There’s nothing quiet like filling October with horror movies and comics, is there? This month, as we count down to Halloween, I am tackling creator-owned comics that focus on monsters. From reinventions of classics to entirely new takes, we’re covering four tales of supernatural creatures by some of the most daring comics creators in the game.
First up is Madame Frankenstein by Jamie S. Rich and Megan Levens. This seven-issue series was published by Image Comics from 2014 – 2015, offering an emotional and twisted horror story that is inspired by Mary Shelley’s original tale – but it is not an adaptation. Madame Frankenstein is instead an entirely new story with an original cast of characters that are immensely flawed in the way that Tony Soprano and Walter White are. The entire time, we are watching morally compromised people delve deeper into dark situations, losing themselves as they do so… but we can’t help but invest in their journeys as they dig their own graves.
I first discovered Megan Levens’ work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She came onto Buffy – still among my favorite monthly titles – with a style that instantly spoke to me, using a slightly cartoony style to create characters that act within her panels with complex emotions, horrifically designed monsters, and a fluid storytelling that moves gracefully from moments of levity to horror to tragedy. I fell in love with her work and began to immediately seek out her previous work, which led me to Ares and Aphrodite, another collaboration with Jamie S. Rich. That book, published by Oni, is a light, fast-paced, and cathartic rom-com set in Hollywood. Rich’s snappy writing and dynamic character worked perfectly with Levens’ crisp art, so naturally I followed them to Madame Frankenstein when I discovered the trade paperback. Levens’ art is every bit as gorgeous in black and white, and Rich’s storytelling is well-served by the length of this series, allowing even the supporting characters to have satisfying – if disturbing – arcs.
The story follows Vincent Krall, who has dug up the corpse of a woman he claims to love. He reanimates her body and, as they begin their life together anew, we slowly find out more and more about their histories. At every turn, expectations are subverted, leaving me furiously flipping back to earlier issues to marvel at the seeds Rich and Levens planted early in the story. Like Lady Killer, which Rich co-wrote with Joelle Jones (who provides pinups for Madame Frankenstein), this graphic novel is vicious and whip smart, letting us believe we know our story and who to root for before pulling the rug out from under us. What works especially well, though, is the aspects of Madame Frankenstein that are left to the reader’s imagination. Certain elements (the fairies!) remain mysterious, giving the reader just enough information to leave them theorizing about what was real and what was imaginary. Madame Frankenstein burrows into your mind and your heart, and it stays there… though, be warned, the ideas it will leave you with may just keep you up at night.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Destiny NY, Robyn Hood, Van Helsing), novels (Iron Man, Avengers, Charmed), and pop culture journalism (Blastoff Comics, Sad Girls Guide). When he read his first Goosebumps novel, he knew that he would grow up to become a writer, and remains thankful to the bone-chilling bard himself… R. L. Stine.