BOOK REVIEW: Manga Classics Frankenstein Adapted by M Chandler

Manga Classics FrankensteinManga Classics Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: November 10, 2020

 

This is Mary Shelly’s story adapted into a manga-style graphic novel. It’s the story of an ambitious young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who races to create a human-like living being, but faced with the horror of seeing the creature alive and in the flesh, Victor flees, abandoning his “monster” to its own resources. Shelly’s story is considered one of the first (if not The first) science fiction novel and is also one of the great works of horror. But it’s not just a piece of cross-genre pop fiction. Because it artfully deals with a number of issues central to the human experience, such as the potential for monstrosity in ambition and question of whether evil is made or birthed, the book is frequently studied as literary fiction and is one of the preeminent works of the Romantic movement.

The manga adaptation follows the beats of Shelly’s story. The story opens in media res with a Captain Walton seeing Victor out on the ice. Victor is giving chase to his creature. Walton brings the haggard scientist aboard. Thus, the tale is told through this device of a story within a story. The manga adaptation even begins with an epistolary (told through letters) entry and revisits that form briefly at the end. However, the story is largely conveyed as a shipboard Victor introduces flashbacks by directly speaking to the Captain. Shelly wrote the novel in epistolary form, which was popular in those days, but it isn’t the most conducive to a graphic vehicle. The epistolary dialogue bubbles are given their own distinct font, and so it’s not hard to distinguish them.

The major points of the story will be familiar to many, even if one hasn’t read the book. [While the most famous of the movies are quite different and less philosophical, elements of the story appear throughout various pop culture media.] In a nutshell, Victor Frankenstein goes off to university, learns to animate a pile of stitched up animal and human parts, and goes deadbeat dad when his creature comes to life. A while later, Victor returns to his home to find that his young brother William has been murdered, and that a beloved family servant, Justine, is to be tried for the killing. Nobody in the family believes Justine is responsible, and Victor (in particular) has reason to believe his sins have come back to haunt him. (However, Victor’s ongoing lack of capacity to truly see what his sins are and to address them is the source of virtually all the suffering in the book – not only his own. While the creature does the killing, Victor often comes off more monstrously. Conversely, the creature explains himself in a way that invites empathy in the reader.)

The monster appears to Victor and tells him the whole story of what happened after Victor fled. The creature wandered off and prodigiously learned how to be human [including how to speak and read classic literature,] largely by watching the De Lacey family from a distance. In his loneliness, the creature introduces himself to the blind old man De Lacey, and the meeting is going swimmingly until De Lacey’s [sighted] children come home and freak out upon seeing the monstrous (if articulate) being before them. This is when, twice spurned, the monster goes to Victor’s home, kills William, and frames Justine.

The monster offers Victor a deal, if Victor will build the creature a companion, it will stop its deadly rampage. Victor travels to England and Scotland, mostly with a friend Clerval, but leaves solo to a remote island to construct and animate the creature’s companion. The creature follows him. With Frankenstein’s bride stitched together, Victor has a change of heart and destroys it as the creature watches. Instead of killing Victor as the self-obsessed scientist expects it to, the creature retreats after delivering an ominous threat. A pair of dire tragedies follow. It is the second of these that results in Victor’s chase of the monster toward the Arctic pole.

Soon, we are back to the point that Victor is on the ship. The crew are petitioning Captain Walton to return toward home even though Victor has already begged the Captain to assume the scientist’s obligation to kill the creature [if the beaten-down scientist is unable to.] Ultimately, Walton agrees to turn back because he is at risk of getting his crew killed. Victor is in poor shape. We see the creature once more, when he comes to ask forgiveness of his creator. The creature explains to Walton that it isn’t the only monster, nor is it the one whose actions really created the tragedy.

I thought the art, which was drawn and shaded in monochrome, was well-done. The artist took efforts to capture the descriptions conveyed in the book. They chose to stick with the convention of reading as one would a Japanese manga (right to left, not left to right,) but there is a handy explainer page up front to make this clear from the start. Also, there are visual cues to help remind one as one reads, e.g. how the bubbles are positioned and angled, etc., and so I can’t say I had any problem reading it that way. It just seemed a bit odd, but I don’t know whether there is a Japanese edition. If there isn’t, it seems like it would have been just as easy to put it together in the manner of an English language comic book, but – like I say – it was no great reading challenge.

I thought this adaptation was well done. I think one gets a very good sense of the story through the combination of selected text and graphics, as well as the varied styles of text and thought bubbles used to suggest who is speaking or thinking.

I’d highly recommend this book for those wishing to revisit the story in a compact and / or visual form, or even for those who have trouble following the writing style of early 19th century epistolary novels, which can be a bit formal.

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BOOK REVIEW: Frankenstein Alive, Alive! by Steve Niles

Frankenstein Alive, Alive: The Complete Collection (Frankenstein Alive, Alive!)Frankenstein Alive, Alive: The Complete Collection by Steve Niles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This graphic novella collects four issues together with some ancillary matter (e.g. draft sketches.) It not only draws upon the Shelley Frankenstein world; it picks up from it as if it were a sequel. That is, it begins on the Artic ice, with Frankenstein’s monster intent upon finding peace – if not an end — frozen in the glacial mass. The story is about the monster coming to grips with its humanity, its monstrosity, and its immortality.

When the monster’s attempt to freeze himself in the ice fails to bring eternal rest, as well as a second attempt of a similar nature, the monster realizes there is no respite to be had in hiding out in suspended animation. It will simply result in a string of rebirths like the one that began his torment. The monster must go about the business of living.

Wandering back to civilization, the monster finds a rare friend among a wealthy doctor, and takes up residence in the doctor’s mansion. At first, this doctor, Dr. Simon Ingles, seems quite unlike the monster’s creator, Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Ingles isn’t repulsed by the creature’s existence and has a nurturing manner that wasn’t to be found in Victor. However, eventually we see that Ingles shares with Victor an ambition to be free from the shackles of mortality.

Ingles wants to harness the power of life to keep his terminally ill wife from dying. The price that must be paid to extend his wife’s life is even more foul than that paid by Dr. Frankenstein. When the monster recognizes this monstrous ambition in Ingles, he is torn about what to do. On the one hand, Ingles has been kind to him, is in many ways a good person, and the monster thinks that it is far be it for him to enforce morality given his own great crimes. On the other hand, the monster is uniquely attuned to the darkness of this desire shared by the two doctors, the desire to be master over life and death, and the sight of this ambition brings out a desire to end Ingles’ life and his despicable plan.

This is a smart story built around the humanity in a monster and the monstrosity in humans. It’s a quick read, being less than one-hundred pages. Bernie Wrightson’s artwork is appropriately gothic, and – except for a few plates between issues, is black-and-white. I’d highly recommend it for those who like classic horror and science fiction, particularly if you enjoy graphic works.

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BOOK REVIEW: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

FrankensteinFrankenstein by Mary Shelley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Even if you haven’t read Mary Shelley’s masterwork, you’re probably familiar with the gist of the story. An ambitious, young scientist creates a creature grotesquely emulating the human form, and then abandons it in disgust. The creature, which doesn’t start off as a monster, eventually becomes one as it is subjected to brutal, inescapable loneliness.

The story has been spoofed by Mel Brooks and the Simpsons, and recently a movie came out that is based on a graphic novel that continues the story in the future as the immortal “monster”—played by Aaron Ekhart–roams the Earth. Of course, many of the pop culture references are based on the early Frankenstein movies. These movies made the creature much less nuanced, and told a story that was much less sophisticated. In the movies, Frankenstein’s monster is the villain, but in the novel one is as likely to see the doctor, Victor Frankenstein, as the true villain.

Besides being readable for early 19th century prose, the story is loaded with morality tales that don’t draw attention to themselves—those are the best kind. The first lesson is that joy is in the journey and not the destination. Victor Frankenstein wants nothing more than to create life—except perhaps to marry Elizabeth, a sister-like childhood playmate who is not blood related. As soon as he succeeds in creating life, he abandons his creation and will have nothing to do with the monster.

Second, Frankenstein’s lack of empathy for the wretched creature is the source of his own downfall. This lack of empathy is rooted in the notion that the creature is not human. While perhaps the creature isn’t human (that question itself is one of the great philosophical debates proffered by this book), when Frankenstein’s monster shows himself to have the same longings and frailties as a man, doctor Frankenstein still can’t empathize with it.

Third, decisions made out of fear often lead down a path to damnation. Dr. Frankenstein vacillates between agreeing to assist the monster he detests and refusal to help. After agreeing, he lets his fears drive a turnabout that ultimately damns the monster and himself.

The narrative approach taken is interesting. It’s a story being told within a story. The account is written by a ship’s Captain who rescues Dr. Frankenstein during the doctor’s pursuit of the monster. The explanation takes the form of a series of letters to the Captain’s sister. However, as it’s essentially a transcription of Dr. Frankenstein’s account to the Captain, that’s how most of it reads. We start and end in real-time aboard the ship in the icy north, but the bulk of the book is a retelling of events that occurred in Europe, starting with Dr. Frankenstein’s childhood and revolving around the creation of the monster and the events that ensued thereafter. Part of the story is actually told from the monster’s perspective as Frankenstein recounts what the monster told him.

The main weakness of the book is a slow beginning as Dr. Frankenstein feels the need to tell his life story in chronological order from his boyhood. It’s deceptive to say it “starts slow” because it opens with a great hook. If you knew nothing of the story—as Mary Shelley had to assume of her readers—you would really be curious about the Captain’s description of what the ship’s crew witnessed. It’s really when Frankenstein begins telling his tale that there is some needless exposition.

As one might imagine, there are many elements of the story that strain credulity. Frankenstein’s monster not only learns the language, but learns to speak it with the eloquence and erudition of a highly educated man in a relatively short time period. However, I don’t fault this because it raises the question of what faculties the monster receives from his component pieces. In other words, does Frankenstein really need to learn to read and speak from scratch or does he just need to remember what lays in the transplanted brain (and vocal chords) from which he was built. Of course, this further raises the question of whether he is human, humans, or something different altogether.

This is one of those books that everybody should read, and they should think about what they are reading. This is the kind of book that one can learn from. Mainly, one can learn a lot about how not to conduct oneself by the tragic story of Dr. Frankenstein.

Furthermore, for fans of science fiction, this is generally considered to be where the genre all began. While the movies have been heavily in the domain of horror, the novel revolves around the scientific and philosophical questions, which are much more front and center.

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