by Art Bollmann
As Dr. Jess Nevins has shown, it is difficult to identify the actual historical figures that have been described in comic books. Copyright laws and contractual agreements were frequently violated, and many people who had already appointed official biographers were shocked to find thinly veiled versions of themselves being published by other companies. (The best example of this, of course, is Timely Comics series The Angel, which was nothing but a thinly veiled retelling of the more outré adventures of Simon Templar.)
Identifying other figures behind other comic books is more problematic, as an examination of the Frankenstein series by Dick Briefer will show. This series, published Prize comics in the 1940s, featured a number of characters that were already being chronicled by other people.
The series opens with a Dr. Victor Frankenstein creating an artificial monster in a pre-war America. Immediately, we are faced with problems. Artificial life, of course, is a well-documented achievement, but we cannot believe that a Doctor Victor Frankenstein was still alive and in America in the 1940s. Furthermore, the monster although physically resembling the monster created by Henry Frankenstein (and made immortal by Universal pictures) had the intellect and malevolence of the original monster created by Victor Frankenstein and documented by Mary Shelley.
It is unknown whether the Victor Frankenstein described by Briefer was actually related to any of the other Frankensteins. As Dr. Mark Brown has noted, "There are rumors of other survivors of the Frankenstein family surviving in both Europe and America, but these rumors remain unconfirmed." I am of the opinion that Briefer, noting the similarity between the monster he was documented and the Frankenstein monsters, merely tacked on the name to boost sales. Although the possibility does exist that this was an actual descendant of Victor Frankenstein who was attempting to somehow duplicate and combine the experiments of his ancestors.
As the series progressed and the monster continued to spread havoc, however, a much firmer connection was unveiled. Briefer relates that his "Dr. Frankenstein" guilty about the evil he had created, adapted a boy whose parents had been killed by the monster, and raised him to fight it. Briefer calls this boy Bulldog Denny. It is well known, of course, that Bulldog Drummond had a valet named Denny. It seems possible that this child could have been the son, or perhaps the nephew of Denny.
Denny fought the monster with mixed results until the eve of World War Two, when Franklin Roosevelt, realizing that a nation of war could not tolerate a domestic security threat like the monster, assembled an ad hoc group of superheroes. Prize Comics, of course, documented this battle, but perhaps for security reasons, chose to disguise the characters under the names of fictional characters to which they already owned the copyright. This assemblage, according to Briefer, consisted of the Black Owl, Yank and Doodle, the Green Lama, the General and the Corporal and Dr. Frost.
The Green Lama, of course, should need no introduction to anybody. A wealthy playboy with a deep knowledge of Buddhism, he fought crime was featured in a pulp magazine, and also in a comic series that greatly exaggerated his powers.
The Black Owl was another mystery man who fought crime under a secret identity, but not the secret identity claimed by Briefer. In truth, the character called the Black Owl by Briefer was none other than Tony Quinn, the Black Bat.
Accompanying the Black Bat were two teenagers called Yank and Doodle by Briefer. Dressed in Star Spangled garb, these two adolescents had fought America's enemies under different names in other comics. One of them, a member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, was none other than the Star Spangled Kid, while the other one was Captain America's boy sidekick, Bucky Barnes.
The General and the Corporal were two bumbling Army men who were sent along to observe. In truth, of course, the Army would not have sent such senior officers into a combat situation. Instead, the Army sent two recently enlisted buck privates, who, under other names, went on to serve at very low levels in the army and the navy as well. Interestingly, after their service was over, these two were to also encounter the actual monster created by Henry Frankenstein.
Briefer reports that this group had only limited success in battling the monster, until Dr. Frost, who had the ability to subtract heat from his immediate environment, froze the monster inside a block of ice. The identity of Dr. Frost is still an open question. Recent scholarship, however, uncovered the existence of a man who had such ability, and who dedicated his life to traveling the world and seeking out the strange. Although his whereabouts in the 1940s are not clear, it seems highly probable that the individual who captured this monster is the man we call Elijah Snow.
Once captured, of course, the question remained of what to do with the monster. Some reports claim that the monster escaped to cause more damage. Later Briefer stories depict the monster as living a tame, small town life in Middle America. The ordinary reader might be surprised at such an evil, ferocious creature suddenly becoming a model citizen. However, given what we know about a certain medical institution in upstate New York, this rapid about face should came as a surprise to nobody who is reading this article.
Brown, Mark "House of Frankenstein"
Glut, Donald "Frankenstein Meets the Comics
Nevins, Jess Some Unknown Members of the Wold Newton Family Tree
The text of this article is © 2001 by the author, Art Bollman. No
copying or reproduction of this article or any portions thereof in any
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