The Arabic world has seen an upsurge in speculative fiction in recent years. Some attribute it to the disappointments of the Arab Spring and the disaster of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Others point to ready access to the Internet, allowing Arab writers to communicate more easily with genre fans in other parts of the world.
Of course this ignores the fact that Arabic literature has a long tradition of the fantastic. Arab writers are working from very deep roots. So it’s interesting that one of the most successful Arab speculative novels of the past decade takes its inspiration from a Western source.
Frankenstein in Baghdad retells Mary Shelley’s classic tale in American-occupied Baghdad in the early years of this decade. The book originally came out in Arabic in 2013. Baghdad is a nightmare of opposing factions shooting it out while a corrupt Iraqi government propped up by the clueless Americans tries to keep it all together.
***Spoilers follow. If you don’t like spoilers, just go out and buy the novel. You’ll be glad you did.***
Hadi is a junk dealer who drinks too much and works too little, living in an abandoned house and telling wild tales at the local cafe to anyone who listens. On his rounds he comes across the wreckage of countless car bombings. While the emergency crews try to clean up as much as possible, they often miss small body parts. Hadi decides to take these home and sew them together, making a complete body that would be suitable for burial.
Jean-Claude Carriere is best remembered as the acclaimed screenwriter of Hotel Paradiso (1966), Belle de Jour (1967), The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie (1972), The Return Of Martin Guerre (1982), and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988). Less well known is the fact that he also authored (under the house name of Benoit Becker) six very bloody sequels to Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) in 1957 and 1958 for a French horror-specialty imprint. Carriere’s books chronicle the exploits of Gouroull, as he christened the Monster, as he moves across Europe from 1875 to 1939.
Gouroull is portrayed very much in the mold of Mary Shelley’s literary original. He is a terrifying amoral creation possessed of superhuman strength and cunning. Truly the only one of his kind, he is a creation who has outlived his creator and knows not love or restraint. Gouroull is the ultimate sociopath. This Frankenstein monster is quite foreign to our pop cultural mindset. Gouroull uses his razor sharp teeth to slash his victims’ throats. He does not breathe. His skin is naturally flame-resistant. Ichor runs in his veins in place of blood. He is a monster like no other.
In the annals of early silent film, the name Thomas Edison stands out prominently. The American inventor racked up a series of firsts–building the first film studio in the U.S., registering the first copyright for a film in the U.S., making the first sound film in the U.S. (and arguably the world), and many other innovations.
Edison Studios was launched in 1894 and ran until 1918, when an antitrust lawsuit led Edison to sell the company. In that time, the studio’s host of directors made almost 1300 films. The vast majority were shorts, with the earliest efforts being “actualities” such as The Sneeze (1894) and the historically interesting Sioux Ghost Dance (1894). For the first few years of film, simply seeing people moving on screen was enough, but soon audiences wanted stories. Edison Studios churned out dozens of shorts a month, most of them rather forgettable comedies or dramas as well as a few Westerns such as the very first in the genre, The Great Train Robbery (1903).
This year, the home video divisions of all the major distributors banded together and plotted a full-scale assault on the wallets and bank accounts of Blu-ray owners during September and October. Only the wealthiest could possibly survive an attack that began with the first Hi-Def release of the Indiana Jones films. But the supreme weapon, the ultimate October Surprise, is Universal’s huge ebony slab of fear, nostalgia, and latex make-up: Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection. Spanning twenty-three years and nine films (advertised as eight, sorry Spanish Dracula), the long-anticipated set brings the Masters of Halloween into glorious 1080p for the first time, and in perfect seasonal position to drain your money before you waste it on a Jack Sparrow costume that forty other people are also going to wear to that same party.
Few movie series have had such an impact on filmmaking and popular culture as Universal’s stable of ghouls. They are as much a part of Halloween as Pixie Styx and pumpkin carving. I can’t imagine there are Blu-ray owners with any shred of geek cred out there who won’t want to add this to their shelves. When I received mine in the mail, I rejoiced at the anticipation of a week full of evenings revisiting some of my favorite movies in beautiful restored editions. The box set did not let me down—except for the one film that doesn’t really belong on it, but I anticipated that.
Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection comes packaged in a black slipcase with a side-bound color booklet of trivia. The eight discs contain Dracula (1931), the Spanish-language Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, the 1943 color re-make of The Phantom of the Opera, and Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Taking the discs in chronological order, as I did during the week:
Donald F. Glut is best associated with his 1980 novelization of The Empire Strikes Back. Some may recall his name today if they are between the ages of 40 and 45 and the movie was a touchstone of their childhood. I was not yet nine years old when the film was first released and read and re-read the paperback over and over again at a time when Star Wars meant as much to me as The Clone Wars does to my kids. The difference was, at age eight, I already recognized the name Donald F. Glut and knew him for a mysterious individual to be respected and admired because he wrote everything I wanted to read.
I was an avid comic book junkie as a kid and adored classic horror and science fiction films of decades past like many that grew up in the 1970s. Donald F. Glut was not a name like Stan Lee or Roy Thomas or even Len Wein or Marv Wolfman that I associated with specific titles that I eagerly devoured each month. Glut appeared where I least expected to find him – which in his case was nearly everywhere.
An early 1978 issue of Marvel’s Star Wars, a stray issue of Marvel’s adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Kull the Conqueror that somehow made it past my Mom and into my hands, an Incredible Hulk mini-storybook that I picked up at Woolworth’s – they all bore his credit as author. It didn’t end with comic books. In those days before the internet, libraries were treasure houses for information and non-fiction books on the Frankenstein Monster or dinosaurs that I pulled off the shelf with trembling hands were also from the pen of the amazing Mr. Glut.
The 20th Century adventures of Mary Shelley’s famous monster continued with a guest-star stint in Giant-Size Werewolf #2. Doug Moench scripted and Don Perlin provided the artwork. Moench gets to make his familiar point about judging by appearances (as he did several times in his Frankenstein 1974 scripts for Monsters Unleashed) with an opening sequence in which a hippie and an African-American are discussing the injustice of unfounded prejudices when they encounter the Monster and immediately flee in terror at his appearance. The Monster subsequently overhears a conversation between two winos about eccentric millionaire Danton Vayla who has discovered the ability to transmigrate souls. Intrigued, the Monster sets off for Los Angeles (by freight train) in the hopes of gaining a new, normal body for himself.
The story then shifts gears to pick up a plot strand from Marvel’s monthly Werewolf by Night title where Lissa Russell has joined a Satanic cult, The Brotherhood of Baal in the hopes of finding a cure for her werewolf brother. Lissa quits the cult after learning that they practice human sacrifice. The Brotherhood abducts Lissa and scrawl Manson-style graffiti on the walls of her home. This sends Jack Russell in search of his sister. He soon discovers that Danton Vayla (who resembles Anton LaVey in name as well as appearance) is the leader of the Brotherhood of Baal and about to sacrifice Lissa as part of the same ritual that the Monster’s soul is to transmigrate into the body of a handsome young cult member. One lengthy Werewolf-Monster scuffle later and Vayla lies dead, the cult is ruined and Lissa is freed.
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.
Read Part One of this article here. Click on images for larger versions.
The 19th Century adventures of Mary Shelley’s famous monster following Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog’s adaptation of the classic novel continued in Issue 5 of Marvel’s The Monster of Frankenstein with another standalone filler story. This time out it is a more serviceable horror yarn that sees the Monster bravely rescuing a beautiful girl from being burned at the stake. She claims that her town is under the spell of a demon dressed in black that only she could resist. The Monster confronts and subdues her abusive father in his quest to end her persecution.
Along the way, there are hints that the girl is not as virtuous as she initially appeared. The Monster learns at the climax that the girl is actually a werewolf. The demon in black is revealed to be the village priest. The story is a familiar yarn having been utilized in numerous other comics and short stories for several prior decades. Gary Friedrich’s script puts the tested story to good use, but this is one of Mike Ploog’s less-inspired issues as artist.
Ploog’s swan song with the series was Issue 6. The title was modified slightly to The Frankenstein Monster starting with this issue. Ploog’s artwork here is simply stunning recalling at times Barry Windsor-Smith’s run on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian. His Frankenstein Monster also strongly resembles Herb Trimpe’s interpretation of The Incredible Hulk and yet, there is much that is undeniably Ploog’s own brilliant style throughout. This final issue for the artist is his best for the series and does much to underline what made his artwork so beloved by comics fans.
Following the success of The Tomb of Dracula in 1972, Marvel Comics launched The Monster of Frankenstein the following year. Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog kicked the series off with a fairly faithful three-part adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel.
At the outset, Marvel determined to keep the Monster in period. This was an interesting approach considering the modern update Dracula had received. Vampires were an easier sell for the twentieth century as numerous film and television updates had already established contemporary vampire stories whereas the Frankenstein Monster somehow seemed an antiquated concept, despite the character’s ongoing appeal.
It is important to remember that at the time the series debuted, literary critics had not yet embraced Mary Shelley’s work as a classic. Shelley, like Bram Stoker, was looked down upon as low-brow and her work was not afforded serious consideration.
Television syndication of the Universal Frankenstein pictures of the 1930s and 1940s and the character’s transformation into the patriarch on the 1960s sitcom, The Munsters were largely responsible for its longevity. It would be several more years before Shelley’s cautionary tale would gain widespread acceptance as a modern myth whose resonance had not diminished with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus is a remarkable work. The book had its origin as a ghost story concocted during a weekend gathering of the literati on Lake Geneva. It became the modern myth best reflecting the ethical and moral issues that arise when technology consistently outpaces its maker’s ability to reconcile progress with the established strictures of society. It remains a classic cautionary tale that has lost none of its relevance nearly 200 years since its publication. Despite this fact, it is an intensely personal story with strong autobiographical touches.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born in the late eighteenth century to outspoken liberal political theorist William Godwin and pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Her mother died of complications giving birth to Mary. She grew up revering her parents’ work and was encouraged by it to ceaselessly question authority in any form. At age 16, Mary began an affair with one of her father’s most ardent followers, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who was five years her senior and married with small children.
Percy left his wife and family to travel the continent with Mary and her stepsister, Claire. He enjoyed affairs with both young women. Their unconventional living arrangement engendered much public outrage and ostracism wherever they went. Mary became pregnant with Percy’s child, but the little girl died shortly after birth. Mary’s father, who had criticized the institution of marriage in his writings, inexplicably turned his back on his unwed daughter for her licentious behavior.