. Meantime, the mind of the acrobat lives on in the body of Zombie Derek at the unexpected twist conclusion.
Issue 7 shows the zombie acrobat befriend the Monster and recount his life story. The unseen manipulator introduced in the previous issue uses a voodoo doll to lead the acrobat and the Monster to his home where he is revealed to be a deformed leader of a house filled with hideously-exaggerated sideshow freaks.
Issue 8 continues Moench and Mayerik’s desire to make this Marvel’s most off-beat series ever with one bizarre incident following the next. The freaks abduct a beautiful heiress, Julia Winters. The mastermind is revealed to not be a freak after all, but a handsome young man whom Julia rejected. The young man went insane and now hides behind a freak mask. The other freaks attack him feeling betrayed by a “normal” person as the Monster makes off with Julia with the police in pursuit.
Issue 9 is more of a filler story with the Monster fighting off police and seeking temporary refuge at a zoo. Julia recovers consciousness and rejects the Monster as just another freak and runs off, leaving the Monster heartbroken at her cruel ingratitude.
Issue 10 was the final issue of Monsters Unleashed and it wraps up their Frankenstein series with a ghoulish Christmas tale involving the Monster hopping a passenger train and befriending a pretty young runaway who is likewise hidden in the storage car. The President of the United States is believed to be on the train and terrorists are determined to assassinate him. The Monster and the runaway encounter a score of murdered secret service men before taking out the terrorists only to learn that the President isn’t aboard the train after all, only a plastic decoy is riding in his place. The Monster leaves the runaway to explain what happened and jumps off the train just before the terrorists enact their final move and blow up the train, never dreaming the President is safe while an innocent girl has died at his decoy’s side.
Marvel gave their horror magazine titles one last try, combining them into a single title, The Legion of Monsters. Sadly, it only lasted one issue. Moench and Mayerik’s final non-Code Frankenstein story was a similarly ghoulish Halloween story with the Monster attending an adult costume party where everyone is convinced that he is just another costumed partygoer. The Monster enjoys his brief spell of acceptance until a husband murders his wife at the party. Moench repeats his theme of what makes an individual a freak in this story by questioning how one defines a monster. In both examples, it is ignorant to judge by physical appearances rather than actions. The magazine run may have ended, but Marvel wasn’t finished with The Frankenstein Monster as Moench and Mayerik had the monthly comic to continue the 20th Century exploits of the legendary manmade creature.
William Patrick Maynard was authorized to continue Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu thrillers beginning with The Terror of Fu Manchu (2009; Black Coat Press). He is currently working on a sequel, The Destiny of Fu Manchu as well as The Occult Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. To see additional articles by William, visit his blog at SetiSays.blogspot.com