March 6, 2008

The Monster Lives!
By Rob Kelly

Dell Comics published this one-shot Frankenstein in 1963. The cover’s great, but what about the insides? Guest Blogger Rob Kelly walks us through the issue…

It's a standard tactic, in all of entertainment — go all-out on a grabber of an image to promote a project, even if that quality can't be maintained inside and/or later. Whether it be a paperback book cover, a movie poster, or a comic book cover, audiences have come to expect a certain amount of bait-and-switch when it comes to advertising.

But I would be hard-pressed to find a bigger bait-and-switch than the one Dell Comics pulled with their series of Universal monster movie "adaptations." I put that in quotes because once you get past the gorgeous painted cover (by Vic Prezio), you wonder if somehow a different comic got bound inside.

Published in 1963, the story, called "The Monster Lives", by Don Segall and Bob Jenney (pencils and inks), opens with all the familiar trappings of the Frankenstein story —Dr. Frankenstein and Fritz and conducting an experiment to bring the dead back to life! We flash back to Frankenstein's colleagues scoffing at his theories, so he and Fritz go about their secret work at night. Grave robbing, Fritz bringing back the wrong brain, etc.

Lightning strikes, and the monster arises! I assume that Dell, scared of the all-powerful Comics Code, didn't feel they could include too much horror (even though they were adapting a film over thirty years old at this point, and never submitted their books to the Code anyway), so you get panels like this, which aren't exactly draped in mood…

Fritz waves a torch at the Monster, which scares him off, and he escapes. It's here that the word "adaptation" really takes a beating, as the story completely diverges from the one we know, forging its own path in giant, size-thirteen boots.

The Monster comes across two kids having a picnic. As he approaches, he's not exactly met with kind words…

After the little girl falls to her death, The Monster picks up the boy, but accidentally drops him off the cliff, too, and the kid plunges to his death (serves him right for throwing a rock at the Monster!). Dr. Frankenstein and Fritz track the Monster down, drug him, and take him home.

The local constabulary and the Burgermeister figure this must be the work of Dr. Frankenstein, and head for his castle with torches (ah, I see they have the Patriot Act in wherever this is). The three of them escape via a secret tunnel, where the Doctor reads in a newspaper that America is hosting a meeting of the world's leading scientists! They hypnotize the Monster, put him in a coffin, and board a steamer bound for the U.S.

After cryptically hinting to the ship's captain as to what's in the coffin, the Captain unexpectedly drops by their cabin, and sees the Monster! The Monster, still hypnotized by the Doctor, is ordered to strangle the Captain, which he does…

The three of them arrive on shore, meeting up with Hobbs, a farmer that Frankenstein made arrangements with (?). He comments "You know, this is pretty risky business, helping people get into the country illegally." Dr. Frankenstein's response? "You've been paid well enough for your trouble." So shut your yap, Farmer Brown!

While in the barn, Fritz proves to be way more trouble than he's worth, provoking the giant, murdering monster for no good reason…

This causes the Monster to cry out, which attracts Hobbs' wife, who knows nothing of her husband's nefarious dealings. She screams at the sight of the Monster, which startles some horses, who kick loose. Frankenstein grabs them both and strangles them to death. Sheesh!

Hobbs returns with yet another partner, who helps Dr. Frankenstein load the coffin into his truck, bound for New York City. Soon after, Dr. Frankenstein bursts into the scientist's meeting, and tells them of his experiment. Meanwhile, that idiot Fritz wants to hypnotize the Monster himself, and using the code word "Wake!"

Unfortunately, Fritz can't remember what the code word for "stop" is, and the Monster is now again on the loose! He smashes his way out of the hotel, knocking the good Doctor over.

He seeks refuge on an ocean liner, marked with "Danger — High Explosives On Board" signs. Some welders, scared by the Monster's sudden appearance, drop their tools, setting the ship on fire. To make matters worse, they tell the cops the Monster started the fire! Geez, ol' Frankenstein can't catch a break in this story!

The police and fire department don't want to risk an explosion so close to the city, so they tug the ship further out to sea. An explosion knocks the Doctor and Fritz into the water, but traps the poor Monster…

As you can see, the Doctor is just so torn up over the living hell he's put his creation through. The End!

It seems unfathomable to guess what Dell was thinking with this. Selling the book as a movie adaptation (it appeared as part of their Movie Classic umbrella title) is a cheat beyond belief, and in their own way Dell came up with an even grimmer story than the one they were diverging from!

This wasn't the only time Dell pulled this--they did adaptations of Dracula, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, and The Mummy all in the same style--gorgeous covers, dripping in atmosphere and making one think of the classic films--but with insides that seem to be from another planet, what with their complete lack of shadows and day-glo colors.

The Monster deserved better, but that cover still rocks.

"Rarr--Prezio good!"

Rob Kelly describes himself as a professional illustrator, which helps him finance his true love: Blogging about comics. Check out All in Black and White for 75 cents, The Aquaman Shrine, and Hey Kids, Comics!. Look there for links to his many other blogs. And don't miss Rob's outstanding portfolio site where his love of monster movies is on show. 

Here's another post featuring artwork by Vic Prezio.


Doug Slack said...

Maybe they were working from one of those ten minute highlight reels you could order from the back of Creepy Magazine.
Great summary. Now I need to get this masterpiece.

Will Errickson said...

Wow, would love to see the crappy adaptations of Dracula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, and The Mummy. Especially after this tour-de-force.

Pierre Fournier said...

I love the panel where The Monster gets hit in the head with a rock. I don't remember that from the film!

rob! said...

>>Wow, would love to see the crappy adaptations of Dracula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, and The Mummy. Especially after this tour-de-force.<<

i have all of them (sadly), so i'd be happy to write them up sometime!

Plaidstallions said...

Pretty dreadful but a masterpiece compared to Dell's next attempts with the creature.

Max the drunken severed head said...

I've always wanted to see inside that comic. Great post!

Anonymous said...

Nicely writ, Friend Rob (and sadly accurate!)

After Dell broke with Western Pub., they went from being one of the Giants of the '50's, into a slow tailspin from which they never recovered.

(But ah, those John Stanley GHOST STORIES... rare gems!)

-Craig W.

Brian D. Horrorwitz said...

Hey Pierre! Just wanted to say I am enjoying your blog! I have this same comic but I think I preferred the later Marvel Frankies. I think I might have a different Frankenstein comic from the 1960s. I you want I can try and rustle up a cover scan for you, just email me and let me know. Of course I may be remembering it wrong. I could've just dreamt that I had it and not really seen it. But then what IS reality anyways?

Anonymous said...

It's funny how a fond memory distorts a judgement. The only Classic Monster Dell I have is The Creature. It's crap, deep down I know it's crap, perhaps when I bought it as a back issue 30 years ago I thought it was crap then.
But when I look at it now, smell it, read it, I can't help but consider it a treasured object. Perhaps even my love for the store I bought it at tinges my view (back then, the specialty store "comic dens" were just getting started)