Saturday, August 8, 2009
Chronic Review: Frankenstein's Womb
Avatar - $6.99 SRP
Script: Warren Ellis
Pencils/Inks: Marek Oleksicki
Warren Ellis is a wonderful contradiction. Inside of that crotchety, irascible, chain smoking, whisky & Red Bull pounding, blustering facade is a very wide-eyed child deeply in love with all of the planet's inexplicable mysteries.
I remember visiting the Earle Brown elementary school library as a first grader and stumbling upon my first dinosaur book. What a revelation! All of the monsters I held at bay in my imagination with a night light at bedtime used to walk the planet!
I'm a rational and deeply skeptical person at heart, but the records don't lie - a LOT of ridiculously strange shit has happened on this planet, and it continues to happen all the time.
Sometimes it rains frogs. Sometimes a guy will fall out of an airplane without a chute and walk away with a slightly fractured shin. Sometimes aliens will shoot down a meteor for us so that it just hits the Tunguska area of the Soviet Union, instead of wiping out most of civilization.
This is the unifying thread that runs through most of Warren Ellis' bibliography, most keenly realized in Planetary. If you look carefully, past the curse words and the perverse pleasure he takes in the darkest corners of the human heart, there is an awe-filled tiny boy pointing out his newly discovered improbable truth. Ellis never let go of that spark I felt when I cracked my first dinosaur book. He's dedicated his life to that spark, which I find sort of charming.
When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, Europe was caught in the grips of what meteorologists now call the "little ice age". 1816 was called "The Year Without a Summer", mostly because it was bloody goddamned cold out all the time. It snowed throughout much of that summer, and that's just plain...weird. Quintessential Ellis material.
Since volleyball, swimming, and tanning were out of the question, Mary Wollestonecraft Godwin, (later to become Mary Shelley) Percy Shelley, Clair Claremont, and George Gordon Byron decided to stay indoors by the fire and compete to see who could write the best story. That was the origin of Frankenstein, and that's verified fact.
There are legends, though, that Mary Wollestonecraft Godwin visited Castle Frankenstein on a trip through Germany to Switzerland a few months prior. This is more difficult to corroborate. In 1816, Mary Godwin did not have a Twitter account to leave a footprint of the trip.
But some say that she did enter that castle alone, and Frankenstein's Womb is the story of what happened when she did.
Ellis makes the case through Frankenstein's monster that Mary Shelley's book gave birth to the modern age. I think that might be overstating the case, but it certainly had a profound impact on horror. For the first time we saw a monster created not through godly intervention or supernatural curses, or any other forces beyond human ken. This all too human. Frankenstein's monster was born from human reason gone wild. Science, manipulated electricity, and human hubris created the beast.
You can certainly see the impact that it made on Marvel Comics. Spider-Man? Irradiated spider in a lab. Hulk? Gamma bomb. Daredevil? Chemical spill. X-Men? They got done in because of all the background radiation floating about from the atomic age. We've been telling this story for a long time, and it all began with Mary Shelley.
The story itself is interesting enough, with the monster walking Mary through her future. This is not a mindless brute, either. The monster in this fable is true to the source, intelligent, and actually as interested in Mary's personal affairs as her social contribution. And I suppose that makes sense. She is his mother.
Marek Oleksicki's pencils are GORGEOUS. The book is in black and white, but I don't think it suffers for it. Olesicki is adept at capturing emotion in faces, and the pencils are very detailed. It reminded me a bit of Berni Wrightson, and I don't think I could give a higher complement than that.
And of course the carriage conversations are ripe with Warren's infamously fantastic dialogue. It's very difficult to make a phrase like "arse" sound clever. Warren has a gift for things like that.
I enjoyed Frankenstein's Womb, and if you like Warren Ellis, you'll like this. Unless you're in it for the gratuitous violence. Nary a punch is thrown in this one. It's a classic "what if" of the weird, equal parts horror and hope. The monster shows Mary a patient being revived with machinery and credits her with it.
And that's how Warren works - equal parts jaded bastard and wide-eyed child.