Keith Davidsen writes for Bleeding Cool:
Covers by Jae Lee, Francesco Francavilla, Tim Seeley, Andrew Mangum
Herbert West was, only recently, an ambitious medical student at Miskatonic University. His singular focus in life was to conquer death by purely scientific means. He conducted unorthodox experiments on animal subjects, and his most profound creation – a yellow-colored reanimation formula – could revive a deceased subject for a time before its life functions would end in a violent explosion. Convinced of the grandeur of his research, West chafed under authority and railed against skeptics. Still, he maintained some measure of sound moral judgment. When the chance to underhandedly remove Dean Halsey – his main detractor – as a threat to his work, he chose the more virtuous path… at a terrible price.
University chairman Dr. Whately, who also served as head of the nearby Arkham mental institution, was a devotee of an ancient, all-powerful Outer God known as Yog-Sothoth. The elderly schemer recognized a potential ally in Herbert West, but not until the young man's conscience could be removed… literally. Turning to the Necronomicon, an unholy book littered with demon resurrection passages, Whately spoke an incantation that tore West mentally and physically asunder. His lower body first transformed into a heap of writhing tentacles, and the skin of his chest was shredded apart, as an exact body duplicate burst forward. As the sinister doppelgänger stepped out, the dead husk that was once Herbert West's body collapsed to the floor, dead.
And yet, West survived… in a fashion. Whately had aimed to raise an evil army in Yog-Sothoth's name, and only Herbert West's brilliant scientific mind – unimpeded by ethics – could accomplish the task. To serve that end, Whately's spell confined the young student's conscience (what one might call his very soul) into the Mirror Prison, a dimension of exile where reside demonic Deadites and beings of far greater malevolence. The doppelgänger that then stood by Whately's side was possessed by a Deadite spirit, a creature without moral compunctions… but retaining all of his ambition and knowledge.
The West doppelgänger took employment at Arkham, and made several breakthroughs in reanimation by experimenting on mental patients and university students. His subjects no longer suffered catastrophic tissue rejection, as did his earlier experiments on animals, but a complete return to higher brain function yet eluded him. Still, in his quest to become a self-styled god of flesh – a true Reanimator – the duplicate West had succeeded in building an obedient army of mindless slaves, the hybridization of mortal remains and otherworldly creatures (so frequently comprised of arachnid legs and tentacles), and the reanimation of human tissue (like eyes and digestive organs) independent of the body.
Meanwhile, Dr. Whately's machinations were coming to a head. A man named Ashley J. Williams had been apprehended by the police under suspicion of mass murder. Williams, whose fate was tragically intertwined with the evil of the Necronomicon, was needed as part of Whately's ritual for returning lost Yog-Sothoth to Earth. The asylum head arranged for Williams to be remanded into his custody, but the unlikely Chosen One broke free and instigated a full-fledged riot.
Amid the turmoil, the West doppelgänger proved to be a slave to his template's scientific passions. When Dr. Whately ordered him to forego his continuing experiment and focus on Yog-Sothoth's resurrection, the dark duplicate refused. Whately then ripped West's head from its shoulders. The doppelgänger survived, its body capable of existing independently of (but still controlled by) its head, while the head sprouted tentacles for mobility. Shortly after the two parts reconstituted themselves, the soul of Herbert West made its escape from the Mirror Prison, leaping back into his mortal form and driving the possessing spirit out. His conscience returned and free of demonic influence, Herbert West survived the fall of Arkham, as Ash Williams defeated Dr. Whately and destroyed the entire facility, undead legions and all.
In the wake of Arkham's destruction, West was a wanted man. With hundreds of patients, students, and personnel dead, the authorities needed someone to take the blame. Although no one could ever piece together the particulars of what happened that night, evidence was discovered of bizarre experiments, the patchwork grafting of organs and limbs into unnatural combinations. A surviving medical student, known for his radical theories and brazen disregard of authority, made for convenient scapegoat.
In the days leading up to his capture, West turned his attention away from science. While the medical victory over death was still his life's work, he turned instead to the study of arcane texts, most notably Dr. Whately's copy of the Necronomicon. Its existence had brought him to death and to life, had cleaved his soul and his mind. He sought to better understand what had been done to him… and in the process, stumbled upon a doomsday prophecy – the same world-ending event during the year 2012 that was predicted by the ancient Mayans.
Arrested and institutionalized at Miskatonic Asylum in Essex, Massachusetts, West pleaded to be set free. Knowing the prophecy as he did, he felt compelled to play a part in Earth's survival. His captors dismissed his fears as lunatic ramblings. Without other options, West affected his own escape and headed to Yucatan, former seat of the Mayan people.
In the shadow of a jungle pyramid, Herbert West joined with an assemblage of unlikely heroes, many attuned to the mystical upheaval: blood-drinking detective Vampirella, Egyptian goddess and shape-shifter Pantha, monster-hunting Eva, Greek warrior goddess Athena, time-lost swordswoman Red Sonja, and the vampire lord Dracula. Together, they determined that a time-travelling sorcerer named Kulan Gath would facilitate the end of the planet, thereby accruing infinite power.
West would take an active role in the conflict against Gath's intended apocalypse. With his understanding of the Necronomicon, he cast the spell that sent each of his allies to a different continent, locations where they might face the sorcerer's Mayan avatars of destruction. When assaulted by the storm god Chaac, West also used the Book of the Dead offensively, conjuring a spout of fire at his enemy… only moments before an unaffected god skewered him with a sword.
For a second time, Herbert West was dead. And yet, fate would once again place Ash Williams by the young scientist's side. Perhaps mere coincidence led the Chosen One to vacation at this scene of conflict, or fate had once again placed him in the vicinity of the Necronomicon. Regardless, Williams was there at just the right moment. He held no ill will towards West, having realized in those last chaotic moments at Arkham that the young scientist was a pawn in Dr. Whately's schemes, and so retrieved a syringe of reanimation formula from West's satchel. In seconds, he was revived, hale and hearty.
Together, Herbert West and Ash Williams helped turn the tide and save the world. When next they would meet, however, circumstances would once again set them at odds.
Shortly after the Mayan prophecy affair, West again took up the Book of the Dead, an undertaking that would not only unhinge him from the normal progression of time, but also his mind from sanity. He was hurled backwards to the year 1906. Between memory loss from the experience, and with the absence of his copy of the Necronomicon, he had neither the inclination nor means to return to the modern era. Perhaps with such a familiar setting as Miskatonic University nearby, and the presence of a Dr. Halsey on the faculty (presumably an ancestor of his own academic rival), his fractured mind took easily to the notion that he belonged in the time and place. As a result, he enrolled in the school and took up his scientific pursuits anew… although by comparison to his successes in the 21st century, he had taken a huge step back in his own development.
During his years at Miskatonic, West was unable to perfect his reanimation solution. The skeptical Dr. Halsey of that era was a hindrance to the young scientist's progress, limiting him to animal subjects only. It was only after Halsey died – of exposure to typhus while heroically treating an epidemic – that a recently deceased body became available for experimentation. West injected the corpse with an early version of his solution, and although Halsey rose, his mental faculty had degraded. Indeed, the undead monstrosity escaped and rampaged through the region, cannibalizing victims before his capture and incarceration at an asylum in nearby Sefton. West concluded that the failure of his compound resulted from the lack of freshness in Halsey's body.
If West claimed to be a doctor prior to his exile in the early 20th century, then he officially earned the title as a Miskatonic graduate. Perhaps as a symbol of his station, the newly minted Dr. Herbert West began to share his unorthodox work with trusted and enraptured assistants. His first was a schoolmate during his time at Miskatonic, one whom Ash Williams would later suspect had died as a test subject of the unhinged doctor.
The second confederate in West's unending experiment was Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, a medic and commanding officer in the first World War. West had joined the war effort on its western front, predominantly for the easy access to fresh corpses. He discovered that he could reanimate limbs independent of the whole, which was of interest to Clapham-Lee. Fate, however, would give the Major first-hand knowledge of the procedure; when his plane went down, his body was donated to unconventional science. West reanimated the Major's head and body as two separate living entities. While the body was destroyed in a German bombardment, West brought the head back to the United States, where it languished in his laboratory for several years… with little to do but wish for West's death. The head was eventually disposed of by incineration.
In 1922, Dr. Herbert West was once again reunited with Ash Williams. Thrown through time, Williams had landed in the very cemetery that the doctor frequented for materials. Between the effects of time travel, a head injury, and perhaps his own self-involvement, the Chosen One did not recognize his enemy-turned-ally, although he had a faint feeling of familiarity. West's own time-traveling trauma, coupled with the continuing turn of his obsession to borderline lunacy, made him every bit the amnesiac as Williams.
Upon his arrival in the early 20th century, Williams was unconscious for two weeks, during which the doctor repaired his damaged right arm by attaching a replacement human hand. Once he woke, he discovered that West had hidden the Necronomicon; without the book of spells, Williams could not return to his proper timeline. Blackmailed, he reluctantly agreed to work as the doctor's assistant in exchange for the book's return.
Their forced partnership was the beginning of the end for Herbert West's experiments in the early 20th century. First, the reanimated hand that was grafted to Ash Williams' arm had murderous impulses of its own – not only did it ruin experiments, but it attempted to strangle the doctor before the Chosen One sawed it off. Shortly after, West's obsession with the reanimation process caused him to turn once again to mystic means of revival, and so he spoke an incantation… and awoke every experiment he'd ever performed and buried after its failure. The vengeful corpses assaulted West and Williams, and the familiar scene of carnage shook both men from their amnesiac states. In the final moments of the conflict, as the tomb legion tore West to pieces, they recognized each other.
Herbert West was last seen dragged away by reanimated corpses in multiple pieces, with his head carefully placed inside a box. But for a man who had survived death twice before, and whose life's work was conquering mortality, would that truly be the end for the Reanimator?
You can pick up Reanimator #1 at your local comic shop or from Dynamite Digital.