Frankenstein Alive, Alive! By Berni Wrightson and Steve Niles
I know what you’re thinking. A sequel to Mary Shelley’s classic? In graphic novel form? Kill it before it spreads! Normally, I’d agree with you. However, before you decide to “Glut the maw of death” on the authors of such an abomination, it’s worth first considering who those authors are.
For anyone even remotely familiar with horror comics, the names Berni Wrightson and Steve Niles will be all too familiar. Co-creator of Swamp Thing, Wrightson was often referred to as the ‘Master of the Macabre’ and deservedly so. His finely detailed depictions of the gruesome and ghoulish were incomparable, with his work on the comic lines Creepy and Eerie setting the standard for horror illustration and cementing him as one of Stephen King’s favourite artists (his work illustrating King’s Creepshow and Cycle of the Werewolf being the dark fruit of that partnership).
Undoubtedly, Wrightson’s true masterwork was his illustrated edition of Ms Shelley’s novel. A labour of love for the artist, Wrightson’s remarkably rendered black and white illustrations, which steer clear of the typical Karloff-esque depictions of The Creature, capture perfectly the melodrama and melancholy of Shelley’s narrative.
In the years before his death, Wrightson, with the help of esteemed writer Steve Niles (30 Days of Night, Batman) set out to produce a sequel to this masterpiece. Sadly, Wrightson became ill and died in 2018, having only completed four of the five proposed editions of Frankenstein Alive, Alive! True to his horror credentials however, Wrightson had made plans to complete the work ‘from beyond the grave’, providing preparatory sketches to his hand picked successor on the project, Kelley Jones. Thus, the five completed episodes of the series are now available together in a hardback edition from IDW. The result is breathtaking.
It is clear from the outset that this is a work composed by people who have a true love for the original novel. Niles’ narrative hits the same darkly tragic notes as Shelley’s and is the perfect accompaniment to Wrightson’s artwork, which, both in the complexity of its composition and the expressive nature of its execution, is simply stunning. Kelley Jones ably takes up Wrightson’s mantle and is to be commended for stepping into shoes too massive for anyone to fill. A fitting farewell for one of horror’s true greats.