FRANKENSTEINMedium: Comic books
Published by: Prize Publications
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Mary Shelley (original character) and Dick Briefer (this version)
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America's first ongoing comic book series to fall squarely within the horror genre was a new incarnation of Frankenstein, which began in Prize Comics #7 (December, 1940).
This Frankenstein was created by cartoonist Dick Briefer, who had previously created Rex Dexter of Mars for Fox Feature Syndicate and The Human Top for Marvel, neither of which brought him a great deal of fame. Comic book aficionados do, however, remember him very well for his Frankenstein.
It was based only loosely on the classic novel by Mary Shelley, the first and most obvious difference being the fact that it was updated. Instead of performing his famous experiment in early 19th century Europe, Briefer's Victor Frankenstein did it in America of the mid-20th. Also, the monster actually was named Frankenstein, unlike Shelly's, where the only Frankenstein was the one who created it. And this version of the monster didn't start out with the refined sensibilities of Shelly's, but functioned as a rampaging horror from the very beginning.
The series lacked heroes only in its first four outings, as a guy named Bulldog Denny was introduced in #11 (June, 1941) to function as Frankenstein's antagonist. In the 24th issue (October, 1942), Denny gathered all the superheroes of Prize Comics (The Black Owl, The Green Lama, a pair of teenagers named Yank and Doodle ) to fight him — the only time the characters belonging to Prize Publications ever teamed up, by the way. Ten issues later (September, 1943), the monster was brainwashed into directing his rage toward Nazis, just as most contemporary comic book characters were doing, and that was pretty much the end of Frankie's career in horror.
In fact, by 1945 (the same year American comics' second version of the monster, a direct adaptation of Shelly's novel in Classics Illustrated, hit the stands, by the way), the series was turned completely around. Briefer continued to write and draw it, but did so in a radically different style — he was playing it for laughs. The Prize Comics version of Frankenstein settled down in a small town, and began having delightful adventures with Dracula, the Wolfman and other horrific creatures. The only two times he was featured on the Prize Comics cover (both in 1947), he was referred to as "The Merry Monster". That's also how he was played in his own comic, which began with a Summer, 1945 cover date. While his Prize Comics series ended when the title switched over to western stories early in 1948, the Frankenstein title continued until February, 1949.
By 1952, horror had become a viable genre in comic books. The Frankenstein title was revived in March of that year, again with Briefer doing the stories and art, but with the humor entirely excised. It ran until November, 1954, after which The Comics Code Authority put an effective end to horror in American comics. A total of 33 issues were published, 17 containing 1940s hilarity and 16 with 1950s gore.
Since then, Frankenstein has been far from absent in comic books. Dell Comics adapted the Universal Studios movie version in 1964, then two years later revamped the character into a superhero. During the '70s, DC Comics serialized a Frankenstein story in the back pages of its Phantom Stranger title. Marvel used him as an X-Men villain in the '60s, and gave him his own title in the '70s. Topps Comics, Caliber Press and other publishers have done their own adaptations. Hanna-Barbera did a cartoon character called Frankenstein Jr., which Gold Key adapted into comic book form in 1966.
Dick Briefer didn't do his version after 1954, but it's been sporadically reprinted in such venues as Ray Zone's 3-D Zone, Michael T. Gilbert's Mr. Monster's Hi-Shock Schlock, and AC Comics' Men of Mystery. AC also uses the character as an occasional villain, under the name "Frightenstein". With or without such reprints to spark the memory, it's not likely to be forgotten by fans of horror comics, humor comics, or anything in between.