HERO HISTORY: Frankenstein

by

Or – “Fire BAD!!”

During the month of October, I set off on a plan to do weekly Hero Histories on Halloween-appropriate heroes, starting with Dracula, and ending with a secret character.  Seein’ as how we’re about two weeks short of Christmas, you can see how well that worked.  Nonethless, I think we’re still holiday appropriate, seein’ as how we’re working with a hero who wears red and green (or atleast wears red and IS green.)  Though a product of possibly evil intentions, he nonetheless overcame his creation to transform into something strongly resembling Superman.  Like the original Man of Steel, the Man of Science (SCIENCE!) was not himself human, but still strove to protect the weak from natural disasters, crazed lunatics and the occasional killer gorilla.  Striding forth out of his castle to fight crime in all it’s forms, today’s entrant had a short career at a time where superheroes were crawling out of the woodwork, and his uniqueness added to his legend.  This, then, is your Major Spoiler Hero History of the creature who called himself Frank Stone, known publically by the name of his “father…”  FRANKENSTEIN!

We’ve talked about Dell Comics before, and their unusual business model compared to other comic publishing outfits.  Rather than hire writers and artists for their output, Dell served as a publishing house for material prepared by another company, Western Publishing.  As a result, Dell Comics consist most of licensed content, from TV sitcoms to cartoon books to their long-running Movie Comics.  As with Dracula, Dell’s first issue of Frankenstein wasn’t a superhero story, but a retelling of Mary Shelley’s story (or at least the movie that was made from it circa 1931.)

“Yes, it was Abby…  Something.  Abby Normal?”  The events of the movie take place in the 1800′s, but a century later, a rogue bolt of lightning strikes the crumbling towers of Castle Fronkensteen, triggering one of the not-so-good doctor’s experiments, and that experiment is… ALIVE!  ALIIIIVE!!!

Returning to life by the power of science (SCIENCE!!!) the creature discovers that his creator planned for him to leave the castle in an unspecified “strange future,” going to far as to create a mask that would allow the monster to walk unnoticed among normal humans.  (The Perfectly Human Rubber Mask is a Silver Age staple, and would tell me this book came from the sixties even if I didn’t already know about it, by the way.)  How can a simple monster fathom the peculiarities of the 20th century?  Not well, at least not at first…

The monster of Frankenstein finds a broken stone with half of his creator’s name, dubbing himself Frank Stone and setting out into the world. In his first trip off the mountain, he discovers the usefulness his inhuman strength provides, as well as the reason why the doctor suspected that he would need to keep his identity secret…

Before the local (who can apparently afford a Rolls Royce) can assemble the torches and pitchforks, he reveals himself to be Mr. Knickerbocker, the richest man… IN THE WORLD!!!  The old man has no heirs, and in his final hours, he agrees to make Frank the recipient of his massive fortune.  Seconds after taking possession of the old man’s mansion, he sees a woman being menaced on a roof directly across the street.  (Unlikely, you say?  This issue is drawn by Tony Tallarico, the master of getting everything into the page, regardless of whether or not it makes much sense.)  Pulling off his rubber face, Frankenstein leaps into action for the first time.

It’s never made entirely clear why the doctor created his creature wearing a red leotard, but that’s not important right now.  (The answer is simple:  SCIENCE!!!)  While saving the woman, though, Stone’s home is invaded, and he is robbed, leading him to believe that all the horrible predictions in the late doctor’s books are, indeed, true.

“Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot…  Thus, I shall become a Frankenstein!”  The simple expedient of adding a chest symbol to his ever-present red unitard (“YOU’RE a unitard!!”) makes him into a superhero, and he takes stock of the powers that his synthetic body give him…

It’s a good thing Frankenstein comes to this decision, actually, as evil is about to rear its shrouded head in agony…  or something.  Enter Mr. Freek and his super-strong gorilla pet, Bruto!

Mr. Freek and his ape partner go on a reign of terror, causing William the butler to buy him a newspaper explaining the rash of mysterious super-crimes.  Of course, when he bursts into his boss’ office, William ends up discovering a bit more than he bargained for…

With his Batman trappings now firmly in place (secret headquarters under a mansion, butler who assists him, massive fortune, head sewn together from three or four different heads) Frankenstein meets Mr. Freek in combat.  Bruto’s strength is pretty evenly matched by his own, but the sinister simian has a few tricks up his sleeve…

Rather than rest on his laurels having ripped off Batman in the strangest way possible, Frank sets forth to also steal a bit from Superman’s arsenal, as the woman whom he saved returns to find her savior.  Miss Ann Thrope (for that is her name) believes that Frank Stone and the mysterious heroic figure who saved her have some sort of connection.  She puts herself in danger again, but Frankenstein realizes that she’s bluffing, and plays along.

With a new life ahead, a new girlfriend trying to expose him, and one of the most ludicrous origin stories ever, Frankenstein takes a vow to rededicate himself to crime-fighting in a world gone mad…

I think that his arms and head must have been assembled from different bodies to have such different tones.  Frank Stone’s day to day life returns to something normal, as the appropriately named Miss Ann Thrope makes it her personal mission to reveal that Frank Stone is secretly Frankenstein.

His next foray into crime-fighting doesn’t go nearly as well as the first one, as he discovers that he has an unexpected weakness…

Apparently, the doctor got his lungs from an asthmatic seven-year-old.  Frankenstein is taken by the bad guys to their leader, which turns out to not only be a massive futuristic supercomputer, but also, the original creator of the LOLCATS.

“I can haz Frankenstine?”    The computer sends out the hero as a mind-controlled slave, using Frankenstein’s strength to forward it’s evil schemes.  The police believe that the hero has gone bad, but William knows better, arriving just in time to snatch his boss away from a hail of bullets.  Of course, his plan to shake Frankenstein out of his stupor might have a tiny flaw…

The head injury gambit works (it was either that or he would have caved in his boss’ skull completely, solving the problem one way or the other.)  Frankenstein sets out again, only to get captured by the computer and trapped in the basement.  Or so it SEEMS…

By cutting off the power to the whole city, Frankenstein foils the computers evil plan, and reprograms it to serve as a traffic announcer.  It’s nearly as exciting as it sounds…  Miss Thrope discovers William in his Frankenstein costume, and redoubles her efforts to unmask Frank Stone as the hero (though why William dressing up as a superhero proves that his BOSS is one remains unclear.)

When Frankenstein accepts an invitation from the city to be rewarded for his heroism, he agrees to attend, unwittiingly stepping into a trap created by Mr. Freek!

Stronger even than NYLON??? That’s… uh…  that’s not really all that strong, now that I think of it.  Don’t nylons get a run at the drop of a hat?  With the hero as his prisoner, forced to dance (apparently, the bit of a giant tarantula fills you with the need to boogie down, sez the editor’s box) Mr. Freek carries him off to his island hideaway, where Frankenstein is forced to fight off giant animals that want to eat him.

Ann’s suspicions are roused again, as she and William are once again part of Frankenstein’s adventure, and refuses to leave Frank for a second, forcing him to use his Frankenstein powers in her presence and out himself.  When diamond thieves attack, Frankenstein outsmarts her by… doing exactly what she expected in the first place?

He explains his strength as the rage of the common man, but when Ann’s apartment is robbed, she also responds with violence against the attackers, somehow proving Frank’s point.  I think…  The fourth issue is a bit muddled, to be honest.  We end with Frankenstein and William wondering about whether they can keep up this charade with Miss Ann Thrope dogging their heels…

I like to believe that Ann would become his sidekick, as B. B. Beebe did for Dracula, but alas this was the final issue of Frankenstein, leaving unanswered such burning questions as… um…  as…

Anyway, the series ended.  Frankenstein’s adventures, no matter how silly, were both a forerunner of things to come and an echo of heroes past, as Frankenstein’s no-nonsense origin gets him out fighting crime in a minimal amount of time, without much worry about how it all works.  No matter how goofy the whole thing is, Frankenstein still takes his war on injustice seriously, turning what could have made him a bitter outcast into a tool to better the world, and proving that just because you have a green head and a permanent body stocking, you can still make a difference in the world.  And isn’t that what the holiday season is all about?  I’m not sure any more, honestly, as this book has killed more brain cells than every ounce of alcohol I’ve ever imbibed, and I think there’s some sort of vacuum forming in my temporal lobe as we speak.  Still, you have to love a concept this bizarre, especially when it’s played straightforward.

(SCIENCE!)

**If you’ve enjoyed this Hero History, you might want to ‘Read All About It’ at your Local Major Spoilers! You can just click “Hero History” in the “Columns” section on the main page, and read about a hundred or so other guys and gals who are likewise awesome as heck. The adventures of the superhero Frankenstein (SCIENCE!) were published by Dell Comics, but in this case, finding the books would be difficult, expensive, and mostly a novelty. Still, if you have the time, you could do worse…

Next up:  The unplumbed depths of the Marvel Universe give rise to mysterious dark mystery men all the time, but who is the most mysterious of them all?  He’s the best there is at what he does, a mutant badass whose a love machine with all the chicks, and he’s coming to Hero History…

Watch.

The.

Skies.

(SCIENCE!)