Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Frankenstein's Monster vs. Nazis

The website has a page labeled "Cool vs. Awesome," listing various movies, books, comics, etc in which unlikely opponents are tossed together into the same story. So we get cowboys vs. dinosaurs (or aliens) and King Kong vs. Godzilla and flying saucers vs. Spitfires and Abraham Lincoln vs. a Klingon and pirates vs. zombies and so on and so on.

Whether or not it's well-executed, the basic idea is nearly always appealing. It's something that's especially easy to do in a comic book universe, where time travel, lost worlds and mad scientists can result in countless unusual match-ups. Want Wolverine to fight a velociraptor? Well, toss him back in time or have him visit the Savage Land. No problem.

The Invaders #31(August 1978) is a great example of trope. The series was set during World War II and usually written by Roy Thomas. This issue, though, was written by Donald Glut.

Glut is a writer who clearly understands the appeal of Cool vs. Awesome. He wrote a series of books set in present day, but starring Frankenstein's Monster--the creature is found frozen in Arctic ice in the first novel and revived by the human protagonist. Over the course of the first novel, the human guy is dodging Eskimo assassins who are ticked off at him for taking the Monster, while the Monster is placed under the sway of an evil hypnotist who is clearly a shout-out to Dr. Caligari.

The second novel involves a James Bondish evil organization who want to use the monster for their own nefarious purposes. Later books in the series feature Dracula, the Wolfman and dinosaurs.

In this issue of The Invaders, Glut also calls upon the services of the Monster. Well, actually, he doesn't quite do this. A new monster, built by an ancestor of Victor Frankenstein, fills in for the original.

This might be bad enough, but Basil Frankenstein is also working for the Nazis. He manages to capture the Human Torch (this is the original android Torch) and Toro, with a plan to siphon off the Torch's "android energies" to give his creature increased size and power. He'll then build an army of monsters to serve as Nazi stormtroopers.

All this is taking place in Castle Frankenstein, which is located in the Swiss Alps. Captain America and Bucky show up looking for the Torch and Toro, but they get captured to. Then Namor shows up with a bunch of the local villagers. The locals decide they really don't like Nazis and start fighting the soldiers guarding the castle. Namor, in the meantime, frees the other Invaders. But the Monster has already received his power-up, so defeating him is no easy task.

The issue is just-plain-fun. It has a well-constructed plot and a contextually logical reason for tossing Frankenstein's Monster into the same story as World War II-era superheroes. It's got several other nice touches that give it more atmosphere. Basil, for instance, has had a lab accident and is confined to a wheelchair with hands to damaged to allow him to perform any more surgery. But a beautiful Japanese surgeon is doing the operations for him and plans on transferring Basil's brain into Captain America's body.

That also explains why Cap is kept alive after he's captured. (Though no reason for keeping Bucky and Toro alive is given--though I suppose they might be potential hostages if Cap or the Torch got loose.)

Another good touch: The Human Torch shows a natural empathy for the Monster. After all, they are both artificially created beings.

The issue ends when Namor lands a solid punch on the Monster. This doesn't hurt the creature, but it does damage a mind control implant--it turns out that Basil was using this to keep the Monster under his control. Now free of this, the Monster grabs Basil and the Japanese surgeon and leaps off a cliff to his apparent doom.

I don't think this Basil-created version of the Monster ever reappeared. But his one appearance was pretty darn cool. This is a story that really does understand the concept of Cool vs. Awesome.

Facebook Group: DC and Marvel World War II-Themed Comic Books

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