The story of Mary Shelley’s greatest work is well-known. Victor Frankenstein, enamored of the new fields of modern science and driven to understand and conquer the mysteries of life and death, creates life from death by giving life to a creature born of cadaver parts and electricity. Horrified by the monstrous proof of his own audacity, Frankenstein abandons his creation to its fate and attempts to return to his life. But, Shelley is clear; our sins will always find us, and Frankenstein’s life is haunted by his demon as the monster rages against its abandonment by destroying all that its creator holds dear.
The well-known story has been adapted, retold, and bastardized so often since its publication that it can be hard for readers to approach a new adaptation with an open mind. Sierra’s adaptation is worth making that effort. His work is remarkably faithful to the source text, including key events and characters of Shelley’s tale in this shorter graphic novel and capturing the novel’s subtle depths. The narrative frame, the sea captain’s recounting of Frankenstein’s remarkable story, is kept and identified visually by lettering resembling copperplate penmanship. This use of lettering to distinguish the speaker continues throughout; Frankenstein’s words are identified in educated formal printing, while the monster’s voice is seen in rough, almost child-like, text.
Subtitled “A Dark Graphic Novel,” the adaptation is indeed dark, not only in content, but in visual appearance as well. Heavy black borders surround each page, and stark black lines characterize Ribos’s illustrations. Reminiscent of Lynd Ward’s classic woodcuts, the art features strong lines, sparse detail, and a focus on the character rather than on creating a background setting. Most striking are the eyes – particularly those of Frankenstein and the monster. Frankenstein’s eyes, even in black and white, are beautifully human and soulfully expressive, with detailed radial lines and a clear sense of personality. The monster’s eyes, in contrast, are empty…literally blank white sockets that lack a sense of soul or humanity. The art perfectly captures the nuanced tone of the work. Victor’s prideful fall, the monster’s enraged pathos, and the shared damnation of these bitter antagonists all unwind with the dark beauty of a classic horror film.
Enslow has labeled Frankenstein as appropriate for ages 10 and up, but the story is probably not suitable for very young or sensitive readers. Even those familiar with the story may be disturbed by images of a conscious primate with electrical probes embedded in its exposed brain, or the stark image of Justine hanging from the gallows. Yet for avid students of Gothic fiction or fans of dark and creepy texts, this adaptation is a wonderful read and an excellent introduction to or reminder of Shelley’s classic tale.