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.
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NOTE: The following article was first published on May 30, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these early articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.
A couple weeks ago I reviewed R. J. Myers’ The Cross of Frankenstein. It was the respected political commentator’s first foray into fiction. He followed it with a sequel, 1976’s The Slave of Frankenstein and despite the promise of a third book, his only other genre efforts were a late seventies soft-core vampire title and a privately-published guide to blood-drinking as an alternative lifestyle.
I always feel a pang of guilt when I come down hard on a fellow pastiche writer. I’ve been on the receiving end of disappointed Sax Rohmer and Conan Doyle fans who felt I had no business continuing the adventures of characters they love. At the same time, I believe I have been fair and honest in my assessments when reviewing pastiches. I have the utmost respect for Joe Gores, Michael Hardwick, Cay Van Ash, and Freda Warrington as writers who tried hard to stay true to the original author in terms of style and spirit. I can still enjoy Peter Tremayne and Basil Copper who, despite falling short of the mark, can still spin an entertaining yarn. Consequently, I feel justified when I confine Myers to the lowest pit of literary Hell alongside Ian Holt and Richard Jaccoma for The Slave of Frankenstein, while a very different beast than Myers’ first effort, is equally contemptible.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Click on images for larger versions.
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.
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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.
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