Written by: Steven Niles
Art by: Bernie Wrightson
Published by: IDW
Bernie Wrightson revisits his masterpiece Frankenstein, in this sequential sequel penned my master horror writer Steven Niles. For those that don’t know, Wrightson’s original interpretation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is what all horror artwork is measured against. It is simple a crowning achievement in black and white pen illustrations that has yet to be matched. The compositions, the mood, the flow and painstaking rendered hatching, is haunting and reminiscent of the era in which Shelly wrote. It’s like Albrecht Durher with a modern sense engraved plates for the book. So this sequel has a lot to live up to. In fact, it’s really too much for any work to live up to. Wrightson was at the peak of his game and it took him seven years working on and off to complete his illustrations for Frankenstein. He has since broken his hand, and his work hasn’t been the same since. He can’t do pen work anymore. There’s no way Alive, Alive! can or should be compared to his original. Not if your going enjoy it anyways. So just get it out of your head, right now, it’s not going to look or read like the original classic. And to be honest it’s really good work and worth sinking your teeth in to. This first issue includes 19 pages of comic book story followed by an interview between Niles and Wrightson talking about Frankenstein and the first few pages of Mary Shelley’s original Frankenstein novel.
Steven Niles take on extending the tale of Frankenstein is an interesting one. We get a glimpse of two stories, where Frankenstein is now, and what happened after the events of the original story. Currently his enjoying a somber and twisted existence a side-show freak. He’s a sorrowful creature and does this as living, motivated perhaps by the acceptance of his fellow freaks and partially for the penance of being tormented by spectators. The people who come to see Frankenstein never get what they are expected, in look or in stature, but he seems to be able to always give them a scare and it’s the only time he truly feels alive. Which is a frightening thought. His back story in not exactly a bowl full of cherries either. After wandering around after the grisly murders he committed in Frankenstein’s castle, the monster tries to end his own life. I’ll let you guys find out how he tries to do it. It’s perhaps the last dregs of his humanity that seeks the peace of oblivion, with the lovely Dr. Frankenstein as the last witness to his surrender. But Dr. seems there to torment him more than to say goodbye. It’s with this sentiment that Niles give us a truly dark take on Frank. Humanity is painful for Frankenstein to witness, it’s something that he can aspire to but never truly be. That being said Niles never really let’s the story get too emo or gothic. Yes there’s shame, torment, and semblance of remorse, however I still feel like I’m reading a horror story. The tone is dark, the tension is moderate, and the anticipation is high. It’s a good set-up story and I feel re-invested in the Frankenstein monster after just a brief recap.
Bernie Wrightson deliver’s another memorable Frankenstein. Ever the master at chiaroscuro, he reveals the monster lurching out of inky pools of shadow, his morbid half-decayed form lit from below by eerie side-show lights. This time around Bernie use a brush and ink and ink wash to render Frankenstein. It looks great, he captures the patch work of muscles and veins that have been cobbled together to form the monster with surprising detail for a brush. For the most part, the panels are spot-one, composed by a true master, especially the side-show scenes. I do take a few issues with some of his outdoor tundras and volcanos ridden wastelands. There’s a some weird shot scales going on, and those scenes in particular don’t have the epic vastness that I think was intended. The volcano shots look particularly awards. They just feel very cliché and not researched or designed very well. I’m sad to say that because the rest of the comic looks really tight and I know Bernie is capable of better. I do have one more criticism but this is more for the production team than the actually artwork. The scanning and contrast/curve setting on these pages were really weak. I shouldn’t be able to tell when the artist uses pro-white to paint on top a scene. It should just feel seamless like it was part of the design. I don’t know if this was just laziness on the production team or if it was creative choose to keep some of the gray tones. Look, even it was a creative decision, there’s still a way to pop that white and make it sit better with the ink work. It was just rushed through and a disservice to Bernie’s art. However even after all that minor griping, I still think this is handsome comic, and I’m proud to have it in my collection.
It’s hard to say what kind of horror story this is shaping up to be, as all we have is the set-up. Chances are that if you are a fan of Frankenstein and classic horror, this can’t be missed. My only warning is that this going to a slow-burn so you just are going to have to hang around for the ride. If that’s not the kind of book for you than so be it. I know that just like Severed I’ll be picking this up until it’s done. Alive, Alive! reminds me so much of classic horror short stories I used to read as kid. It’s got that swelling sense of dread and suspense like an old school Poe creep-out. Plus it’s tapped into my nostalgia and love for Wrightson’s art, and I’ll pretty much buy anything with that man’s name on it.
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