February 5, 2008

Heil, Frankenstein!
by Thom Ryan

I am honored to have Thom Ryan, writer of the splendid Film of the Year blog, inaugurate the Frankensteinia Guest Blogger series. It was easy getting Thom to come aboard: He offered to contribute before I got around to ask. And here I was, ready to beg.

Thom looks back at The Invaders, issue no. 31 (1978), in which Marvel’s World War Two Superheroes meet The Nazi Frankenstein!

In the late 1970s, some thirty-odd years after the end of World War II, Marvel Comics Group published untold wartime exploits of their earliest characters Captain America, The Submariner and The Human Torch in a comic book titled The Invaders, the brainchild of long time Marvel scribe and editor Roy Thomas with artwork by Frank Robbins.

As a youth I devoured these stories, suffering the seemingly interminable month-long period between issues with extreme anticipation. Re-discovering my back issues in the attic the other day I spotted Frankenstein's Monster lashing out from the cover of issue thirty-one and wondered if the comic had ever been featured on Frankensteinia.

Most of the forty-one issues in the series see our heroes tackling Axis villains and rescuing people like Winston Churchill, King George VI and Stalin with World War II forming a thrilling backdrop. However, the August 1978 issue is the most unusual in the series--and one of my personal favorites--because guest writer Don Glut and guest artist Chic Stone bring our heroes face to face with a Nazified version of Doctor Frankenstein and his wretched monster in a story titled "Heil Frankenstein!"

Though set in 1941, the story is uncomplicated by the major events of the war. Within a restored Castle Frankenstein, Nazi scientist Basil Frankenstein, a descendent of Victor Frankenstein, and Dr. Kitagowa "Japan's finest surgeon" plan to use Basil's family secrets to create an army of undead soldiers with replaceable parts for the Axis war effort.

Investigating rumors of Nazi activity, grave robbing, and murder in the Swiss Alps, The Invaders come face to face with Frankenstein's first hideous creation dressed in some sort of Gestapo uniform. In typical comic book fashion the heroes engage the monster in battle, are defeated, captured, and face becoming material for Frankenstein's next experiment. Luckily, torch-bearing local villagers, fed up with the strange doings in the castle, attack en masse, and the Invaders manage to break free. In the ensuing melee, the Monster's "brain control implant" short circuits and he carries Frankenstein and Dr. Kitagowa off the steep walls of the castle to their doom, sacrificing himself in the process. The issue isn't notable for dramatic storytelling or realistic artwork; it's just straightforward comic book entertainment with a clever twist on the Frankenstein mythos.

I remember reading this issue as a kid and being particularly startled by Chic Stone's rendering of Frankenstein's monsters as uniformed, undead stormtroopers throwing grenades. Looks pretty tame by current comic standards, but this panel (see image below) draws a ghastly parallel with the true horror of the actual Nazi blitzkrieg.

Since Basil Frankenstein and his monster perished in issue thirty-one they weren't seen in the pages of The Invaders again, but a whole legion of Frankensteins have appeared in Marvel comics over the years. I also recall that the Monster starred in his own comic for a time appropriately titled, Monster of Frankenstein. Still, the Nazified version of the Monster seen in the pages of The Invaders has to be one of the more unusual iterations of our favorite tragic figure.

Thom Ryan is a former systems administrator, database developer and video editor who now devotes himself to writing his blog, studying history, playing guitar, writing songs, hiking, camping and, of course, viewing films. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and a puppy.

I urge you to visit Thom’s blog, Film of the Year, a fascinating chronological journey through film history.

Read Thom’s appreciation of James Whale’s Frankenstein here.


Dread said...

This takes me back to my youth. I wish Marvel would include "The Invaders" in their essential series. I would love to read those stories again.

rob! said...

the minute you tell me "this comic has a Nazi Frankenstein where he fights the Invaders, and...", I say "you had me at 'Nazi Frankenstein.'"

Uncle Ernie said...

The monster has perished at the end of many stories - only to pop up again. Maybe Nazi Frankenstein will stalk again.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the support and comments, guys.

Dread - I think the first ten or so issues are out in a full color Marvel Classics series book. Unfortunately, it doesn't include "Heil Frankenstein!" Let's hope that they release the rest of the series too. Rob - that made me chuckle! Thank you. Uncle Ernie - I hope you're correct. I'd like to see a horror film producer revamp this idea for the big screen.

This Frankensteinia guest post was a lot of fun to write. I want to thank Pierre for inviting me to contribute to one of my favorite haunts in the blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

The 70s MONSTER OF FRANKENSTEIN has been published as part of the ESSENTIALS series.

David said...

I always liked when Don Glut made a "guest writer" appearance back then. He could almost always be counted on to work a Frankenstein theme into whatever title he was visiting, be it THE INVADERS or CAPTAIN AMERICA or whatever. Say, whatever became of the "Ameridroid" anyway? By the same token, Roy Thomas was no slouch when it came to working a Golem theme into his series, be it THE INCREDIBLE HULK or, no surprise, THE INVADERS too!

Joe Thompson said...

Thom: Thanks for the story on an interesting incarnation of Frankenstein. I missed the Invaders when it came out.

Joe Thompson ;0)

Anonymous said...

Actually, there really WAS a Nazi Frankenstein in the 1940's PRIZE COMICS series, when the goose-steppers got hold of Dick Briefer's Monster and subjected him to brainwashing drugs. Clad in a black SS-type uniform, Franky did damage to the Allies until some undergrounders kept him out so long that the brainwashing drug wore off and he became a secret Allied operative in the enemy camp. Just thought you'd like to know.

B-Sol said...

Marvel seemed to be big into the horror in the 1970s. You also had Dracula as a recurring character, as well as the introduction of new characters like Ghost Rider, Blade, Man-Thing, Morbius and Werewolf By Night.

Pierre Fournier said...

Right, b-sol, and notice the plug on the comic's cover: Monster Unleashed!