Bizarro Back Issues: Dick Briefer’s ‘Frankenstein’ Wants To Destroy The World (1941)
The thing about Dick Briefer's Golden Age Frankenstein comics is that if you start reading them from the beginning, there's just enough in there from the novel to make you think that he's doing a straight up adaptation of Mary Shelley. There's familiar stuff about Victor deciding to conquer death and stitching up a bunch of corpses, charging them up with lightning, and then the Monster's escape out in to a world that will never understand it, right down to the villagers with the pitchforks. It's three pages that make you think you know exactly what's going on.
And then, on page four, the Monster breaks into a zoo, punches out a lion, and rides off on an elephant, and that's when you realize that Frankenstein is on a whole other level of being completely bonkers.
I'll admit that it took me a long while to read these comics despite having them recommended by several friends, but if you haven't already checked them out, they are well worth it. They're all in the public domain, too, which means you can snag them legally from the Digital Comic Museum, and while the strip is probably best known for the comedy stories that Breifer did after Frankenstein was relaunched into a solo title after World War II, it's those early strips that have brought us together today.
They are amazing for a lot of reasons, chief among them being that whole thing with the elephant that I mentioned earlier, which kicks off the first major adventure in Prize Comics.
The thing about these comics is that the Monster is in no uncertain terms the villain of the story. He's driven mad by the very act of his own creation, and rather than killing Dr. Frankenstein, he decides to leave him alive --- even going as far as saving his life on a few occasions --- so that he can bear witness to the horrors he will perpetrate in his name.
That's a pretty heavy premise, and the Monster delivers on it in an exceptionally brutal fashion. I mean, yes, his first attempt is basically going Cobra Commander for a generic attack on the Statue of Liberty...
... but even that finds him chucking a couple of tourists to a pretty grisly death. And what follows is just a litany of increasingly bizarre atrocities.
The result of all this is that Victor --- y'know, the doctor that everyone claws their way out of the woodwork to tell you you're talking about whenever you say the word "Frankenstein" --- is at least nominally the hero of the story. The thing is, Victor's a terrible hero. He's not only responsible for a gigantic indestructible mass murderer who tried to kill the Statue of Liberty, he's also completely inept when it comes to stopping him.
This is not exactly a winning formula for stories about anything other than the Monster just rampaging across America --- which is exactly what those early stories are, and again, they are great --- and it seems like Briefer realizes that before too long and decides to switch up the formula a little. In his fourth story, there's a ten-year time jump involving Denny Dunsan, a kid who gets injured by the Monster and is operated on by the good doctor, and grows up to find himself with your standard-issue "peak human" brand of super-powers, which he uses to battle the Monster as a vigilante called The Bulldog.
The big reveal of that story, though, is that the Monster remains unchecked for a solid decade. And this isn't just a mindless path of destruction, either. Dude is committing major crimes with malice aforethought.
Also, he's taunting his creator with notes that he signs by drawing a little picture of himself, which I genuinely wish more people did. Not even just criminals, just everybody.
Anyway, before he's out of the story, Victor does pull one pretty spectacular stunt in the pages of Prize Comics #8. In eight pages, Briefer --- writing under the pen name "Frank N. Stein," of course, and with a caption on page one claiming that the story was "suggested by the classic of Mary Shelley" --- crams a story full of action that's equal parts hilarious, shocking, and brutal. And it all starts --- where else? - on Coney Island.
The Monster, you see, opens this story by replacing a wax museum exhibit about himself with the genuine article, complete with a trio of genuine dead bodies standing in for the dummies, all for the purpose of taunting the Doctor, who's taking his girlfriend on a pretty ill-advised date.
Unfortunately for Victor, he built his monster far too well, and slugging him in the labonzza does nothing to stop the monster from running amok.
Now, at this point, you'd think that Dr. Frankenstein, having been confronted by the dire and quite lethal consequences of attempting to conquer death, might want to avoid stitching together abominations in the sight of God, at least for a little while. But, well, when there's only one thing you know how to do, you're pretty much locked into that course of action for the duration.
This time, however, there's a change in his strategy. Instead of putting together a monster solely from parts of human bodies, he tells the carnies running Coney Island to send him over the biggest crocodile they have.
Amazingly --- astonishingly --- putting a madman's brain into the body of an undead half-crocodile and giving it a sweatshirt actually goes exactly as planned. I mean, it doesn't work, you understand, the Monster goes on to commit a full ten years' worth of horrifying and spectacular crimes, but right up to the point where he gets chucked off the Empire State Building and gives the Monster the chance to swing down an elevator cable and crash into the subway in what are, hands down, some of the Golden Age's most dynamic panels, he does a really good job of trying to eat the Monster's head.
And really, considering Victor's track record up to this point, I think we can all agree that since Croco-Man doesn't end up destroying half of Manhattan, there's a level where we can definitely consider this a victory.
Of course, in another, more literal way, it's the opposite of that.