The Evolution of Frankenstein in Comics and Culture: Monster, Villain, and Hero

When Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley published her novel Frankenstein 200 years ago, she could not have imagined the liberties that would be taken with her characters in the future. Published in 1818, Frankenstein was a success and became so popular that the character of Frankenstein’s monster became a well-known image even in the 1800s. “Everybody, or nearly everybody, has heard of the novel of ‘Frankenstein,’” declared an article from 1899.

But, as the article notes, even by 1899 the line between Dr. Frankenstein and his monster had blurred. The monster was becoming known as Frankenstein. Early cinema brought the character vividly to life, solidifying “Frankenstein” as the monster in the minds of people, taking the character from the context of the novel and putting him into new situations of horror. In 1935, he even gained a love interest as the “Bride of Frankenstein” was released.

“Simple Life of a Monster Not So Simple, After All,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), April 30, 1935.

Frankenstein as a character has been portrayed in so many different ways in comic books that it is hard to believe they refer to the same creature. While there have been some comic book representations that have tried to stay true to Shelley’s original monster, they are few and far between.

Classics Illustrated, no. 26 [HRN 167] (June 1965).

Frankenstein Alive, Alive! no. 2 (July 2012).











Often in comic books, as it has been in film and many other cultural references, Frankenstein is seen as part of a monster mash-up. Either Frankenstein is set against his fellow monsters, such as Dracula, or he travels with them as a pack.

Frankenstein, no. 8 (Jan. 1974).

Adventures of Bob Hope, no. 95 (Oct./Nov. 1965).











Speaking of mash-ups, Frankenstein is a popular monster for superheroes to fight, especially this time of year. Who can resist the thought of their favorite superhero taking on one of the most iconic monsters of all time? Frankenstein has fought Batman, Ironman, the Hulk, and Captain America, just to name a few.

Detective Comics, no. 135 (May 1948).

Iron Man, no. 101 (Aug. 1977).











But Frankenstein has been re-imagined as more than just a typical monster or villain. There have been female Frankenstein characters and futuristic cyborg monsters that continue the story of a pieced-together creature with a tortured soul. Frankenstein has even taken a turn at being a superhero himself!

Madame Frankenstein, no. 2 (June 2014).

Frankenstein, no. 2 (Sept. 1966).











Do you have a favorite Frankenstein story or comic book depiction?  Don’t miss seeing these comic books and more displayed in the Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room! And don’t miss “Frankenreads,” a live reading of Frankenstein in its entirety, at the Library of Congress and online, October 31st: //

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