Victor LaValle Combines Frankenstein with Cyborgs and Political Consciousness in New Comic, Destroyer

Destroyer, the comic LaValle is creating with artist Dietrich Smith, introduces us to Dr. Jo Baker and her son, Akai. When Akai is shot by police on his way home from baseball practice, Dr. Baker is devastated. But when no one is charged with his murder, she is enraged, and she turns to history and science to find a way to save her son. You see, Dr. Baker just happens to be a descendant of Victor Frankenstein’s last living relative, Edward. And she just happens to have worked on a top-secret government re-vivification project with Akai’s father. She is able to bring Akai back as a postmodern cyborg Prometheus, but he’s still a child, and he’s nowhere near as set on vengeance as his mother. Luckily for her, her ancestor’s original, un-killable monster still stalks the earth, and he might be ready to come back from Antarctica and make humanity pay for the pain they’ve caused him.

2016 marked the 100th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and in celebration LaValle and fellow author Maria Dahvana Headley shared a long, raucous conversation as they revisited the classic, discussed Shelley’s life, and talked about the monstrous in their own work. Victor mentioned that the original ending of Frankenstein had a very different meaning than the one Mary Shelley eventually chose to use:

At the end of the official-ish version, the narrator—the creature jumps out onto the ice floe the ice flow is taken by the current, and is lost in the dark. That’s [Percy] Shelley’s ending. Mary’s ending was that the creature jumps out, and he pushes off from the boat, so that he’s refusing society. The narrator, Walton, who has said many times earlier, “I’m just like Victor Frankenstein” he loses sight of the creature in the dark—it’s not that the creature is lost, it’s that his powers fail. Here was more—or at least you could read into it—much more about a willful choosing to refuse society that the creature was born into, and that the avatar of that society was not an infallible being. His sight could not see all, and the creature lived beyond him, and that was in some ways for Shelley, Shelley could not abide that Walton would not be able to, in all ways, fathom the universe. But maybe Mary Shelley wanted to leave room for the idea that he’s not dead. I don’t see why “lost in the dark” means he dies, but a lot of people apparently read that as his death. Percy wanted more of an end, where Mary was more… “maybe a sequel?”

LaValle has taken this chilling premise and added layer upon layer of political commentary. Mary Shelley’s original tale was a meditation on mortality and man’s relationship to science, while LaValle’s take—as with his Lovecraftian riff, The Ballad of Black Tom—uses classic horror to comment on current events. Specifically, Destroyer will ponder the black experience in America, police violence, and the tipping point that drives good people to give up on humanity. The most obvious is that a young black child has been killed by police, and that justice is not forthcoming. LaValle named Akai in honor of Akai Gurley, and drew from the 911 transcripts and autopsy reports from several recent police shootings. It will be interesting to see how LaValle’s story adds to the conversations around police violence and black American life. Destroyer’s six-issue arc will debut in May from BOOM! Studios, but in the meantime you can read EW’s interview with LaValle here.

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