Monday, October 25, 2010

Famous Monsters: Frankenstein

With Halloween drawing nigh, I thought I’d take a look at the iconic Universal monsters and what inspiration can be found to freshen up their traditional protrayals in gaming. Since vampires (particularly Dracula) have gotten a lot of virtual ink in the blogosphere of late, I figured I’d with start with the vice-president of the monster club, Frankenstein’s monster. Frankenstein, to his friends.

I suppose you could call his type “a construct” or a “golem.” It’s not really an archetype that seems to fire people's imaginations to the degree the vampire does. No series of sexed up urban fantasies for the ladies about a hunky dude made from stitched together corpse pieces (at least not that I’m aware of).

Comics still seem to love Frankie, though. Mark Wheatley gave us Frankenstein’s Mobster, where a slain cop in a city overrun by crime becomes a “made man”--literally. Grant Morrison offered up a more over-the-top, pulpy adventurer Frankenstein as part of his Seven Soldiers line. Somewhat similar (though less over-the-top) was the Wachowski Brothers’ alt-history, Doc Frankenstein

I should point out combining Frankenstein with pulpy elements didn't start with these recent comics.  The Utley and Waldrop novellette "Black as Pit, From Pole to Pole" (1977) has Frankenstein wandering into the Pellucidar-esque Hollow Earth.  Dell comics made him a superhero back in the sixties.

Perhaps the best way to reimagine Frankenstein is in terms of what he's come to represent. Critics of genetic engineering and the like are always invoking his name. Splice is just the most recent riff on this sort of (post-)modern Prometheus.

How can this all be related to gaming? Well, the flesh golem of AD&D’s Monster Manual is the classic movie Frankenstein, and most sci-fi/conspiracy games do a riff on the more modern science-fear inspired Frankensteins. It would be cool, though, to see a more intelligent, villainous Frankie. Something along the lines of his original portrayal.  Something less "stand-in for fears of man overstepping his place," and more singular menace.

Jess Nevins argues in Fantastic Victoriana that Shelley’s protrayal of the monster has a tinge of Yellow Peril to it, and I think he’s right. Maybe Frankenstein with a Fu Manchu spin would be the way to go? Let’s let the guy with bolts in his head have some soliloquies instead of just grunts.

Addendum: Check out Jim Shelley's Flashback Universe blog for a couple of comics panels of Frankenstein fighting a dinosaur, and a pictorial overview of various comic versions of the monster.  Great minds think alike!


Jim Shelley said...

Ha! Halloween has us in the same mindset it seems! Great post - I'm unfamiliar with the Yellow Peril angle of Frankenstein, but I can see how someone might infer that. I'll have to check out Fantastic Victoriana

Domino Writing said...

There's also "FrankenCastle" (aka the Punisher as a golem), and Saturday Night Live did a "Twilight" parody back when the movie was in theaters with Frank vs a mummy instead of sparkly vampires and shirtless werewolves.

rmckee78 said...

I've always considered First Blood to be a Frankenstein story, with Trautman and Teasle combining to represent the state as the creator figure. I think it comes across better in the book than in the movie.

Unknown said...

I'm sooo overdo to reread Frankenstein. While I like the Universal Horror vibe, I've always longed for a faithful adaptation with an intelligent monster. The De Niro version was very disappointing.

(And I need to go back to my Jess Nevins... I missed that yellow Peril association)

Trey said...

@JimShelley - good luck in finding a copy. I hear its hard to come by these days.

@Andrew - You know I meant to include FrankenCastle but I forgot it at the end. Did know about the Twilight parody, though.

@mckee78 - Yeah...I can see that!

@Risus - I agree. The book is so much better than any of the movie adaptations. I'm not sure why we can't get a a more faithful film.