Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dick Briefer's Frankenstein #1: A Review!

OK, I'll go ahead and admit it, this entire post originally saw the light of day as four separate posts on Random Acts of Geekery back in January and February 2010... but for those of you who weren't reading that blog back then... this is all new to you!

frankenstein01-00This time around, we start looking at Prize Comics' Frankenstein Comics #1! This series started in 1945, and was edited by Joe Genalo. At Prize, the Frankenstein monster (or simply, Frankenstein) began truly as a monster – in fact, at one point in his Prize Comics career, he battled several of Prize's own superheroes! – but then the series shifted tone, the monster was calmed down, and it went from being a horror comic to a humorous one, which is where we join Frankie's career! Of course, things go in cycles, and by the time this series ended after 33 issues, Frankenstein went back to his monstrous ways! Also by that time, the book only featured a lead Frankenstein story, with the remainder of the book filled with non-Frankenstein horror tales. But at this point, the full-length stories all feature Frankenstein, and there are four in all! The cover of this issue was drawn and inked by Dick Briefer, creator of this version of the monster.


Inside, the first story is “Frankenstein's Creation,” by Briefer. Let's just take a look at how Frankenstein is depicted here, shall we? Certainly, the flat-topped cranium is meant to echo the Universal version, as is the greenish skin... but there the resemblances (aside from basic clothing) end. Briefer's Frankenstein features a nose that's way too high up! Where the Universal Frankenstein's head seemed to have come from one “donor,” this version must've had ahead pieced together from a variety of parts or something! And don't forget those hands... good grief! Those of you who are familiar with Doc Savage's Amazing Five, I can't help but think that Renny's fists must look something like this... those things are huge! Add in shoulders that wouldn't have been out of place on the Hulk, and you have an epic monster, eh? And then there's the scientist. Anyone else reminded of Professor Farnsworth on Futurama (perhaps if he had been drawn by Harvey Kurtzman)?

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frankenstein01_02So, the story opens up on a November night in an old castle, where a mad scientist is bored, trying to think of some super-evil experiment to perform! Suddenly, a book falls to the floor, thanks to his black cat! The scientist picks it up, and sees the volume is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Much like a bat flying into Bruce Wayne's study inspired him, this scientist is inspired by this book!



So, the scientist heads down to his local undertaker's, where he orders his parts: “Two eyes, two ears, a forehead, half a nose, some lungs, a stomach, a half pound of hair, black preferably... quarter pound of cream cheese – oops... that's on the wrong list!” The undertaker offers him a special on fresh liver, to boot! The undertaker even has all the parts organized in his file cabinet, with drawers helpfully labeled “Heads,” “Toe Nails,” “Fingers,” etc. Amazingly, all the parts fit into a very small package! But then, he wasn't exactly doing one-stop shopping, was he? He is a patient mad scientist, and realizes it will take some time to get all the parts. So, many months later, he's finished, and merely has to give it life! He pulls off the sheet to reveal his creation...

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One is tempted to cry “Foul!” or even “Shenanigans!”, because the bandaged figure on the slab, while mighty and impressive, does not bear much of a resemblance to the frame of the monster we saw on the splash page! Anyway, the scientist needs to give it life... and intends his monster to be... “A fiend – a devil – a murdering beast, of course.” He plans to inject his special fiend serum into his creation, and helpfully demonstrates it for the readers by injecting a lab bunny! No sooner has the bunny gotten his shot than he bursts full of energy (not unlike Popeye after eating spinach... or would you believe Hoppy after saying “Shazam!” and being transformed into Captain Marvel Bunny?), and his new attitude scares the bejeebers out of the black cat, who tries to flee, but the rabbit catches up with him and clocks him soundly!

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frankenstein01_05So, the scientist injects his serum into his creation, and then opens the skylight so that lightning will strike his machine, which brings the monster to life! And the monster's first living motion... is to sneeze violently! The scientist decides next to christen his monster Frankenstein... which he does with a champagne bottle! Days later, the scientist is relaxing in his tub with a toy boat, and muses to himself... “Frankenstein will soon be strong enough to ravage the world. Already, he walks, talks, and thinks. I am very proud of myself!” After finishing his bath, the scientist looks in on his creation, tells him he is his master, and to go forth amongst the people... and doesn't tell him what to do, assuming that the “evil mind and evil spirit I put into that body of yours will be your guide.” Commanding him to leave (and to bring back souvenirs), the scientist doesn't pay any more attention as Frankenstein walks out the exit of the castle, where his first thought is...



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Of course, the scientist is not aware that Frankenstein just thinks his clothes itch... instead, he mentally pictures Frankenstein going on a rampage (which, if it weren't rendered so comically, could be quite horrific)! And what is Frankenstein doing? He's discovered sweet-smelling flowers, which he picks and sniffs before hearing the plaintive “baa” of a lamb, which he gently picks up and takes with him (the lamb licks his cheek appreciatively). Then Frankenstein sees some birds in a tree chirping, and holds his hand up, but they all fly away from his huge hand! So how does he get the birds he wants?


I must say, he appears to have very gently uprooted the tree, in order to not disturb the birds. Later, at the castle, the scientist gleefully awaits the return of Frankenstein, to hear about the rampage... and instead, he's shocked when the monster emerges with the flowers, lamb, and tree with birds! He would've brought a beautiful blonde girl, too, but she ran away. The scientist wonders why the serum didn't work, deciding that since he made Frankenstein a horrible being, the serum merely changed him to the opposite nature (or, as the scientist put it, “A veritable sissy.” So, he decides to give Frankenstein a second dose, first suggesting that the monster take a nap on the lab table. As the monster sleeps, the scientist is about to jab him, when the lamb, prancing around the lab, causes an accident!

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The heat and smoke from the resulting fire wakes up the monster, and the scientist begs Frankenstein to save him, but the monster feels he should save the lamb and birds first, promising to come back for the scientist (who's now pleading that he's Frankenstein's friend... funny how a lab fire changes one's attitude, isn't it?). However, before Frankenstein can re-enter to save the scientist, the castle explodes into smithereens, the scientist with it. Frankenstein, only one day old, decides that he must find a new home.

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The bottom third of this page features “something important,” basically a plea to the readers to buy war stamps and bonds as well as collect scrap paper (and comic books, probably one of the reasons Golden Age books are so scarce, eh?) for the war effort!

Now, having read the chapter on Frankenstein in “The Comic-Book Book,” I am well aware that this origin flat-out contradicts the previous origin for the monster, but apparently the readers didn't seem to mind. I do find it amusing how similar this Frankenstein is to how the Hulk was portrayed in the 1970s, at least so far as how both amazingly strong beings act around wildlife! I found this to be an enjoyable tale, plenty of humor (Okay, I didn't laugh out loud at any of it – it's very late at night as I'm writing this, and I don't want to wake anyone!), but there were certainly many things that made me smile, and that's good enough for me!

This is followed by a two-page filler, “Animal Crackers,” by Buster Green. I can't tell you anything about it other than that, because I'm doing this review from an eBook I got from Wowio back when you could get most anything for free (with some embedded advertising, naturally).

frankenstein01_09Next up in this issue, it's Frankenstein in “The Ghouls and Vampires” by Briefer! There's a lovely splash page (it would make a great poster) featuring Frankenstein playing cards (tho what game it is I can't figure out from here, given he's holding six cards and drawing a seventh) and looking askance at what is either a vampire or a ghoul (not sure which) who's trying to advise him what to do, and meanwhile, another ghoul (dressed in top hat and cape) and a vampiress both look happy (even though they have crap for hands, so far as I can tell). The game, naturally, is played on a casket with a few spiders crawling about!











frankenstein01_10The story opens at the town of Mippyville, where the setting sun sets the citizens all a-flutter to get home! Well, all but the town bum, anyway. At night, apparently monsters roam about until the dawn, when the people of Mippyville discover that once again, the graves have been robbed of their bodies! And even worse, the town bum has been killed by a vampire! The mayor unhappily reports that he's found no way of dealing with the monsters, but suddenly, a ghoul approaches the mayor with a suggestion! Yes, he's a ghoul, but since he's a vegetarian, he's ostracized by his own “people”! The ghoul suggests that the mayor send for Frankenstein, which he agrees to. Soon, the ghoul puts signs all over Mippyville proclaiming that “Frankie is Coming to Mippyville!!!” Seems he can't figure out how to spell “Frankenstein.”


Well, Frankenstein gets the mayor's letter, and he's quite honored by the request, planning to leave as soon as his clothes are dry (they're hanging on a line). To his dismay, his clothes have shrunk to half their size! So, since his clothes don't fit him, he'll fit into the clothes, by preparing a special reducing potion comprised of certain roots and shrubs, as well as a dozen spider eyes! He drinks it down and it works immediately! But he does observe that he should wear a shirt and tie. Back at Mippyville, two teenage girls run into each other, one of whom is carrying a new record with her (not the record in the sleeve, just the record itself). She always carries it with her, because even though she can't hear it, it's his voice Suddenly, she screams and faints, because she's seen the sign saying “Frankie is coming to Mippyville,” and she immediately assumes that it's referring to Frankie Singatra! This news causes her friend to also pass out. They go to the mayor, who says that it's true... “ 'Frankie' as you call him is coming here – to get rid of the ghouls and vampires.” One of the girl responds with “He'll croon to them and they'll just die!” while the other suggests they welcome him at the station... which they do, with apparently every other teenage girl in town! The train soon arrives, and the thinned out Frankenstein emerges, “happy and gay – singing a tune in his cracked, croaking voice.” I'm sure you can figure out what happens next, eh?


frankenstein01_11Yes, the reducing formula, plus the shirt and tie, makes him the double of Frankie Singatra (his nose has even moved down to between his eyes, for a change). Of course, all the bobby soxers faint at the sight of him, blocking the train track. A panel helpfully notes, “But to this day no one knows whether the coma was caused by their believing the visitor to be their idol Frankie Singatra, or their recognizing the emaciated monster Frankenstein. In either case, “Frankie” was a horrid, pathetic, ghastly sight.” Later, at the mayor's office, Frankenstein is fed until he regains his normal size, and he meets with the vegetarian ghoul, who tells him to go to the old grotto behind the cemetery. At the cemetery, the ghouls and goblins are getting ready to go out for the night, although three of them are busy playing a game at the table (the name of which escapes me, but is similar to dominoes). One of the newer vampires is warned to stay away from garlic. Frankenstein approaches the grotto, but before he enters it, he has a thought...





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Yes, he had to eat that last sandwich! Anyone care to guess what might be in it? Anyway, he enters the grotto and says very politely that it is his duty to get ride of them, and asks them why they're doing it in the first place (the response is they lost all their red ration points). Frankenstein walks closer to them, and then he suddenly burps! His breath causes the ghouls and vampires to flee the grotto, and they evaporate as they leave! The mayor asks him how he did it, and Frankenstein says, “It was simple.” But I'm sure you can guess what really happened...

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Well, he didn't know it, but we certainly knew that the sandwich had to have contained plenty of garlic! Still, even though the ending was rather obvious, it's still satisfying (at least, to me). Now, this is a classic story! Let's break it down, shall we?

Page 1 – Splash page, which has nothing to do with the story itself, but is still fun.
Page 2 – We learn about the troubles in Mippyville
Page 3 – A solution to the problem is found, and we even get the pleasure of meeting an outcast ghoul, plus there's the set-up to the first major gag
Page 4 – Nearly the full page is spent getting Frankenstein into the situation for the big gag
Page 5 – More set-up for the gag, with some fair ribbing of fans of the real Frank Sinatra
Page 6 – The punchline for the big gag, which doesn't really have anything to do with the story, before Frankenstein is back to normal
Page 7 – Frankenstein heads to the grotto, eating his sandwich to set up the final gag
Page 8 – The confrontation with the ghouls and vampires, with the garlic burp!
Page 9 – The final page of the story, explaining how he got rid of them!

Now, I have just two little tiny nitpicks with this tale... the first is, the gag is kind of spoiled on Frankenstein being mistaken for Frankie Singatra because the revealing panel was pretty much in the middle of the page. Ideally, that panel should've been the first panel of a left-hand page, so as not to spoil it. The second nitpick is... where did Frankenstein get the new clothes in his size?

It has occurred to me as I read this that the humorous version of Frankenstein would probably make a hilarious series of animated shorts!

A two-page text feature follows, “A Bat in the Belfry,” by Bruce Elliott. As with the previous filler, my eBook doesn't include this!

frankenstein01_14The third story in this issue features Frankenstein in “Frankenstein's Wife,” and once again, it's all Dick Briefer! The bride in this couple definitely doesn't look like Elsa Lanchester, does it? I do have to say, I get a kick out of the oversized briar pipe and the slippers!




















Since the last story, Frankenstein has moved into an old abandoned mansion in Mippyville given to him by the mayor. “Ah – this is wonderful! Bats, rats, creaking floors, groaning doors, spiders and webs. What more can I ask?” he muses... and then he realizes one corner doesn't have enough cobwebs, and tells Stanley the Spider (who seems to have only six legs) to get to work! You'll recall that in Frankenstein's origin story, the scientist's serum was supposed to make him evil, but had the opposite effect... obviously, while Frankenstein may be a peaceful enough fellow, he does have a taste for the spooky! Frankenstein recalls a letter he received two days ago from W.C. Bowl (W.C.? As in water closet? So W.C. Bowl would really mean “toilet bowl,” if I'm not mistaken!) from Spic & Span Spider Homes Inc. just before there's a knock at the door! Frankenstein answers the door to see who the salesman is that they've sent, and to his surprise...

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Now, to you and me, she may look horrific, but to Frankenstein, she's the girl of his dreams (shouldn't that be the “ghoul of his dreams?”), and he's her dream hero (more likely “dream horror,” but let's not nitpick). The two embrace immediately, and next thing you know, the saleslady has married Frankenstein and submitted her resignation! Soon, the honeymooners are settled into blissful matrimony... Frankie (who calls her “Poopsie”) compliments her soup, while she tells Frankenstein (whom she calls “Mousy”) she doesn't deserve it! But such bliss doesn't last, and when Poopsie is reading the newspaper, she sees some new dresses being advertised, and asks Frankenstein if she goes to the city to buy a new dress. He agrees, and his wife is next shown in a trio of panels set at the doorway to Ye Smarte Dresse Shoppe, where a sign above the door reads, “Through this door pass the world's most gorgeous women.” In the first panel, she's entering, in the second panel she's leaving, and in the third panel, that sign is in the trashcan. She returns home, and shows off one of her dresses to Frankenstein.

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Frankie tells her she looks like a society debutante, and she tells him they're going to crash society, getting nice close and having a clean house, giving up “this horrid way of living,” as she puts it. Frankenstein doesn't want to be in high society, but next thing you know, he's in a tuxedo (which he doesn't like), she throws away his best briar pipe, she cleans out the cobwebs, and chases out the rats and bats! When he protests, Poopsie says, “Mr. Frankenstein, don't “No” me! Do as I say!” So now, the house looks like any other high society mansion, and the two are off to Mrs. DeRotte's function. They weren't invited to it, but it doesn't matter, for when they arrive, the doorman faints, removing the only obstacle. Mrs. Frankenstein (or as she has them announced, “Van Frankenstein”) chats with the high society women... “My maiden name was Sandra Alycia Poopnoodle of Virginia. Certainly, you remember my father, old Colonel Hammock Poopnoodle.” With this line of poopnoodle, she bluffs her way into being recognized. Frankenstein, towering over the other men at the function, is asked why he's married to “that old bag,” and if he's happy with her. Frankenstein suddenly gets an idea, and insists that he's not only happy...

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Yes, with the lie that his wife has a four million dollar inheritance, suddenly she's very much in demand with the single men at this function! She dances with just about everyone but her husband, which is fine by him. Soon, Frankenstein spots Poopsie walking out with a very short man, and Frankenstein follows them to the justice of the peace, who handles marriages and divorces. Apparently, in Mippyville, it only takes one spouse to initiate a divorce, and it can be done in minutes (with a second marriage taking place almost simultaneously), and that's exactly what happens! Poopsie is no longer Frankenstein's wife, and her new husband thinks he's rich (we never find out his reaction when he learns the truth). Frankenstein heads for home, and things are back to normal again!

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Now, I don't know much about Dick Briefer, and none of the web sites I could find with info about him said if he ever married or not... but if this story was an example of his idea of marriage, well...

It's still a fun little mini-epic of 10 pages... if someone was to do this in modern comics, this one storyline would've been extended out at least a year! One wonders why Frankenstein never just applied for the divorce himself, but perhaps in Mippyville, only wives can file for divorce?

frankenstein01_19The fourth and final story in this issue is “The Mananimals,” by Dick Briefer. As one might expect, the splash page is a thing of beauty, if a bit weirder than usual, with it's men with the heads of a chicken, alligator, or snake (one of each), a boa constrictor with a human woman's head (complete with pearl necklace), the bull with a tough-looking man's face (smoking a cigar), and the... well, I'm not sure, but I think it's supposed to be a deer with a woman's face (wearing a blue skirt and stockings... and featuring breasts that would not belong where they are on an actual deer).



Our story opens as Frankenstein has been out for a very long walk, and decides to take a nap in a convenient cave. He discovers a field mouse, which he promises to take home and puts the mouse in his pocket. Next thing you know, Frankenstein's attacked by a huge snake with the head of a man, asks Frankenstein to be quiet so he doesn't have to share Frankenstein with his friends. In response, Frankenstein pulls a huge boulder out of the cavern wall and throws it through a wall. Smoke and fog come from the newly-made hole, and when Frankenstein enters the hole (having forgotten about the man-snake, it seems) he sees what appears to be a cow, whom he gently pats on the rump. However, it turns out it's a cow-woman (a cow with the head of a woman) who kicks him with a hind leg for being so fresh! Next, Frankenstein sees a whole bunch of “mananimals” (as a text panel calls them), a truly bizarre sight!

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The mananimals advance of Frankenstein, and as he dodges, he knocks over the throne on which a man with a crocodile's head is sitting... or rather, we think it's a man with a crocodile's head! Turns out it's just a mask, covering a rather awesomely huge head! Angry, the former crocoman orders the mananimals to capture Frankenstein! Through force of numbers, they succeed, and bring him to the operating room. We learn the man is really Professor Hugo Von Hoogenblotzen, who's been engaging in experiments taking parts of humans and animals and assembling them together! And Frankenstein is just perfect for a project he'd been wanting to make... a Manelephant!

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A manmonkey brings in the elephant, while Professor Von Hoogenblotzen washes up along with his womankangaroo nurses. Then, as the mananimals watch, he goes to work (all the surgical tools are kept in the woman-kangaroo pouches). Before the surgery can begin, Frankenstein imagines what he'll look like afterwards!

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Frankenstein then starts laughing, because he realized he couldn't be an elephant because he's not afraid of mice! He then entices Hoogenblotzen to reach into his left pocket and take out what he finds there. Discovering the field mouse, the Professor tosses it away... towards the elephant, which naturally begins to panic! Next thing you know, the elephant charges towards Hoozenblotzen...

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My, how “A Fish Called Wanda”! (Okay, this time it's an elephant used, not a steam roller, but you get the idea). The operating table is knocked over in the confusion, and Frankenstein leaves the bizarre grotto, patching the hole he made with yet another large boulder. The story ends with Frankenstein wandering off into the sunset, with the captioning on the top of the panel reading, “And so, as the glowing sun of a new day rises, we take leave of our friend Frankenstein and bid farewell to the picturesque monsters, ghouls, and vampires that have given us so much merry entertainment.” On the bottom of the panel, another caption reads, “This is the only comic book in which nobody got punched. Frankenstein is a regular feature of PRIZE Comics.”

Of all the stories in this issue, this last one is probably the most disappointing, and perhaps that's because nine pages wasn't really enough to flesh it out properly. Even putting aside that we don't know why Frankenstein was out walking (or even if this encounter occurred anywhere near Mippyville), there's still the matter of the man-snake being completely forgotten! Of course, Frankenstein only patched the hole he made... however the man-snake got out of the grotto and into the part of the cave Frankenstein was in may still be open, so perhaps there was the possibility of a sequel tale...

Still, those few plot points aside, this story probably had the best gag in the issue, with that last caption about this being the only comic book in which nobody got punched!

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