Mary Shelley is arguably the founder of gothic horror. The myth goes that one night a coterie of friends and her husband the poet Percy went around telling ghost stories. Out of that night came her Frankenstein. Published in 1818 and with countless movie remakes, there’s the tendency to forget the subtitle. But author Victor LaValle hasn’t forgotten ‘the modern Prometheus.’ And with the swirl of happenings today he’s made that subtitle more relevant than ever.
In Greek mythology Prometheus steals fire from his fellow gods and gifts it to humanity. But Prometheus is known as the trickster and the mercurial behavior of his present cannot be controlled and only in the most expert hands may be contained. For that original novel the monster may well be Victor Frankenstein. His hubris as the self-creator of an undead life form, speaks on several levels. One being that it goes against the nature of what it means to be human. In everything there is a time. And for Frankenstein he goes against that. What he could not control he abandoned. But what happens when the laws of nature don’t apply? What happens when you bring back the dead with a purpose in mind?
Professor Josephine Baker is seemingly a descendent of Frankenstein. She’s brilliant and a secret government agency is looking for her. She even has a talking car who keeps her off the grid. Her journey on how she goes from grief stricken mother to ‘mad’ scientist is where LaValle flips the script and makes Baker’s struggle the thought of every Black mother who’s lost their child to senseless fear. On that cover on issue one you get why Baker is angry. Her beautiful black son is seen with a set of stitches down his chest. His eyes pierce through you and his jaw is set. That red backdrop and that boy yet to be a man will make you feel inadequate. Already before you open this comic book there’s a sense that you have to have a level of social awareness and intelligence to read this work. In essence much is going to be demanded of you. Then you open to the first page and know that you will be complicit in whatever Baker’s plan is. You don’t care about the particulars you’re rooting for her to succeed.
Throughout both issues there is the Monster, the being made from dead body parts who was last seen in Antarctica towards the end of Shelley’s novel. What’s his story and is global warming messing with his fortress of solitude? The most frightening part may be the woman who is hunting the protagonist down. Her office should unnerve you with that portrait of the 37th president of the U.S looming over several panels. The artwork of Dietrich Smith and Joana LaFuente alongside LaValle’s words work like those great wrestling teams back in the day. The theatre will keep you turning the pages.
Much like fire LaValle’s Monster can be uncontrollable and a force of nature. But, it’s the new creation you need to look out for. Does that young soul on the first cover become the jaded angry being on the second? The gravitas of it all will show you what horror can do.
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