Friday, December 12, 2014

A File of a Few Faithful Frankenstein Fables

Having previously composed lists of Old-Time Radio shows featuring werewolves and vampires, it seems only right to complete the unholy trinity with the Frankenstein Monster!

However, the Frankenstein Monster is - by definition - a particular creature adapted from Mary Shelley's novel, unlike the generic werewolves & vampires who came from legend & folklore. To be sure, Frankenstein has inspired many tales of men making creatures/monsters/robots, but for the sake of this list I'm only collecting those which acknowledge their debt to Shelley's novel; hence - adaptations (and some fun stuff)!


Appropriately, we begin again with the grandmother of Old-Time Radio horror, the Witch's Tale and their 1935 adaptation of the novel. For a half-hour program, it actually does a decent job of compressing the story to fit its run time, although in this version Frankenstein refuses to build the creature a mate.

Right-click here to download the Witch's Tale's version of "Frankenstein" from

I don't normally involve international radio in these lists, but it would be an injustice to omit this 1938 Australian serial which adapts the novel into 13 chapters; it's very faithful and quite well-done!

Right-click here to download part 1 of the Frankenstein serial from part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 part 8 part 9 part 10 part 11 part 12 part 13

In 1944, the Weird Circle got in on the act with a half-hour adaptation. Their real strength lay in adapting short stories; here, they make numerous changes from characters to locales and cut the story off short from the novel's finale.

Right-click here to download the Weird Circle's version of "Frankenstein" from

In 1947, Ronald Colman hosted an adaptation on his program Favorite Story wherein comedian Fred Allen chose the novel as his favourite story! The adaptation does its best to cover the novel, but again runs out of time and ends on a cliffhanger. For what it does cover, it's quite good.

Right-click here to download the Favorite Story version of "Frankenstein" from

In 1951, NBC Short Story presented an adaptation designed for students who would listen in as part of their courses. This version does include some good background information on Mary Shelley, but the story itself is an uncredited rebroadcast of the Weird Circle version! Considering how many liberties that program took with the novel, I hope those students didn't write up their book reports with this as their primary source!

Right-click here to download the NBC Short Story version of "Frankenstein" from

Finally, radio's outstanding theater of thrills Suspense adapted the novel in 1952; this version has the highest profile of any of the adaptations, given Suspense's prestige and the presence of Herbert Marshall as its star! However, it's the least faithful version on this list. It barely feels like Mary Shelley's story, instead departing so far from the novel that one wonders if someone authored a script about a man making a monster and was told, "Frankenstein is in the public domain and has a great reputation, why don't we simply call your script that?" Marshall's Frankenstein has wildly inconsistent characterization (such that co-star Joseph Kearns twice notes how quickly Frankenstein's motivations swing) and rather than a tale about a man who made a monster and how it destroyed his life, it's the story of a scientist who has a pretty bad afternoon one day. They performed this script again in 1955.

Right-click here to download Suspense's first version of "Frankenstein" from Right-click here to download the second version from


I don't want to become too frivolous in how I connect programs to Frankenstein, but I think it's worth noting in 1941 Boris Karloff appeared on Eddie Cantor's show It's Time to Smile and much was made there of his history playing the monster; Karloff even performs the monster's growl a few times! Unfortunately, Cantor's humour hasn't aged gracefully.

Click here to listen to Boris Karloff on It's Time to Smile at Youtube

The link here is even more tenuous - but in 1943, Bela Lugosi appeared on Fred Allen's Texaco Star Theater and celebrated Easter with a horror skit (huh?) which name-checked Frankenstein and involved Lugosi attempting to build a monster. Lugosi seems much more at ease in this show than in either of those I posted in my vampire list; although Allen has a reputation as a comedian too topical to be funny for today's audiences, I think this show works very well.

Click here to listen to Bela Lugosi on the Texaco Star Theatre at Youtube

Also worth noting: in a 1943 appearance on Information Please, Karloff is one of the guests and uses his monster's growl to alert host Clifton Fadiman when he'd like to answer questions; it's always very interesting to hear Karloff on Information Please to discover more about his personal interests; the man's knowledge of nursery rhymes and fairy tales is quite impressive (but not surprising to those of us who grew up with cassette tapes of Karloff reading Hans Christian Andersen).

Right-click here to download Boris Karloff on Information Please from

Karloff appeared on a 1945 episode of Duffy's Tavern to help sell war bonds; he performs a Frankenstein sketch with Duffy (Ed Gardner) at the end of the show.

Right-click here to download Boris Karloff on Duffy's Tavern from

Finally, Quiet, Please - a series created by Wyllis Cooper, the screenwriter of Son of Frankenstein - offered a horror tale directly drawn from Frankenstein about a scientist designing a robot which - like the film version of the creature - needs a human brain!

Right-click here to download Quiet, Please's "Is This Murder?" from

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Unearthed: Secret Origins #48

In my previous Unearthed entry, I looked at an issue of DC Comics' Secret Origins which interested me because of the two characters who were featured; this time, I have an issue which features four characters in short stories - only one of which I had an actual interest in.

Secret Origins#48 assembles four stories which editor Mark Waid (yes, he was an editor circa 1990) helpfully places in context on the editorial page. There's nothing in particular which weaves Ambush Bug, Stanley & his Monster, Rex the Wonder Dog & the Trigger Twins together, but heck, why not cover them? While I'm a big fan of Ambush Bug - and sought this issue out to complete my collection - the other three I know only of primarily via their Who's Who entries. Let's learn their stories together!

There's not much point in describing the plot to an Ambush Bug story, but here we go...

We open with "The Secret Origin of Ambush Bug: We Thought Him Up," by the same team who delivered the Ambush Bug mini-serieses - Keith Giffen & Robert Loren Fleming. Here, the Bug is approached by an agent of the National Bureau of Origins (N.B.O.), who demand he comply with the laws of having a "credible origin story." The Bug sends the agent packing to Kansas to find a rocketship while Ambush Bug himself tries to dredge up memories of his origin. Instead, he finds himself before another agent who isn't fooled by his claims of being bitten by a radioactive spider. Ambush Bug tries again to remember his origin, this time by returning to the warehouse where he first fought crime with Cheeks, the Toy Wonder (his toy sidekick from Ambush Bug#1). Instead, the Bug finds the warehouse now full of leftovers from Giffen's recent Invasion! crossover and he has to scour every DC comic just to make sure Cheeks wasn't misplaced during a tie-in.

Ambush Bug finally concludes that the secret of his origin can only be found with Cheeks and that since Cheeks is dead (again, Ambush Bug#1), he'll have to find him in Heaven. To accomplish this, the Bug taunts one of the Lords of Order (from Giffen's Dr. Fate, I think) until the Lord of Order kills him. We then switch to "The Origin of Ambush Bug," drawn in Giffen's stick-man style, presenting Ambush Bug as a being sketched into life by Irwin Schwab who leaves the printed page in order to save Irwin's class from a rampaging dinosaur. From there, we move to "The True Origin of Ambush Bug" as Vril Dox (of L.E.G.I.O.N. - not sure why he's here) tries to interrogate Ambush Bug's charred remains. We switch again, this time to "The Honest-to-God, Swear-on-Our Mothers'-Graves, Real Origin of Ambush Bug," wherein a bat splatters itself on a window pane next to the Bug's ashen remains.

Meanwhile in Heaven, Ambush Bug finds out he's due to be sent into a new life and is routed back to Earth, landing in an alley (where a newspaper can be seen displaying: "Lord of Order Gets the Chair"). Ambush Bug realizes now that he's on a new life the N.B.O. won't be able to find him and he can have a new identity; unfortunately, that identity is as one of the "Big Fat Freakin' Frogs" (this was 1990, after all) and he's horried to discover "I've come back as the one thing even lower than a comic book character! I'm... merchandise!" Not unlike Giffen's own Rocket Raccoon, come to think of it. Anyway, the N.B.O. collect Ambush Bug and send him to Belle Reve, hoping he'll be sent on a mission with the Suicide Squad and quietly killed without having to deliver an origin story. Then we learn that Cheeks is still alive, and running the N.B.O.! It's a twist ending worthy of a 1990s comic book!

It's funny that Giffen often likes to take shots at comics fandom when he's perhaps the second greatest fan of DC's Silver Age in the business (the top spot belongs to this comic's editor). I don't always understand Giffen's references, though, as noted above, I have at least a hazy idea of who Vril Dox and the Lords of Chaos are (my main DC Universe interests are the Suicide Squad & Ambush Bug; I still don't know much about Invasion! and that's despite having read tie-ins). This story was best enjoyed by audiences in 1990 and even then it wouldn't have been to everyone's tastes. You've really got to love comics to enjoy seeing them mocked Giffen-style. Giffen evidently trusted that his readers - recognizing Ambush Bug was a character without a real status quo - wouldn't expect an origin and simply wanted another Ambush Bug tale; thus, so he did deliver.

The second feature is Stanley and His Monster, written & drawn by Phil Foglio. The story concerns a demon whom Lucifer has to expel from Hell because he "brings sno-cones to the souls in the inferno... knits mittens for those entombed in the plains of ice... sings hymns in the great wasteland of the TV evangelists" and spreads "Have a Nice Day" stickers everywhere. Lucifer's reasoning is that being amongst humans, the demon's true nature will be unleashed due to the cruelty humans heap upon each other. However, this doesn't work because the demon meets Stanley, a friendly and adventurous young boy who welcomes the monster into his home. It's a brief tale, but it's gentle and works well; Foglio revisited the characters in a 1993 limited series.

Next we have "The Birth of Rex the Wonder Dog" which, unfortunately, requires a few words. Written by Gerard Jones and drawn by Paris Cullins, the story opens in World War II (a strange place to start given that Rex dates back only as far as 1952) as Dr. Anabolus has designed a Super-Soldier formula; anyone with a smattering of comics knowledge will recognize this as a parody of Captain America, but we have no choice but to read through all 8 pages (or leave now! it's not too late! I warned you!!!), rather than Giffen's super hero origin parodies in the lead story which sometimes took up all of one panel (don't bring your weak sauce Captain America parody to an anthology with a Giffen lead feature; just don't). The one and only good gag in the story is the Airplane!-like bit above: "But where did you learn to draw so well?"

Anyway, all you need to know is that the Captain America origin is faithfully recounted, but with Rex the Wonder Dog in his place for some reason. If you find that inherently funny, please tell me before I have to sit next to you on an airplane. One Lt. Dennis (who looks vaguely like Bob Hope) brings Rex (and his son Danny) to Dr. Anabolus where the pooch is tranformed by Anabolus' serum into a Wonder Dog (complete with Kirby crackle, seen above). Dr. Anabolus is killed by a German agent and because he didn't write down his formula, Rex is a one-of-a-kind. Lt. Dennis suggests to Danny that after the war they could travel the globe: "We'll work for circuses and rope wild horses and solve strange crimes and find lost civilizations..." which Danny thinks is "a lotta hooey." The joke is that that's exactly what they wind up doing in Rex's 1952 adventure series. Get it? That's the joke! THAT'S THE JOKE! It's funny! You're supposed to laugh! It's hysterical because the ideas Lt. Dennis suggests are so unrealistic next to the entirely grounded and believable story we just suffered through. Ha. Ha. Much like Power Pachyderms, this story is comic book humour on life support. Even the writers of Spider-Ham knew there had to be a joke beyond "Spider-Man, but a pig!"

Gerard Jones would go on to inflict Wonder Man on readers, but I understand his Justice League was a cult hit and I know his various non-fiction books about comic books such as Men of Tomorrow are very good. Plus, I'm sure he'd hold the door open for you at the gas station.

The Trigger Twins close out the book with their origin, as presented in eight pages by William Messner-Loebs & Trevor von Eeden. There's very little I can say about it; twin brothers Wayne & Walter Trigger are followed through their birth to fighting in the US Civil War, to Walter becoming a gunfighter and sheriff of the town where Wayne works. Wayne helps out Walter in a gunfight by pretending to be him and from then on, they are the Trigger Twins. On the editorial page, Waid admits he was a great fan of the Trigger Twins stories, hence their inclusion here - they don't fit the humourous tone of the other entries. Von Eeden's art is totally solid - evocative of 1950-60s Gene Colan here in his silhouettes. DC could have printed this story in the 70s and no one would have batted an eye - I mean that as a compliment. After the previous 8-page tale, the Trigger Twins are more than welcome to close the issue out.

One great story, one lousy story and two okay tales; but really, if you're an Ambush Bug fan you won't care what's on the other pages.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Winterworld: breaking the political divide

Earlier this year, Chuck Dixon - who may have his name on more Batman comics than any other writer - added to his authorial credits an article for the Wall Street Journal where he bemoaned the forces of liberalism in the comic book industry. He also appeared on Fox News to repeat his dirge.

Obviously, a Conservative speaking to Conservatives about something Conservatives aren't terribly interested in to begin with isn't going to affect much change; indeed, the greatest impact I saw from Dixon's efforts were increased attacks on him by comics fandom. But leave us not be divisive - how can we bridge the gap between comic book-reading Conservatives, Liberals and the rest of us who truly do not care? Perhaps Dixon himself has the solution.

In 1987, Dixon authored a short-lived comic book series for Eclipse titled Winterworld. It's set in a catastrophic future where the Earth has been covered with snow and ice and humanity must forage for survival, barely able to grow any crops to sustain themselves. The chief protagonist, Scully, drives a vehicle which can run on almost any form of fuel and he wanders the frozen globe, looking out for himself (and his pet badger Rah-Rah; also, teenage waif Wynn).

Obviously there's nothing particularly political about the concept, but that's not my point - Dixon has a pretty good record of keeping politics out of his stories to begin with. Carrying on, the original Winterworld stories were collected by IDW in 2011 and earlier this year Dixon began a new series which seems to be existing as a series of mini-series (there's also a TV show being developed).

In issue #3 (from which these panels, drawn by Butch Guice, originate), Scully has found a veritable paradise in an unfrozen part of South America, so naturally genre-savvy readers are curious to learn what the "catch" will be. Obviously Scully's journey can't end here (not if the series is to continue), so what's wrong with these folk? They're very interested in Scully's vehicle and reveal they have enormous stockpiles of fuel. However, they don't want Scully to go driving on missions for them, but to simply pour the fuel in and let the engines run.

One of the locals explains their theory: the Earth became a frozen wasteland because there weren't enough cars emitting co2 to cause global warming; their plan to save the Earth is to return to the ways of their ancestors, as detailed in a sacred book; Scully can't read Spanish and doesn't recognize the tome but it's obvious to we readers that the book is a copy of Al Gore's Earth in the Balance.

Now that? That's pretty funny! When you're aware of Dixon's politics you might read the scene as being anti-climate change (because climate change is something Conservatives are lockstep against for... unclear reasons). But the scene is funny because we're privy to information the characters aren't. Their situation is tragic, but their attempted solution is so clearly misinformed that it can't help but be amusing.

This, then, is something which Conservatives, Liberals and the apathetic can all agree upon: Al Gore is funny!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Oh, Murder!

Being interested in Steve Ditko's work, I learned he contributed stories to an anthology series from 1986 entitled Murder, printed in black & white by the now-defunct Renegade Press and edited by Robin Snyder, Ditko's present-day editor. Like most comics from the black & white boom & bust period it sells dirt cheap today so all three issues can be obtained for a pittance.

Now that I have Murder in hand, what is it? Well, it's... it's an anthology title. Called "Murder," for unclear reasons. An illustration which opens the first issue (drawn by a young Erik Larsen) asserts the series' full title is "Murder, Tales of Psychological Tension." That's pretty much hooey - it describes some stories but not others - some are simply short comedic tales. Several look to be inventory tales prepared for other publishers. It's a hodge-podge with no clear theme.

Thus, the stories anthologized in Murder don't really compliment each other and must stand on their own merits. Considering the contributors include Steve Ditko, Alex Toth, the aforementioned young Erik Larsen, Dan Day and a previously-published Wally Wood story; the other talents are unfamiliar names. Of course, even the masters contributed very little; there's exactly one page of Toth content in each issue: two single page illustrations and one cover (above, looking strangely evocative of Dave Sim).

Larsen's contributes what's easily the funniest of all the humour pieces in Murder#3, Jim Stenstrum wrote and Larsen "drew" the one page "Jim Stenstrum's Tales of the Siberian Snowtroopers#2." Seemingly a response to John Byrne's infamous snowstorm scene from Alpha Flight#6; the panel above is the entire joke - word balloons against a white background. It goes on for one page, which is the exact length the gag demands.

Now for the main attraction: Steve Ditko himself! Ditko's stories are "The Big Man" (issue #1), "A Deal is a Deal" (#2) "My Brother..." and "Social Justice" (both #3). These come from the period in the 80s where Ditko was finding less work at Marvel & DC, no longer had Charlton to fall back on and after his falling-out with Eclipse. Like Ditko's current output under Snyder's watch, Ditko's Murder scripts are fairly bare-boned, told in short-hand. I count Ditko as one of the greatest storytellers in the medium. but he's not very good with dialogue; take the "etc, etc, etc." above - not quite William Faulkner, eh?

The stories are pretty familiar ones with twist endings where the guilty are punished through ironic means, but they're well-told; "The Big Man" concerns a killer who eliminates his rivals by seemingly growing in size to crush them; in "A Deal is a Deal," a man tries to cheat death by bargaining away his possessions; "My Brother..." features one brother who's a criminal, the other a lawyer and how their lifelong contest comes to an end; the best is easily "Social Justice," a funny two-pager wherein a television set compels a man to commit crimes - when caught, he fingers the TV and the TV goes to jail! I'm not certain whether Ditko is accusing those who blame their crimes on media or those who try to accuse media of causing crimes. Either way, it's a pretty approachable bit of social satire.

Murder's confused lack of a mission statement renders it little more than a curiosity, but if you - like me - are curious to see Steve Ditko cutting loose - it's an interesting oddball. If you can only obtain one issue, make it #3 with the Toth cover, the great Larsen one-pager, the double dose of Ditko and the Wood reprint.