By Zack Quaintance — When Mary Shelley Monster Hunter #1 was first announced, I was a little skeptical about the concept. The pitch for it seems to be, what if Mary Shelley didn’t invent the story in her most famous novel at all, what if she had actually lived it? I’m sure the idea came from a place of good intentions, an idea to turn the precocious Shelley into a powerful adventure. As a prose writer myself, however, I took a bit of offense.
Mary Shelley inventing one of the greatest and (at the time) most imaginative monster novels in human history at the age of 19 is one of the great stories of world literature. It’s a sheer feat of talent, artistry, and imagination, and to take away the literary side of that and imply she basically just wrote a memoir...it didn’t really sit well with me. So, cards on the table, I came into this comic with that healthy-sized chip on my shoulder. The book sort of rushes right at this notion from its first few pages.
This story isn’t just an examination of Mary Shelley encountering Frankenstein’s monster in her real life and then turning it all into a novel. It actually bounces between time periods, with one set of action taking place in modern times as a character unravels the Shelley mystery while the other one flashes deftly back to what transpired. It’s a pretty standard framing device, and there’s a reason it’s so often used on this sort of story—it works and it works well. Here it creates a great juxtaposition between what we think we know and what actually happened.
This story casts Shelley and her new husband as victims of a puritanical society who doesn’t want them to live freer than everyone else does, which equates to having several people under one roof in undefined relationships, rather than just married man and married woman. This is all rooted in history, but where our story here deviates is by suggesting that they were evicted by one landlord only to be welcomed in by...Doctor Frankenstein. So that’s the story and the setup.
Writers Adam Glass and Olivia Cuartero-Briggs’ script does a solid balancing act between aping a voice rich with literary flourishes and giving us Shelley’s interiority. It’s easy for this kind of voice to tip into some rough areas, and this comic avoids that, feeling believable throughout. Writing the bulk of the narration in this way also enables the story to really clue the audience in on what Shelley is thinking and feeling, which to me is always a bonus in a medium mostly driven by its visuals. Hayden Sherman’s artwork, meanwhile, is unsurprisingly fantastic, coloring his own linework here. Sherman is a real talent, as versatile an artist as exists in creator-owned comics, with a style as capable of doing outlandish genre imagery as it is more subtle moments of introspection with its characters. I’m mostly familiar with Sherman’s work from sci-fi stories like Cold War and Wasted Space, and so it was interesting to see him tackle (and tackle well) period horror here.
To bring this full circle and get back to the concerns I came into this story with...they were largely unfounded in most ways. This is without question a book that wants to make Shelley out to be a powerful, capable character, rather than one that wants to rob her of her accomplishments (even if it still may do that incidentally). As maybe the title—Mary Shelley Monster Hunter—implies, it’s not quite an examination of serious literature, but rather a romp through some interesting ideas about how stories are told, all cadge in a nice intriguing elevator pitch about the real story behind Frankenstein. I don’t know if there’s a defined audience out there for this book to discover, but I for one ended up finding it really interesting, in spite of my initial misgivings.
Overall: A dive into the creation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel that introduces monthly comicbook genre trappings like horror and monster-hunting. It makes for a really interesting first issue, powered by Hayden Sherman’s always-excellent artwork. 8.4/10
Mary Shelley: Monster Hunter #1
Writers: Adam Glass & Olivia Cuartero-Briggs
Artist: Hayden Sherman
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.