The Forgotten Prize Comics Crossover Saga: Superheroes vs Frankenstein

Dick Briefer's Frankenstein has a complicated history in the context of comic book horror.  The debut of Briefer's take on the Frankenstein monster mythos began in Prize Comics #7, December 1940, which has come to be considered an important milestone in the context of comic book horror.  Early on, this version of the character was certainly horrific, but perhaps more akin to giant monster horror than gothic horror.  This Frankenstein monster was enormous — he was several times the size of a normal human and sometimes is shown to be large enough to carry a man in one hand.  Not quite the size of King Kong perhaps, but in the ballpark.  In fact, in his second appearance in Prize Comics #8, he climbed to the top of a skyscraper and fought a giant mutant crocodile in a clear nod to Kong's Skull Island battles.

The Frankenstein monster was put through his paces during this period, and before long, became a rampaging, villainous adventure character, hounded by humans. In many ways, his exploits began to resemble those of a certain later-era hulking monster which we're all familiar with today.  For example, in Prize Comics #24 (October 1942), the Prize Comics super-heroes (Yank and Doodle, the Black Owl, the Green Lama and Doctor Frost) teamed up to try to stop him. There's a Prize Comics #24 (Prize, 1942) CGC GD/VG 3.0 Off-white pages and 59 of that original 68-issue Prize Comics run up for auction in the 2022 August 21-22 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122234 at Heritage Auctions.

Prize Comics #24 featuring Frankenstein vs superheroes (Prize, 1942).
Prize Comics #24 featuring Frankenstein vs superheroes (Prize, 1942).

There's typically more focus on the humorous version of Briefer's Frankenstein, particularly as chronicled in much of the Frankenstein series that spun out of Prize Comics, but what he was doing in Prize Comics itself is vastly underrated. Briefer inserted himself into the story in Prize Comics #30, essentially complaining that he had no "Frankenstein news" to turn into a story that month, and from there the saga started taking some wild turns. The next issue saw the Frankenstein monster meeting Lucifer in one of the weirder tales of the series (which is saying something), and  soon, the U.S. Army was deployed to capture him.  After this, through treatment by a scientist to cure him of his wicked ways, the saga took a strange turn.  In Prize Comics #34 (September 1943) the character was made into a gentle giant and productive member of society as "Mr. Frankenstein", a very large, very strong dude with a nice sweater and a better haircut.  This version eventually fell under Nazi control, but then snapped out of that control and worked undercover as a Nazi to fight against them.  All the while, Briefer was taking the continuity of the character very seriously, and periodically reminded the reader of the history of all of these twists and turns.

Subsequent to the Frankenstein Nazi adventure, the story notes another twist.  "The truth of it all is that Frankenstein is cruel, wicked, bestial at night — and kind and humane by day," which again is similar to what would later become the original concept of Marvel's Hulk.  Briefer's art on the character had slowly been becoming looser and more cartoony through this period, and then with Prize Comics #45 (September 1944) the series quietly slips into comedy mode.  Perhaps the most famous aspect of the character's run, the comedy Frankenstein would continue through the beginning of the Frankenstein series itself in 1945.

But with the early 1950s rise in comic book horror, the character again took a turn.  Frankenstein #18 reboots the character and his title as a serious horror comic to bring it in line with what we now refer to as the Pre-Code Horror era.  Like most other horror comics of the period, Frankenstein's run as a horror comic was stopped by the formation of the Comics Magazine Association of America Code and its Comics Code guidelines, which became a de facto requirement to get distribution to newsdealers in the United States. The Comics Magazine Association of America adopted its Code on October 26, 1954, and Frankenstein ended with #33 cover-dated October-November 1954.

But the character's run by Briefer in Prize Comics is absolutely incredible, and 59 of that original 68-issue Prize Comics run up for auction in the 2022 August 21-22 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122234 at Heritage Auctions.  Briefer's Frankenstein appears in #7-9, 11-54, 56-68 of that run. If you've never bid at Heritage Auctions before, you can get further information, you can check out their FAQ on the bidding process and related matters.

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Mark SeifertAbout Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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