Review – Frankenstein Alive, Alive! Trio (IDW Publishing)

Publisher:  IDW Publishing
Writer: Steve Niles
Artwork: Bernie Wrightson
Release Date: 24th Janaury 2018

Back in 1983, the illustrated adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein cemented itself as one of the most visually striking horror comics ever produced, with legendary artist Bernie Wrightson working between paid gigs to put together what was a genuine labour of love.

More recently, IDW Publishing released a sequel series in 2012 which saw Wrightson returning to the iconic monster to illustrate a story penned by fellow horror master Steve Niles. And while some unavoidable release delays may have softened the initial impact of the series somewhat, this week sees IDW finally publishing an eagerly anticipated collected volume of the first three issues of the four-part story.

As with all great Frankenstein stories, this one is tinged with tragedy as the monster recounts some of the key moments of his life, including the tumultuous events of his “birth” and his repeated, unsuccessful attempts to kill himself and end his torment. We see him crossing paths with a Doctor Simon Ingles, a benefactor who greets him with a complete lack of judgment, feeding Frankenstein’s insatiable thirst for knowledge with his fully stocked library before chillingly revealing his true colours in the final act.

Niles’ typically eloquent narration does wonders in beefing up what is undeniably a fairly by-the-numbers story, adding a genuine sense of emotion and gravitas to Frankenstein’s inner thoughts. It works well for the most part, although things do dip ever so slightly in the final issue, with Niles’ dialogue becoming increasingly overwrought, almost veering into pure melodrama at times.  He manages to keep a grip on the reigns however, steering us back on course for a poignant cliffhanger that serves to showcase the strengths of both he and his legendary collaborator.

Above all else, what the series proves most is the fact that Wrightson could still deliver the goods almost thirty years after his first time working with the character – and almost forty-five years into his iconic career – assuming there was ever any doubt, of course. Immaculate, almost photo-realistic detail abounds here, with a striking Frankenstein whose sheer presence dominates pretty much every panel he appears in.  There’s also more than a passing resemblance to Wrightson’s most famous creation here, with Frankenstein’s nose and mouth in particular evoking memories of his iconic work on Swamp Thing.

Another thing that Frankenstein Alive, Alive hammers home – something which is sometimes overlooked by casual Wrightson fans – is just how fantastic he is at drawing backgrounds. Sure, we all know and admire his knack for illustrating chilling monsters, undead horrors and things from the swamp, but I’d argue that the background details here are just as impactful as the Frankenstein character himself, with cluttered libraries and storm-battered cliff edges all being rendered with consummate ease.

What’s also particularly enjoyable is the fact that while the pages initially appear to be black and white, they’re actually scanned in colour, an approach which helps to pick up on the subtle nuances of shading and the different materials used to create a sumptuous, almost tangible aesthetic.

Ultimately, while it doesn’t quite live up to the impossible standards set by the original 1983 adaptation, this new series benefits greatly from Niles’ creative direction, steering perhaps the world’s most iconic monster into previously uncharted waters.  It also provides yet another emphatic reminder of the fact that, for my money, Bernie Wrightson may very well have been the greatest comic book artist who ever lived

I mean, getting the opportunity to grab 64 pages of some of the best artwork your mortal eyes are ever going to see for just $7.99? What the hell are you waiting for? This is an absolutely unmissable release.

Rating: 5/5.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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