It's FRIGHTFUL FRANKENSTEIN FRIDAY! In celebration of the release of Craig Yoe's new collection of stories from the classic Dick Briefer Frankenstein, many of my fellow bloggers are participating in this multi-blog event! This book has been long-awaited my many, including myself! Below, the cover for this collection:
As part of the advance promotion for this event, Frankenstein masks were given away at the New York Comic Con, but if you weren't able to be there, here's what the mask looked like:
I've had an interest in the Dick Briefer Frankenstein ever since I first read about it in The Comic Book Book, which detailed the history of this version of the Monster as it started as a horror story, then transmorgrified into a humor title, and then back to horror again! This handsome volume features stories from all iterations, as well as cover reproductions and an extensive history of the series itself as well as creator Dick Briefer, plus many rare photos and illustrations! This volume weighs in at about 150 full color pages, and is gorgeous to behold! And best of all, it retails for a mere $21.99 US! The back cover promises more volumes to come, and they can't come out soon enough for me!
As part of my participation in this event, I'm reviewing the classic tale, “The Tree of Death,” which is included in this volume. This story originally ran in Frankenstein #31, the June-July 1954 issue, by which point the monster's adventures had returned to horror again.
The story opens in a “little European town” where a visitor, guided by a native, is at the top of a hill, looking down into a valley, where they see a straight road going across the plain, except where it detours immediately around this bizarre-looking tree. The visitor is told it could not be chopped down when the road was built because “That tree is wicked... evil! Only death comes from touching it!”
The visitor (apparently British, due to his style of clothing and the use of the word “Rot”) doesn't believe this tree is truly evil, and walks closer to it, while his guide leaves. Still, he does put on his gloves before examining the tree, and having found nothing unusual about how it feels, he decides to cut off a piece to bring back to the town. But as he cuts into it...
How did this tree earn its legend? We have to go back in time a year, when the Frankenstein Monster was roaming through the land, “weakened by a gaping wound in his arm from a previous mishap.” He approaches a little house, where the kindly old man who answers the door welcomes the monster inside, and treats his wounds. The monster doesn't speak, but the man (apparently a hermit) tells him about his hobby, which is growing plants. He shows the monster a dwarf tree grown from a combination of three different seeds, which he encapsulated in a gelatin jacket. The seeds came from a tree in Africa, one in Australia, and one from Siberia; the gelatin comes from a fish from the Indian Ocean. He has a second seed capsule ready to go that would produce a normal-sized tree, which will be his “crowning success,” even though nobody but him will know about it.
A few weeks later, the monster (his wound healed) goes out for firewood. While they are gone, the hermit is visited by two men who say they've been traveling, and wish to warm up before continuing. The hermit tells them they can stay overnight. While the hermit is occupied, the two men – robbers – start searching the house for valuables! One gets the idea that the hermit might keep his money in the dirt of his plants, so they start dumping the plants out of the pots.
The hermit re-enters, seeing his beloved plants spilled all over the place, and tells the robbers he has no money, even after one of the robbers hits him. They notice that he's holding one jar very tightly, and they ask what's in it. Rather than turning over his special seed capsule to them, the hermit swallows it! This angers one of the robbers to the point where he mercilessly beats he hermit. As the robbers leave, they are in for a shock!
The Monster is infuriated at what the robbers did, and kills them violently. The Monster then finds the hermit, who tells him, “It's no use... I am dying... and with me go all my experiments! I... I swallowed the seed so they wouldn't destroy it... but it won't do any good now... it will die within me... AAGHH!” The Monster digs a grave and buries the hermit in the dirt floor of the house, then sets the house on fire. As time passes, a tree grows... the tree of death, rising from the grave of the hermit!
The Monster returns to the grave of his friend, and recognizes the tree. The heat of the sun drives the Monster to rest in the shelter of a cave formed by boulders of the plain, but is awakened by a chopping sound! Two men plan to use the tree as firewood! Suddenly, the Monster approaches, and to him, desecrating the tree is tantamount to desecrating the corpse of his friend!
Within minutes, the circling vultures overhead feed on the corpses in the tree. When the townspeople look for the two men, they find the evil tree, with the picked-over skeletons on the branches. Several nights later, a young couple approach the tree while on a romantic walk. When the boy decides to carv their initials into the tree... well, you guessed it! The Monster attacks them too!
Once again, the monster places the corpses on the tree, and the townspeople find the skeletons later, but they've decided that no one should even touch the tree, for all who have touched it dies! When the road was built, it obviously avoided the tree (kind of odd that they'd make such a sharp turn around the tree, as it would seem to me that a car would easily crash into it).
Now, we return to the present day, as the tourist has tried to cut off a branch of the tree! For, what he has seen is... the angry face of the Monster himself! The monster kills the tourist as a thunderstorm builds! One bolt of lightning strikes the tree, which topples over. The monster looks at the roots, to see what has become of his friend...
And so, the monster continues its journeys, without even the memorial to his only friend.
Wow! What a story! There are elements of “Bride of Frankenstein” (the hermit becoming the monster's friend), and even a bit of the origin of “The Human Bomb” (who also swallowed his secret project to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands, although with vastly different results) combined with a number of different swamp monsters, from the contemporary “The Heap” to the later “Swamp Thing” and “Man-Thing,” although of course, the Tree of Death was not a walking creature! You definitely felt some sympathy for the Monster.
If you dug this story as much as I did, you should definitely spring for this book!
The Blog of Frankenstein is your daily destination for vintage Frankenstein-related goodies, including posters, lobby cards, stills, toys, and other coolness! And yes, I know that Frankenstein was the doctor, and not the monster... but the term has become such common use thanks to toys and the like over the years that I don't have a problem sometimes using "Frankenstein" to refer to the monster.
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