Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monsters: Classic vs. Marvel!

Karen: Marvel Bronze Age fans know that in the 70s, Marvel published a ton of monster comics. But how do the Marvel versions stack up against the Universal movie classics that obviously inspired them? Let's take a look.

Dracula: The bloody Count has been featured in numerous films, and played by many actors, but one name always stands
above the rest: Bela Lugosi.

Lugosi left his mark on the role -and our psyches -with his interpretation of the world's most famous vampire. His Dracula set the standard for all images to come. On some levels, this includes Marvel's version. But the comics Count does have his differences.

Marvel's Dracula, as drawn by the
legendary Gene Colan, was tall and lean, with a thin mustache, and oddly enough, pointed ears! Although he had the same widow's peak hairstyle as Lugosi, he may have owed more of his look to either John Carradine's version, or the then-current Hammer films vampire, portrayed by Christopher Lee.

The Frankenstein Monster: Most famously portrayed by Boris Karloff, the Monster was played by no less than four actors in the Universal films (Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr, Bela Lugosi, and Glenn Strange), and since then a ton of other films have featured some version of the Monster. But that Universal image, with the elongated, flattened head, drooping eyelids, and the infamous neck bolts, is the one most firmly entrenched in the public mind. Particularly at Halloween time, you see representations of it everywhere: on toys, greeting cards, I even saw a box of tissues bearing the image of the Universal Frankenstein!

Marvel's Monster certainly owed a strong debt to the classic look. His head had a high forehead and a somewhat flattened top. The
eyes were typically drawn as half-shut. No neck bolts -that would've been too close to the Universal version, I'm sure. But interestingly, the Marvel version was typically shown wearing a fur vest, very similar to the Monster's garb in Son of Frankenstein. Perhaps the biggest change was making the Monster's skin tone a pale white. Although the original films were made in black and white, the commonly accepted skin color for the Monster has been green (you can still find some color shots floating around that depict a green Karloff in the role). Truthfully, the white skin seemed to make more sense than green. The Monster was drawn by a number of artists, including Mike Ploog, John Buscema, and Val Mayerik.

The Wolfman: T
he third member of the classic monster triumvirate is the bestial Wolfman. As portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr., the Wolfman was a tragic figure, cursed to become a beast when the moon was full. Universal's lycanthrope seems tame in comparison to modern movie werewolves, but in some ways, I think this classic version allows more of the humanity (and thus the tragedy) of the character to come through. The Universal Wolfman is hairy, with a wolf-like nose and fangs. Although the movies were in black and white, most representations of the character (such as action figures) depict him as having brown fur and skin.

In this case there are actually two Marvel characters who were influenced by the Wolfman. The first is Jack Russell, aka Werewolf by Night. He could almost be the Wolfman's twin brother. Same color scheme, and facially very similar, as WBN retains a more human appearance. One way they did differ: the Werewolf liked to run around shirtless! I'll go on record saying I prefer the Ploog Werewolf over all others.

On the other hand, the Man-Wolf looked decidedly different than the Wolfman. The most obvious difference is coloring: Man-Wolf had a white or silvery look to his fur. He also had a bit more of the wolf to his face, as he seemed to have a bit of a snout, and large, canine ears. He'd fit right in with werewolves in more recent flicks.

Now Marvel also had a Living Mummy, but there's not much to say here: both the Universal Mummy and Marvel's version were just guys wrapped up in bandages! As for that
later addition to the Universal Monsters, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, there's no strong Marvel analog. Yes, Marvel did come up with a monster called the Manphibian for the Legion of Monsters magazine, who definitely seemed inspired by the Creature, but he was a one hit wonder. If any Marvel monster reminds me of the Creature, it's probably Man-Thing. Although they look nothing alike, the concept of the solitary , one of a kind monster, living in an aquatic environment (in Man-Thing's case, a swamp) is similar. But visually there's no comparison.


Fred W. Hill said...

He never had his own series, but there was that "Creature from the Lost Lagoon" that King Kirby came up with, obviously inspired by the Black Lagoon creature, in his waning days on the FF. If my memory is right, Stan used him again in one of his last FF tales. Then there was that other vampire, Morbius.

Karen said...

Oh yeah, no doubt that FF nemesis was 'inspired' by the Creature. Of course, I bet a lot of the Atlas monsters were strongly influenced by all of the 50s monster flicks. Heck, early Marvel superheroes were still influenced by these movies.Reed Richards is very similar to the chief scientist-heroes of This Island Earth or Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, or a score of other sci fi films. And how many Marvel characters got their powers from radiation, another gimmick from those 50s movies?

Morbius was definitely a more modern take on the vampire. Of course he was a scientific vampire, not a supernatural one. With his little costume I always thought of him as more of a super-villain than a monster,but the end result is the same!

Fred W. Hill said...

I felt Morbius was more of a victim of circumstances -- not truly an evil villain, but due to his condition he had appetites he could not control, somewhat a variation of the Lizard, although Morbius remained aware of who and what he was in way Curt Connors didn't. Interesting tho' that within the same two year period that both Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf By Night came out, Marvel also introduced science-based variations of those two supernatural creatures to pester Spidey and later even gave them their own series, albeit fairly short-lived ones compared to Drac's & Jack Russell's mags.
Spidey & BatMan both have a very Halloweenesque rogues gallery, with both the monsters and the creepily costumed cutups.

Kid said...

I always thought that there was quite a bit of Jack Palance in Gene Colan's take on Dracula. Probably a combination of different elements 'though.

Fred W. Hill said...

Just goofing about after getting home from a "Human Lights" party, and wound up here again just to note that I have read that Ditko definitely based Dr. Strange on Jack Palance and I believe you're correct, Kid, that Colan based his version of Dracula on Palance too. So naturally, when Colan was working on both Dr. Strange & Tomb of Dracula, they just had to have these two characters visually inspired by the same actor cross over. At least Colan made their faces distinct enough to tell them apart. Of course, a real poser for most artists would have been a dinner party featuring Steve Rogers, Clint Barton, Henry Pym and Dr. Donald Blake (will you guys put your masks back on so we can tell you apart?).

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