Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Seven Soldiers of Victory - Part 8 (Frankenstein)

Frankenstein, being a famous literary and movie concept long since in the public domain has been used every once in a while for comics. DC had a "Spawn of Frankenstein" comic, and I think Superman might have fought some kind of Frankenstein at some point. Suffice to say taking a very famous literary character and turning him on his ear is very tricky proposition - but Morrison came in with some truly brilliant and off the wall ideas that melded the original story in Marry Shelley's tale, combined with the look and style from Universe Pictures - and simply used that as a foundation for further adventures. Frankenstein is probably one of the oddest choices for the Seven Soldier series - but he proved to be one of the most popular.


Morrison's version of Frankenstein, like the creature himself, is a hodgepodge of various different concepts layered onto the already existing frame work of the original Frankenstein story. Though not directly addressed in the issues that where released, it was discussed early on that Frankenstein had a very colorful past - having one arm from the Archangel Michael, and another arm from a black slave. It is apparently is Michael's sword, though. Similar to the original story Frankenstein's history has him presumed dead and sunk beneath the ice - where he swam through the ocean, eventually coming onto the shores of America; he succinctly describes his time in between as having "Many Adventures". As for taking the name of his creator - he says that he was Frankenstein's Great Work, and that he would bear his signature far into the future, where perhaps it might be honored someday.

Issue #1 starts with Frankenstein on a train in 1870. The train is barreling down the tracks, while inside one of the compartments Frankenstein faces his frequent foe Mister Melmoth. Melmoth, who we saw in modern times in "Klarion", has been roaming the Earth in real-time ever since his wife deposed him as King of the Sheeda. Frankenstein has apparently made a habit of getting in the way of Melmoth's schemes over the years. On this train Melmoth has cultivated a unique form of Sheeda - termed the Circus of Maggots; fat spine-rider Sheeda able to devourer people and suck them dry. A confrontation ensues - eventually ending with Melmoth being decapitated, with his still-screaming head flying directly into the train's stove engine. (Being immortal Melmoth survives - and in the pages of Klarion you can even notice his neck having stitching, as his head was sewn back on.) The fight has caused enough damage that the train explodes and derails off a cliff. The burning wreckage subsequently sits there for well over the next century. The debris has long since been built over - and by the present day a high school sits in the very same location.

This first issues takes a decided weird turn, as it suddenly is focusing on weird high-school drama, of sorts. It features a short disgusting looking student that everyone calls "Uglyhead". While the taunts and jeers from his fellow classmates is cruel - the ugliness inside this boy is decided real. He strangely has found that he's suddenly developed the ability to see people's thoughts. Like thoughts balloons in a comic book, he can see what people are thinking. He begins to believe if he can see what people are thinking - does that make him God? Can he make people think certain things? Apparently he can - as he cruelly takes one of the snobby popular girls, sees the self-hatred she already has, and increases it. Making her believe she's a horrible person, Uglyhead proceeds to destroy this young woman, making her want to gain weight and eat greasy food - develop pimples - to make her look as ugly as she feels.

The high school prom has arrived. People try to stand up to Uglyhead, but he has slowly been taking control of the entire town. Or, more accurately, the Circus of Maggots have reawakened from their buried slumber and have silently attached themselves to almost everyone in school. Uglyhead's telepathic abilities come from the Maggots, using him as a way to corral and control the population they want to feed on.

Sensing a terrible evil is being perpetrated, Frankenstein finally awakens from hibernation deep underneath the school ground. He bursts out of the floor in front of a young woman, commenting that there was still evil in this world.

Frankenstein goes to find the source and encounters Uglyhead. The boy tries to control Frankenstein's mind, but it doesn't work. Frankenstein kills the boy, using the sword of the Archangel Michael to chop the boy's head off.

Frankenstein later burns down the entire school, burying everything. The children where all dead, sucked dry by the Maggots - and the only way to make sure the creatures where finally killed, and didn't spread, was to burn everything.

"Frankenstein Lives!"

Even though he's depicted as mindless monster in the movies - in the book Frankenstein, the doctor's monster was an intelligent and learned creature. The idea that over the years he's developed into a kind of timeless warrior against evil doesn't seem as much of stretch - and Frankenstein is never depicted as being dumb in any way.

The series moves on to a completely different location: Mars! The four issues of Frankenstein are probably the most disjointed of the series - as each issue can be read just by itself, with a single plot-line. There's very little in between, showing how Frankenstein got from one location to the next - making the read between issues a bit jarring. I honestly don't know how Frankenstein got to Mars. There's defiantly technology in the DCU able to get him there - and if he's determined enough, Frankenstein would find a way.

Apparently he's heard about missing children (as seen in the Klarion series). The trail has lead to Mars. Frankenstein seems familiar with the place, though - as he knows how to corral and ride the Flesh Eating Horses of Mars (gigantic insects that spew acid.) Since Frankenstein doesn't breath, having air doesn't seem to be a problem.

I'd like to mention the incredible art of Doug Mahnke. He draws things like its carved from stone - creating powerful and bold images with a grimy and dirty feel - yet it's completely appropriate for a story line, with each panel becoming a work of art in of itself. The landscape of the barren dead Mars is wonderfully depicted - and the bombastic battles in the series carry so much more weight than they might have if done by a different artist.

Anyway - Frankenstein's keen awareness for evil has not lead him astray, as he has found Mister Melmoth's Child-Slavery operation of the surface of Mars. The mining operation is to bring back gold, found on Mars, to help fund his attempt to over throw the Sheeda Queen and take his throne back. Using the high technology of a portal from his manhattan building, travel between Earth and Mars is made easier - especially for adding to the growing workforce Melmoth has created. Frankenstein is able to come in and finally confront his long time foe after so long. Melmoth has a surprise, though - he has a Witch Brand (no doubt obtained on his recent visit to Limbo Town) - which is able to stop Frankenstein in his tracks. The Witch Brand is only suppose to affect Grundies - zombified monsters from Limbo Town. Melmoth reveals why this is possible.

You see, the Cauldron of Rebirth, having been lost into the time-stream by the Sheeda Queen (in Shining Knight), the Cauldron had landed in a very particular place: Slaughter Swamp. The rejuvenation effect of the Cauldron gave the swamp similar properties. (This is why Cyrus Gold, when he originally died in Slaughter Swamp, came back to life as the undead Solomon Grundy - a foe of the JLA and JSA.) Melmoth had his blood drained and replaced with the waters of eternal life. (I think the Cauldron got into the hands of Vincenzo the Undying Don through Melmoth. He was now permanently immortal, so he didn't need the Caulron; and giving it to the Don might have been a way of making sure it didn't get into the hands of his wife. I'm only speculating, though.)

The real kicker, though, was that Melmoth describes a young swiss scientist who wanted to know the secrets of eternal life. In exchange for scientific knowledge Melmoth gave the doctor samples of his blood -- blood that was used to animate the un-dead flesh of Frankenstein! Frankenstein was, for all intents and purposes, a Grundy - and thus vulnerable to the Witch Brand. The young child who had just turned 16, who had recently arrived on Mars, had enough spirit to whack the Witch Brand away from the slave-driver Melmoth.

His will restored, Frankenstein proceeded to put and end to Melmoth, once and for all. Frankenstein was able to get a group of the Flesh Eating Horses to attack and eat Melmoth. He still won't die - but he'll be broken apart into an unmentionable number of pieces, and made into dung from the Flesh Eating Horse's leavings.

Frankenstein then proceeded to lead the freed children through the portal back home to Earth.

Issue #3 depicted an infected water supply that was rapidly infecting all the wildlife, and people - turning them into savage and mindless cannibals. This of course if the kind of evil Frankenstein is drawn to - and finds himself being assaulted by untold hungry critters of the forest. Frankenstein is in a bit of trouble - but a surprisingly welcoming hand, or hands, reach out to save him. Suddenly by his side, fighting with him, is the Bride -- the Doctor's creation after Frankenstein. The Bride has a similar appearance from the movies - but has two extra arms attached to her. Apparently some villain called the Red Swami had brainwashed her and attached two more arms to her, in an attempt to pass her off as a reincarnated assassin Goddess; most likely Kali. A secret government organization had captured her and were able to un-brainwashed her, and she's been with them as an agent ever since. Unlike Frankenstein, the Bride has been awake for all these centuries.

After getting to safety suddenly the Bride points one of her 4 guns at Frankenstein and shoots him. Frankenstein wakes up to find himself in chains. A black man in a bowler hat with a domino mask is there to speak with him. This man's name if Father Time, an enigmatic leader of a secret government origination called S.H.A.D.E. (Super Human Advanced Defense Executive) Frankenstein asks why he's been locked up like this. Father Time explains to him that he had burned down a school; they could kill him right here and now and be fully within their rights. Yet they picked up Frankenstein for a reason - they wanted him to join their organization. Frankenstein doesn't want to join them, but wants to help with the situation he encountered just recently. Frankenstein is released, and along with the Bride, they both go back out to find the source of the madness.

While investigating Frankenstein and the Bride are able to catch up. Frankenstein talks about how much the world has changed - that they aren't afraid of him anymore. He also enquires about their personal relationship - saying the Bride had been made for him. The Bride says it was never personal, but Frank was just never her type: living. They find out the problem with the town, apparently there's a problem with the water. The origins of this problem began with a weapon developed by S.H.A.D.E. that had gotten out of control. The town being a total loss, a decision is made to simply nuke it - as they couldn't let the contaminated water spread. Frankenstein did not like this, and when prompted to get in a helicopter to get to safety, Frankenstein says he would rather walk.

That disconnect I spoke of before, inbetween issues - inbetween issues #3 and #4 is probably the most glaring - as it seemed like Frankenstein had passed on aligning himself with S.H.A.D.E. Though here was again in issue #4 - an official Agent of S.H.A.D.E., walking into the wintery mountains of the Himalayas. Apparently S.H.A.D.E. had tracked down the location of Neh-Buh-Loh. Using an internet connection, wired directly into his mind, Frankenstein keeps in touch with the Bride and Father Time. In the ruined city of Gorias Neh-Buh-Loh was alone, eating the corpse of a winged horse. It was never shown, but I'd have to assume Misty (from Zatanna) had come here and recruited the wild winged horses that live in this area. Neh-Buh-Loh, seeking to fulfill his once ignored order to kill Misty must have arrived there before Misty was magiced away back to Zatanna.

Neh-Buh-Loh is a mess - distraught over what he considers his one flaw. Frankenstein and he fight in a vicious battle - and finally Neh-Buh-Loh is able to be killed.

After that the story shifts to Frankenstein tackling another mission - S.H.A.D.E. seems to be one of the few organizations on top of the Sheeda threat. Frankenstein finds the Sheeda Queen and in the desert, where the of Cauldron of Rebirth is finally being returned to her, and taken onto Castle Revolving. Frankenstein takes the initiative and secretly stows away. It's only briefly seen, but the Shining Knight had gotten there as well, and did the same.

Soon Frankenstein finds himself in the homeland of the Sheeda. They are not aliens, or inter-dimensional travelers -- they are us! They are the life at very end of time. This place is called Summer's End - and the ruined and dying Earth is a horror to behold. Black Flowers, like those seen in Slaughter Swamp, cover the entire planet. This is where the Sheeda originate from - and survive and replenish their stagnant culture by cultivating and eating their own history. The Harrowing of man brings them new ideas, concepts, dreams - everything that makes up a human culture, distilled (in one example) into an apple the Sheeda Queen eats. So horrible and decayed a culture are the Sheeda, they survive only through the consumption of the previous generations of mankind's achievements and drams.

Frankenstein finds 6 mighty flying fortresses; the Sheeda are planning to travel to the present and begin the Harrowing of Man. Frankenstein reaches Gloriana, the Sheeda Queen, to confront her and kill her once and for all. There's a tremendous battle between Frankenstein and Gloriana - with a surprise Frankenstein has in store for her. Her lead ship, Castle Revolving, wasn't his first visit, he tells her, as several explosions rocks the 6 flying fortresses.

Frankenstein is forced to flee, but manages to make it to the wheel room of Castle Revolving. Taking control of the ship Frankenstein prepares to make the Sheeda face judgement. This story ends here, to be continued in the final issue of the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

After the Seven Soldiers...

Frankenstein is perhaps the biggest winner of this series, in terms of establishing a new property for DC Comics; though that wasn't immediately apparent at first. Frankenstein made a few quest appearances here and there - his most prominent being his presence in the battles in Grant Morrison's Final Crisis mini-series. Another Frankenstein creature was developed as a short-lived member of the Teen Titans: Young Frankenstein. (Obviously inspired by the Mel Brooks film.) He didn't last long at all, as he was killed by the villain Black Adam shortly after he was introduced. (Almost like he was suppose to be a joke character, and was disposed of after the joke was over.)

Frankenstein also made notable appearance in the the Solomon Grundy mini-series -- seeing as Frankenstein's origins are connected to Slaughter Swamp (birthplace of Solomon Grundy).

Recently, though, Frankenstein returned to prominence in a Flashpoint tie-in mini-series, where in an alternate time-line Frankenstein was awakened during WWII and helped kill Hitler with the help of the Creature Commandos (more movie-themed monsters, acting as military unit.) After Flashpoint Frankenstein received a new series, Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. - which I absolutely love, and hope to see continue.

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