Monday, July 9, 2007

Frankenstein #2

Writer: Grant Morrison; Artist: Doug Mahnke; Colourist: John Kalisz; Letterer: Phil Balsman

Red Zombies

pp 01-07 The first few pages are brilliant, visually speaking. Actually, it all great, but these pages, and the first of O’Neill’s work for the second League of Extraordinary Gentlemen arc, have really sold me on the possibility of a Mars-centered SF/fantasy series. The story starts with the Monster riding a mantid steed across the plains of Mars. The opening line is "First over the horizon comes Fear. And at it's heels, Terror." Of course, everyone popped up to say that this is a reference to the two moons of Mars, Phobos, fear, and Deimos, Panic. Actually, it’s an allusion, referrencing both the moons and the Monster.

We then move on to a fantastic two page image of the ruins of Mars. The architecture defies gravity, with many pieces hanging in the air with little or no support. Three blue bands can be seen in the distance. They were much larger on the preceding page. Maybe they are what the Erdel Gate looks like from the Martian side. To the right is a large face. The famous Martian face? It looks a lot like J’onn J’onzz.

We told of missing children, a hundred stolen space suits, and an “S.O.S. from space.” Given what we learned in Klarion, the first two aren’t hard to figure out, but what was the nature of the distress call? Frank finds a sign of his target – a spoor in the form of graffiti – “Melmoth Lives” – written on the side of a Viking lander. We are in the region of the Tharsis Bulge. His mission here appears to be two fold: save the kids, avenge himself on Melmoth. Morrison’s efforts to create a sense of a fantasy realm included breaking out the thesaurus and referencing the French avant garde. Oneric means of, or pertaining to dreams, numinous means incomprehensible and incarnadine means either flesh or blood red coloured. The Grand Guignol was a Parisian theatre that specialized in the macabre. I have never read the book, but in the movie Interview With A Vampire there is a scene in which theatre patrons watch a group of vampire kill a woman on stage. They thought they were watching a Grand Guignol like performance. Yves Tanguy was a French surrealist famous for alien landscapes.

pp 08-12 Having established both a sense of place and of suspense, throughout the next scene we know who’s coming, we move on to Melmoth. He is showing his “little business operation” to his partners, the Silencios. His child slaves are busy digging up gold, chained and under the watch of brutal guards. His last adventure was a miserable failure. He is covered in bandages and missing an arm. The Silencios are represented by the boss’ son, who’s impressed with the operation. He asks Melmoth what he is. Melmoth’s answer is a bit of a monologue, but you have to keep in mind that he just had a major failure and he needs to impress his ally. Throughout he is carrying a witch’s brand from Limbo Town. There’s no explanation why, but it turns out to be a convenient item to be lugging about.

He is not a demon, as the Silencio’s suspect, instead he is the last king – perhaps ever, it turns out – and at the first fall of Camelot, way back in Shining Knight #1, he was usurped by his wife and left to wander the Earth. Apparently his knowledge of magic and his anger kept him going, at least until he found Slaughter Swamp and the Cauldron of Life, which Justin had thrown from the Revolving Castle. Apparently he left it there, for Vincenzo to find, but not before replacing his blood with its water. Why he would do this when he’s is practically immortal anyway isn’t explained, but even with the waters of life for blood he obviously can’t restore his health the way Logan or Manji can. He’s sees himself as mankind’s last hope. He has had centuries to bring about a plan to defeat his wife, but to counter her resources he needs the Martian gold. That’s why he’s there. But his claims to being our benefactor are a bit suspect, given how he’s treating the children. While he is going on a landslide kills at least one, leaving an arm in the rumble. Great! He’s been looking for a new arm. But first he uses it to beat Billy Beezer, demanding he break past the Tomb Guardians that prevent him from looting an ancient chamber. These Guardians devour any living thing that finds its way into the tomb. As he beats Billy he is struck in the back with a pick axe. “Not you. Not now. Frankenstein!”

pp 13-22 Frank makes a big entrance, slaughtering henchmen left and right and feeding some to his steed. He recognizes Billy, we don’t know how, and frees him from his chains. It was the Deviants who helped him use the Erdel Gate. Melmoth is not afraid. He uses the witching wand he just happened to be carrying and instantly takes control of the Monster. He gloats over his old nemesis, telling him that he is his true source of life, that Doctor Frankenstein used his blood and not lightening to animate him. Frank is really a grundyman and fit only as a beast of burden. It all leaves me wondering just how much grundy is in Melmoth, and should a grundy be using the witching wand? Things seem bleak, but two things happen to radically change the situation. The Guardian awake after a two hundred thousand yaer slumber. They don’t care about Frank, he’s dead, but everyone else, slave and slaver alike, is now in mortal danger. Billy springs into action, knocking the brand from Melmoth’s hand and freeing the monster from his chains. Frank shouts that he is vengeance and then takes a practical measure of the situation and tells everyone to run for their lives. He throws Billy through the tomb’s entrance, which is closing in order to trap intruders with the Lovecraftian Guardians, and then uses his great strength to hold them open long enough for everyone to escape. The confrontation can continue in the relative safety of the outside.

Safe for Frank and the kids, perhaps, but the mantid horses immediately start in on the henchmen. They leave the children alone. To me that suggests an element of training. After all predators usually go after the weakest targets first, but maybe that just on Earth. Silencio’s son tries to win over the monster, but ends up being fed to the beasts like all the rest. Melmoth takes a different tack. The disappointed parent. He claims that as the life power that runs through Frank is his blood, he is really his “dear old dad.” Wrong tack. The monster had no love for his creator and none for this “true author of my misery.” Melmoth is thrown to the horses. Frank tells him, “For when you emerge from the guts of these monsters you will still be consicous! You will still be alive in the form of dung.” Ewww…

He had been after Melmoth for fifty four years before being trapped by the train wreck and we never learn what set him on the trail originally. Melmoth’s last words are a curse. He believes he could have saved them all and that Frankenstein has condemned humanity to the wrath of Gloriana. Even as he is torn apart we see his finger pointing accusingly. Frankenstein doesn’t shake off the curse. If his purpose has led to a greater evil, then he has a new purpose.

Of all the Soldiers only Justin shares his resolution. He knows his responsibilities and moves from the vendetta to fighting the Sheeda without doubts. He leaves leading an army of children – a second leviathan? – and looks far cooler than Indiana Jones did while doing it! This issue pushed this mini to the top of my list. As I’ve said, I originally thought there was very little Morrison could do with the Monster. I liked the first issue, but Frankenstein on Mars is probably my favourite single issue of the whole series.

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