Monsters Unleashed #4-10 (Frankenstein)
Issue(s): Monsters Unleashed #4, Monsters Unleashed #5, Monsters Unleashed #6, Monsters Unleashed #7, Monsters Unleashed #8, Monsters Unleashed #9, Monsters Unleashed #10 (Frankenstein Monster stories only)
Actually issue #4 begins with the scenario set up in issue #2 (issue #3 didn't feature the Frankenstein Monster) but enough time has passed for the Monster to be taken away from the wreckage at the circus and into police custody. Derek McDowell is still trying to buy the monster, even if that means bribing the police (which works just fine). And yes, he's still a horrible person.
Derek has brought his discovery to the equally horrible Owen Wallach
It's stated that the Monster's brain has been damaged. So the intelligent monster that appeared (or rather, was currently appearing) in the color comic will not be seen going forward. This allows the character to act more like the better known Universal horror version than the one from the novel, and i guess it also reduces the Monster's culpability regarding the murders he committed in his earlier history, allowing him to play the role of Misunderstood Monster going forward.
For Owen Wallach, this is all well and good, but he's dying of cancer.
If you're seeing a "one guy needs a brain, one guy needs a body" opportunity, give yourself a cookie. But we don't go directly there. First Derek goes from emotionally and physically abusing his girlfriend, abandoning her to possibly die of burn injuries, and bribing policemen to straight up murder.
Of all of Derek's horrible traits, i find this the least offensive. I've seen enough Frankenstein movie sequels to know that once a scientist acquires the Monster, his transformation into murderous psycho is not far behind.
But, failing to acquire that random dude's brain, Derek makes the connection that earned you a cookie, and makes the brain swap. However, he did this without Owen's permission, and Wallach is not happy to wake up in a Monster's body.
Despite what it looks like, this is not the last we'll see of Derek. And Owen wants us to know that his brain switch into the monster is not really a new status quo for the book either.
We didn't get much insight into Owen until now, and i guess you could forgive him for murdering his science partner given the circumstances, but it's confirmed in issue #5 that he's a horrible person too.
While he initially says that he was fond of his nurse/lab assistant, he later starts talking about how she was always taunting him and how she deserved it.
I thought that seeming inconsistency might have been a way to show that Owen's own mind was declining now that it was in the monster, especially since soon afterwards he starts thinking in very unscientist-like contractions.
But if that was the intention, it goes nowhere. Instead we have a much weirder scenario in front of us. Owenstein goes to the circus where his presence causes a distraction that causes a female trapeze artist to die. In the confusion, Owen slips out with the male trapeze artist, having decided that the guy has a perfect body for Owen to transfer his own brain into.
It also turns out that Owen is a straight up supervillain all of the sudden. When Derek McDowell is performing the brain switcharoo between Owen and the Monster, he had to go through the complex surgical process of extracting and swapping the brains. But Owen secretly had a wacky device all along that would have done the swap automatically.
Oh but before that, Owen smooshes a mouse in his hand, just because.
And so, during the transfer, a second mouse makes a beeline (or is that mixing metaphors?) for the unconscious trapeze artist...
...the result of which is that the athlete wakes up in his own body, Owen is (probably) in the mouse's body...
...and it's said that the mouse's brain could now be in the Monster's body. How great would it be if it turned out that the Frankenstein Monster's body was permanently controlled by a mouse for all of his future Marvel appearances?
But despite the fact that both our villain scientists seem to be indisposed at this point, Frankenmouse won't be staying that way.
When Doug Moench and Val Mayerik take over for issue #6, they certainly haven't forgotten about it.
But they also bring Derek McDowell back.
I couldn't believe it when i saw Derek crawling out of the river. This guy is not repeat villain material. He's a goofball that found the Frankenstein Monster at a carnival, and then he got killed. Couldn't we move on to some new scenario? But no, he's back, and he returns to Owen Wallach's lab and this time immediately knows how to use the mindswap machine that he supposedly knew nothing about.
I tell you, this poor trapeze artist.
Derek also finds a mouse brain in the machine, so i guess that swap never happened after all. Too bad!
Anyway, the Frankenstein Monster kills Derek (again!) and then the trapeze artist, now in Derek's body, starts talking.
There is so much mindswapping going on it is hard to keep track of it all. And on top of that, there's some voodoo mixed in, coming from a new mystery villain.
Notice that the next issue blurb promises a new direction. That's only true in the sense that we finally get out of Derek and Owen's lab, but it's still a continuation of the same story.
Well, i take that back. Because issue #7 certainly does do something new and unusual. It spends the whole goddamn issue delving into the history of the trapeze artist. His childhood (4+ pages in a 14 issue story), his decision to join the circus as a janitor, the long hours spent training to become a trapeze artist, his love life... just this long and unnecessary background. Then (because he's still in Derek's body) the voodoo guy takes control of him and has him lead the Frankenstein Monster to a mansion full of freaks.
And then the trapeze artist is killed. So all of that for nothing.
As for this new villain, i initially hoped that he was the Freakmaster, a character that appears much later in the Ghost Rider series. But this story is this character's only appearance. And the plot of the story is similar to Werewolf By Night #9-10, where the leader of a group of freaks turns out to not actually be a freak himself (although this one is a little better executed and Val Mayerik's art is very well suited for the freaks).
Issue #9 has the Frankenstein Monster wandering around with the unconscious body of the girl that he more or less inadvertently rescued during the freak encounter. The most important development is that now that we're past his initial revival and all the mindswaps, the Monster starts getting thought balloons.
He also tries out a new look, but it doesn't stick.
Oh, and he stumbles across a zoo...
...frees some tigers, and doesn't like the result.
Maybe should have started with the parrot.
The story ends when, after the poor dope carries the unconscious girl all over town and he starts thinking she's his girlfriend, she finally wakes up and runs away terrified.
Poor guy, but it's worth remembering that before the brain damage that was reported in issue #2 of this series, he was an intelligent but murderous monster. The fact that he's gotten dumbed down makes him a lot more sympathetic, but it wasn't that long ago that he was killing women for parts. Ok, i guess it was a long time ago in-story, but you get my point.
The Frankenstein Monster's final Monsters Unleashed appearance is unrelated to the rest of them, and while i found the previous storyline(s) to be weird and irrelevant, this one doesn't provide much relief. It's got Frankenstein stumbling onto a train along with another stowaway, and the train turns out to be transporting a decoy of the president as he travels across the country. So Frankenstein and the other stowaway have to fight their way through a bunch of assassins trying to kill the president, only to discover that the president isn't even on the train.
It's never said who is behind this coordinated assassination attempt on the president. In the end a final assassin grenades the train after the Monster gets off, killing the other stowaway.
Yeah, i don't know either.
I guess on paper, both the "mad scientist brain swap" and "freakmaster" plots are things you would expect from a Frankenstein comic. The "misunderstood monster loves a girl" plot makes sense too, and the final story is your standard "inarticulate monster stumbles upon a random event and mostly observes it" scenario. So i can't say that Friedrich or Moench didn't know what to do with the Frankenstein Monster in the modern era, exactly. These plots should have worked. But it comes across as a tedious drawn out mess. Maybe it's the way the unrelated stories bleed into each other so that you never get a break. Or the implausibility of the doings of the various mad scientists (including the freak character), not just in their weird science but in the ways that they interact with each other and constantly come up with new and crazy motivations. Maybe it's the incidental nature of the Monster himself. In the early stories he's simply a prop. In the last two stories he's got enough of an identity that the stories are better from a character development point of view, but that's counteracted by the fact that the plot (in the train story particularly) has nothing to do with him. I guess for that reason the Misunderstood Monster story in issue #9 is the best of the bunch; the character is aware enough to have feelings and the plot is directly related to him.
Whatever the reasons, the majority of these issues are not really what you'd hope for with a Frankenstein Monster in the modern era, especially in the Modern Marvel era.
As an aside, i want to point out that issue #9 also had a Wendigo story by Chris Claremont in it, as you can see by the awesomely weird image on the cover. The Tales of the Zombie Essentials included every last reprint and text piece from those magazines, but the Frankenstein Essentials only include the actual Frankenstein stories. Which means that i'll likely never see the Wendigo story, as Marvel is unlikely to put out an Essential Wendigo trade any time soon. Same thing with the Chris Claremont Tigra story in issue #10; too bad they couldn't have been included.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: The footnote in Frankenstein #12 says that Monsters Unleashed #4 and #6 take place during that issue, and since these stories all run into each other, with the exception of issue #10, they really all take place during Frankenstein #12. Frankenstein #13-18 are also a long continued story, and #18 ends with the series with the Monster a captive of Victoria von Frankenstein, so the best place to place Monsters Unleashed #10 is also within this same stretch.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Essential Monster of Frankenstein vol. 1
Posted by: kveto | January 23, 2015 6:20 PM
The original art of that The Classic Monster splash page hanged on my wall for years, but I sold it a couple of years ago. I needed money for a new guitar. I will only say that Buscema's work on that page was beautiful, amazing!!!
Posted by: Jay Gallardo | January 24, 2015 4:30 AM
@Fnord I've been perusing my recently acquired Werewolf by Night Omnibus, and noticed that Monsters Unleashed #6-7 contains a prose WBN two-part story by Gerry Conway. First part is titled "Panic By Moonlight", the second is "Madness Under a Mid-Summer Moon". It tells of Jack's encounter with a biker gang, most notably one Baldy Kingston, the bald-headed (obviously), chain-swinging lead antagonist and his corpulent friend, Boxer. These stories also feature Clairy Winter and Raymond Coker before he lost his own lycanthropy, plus a lady-friend of Jack's named Sam I don't recall. The art is limited to a few panels, save for each issue having a neat splash-page equivalent, part two's signed by Pat Broderick and Klaus Janson. I wasn't sure if you included prose tales in the MCP, perhaps this could listed on the What's Missing page? Hope this has been of some help.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | June 2, 2017 4:36 PM
Owen Wallach looks modelled after Sivana, the arch-foe of the Fawcett Captain Marvel.
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | June 3, 2017 7:27 AM
@Brian, the MCP doesn't list the story, but i have covered other text pieces (i'm thinking of the Satana stories) and from what you say it sounds like this Werewolf By Night story should be cannon. I've listed it on the What's Missing page. It's unlikely that i'll ever cover it, thought.
(I also want to clarify that i'm not part of the MCP, although i do rely heavily on their work.)
Posted by: fnord12 | June 8, 2017 11:10 AM
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