COMIC REVIEW: Frankenstein Underground

Mike Mignola? Frankenstein? Yes please. And so continues the tale of fiction’s most famous monster, only this time, within the Hellboy universe. Following on from Hellboy: House of the Living Dead! we follow the travails of the creature as he stumbles through the Mexican jungle.

After a fight with Hellboy, Frankenstein’s monster escapes the terrible Mexican laboratory where he was imprisoned and discovers strange creatures beneath the desert, where he’ll learn some of the greatest secrets of the mystical world in the strangest Hellboy spinoff yet!

The creature appears to be defeated. He falls into a cave. There’s a witch. She heals his wounds. The creature says that he is ‘nothing’. He tells the witch his tale, of his persecution, of his being hunted, of his resignation from humanity and his encounter with a certain red demon. She introduces him to some particular ancient gods. Meanwhile, in France, a collector of the fantastic – the Marquis Addet de Fabre – watches and coverts through a magical mirror. Again, this allows a little back story, a comment on the young Victor Frankenstein himself (drawn, in my eyes, to resemble a certain Peter Cushing?). The collector sends a spirit to capture the monster. What results is death and destruction, leaving the (anti)hero in what he believes is hell. Certainly there are hellish creatures and nightmare visions abound.

Once underground, it is revealed that humans have colonised a city, based on the Hollow Earth theory. But have they also awakened something ancient and terrible? Can Frankenstein’s creature save the souls of the innocent, and perhaps save himself too?

The involvement of the Marquis seems a little to convenient and then easily forgotten; simply a plot device to get the protagonist underground. Or perhaps the start of something that Mignola decided was going nowhere and maybe should be returned to another time. There is also a little too much exposition, especially at the start of each chapter. True, there is a lot of mythology to cover in a relatively short story, but I wonder if some of the back story could have been presented as actual narrative, rather than flashback, as characters explain to each other, and the reader, why events are as they are.

Faith seems to be a key theme. Faith in gods, ‘real’ or imagined. Faith in oneself and one’s place in the world. The imagery indicates that there is an examination of both Christian and ancient religious faiths. The contrast of iconography is striking. Which brings us to the art. As ever within the Hellboy universe, it is simply sumptuous. The panelling is routinely straightforward but the framing and the colouring are utterly gorgeous. Not a millimetre of panel goes to waste, even on those images where darkness fills most of the space. Credit then goes to artist Ben Stenbeck (Baltimore) and regular Hellboy colourist Dave Stewart. While the story itself isn’t the greatest contribution to either mythology, it is the art that elevates the book above the ordinary.

There’s plenty to enjoy for both Hellboy and Frankenstein fans in this comic. Spirits and gods, demons and dinosaurs, darkness and death, Mignola’s usual nods to the real world’s oddities (such as J. C. Symmes’ Hollow Earth theory) and a fun Lovecraftean climax. Not a classic in the canon, but more than worth picking up.

This book collects Frankenstein Underground #1–#5 and comes with a great and insightful sketchbook at the back, with notes from Mignola and Stenbeck.

Title: Frankenstein Underground

Publisher: Dark Horse

Rating: 3.5/5

Reviewer: Ian J Simpson

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