‘I, Frankenstein’: A New Creature Feature and a Selection of Monstrously Good Reads for Teens
Opening in theaters on January 24, 2014, I, Frankenstein (PG-13) provides a fresh take on a classic character set in an alternate modern-day world. Two centuries after his legendary beginnings, Victor Frankenstein’s protégé, Adam (Aaron Eckhart), is not only alive and well, but also in possession of phenomenal physical abilities and apparent immortality. However, other bizarre beings concealed by human guise also walk the Earth: ferocious demons bent on absolute domination and benevolent gargoyle warriors sworn to protect mankind. Finding himself at the center of a heated battle between these supernatural races, Adam is destined to play a vital role in the fate of humanity. Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, and Miranda Otto round out the cast.
The movie is based on a screen story by Kevin Grevioux, co-writer/creator of the “Underworld” series and author of a not-yet-published graphic novel (Darkstorm Studios), who also plays a role in the film. Teens can visit the official website to check out the super-charged action, and follow a link to view a motion comic prequel.
“It’s alive!”: Re-animating Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Help teens make a connection between movie incarnations of this fearsome protagonist and the tale’s early 19th-century literary inspiration with a spine-tingling selection of graphic novels and reimaginings. Filled with gothic atmosphere, eerie and irreverent goings-on, and thought-provoking themes, these page-turners will mystify and satisfy fans of horror, romance, and adventure. Use them in a group or classroom setting to discuss points raised by Shelley’s classic work—vengeance, humanity, hubris, scientific ethics, parental responsibility, alienation, intolerance, and more—and to examine how a modern author “draws on and transforms source material” (Common Core State Standards RL. 9-10.9) and breathes new life into literary characters.
Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein (HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray, 2013; Gr 7 Up) pairs an abridged version of Shelley’s 1818 text with artwork that is haunting and gloriously grotesque. Historical settings, costumes, and locales are souped up with contemporary touches and a steampunk sensibility. Victor, with his side-shaved coiffure and sharply tailored suit coats, is rock-star cool as he excavates raw materials from a graveyard, tools around in a steam-powered tin “chaise,” or wallows in despair over the fatal results of his actions. His beloved Elizabeth sports flowing ink-black locks with a white streak à la Elsa Lanchester’s Bride of Frankenstein. All of the characters have angular and elongated forms, and while the monster is unmistakably stitched together (and occasionally flashes an exposed scar), his appearance is not much more outlandish than that of the humans, underscoring the parallels between Victor and his creation and the true meaning of monster. The finely detailed artwork brilliantly utilizes wordless sequences to convey deep emotion and reflect characters’ motivations and revelations. This edgy, startling, and unforgettable interpretation pays innovative homage to Shelley’s masterpiece.
Frankenstein (Classical Comics, 2008; Gr 7 Up), adapted by Jason Cobley, presents a vividly illustrated retelling. Incorporating excerpts from Shelley’s narrative, the “Original Text” version is abridged to keep the action moving swiftly but still provides a heady dose of her descriptive language and dark tone. The “Quick” text uses modern English to embroil teens in the events while showcasing the same important themes. The dramatic illustrations adeptly present details of time and place, soul-revealing characterizations, and volatile encounters. Hanging by chains in Victor’s shadowy lab, the creature looks almost majestic until brought to life, a moment poignantly conveyed with a sequence that focuses on the being’s empty yellow eyes, tear-moistened face, chain-smashing liberation, and then menacing stance as he looms above his creator. Throughout, contrasts between shadowy silhouettes and luminous hues highlight instances of great contentment, tragedy, and terror. Back matter includes a biography of Shelley and summary of her character’s iterations through the years. A Teaching Resource Pack for students (ages 10-17) is available from Classical Comics (2009).
Part of the “Dark Graphic Novels” series, Frankenstein (Enslow, 2013; Gr 6-10) features a streamlined retelling, updated language, and atmospheric black-and-white artwork. Looking as though they have been carved from wood with etched lines and sharp angles, the statuesque characters each command a strong sense of presence. Darkness lurks everywhere, and the lack of color greatly enhances the eerie and ominous tone of the narrative. Moments of intense violence are included but not over-emphasized (there are no blood spatters here), keeping the focus on the characters’ motivations and interactions. Whether admiring a butterfly that has landed on his fingertip, fleeing from a club-wielding human, or fiercely confronting his creator, the monster manages to come across as both naïve and nascent. Well-paced, beautifully illustrated, and pleasingly chilling, this accessible version is appropriate for younger and/or reluctant readers.
Reimagined novels: Then
When his twin brother Konrad becomes gravely ill, 16-year-old Victor Frankenstein is determined to search out the ingredients for the forbidden Elixir of Life, even if This Dark Endeavor (2011; Gr 7-10) means dabbling in dangerous alchemy, pushing the very limits of human knowledge, and making startling personal sacrifices. Plumbing the depths of Shelley’s well-known characters, Kenneth Oppel provides a credible and compelling portrait of a young man driven by arrogance and ambition, filial love, and a headstrong determination to “unlock… every secret law of this earth.” Victor is aided in his quest by his good friend Henry Clerval and his cousin Elizabeth, and the teens’ interactions—including a fermenting love triangle—bring the emotional brew to a boil. Fast-paced and intoxicating, this tale is permeated with brooding atmosphere and events that grow ever more sinister. The thrills and chills continue with Such Wicked Intent (2012, both S & S), and both books are available in audio format from Brilliance Audio.
On the cusp of their 17th birthday, identical twin sisters raised by their maternal grandfather discover that they are Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters(Scholastic, 2013; Gr 7 Up). With their “lunatic” father’s death in the Arctic confirmed, the girls have come into their inheritance, and immediately set out to claim Victor’s holdings in the remote Orkney Islands. Charismatic and socially ambitious Giselle can’t wait to refurbish Castle Frankenstein and host an extravagant party for Europe’s elite, while the studious Ingrid is elated to have found their enigmatic father’s journals and becomes mesmerized by detailed accounts of his experiments (and the possibility of curing the man with whom she has fallen in love). As dead bodies, hidden secrets, and uncanny occurrences begin to pile up, the girls wonder if they are being stalked by the same mysterious villain who hounded their father. All is revealed during the climatic soiree in a shocking and heart-pounding conclusion. Suzanne Weyn tells this riveting tale through alternating journal entries penned by the two protagonists, effectively limning each girl’s personality, romantic passions, and perils. A gothic treat for a full-moon night.
A pickpocket and petty thief, 15-year-old Billy has long survived the streets of Victorian London, but it looks like his luck has finally run out. Just as he is about to meet his fate at the hands of an evil thug, a terrifying stranger steps in to save him. He and Mister Creecher (Bloomsbury, 2011; Gr 6-9) work out a deal: the gruesome-looking giant will provide protection for Billy, while the boy will keep tabs on the actions and whereabouts of Victor Frankenstein (who has promised Creecher a bride). The uneasy alliance of these two loners gradually deepens into a true bond, one that will be tested in harrowing ways as they follow their quarry north. Though there is unexpected compassion and joy in their relationship, the world they inhabit continues to be a violent and unforgiving place, and readers witness the effects of traumatic experiences on both characters (in one of many cultural and literary allusions, Billy is ultimately revealed as a younger version of Bill Sikes, the brutal criminal from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist). A true work of horror, Chris Priestley’s novel is darkly fascinating, unflinchingly gritty, and surprisingly compelling.
Reimagined novels: Now
Teen angst goes high voltage in Man Made Boy (Viking, 2013; Gr 7 Up). At 17, the lovingly stitched-together offspring of Frankenstein’s Monster and the Bride has led a sheltered existence at the Broadway theater cum secret enclave where his family and other monsters have long sequestered themselves from humans. Tech-savvy Boy feels out of place among the magical creatures, who mistrust his predilection for science. Fed up with his home life, he decides to strike out on his own and go live with his audacious computer hacker project, a Viral Intelligence (VI) with the amazing ability to adapt and make choices. However, like Victor Frankenstein before him, Boy is not ready to shoulder the unforeseen responsibilities of being a creator, and VI is soon on the loose and on the rampage network wide. The terrified Boy embarks on a cross-country jaunt that has him sampling the finer points of human culture, traveling with (and falling for) the granddaughter(s) of Jekyll and Hyde, and finally discovering that he must man up to the consequences of his actions and expectations of his family. Laugh-out-loud funny, this coming-of-age adventure is jam-packed with well-fleshed-out fantastical characters and sparks with lively, often off-color dialogue. Boy is a likable hero, and while his narrative voice, sensibilities, and girl worries are solidly 21st-century, the dilemmas and moral issues he faces hark right back to Shelley’s novel. Jon Skovron’s take on the Frankenstein mythos is wildly entertaining, subtly thought-provoking, and unexpectedly beguiling.
SHELLEY, Mary. Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein. adapt. and illus. by Gris Grimly. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. 2013. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-0-06-186297-7; ebook $11.99. ISBN 978006223922-8.
SHELLEY, Mary. Frankenstein: The Graphic Novel. adapt. by Jason Cobley. illus. by Declan Shalvey et al. Classical Comics, dist. by Publishers Group West. 2009.
Original Text: PLB $24.95. ISBN 9781907127397; pap. $16.95. ISBN 9781906332495.
Quick Text: pap. $16.95. ISBN 9781906332501.
Classical Comics Study Guide: Frankenstein. by Neil Bowen. Classical Comics, dist. by Publishers Group West. 2009. spiral $22.95. ISBN 9781906332563.
SHELLEY, Mary. Frankenstein. “Dark Graphic Novels.” adapt. by Sergio A. Sierra. illus. by Meritxell Ribas. Enslow. 2013. lib. ed. $30.60 ISBN 9780766040847; pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781464401046.
OPPEL, Kenneth. This Dark Endeavor. The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein Series #1. S & S. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442403154; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781442403161; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978144240317-8.
WEYN, Suzanne. Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters. Scholastic. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545425339.
PRIESTLEY, Chris. Mister Creecher. Bloomsbury. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781599907031; ebook $13.99. ISBN 9781599907338.
SKOVRON, Jon. Man Made Boy. Viking. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780670786206; ebook $10.99. ISBN 9781101612903.