Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Review: 'Frankenstein Alive, Alive!: The Complete Collection'

In 2012, writer Steve Niles (30 Days of Night; Batman: Gotham County Line) and artist Bernie Wrightson (Swamp Thing) began publishing a four-issue sequel to Wrightson’s 1983 comic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. While the new story was somewhat slight, and gave the resurrected monster little to do besides ponder his newfound humanity and commit one decisive, redemptive act, Wrightson’s artwork is absolutely extraordinary. The level of detail is remarkable—you could spend hours exploring a mad doctor’s roomful of freakish curios—while the black and white work recalled both E.C. Comics’ and Universal Horror’s best. The monster, himself, was an original creation without Jack Pierce’s trademark flattop and “bolts,” representing the more human-like creature Shelley described while still delivering something truly monstrous looking.

That is where the monstrousness of Niles’s creature ends. He is thoroughly benign in the Frankenstein Alive, Alive! series, leaving the most monstrous deeds to a Dr. Ingles (an clear homage to “Ghastly” Graham Ingles, E.C.’s greatest renderer of oozing grue and a major influence on Wrightson). Dr. Ingles’s warped attempts to restore life to his dying wife provide the true horror of Frankenstein Alive, Alive! and infuse the plot with its meatiest moments. However, the real star of this sideshow—as Niles acknowledges in his introduction to a IDW’s new hardcover collection of all four issues—is Wrightson.

Sadly, the artist died of brain cancer before he was able to complete the fourth and final installment of Frankenstein Alive, Alive!, so at his personal request, Kelley Jones (Swamp Thing; Batman) was brought on to finish the final issue with illustrations based on Wrightson’s sketches. As we can see from those sketches included as valuable bonus pages in Frankenstein Alive, Alive!: The Complete Collection, Wrightson’s fine detailing was still in full force for the final chapter, though Jones curiously mutes those details despite the relative faithfulness of his reproductions of Wrightson’s sketches. Some artists truly are irreplaceable.

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