Review: Frankenstein Underground #1
“Frankenstein Underground #1 presents a beautiful and haunting take on a figure who’s quite familiar to audiences, yet manages to bring new life to a nearly two-hundred-year-old character. Mignola shows once again why he’s the master of mixing horror and humanity.”
Frankenstein Underground #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Ben Stenbeck
Release Date: Wed, March 18, 2015
When reimagining a classic horror character like Mary Shelley’s Monster from her famed novel Frankenstein, there’s a danger of pulling too far away from what made the pitiful creation who he is and what he represents. While putting one’s own spin on such an iconic literary figure is all well and good, moving too far away from the original intent of the Monster’s tale of woe and tragedy can lead to the character being muddied and losing what made him so special and resonate so deeply with readers and fans.
Mike Mignola seems to recognize this danger and chose instead to stay true to the creature’s roots in his new Dark Horse comic book miniseries Frankenstein Underground. Borrowing from the most well-known interpretations of the Frankenstein Monster—Shelley’s original interpretation and actor Boris Karloff’s take in the classic horror film Frankenstein—Mignola, who carries the book’s writing chores, doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel. Instead, he uses that source material to give a classic depiction of the Monster that’s both recognizable in both form and function, while at the same time using him as our POV man in an environment and circumstances with which he is unaccustomed.
What helps, of course, is that Mignola is quite adept at writing characters of the macabre who are more than the sum of their monstrous parts, as seen in his Hellboy and B.P.R.D. books. With the most minimal of dialogue, exposition, and stage direction, we are shown who the Frankenstein monster is, a brief look into his past, and where he is in his life now. From there, Mignola is able to thrust the creature into the adventure at hand, with a pace that seems fast-paced, yet measured and never rushed.
When we meet the Monster in issue 1, he’s managed to make his way to Mexico, some one hundred years after Dr. Frankenstein first cobbled him together and summarily rejected him. Weary both in body and spirit, he comes across old woman who helps nurse him back to health. Unbeknownst to both of them, however, is that a Victorian collector of the weird named Fabre has his sights set on the Monster, hoping to add the creature to his menagerie.
As in his past works, Mignola deftly uses strange characters as mirrors of our fears and prejudices. The Frankenstein Monster himself is, again, shown to be a lightning rod for both curiosity and revulsion, demonstrating what happens when we give in to our worst human impulses. The collector Fabre in particular shows how a soul can become twisted when we start viewing others who are different than us as things to be gawked at and to be used to our liking instead of fully-functioning people with their own agencies. Fabre represents the concept that what we see on the surface is not always what is admirable.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ben Stenbeck’s beautiful pencils. Their simplicity is a perfect fit for this story, as his lines cut clean and impressive forms, particularly the Monster himself. The use of those lines helps to tell what could become a cluttered narrative in another artist’s hands in a very streamlined, but still visually compelling, way.
Frankenstein Underground #1 presents a beautiful and haunting take on a figure who’s quite familiar to audiences, yet manages to bring new life to a nearly two-hundred-year-old character. Mignola shows once again why he’s the master of mixing horror and humanity.