Wednesday, October 30, 2013

BAB Classic -- Ploog Power: The Frankenstein Monster 6

NOTE: This post originally ran on October 29 2011

The Frankenstein Monster #6 (October 1973)
"In Search of the Last Frankenstein!"
Writer: Gary Friedrich
Plot and art: Mike Ploog

Karen: Marvel was monster-crazy in the early 70s, and Mike Ploog was the undisputed king of monster artists at the time. His work on Werewolf By Night, Ghost Rider, and Man-Thing was perfectly suited to those books. But today we're going to look at his work on another interesting, if short-lived monster book, The Frankenstein Monster. This would be Ploog's last issue of the title, but he goes out with a bang. His layouts and panel design are innovative and fresh. Of course, it goes without saying that he manages to give the story an appropriate mood and feel -much like a classic Universal film.

Karen: The Monster is seeking out the last of the Frankensteins and returns to his creator's birthplace, Ingolstadt. Before he reaches the dilapidated ancestral castle, he comes across a young lieutenant from the village. The soldier is investigating some missing prisoners and suspects they might be in the castle. Although the Monster means the man no harm, he finds himself attacked and fights back. The soldier is knocked unconscious and the Monster enters the castle.

Karen: For those of you who haven't read any issues from this series, it should be mentioned that the Monster he
re is not the dull brute of popular culture but a thoughtful and articulate being, more in line with the novel.

Karen: Inside the castle, the Mon
ster finds nothing but ruins. He's about to give up when he hears a sound and spies a group of strange men marching along a dark corridor. The men are deformed and frightening -he concludes that they must be the work of a Frankenstein. They carry a bound man, whom they drop in a pit. Suddenly a man in a uniform with a visored helmet shows up, barking orders. The Monster decides to confront him, convinced he must be his creator's descendant. The masked man sics his servants on the Monster, and despite his strength, their sheer numbers bring him down. Just before he blacks out, he falls to the edge of the pit- and sees a gigantic spider! Ploog's art here is very strong; he gives the Monster an expressive if horrific face, and the twisted men are creepy as heck. 
Karen: The Monster awakens, chained to a wall in the cellar. His captor tells him that he too will become a mindless servant; the spider feeds on men's souls, leaving them husks of men with no wills of their own. The man leaves and the Monster struggles with his chains. Ploog does a great job conveying the Monster's power as he struggles against his restraints. He manages to pull loose one of the stones he is chained to, but when he does, a stream of water squirts through a crack! The Monster is stuck to wonder whether he should risk flooding the cellar with water or waiting until the man returns to take him back to the pit. As he ponders this, the young lieutenant he faced at the beginning of our story arrives on the scene. None too bright, he accuses the chained monster of killing the missing prisoners. The Monster tells him about his captor and the spider in the pit. The soldier sees the spider but refuses to believe a Frankenstein is responsible. "Jason Frankenstein left here more than 20 years ago!"

Karen: Right at that moment the mysterious masked man re-appears with his mob of soulless men. He is quickly revealed to be the colonel in charge of the p
rison. The colonel and the lieutenant engage in a sword fight while the Monster strains to break his chains. As water begins pouring into the chamber, the spider crawls out of its pit and comes towards the two men. The colonel, completely insane, believes he can control it. The young soldier implores him to leave with him but he ignores him. The Monster urges the young man out, telling him he will take care of the spider, even if it costs him his life. With that he makes a terrific effort -it reminded me somewhat of Spider-Man's struggle to raise the giant piece of machinery that pinned him in Amazing Spider-Man #33- and the wall comes tearing apart, with a huge wave of water instantly filling the room. Ploog's depiction of the water and underwater scenes are masterful -I would have liked to see what his Sub-Mariner would have looked like!

Karen: The colonel is carried down by the weight of his helmet and drowns. But the spider survives and grabs the Monster, squeezing him and carrying him back under. After several panels the Monster manages to break free of the arachnid's clutches and he wraps his chains about it, choking off its oxygen supply. But all i
s not peachy for the Monster -he needs air and he needs it fast. Things are looking grim -can a dead man die again? - when suddenly the chamber explodes in a great water spout that hurls the Monster up and out. Now free of the castle, the Monster looks back and wonders where he will find the last Frankenstein.

Karen: This was a really solid, done in one story. T
he search for the last Frankenstein was on-going of course, but you didn't need to know what came before to enjoy this book -which is good, because I don't have issues 1-5! I know many might argue that Gene Colan was Marvel's premiere horror artist, and while I respect his work on Tomb of Dracula, he really didn't handle any of the other horror books. Ploog did nearly all of them at one time or another and his work always has the proper tone and atmosphere -there's an eeriness to his art that can't be matched. Just look at some of these characters when handled by others -obviously, Don Perlin on Werewolf comes instantly to mind. There's simply no comparison. So here's to Mike Ploog, monster artist supreme!


Inkstained Wretch said...

Yeah, that image of the wall collapsing around the monster is pretty spectacular. Ploog had a sharp eye for detail.

I wonder if Ploog favored doing monster stuff or if he felt typecast as an artist. The guy probably could have drawn anything.

Edo Bosnar said...

Never read any of the Frankenstein series, so I can't comment on the story here. I just want to wholeheartedly second the praise for Ploog. Personally, I love his work on Man-Thing in particular. I vaguely recall that he also did some sword-and-sorcery stuff, like some Kull stories...

Doug said...

I know there is an Essential volume for this material -- looks to me like if it ever comes out in color, I'll be on board. Didn't Big John Buscema do some issues after Ploog?


Karen said...

Yup, John B. did a few issues after this -those were my first issues of Frankenstein, so I came to Ploog late. I love Buscema on Conan and super-heroes but I'll take Ploog on the monsters.


Fred W. Hill said...

Dang, I wrote a post about this issue, the only one I have of The Frankenstein Monster, but when I tried to post it, something went snafu and it disappeared on me! Anyhow, excellent Ploog art -- he was up there with Bernie Wrightson as one of the best horror comics artists of the era. And I give the creative team kudos for going with the Shelley talking monster version rather than the mute or barely articulate Universal version. Sure, Karloff's portrayal was one of the great cinematic classics, but as far as comics go, well, Marvel already had a mostly inarticulate monster in the Hulk, as well as an entirely mute monster in the Man-Thing, and at DC, the early Wein/Wrightson Swamp Thing despite retaining his human intelligence had a hard time speaking. Of course, there was also the revised version of the Beast, still articulate but much furrier and monstrous-looking, bouncing around at the time too.

Humanbelly said...

Yep, there it is-- thanks for the reminder-post, guys-!

I think I have either issue #7 or #8 of this book-- the Monster vs. Dracula-- and it is indeed exceedingly well-drawn by John Buscema. Boy, a couple of first-tier artists for a book that didn't make it, eh?

At some point in the 50's, there was a Frankenstein's Monster on-going comic, but the only thing I remember about it was the distinctive look they gave the creature's face, in that his nose was more or less placed up above his eyeball-line. . .


david_b said...

Never collected back in the day, but would certainly like to grab some of these early Frankie's now.

Totally LOVE the cover art and interiors. I'd probably prefer these to Colan's TOD, agreed on Ploog's fresh take on this myth.

Classic story-telling. For all of the directions the House of Ideas branched out during this time, I find this as one of their most successful. Perhaps not in terms of actual sales (these were usually the 'left-overs' at the swivel comic racks when I was hunting for super-heroes..), but in retrospect, truely awesome work here.

Anonymous said...

This stuff is new to me, but looks fantastic! I'd definitely add it to what I call my "all-time pull-list list" :)

Count me among Ploog's fans. . .

Edo Bosnar said...

I stand by my original comment: Ploog is awesome.

KevinFermoyle said...

Being a fan of Ploog's work, I bought Essential Monster of Frankenstein via mail order. I was so disappointed to find that he only drew the initial few issues - followed by artist merry-go-round -that I put the book on the shelf and never read it.

redartz said...

Add me to the rolls of the Ploog fans! I never picked up an issue of this title. Based upon your review and those beautiful scans, it is now on my search list...

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