Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Frankenstein Underground

Frankenstein Underground (Dark Horse, 2015)
Mike Mignola -Ben Stenbeck -Dave Stewart

Karen: First things first: yes, I know this is not a Bronze Age book. But, it's nearly Halloween, and we always do some horror and monster-oriented reviews during October. I happened to have read this recently and enjoyed it, so I thought, "Why not?" And that's as close to an explanation as you're going to get.

Besides, I think this is a terrific book. I'll admit that at first I was disappointed to learn that Mignola did not handle the interior art work, but I soon found myself  over that, as Ben Stenbeck is a more than able replacement. I would say he captures the mood of Mignola's milieu but his actual style is much more classical, in some ways reminding me of another horror master, Mike Ploog. Certainly there is Mignola's influence in design, but Stenbeck proves his own man.

If you have any background with Hellboy or Mignola's other comics in that same world, you'll be instantly comfortable with this story. But even if you don't, I don't believe it would be hard to jump in. I had not read the story which preceded this one (House of the Living Dead) but I had no trouble with any part of this story. Mignola's Frankenstein Monster seems a bit of an amalgamation of the literary version with Karloff's creature, and maybe a wrestler thrown in for good measure. There's certainly no mistaking the design for anything other than something from the Hellboy universe. The huge, clunky bolts popping out from all over are a little comical at times though.

The tale takes place in 1956, and the Monster is again fleeing persecution, this time in Mexico. He runs into a cave and winds up falling deep into the Earth, arriving in a strange landscape that he believes is Hell. He soon discovers (or is discovered by) a group of primitive people, who put him in chains and haul him off to a temple. There he is brought before their 'god' -who turns out to be a modern American man. He and others are the only survivors of a lost expedition. This part of the story takes its cues from 'Hollow Earth' theories, and if you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I eat this kind of stuff up. However, a terrible, evil force has corrupted the leader of the expedition, and one of Mignola's Cthulhu-derived elder gods is on the way. The Monster finds himself fighting for the unfortunate victims of this abomination, and in doing so, discovers redemption.

There have been so many versions of the Monster in popular culture. Mignola has managed to give his version his own spin while retaining that essence of the tragic, tortured creature abandoned by his creator. This Monster is no innocent, yet you can't help but feel sympathy for him, and his struggle with his identity, and his sense of purpose, is moving. It's fascinating to me that in most modern depictions, the Monster is usually portrayed as the misunderstood hero of the piece. No doubt that's driven by a generation of adolescents like us who grew up watching old Frankenstein films on Saturdays, feeling a great affinity with a mistreated seven foot tall reanimated corpse. 

There's action a'plenty in the book, with Frankenstein squaring off against the Morlock-like primitives, a club-wielding giant, weird tentacled beasties, and much more. I have to complement Dave Stewart's colors too, which are absolutely essential  in creating the eerie and mysterious settings. 

All in all, highly recommended, whether you are a fan of Mignola's work, or Frankenstein in general.


JJ said...

That art is magnificent. Mignola is the cream of the crop. Speaking of different versions of the monster, I've long been a fan of De Niro's portrayal in Branagh's oft-criticized film of the classic story.

Redartz said...

Looks very enjoyable. That art is fine indeed, and as you stated Karen, the colors really are effective. Thanks for bringing this to our collective attention!

Garett said...

Nice to see your review of this new book. Everyone comes here for Bronze Age discussion, but I like getting recommendations for new books that will appeal to Bronze Age fans. The art and story here look good.

Martinex1 said...

I always enjoy your reviews of "monster" characters and stories. I would have never thought of picking this up but you have me interested. Mignola's artwork has sometimes turned me off, but it is often overcome by his great storytelling and pacing. I understand the coolness of his work, but I'm probably too much a traditionalist to fully get into it. But as you mention here, this artist manages a Mignola style while adding something. It intrigues me that you see a Ploog influence. I recently picked up a Marvel Frankenstein collection and I may have to dive into that as well.

The Frankenstein Monster is such an iconic character...would we really have the Hulk or the Thing or countless others without that creation? I can't imagine the impact when Shelley first published. It had to seem so bizarre and scary. For me, it seems like I've been aware of the character forever - pre-kindergarten for sure.

Karen said...

Thanks for stopping in guys. The Frankenstein Monster does seem the precursor to so many of our monstrous heroes, doesn't he? That powerful yet tragic being, who has no place in society. I know the early Hulk was sometimes described as a combination of the Monster and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, although I suppose the Wolfman could also be an option for the transformation aspect.

For me Mignola as an artist is great for horror comics, but I didn't warm much to his super-hero efforts. I reviewed Cosmic Odyssey a few years ago, which Mignola drew and Jim Starlin wrote, and the art was often too rough for me, with Mignola's blocky figures. But with Hellboy -no problem! It all goes to the purposes of the story I suppose. Here, Ben Stenbeck keeps with Mignola's design elements, but his figures are more rounded, more traditionally fluid. At times there is a litheness which did remind me of Ploog. But that's probably the extent of the likeness.

It's funny, I resisted reading this for some time, as I've had my own Frankenstein story in the works, and I didn't want to be influenced by Mignola. But what I have been learning as I've been working on my own fiction is that frequently the authors I read share the same influences as me. In a couple of cases, I had a chance to speak or otherwise communicate with these writers and discover that we grew up reading the same UFO and paranormal mysteries books as kids. No wonder there are elements in their stories that I am also putting into my unpublished ones! You just have to put your own spin on it.

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