Victor LaValle’s Destroyer tells a very different continuation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: the story of a mother resurrecting her son, taken from her in a tragic police shooting. It’s a story that blends modern political discourse around institutional racism with classic horror, and a human tale of grief and loss, and we spoke to its writer to learn more.
A six-part series from Boom Studios penned by LaValle, with art by Dietrich Smith and Joana LaFuente, Destroyer covers the return of the original Frankenstein’s Monster in 2017. But its story is really about a new protagonist: Dr. Jo Baker, a scientist who isn’t just the last living descendant of Victor Frankenstein, but is also a mother plunging into the darkest secrets of her family history in order to resurrect her dead son. Although the grief and politics surrounding her son’s death haunt her, Destroyer will see Baker confronted with the dilemmas that faced her predecessor centuries ago as she does everything she can to bring back her child.
Check out our full interview with LaValle below, as well as an exclusive look at the original monster’s return in the opening pages of Destroyer’s first issue, making its debut here on io9.
io9: Tell us a little bit about the premise of Destroyer.
Victor LaValle: Frankenstein’s Monster doesn’t die at the end of Mary Shelley’s classic novel. He disappears into the Arctic wilds. My comic takes up in 2017 to find the Monster still alive, surviving in the Antarctic now. At peace. But a confrontation with a whaling vessel pulls the Monster back into contact with humanity. And the Monster decides humanity simply isn’t worth saving. He goes to war with all of us.
9,000 miles away, the last living descendent of Victor Frankenstein’s bloodline works as a cutting-edge researcher in robotics and artificial intelligence. She’s a black woman named Dr. Josephine Baker. She’s recently lost her 12-year-old son, gunned down by the Chicago police and, in the good old Frankenstein way, she’s brought the boy back to life as well, but using modern technology. The Monster is on his way to track Dr. Baker down; he can almost sniff out the scent of a Frankenstein, but Dr. Baker has her own creation, her son Akai, there to help her. These sides will go to war and the lives of millions will hang in the balance. It’s going to be a damn good time.
What made you want to tell a modern take on Shelley’s classic story?
LaValle: Lots of people have watched the movies and read the comic adaptations but surprisingly, few have actually read the original novel. It’s weird as hell! And it was written by an 18-year-old genius. (Let that age sink in. Hurts, don’t it?) But most importantly, it’s a novel about the insane ends to which one will go when lost in the pain of grief. The original Frankenstein films focused on the idea of a mad scientist—and that’s certainly there—but what drove him mad? In the novel, it’s much clearer to me.
This comic idea came to me around the summer of 2015, when the stories—and footage—of black men and women and children being gunned down became a recurring motif on the internet and on television. What struck me just as powerfully as the murders themselves was the all-encompassing grief of the victims’ loved ones, particularly when that victim was a child, those parents, utterly transformed by their losses. I wanted to put a parent like that at the center of a comic, a mother who would do anything to get her child back, and who might hurt anyone, everyone out of her anger and sadness.
The Frankenstein story popped into my head as a perfect way to talk about this very modern type of grief, through the lens of an older version. It would also allow me to comment on science and technology run amok. It was important in Mary Shelley’s time and just as important a subject now.
The first issue opens from the perspective of Frankenstein’s monster in the Modern day. At the end of Shelley’s story, he’s pretty much done with humanity and vows to kill himself, but here, he’s very much alive (and angry). What’s changed since the end of Frankenstein for the creature?
LaValle: In the novel, the Monster swears to kill himself because he’s seen Victor Frankenstein die and—without his master, his creator, his father—he sees no reason to live on. But fuck that. I always hated the way the Monster groveled at Victor’s feet. It struck me as a very old idea of whose love mattered most. I decided that the Monster changed his mind on his way to that self-immolation. “I’m going to kill myself over that guy?” No way. No way. My Monster has a bit more self-esteem. Plus, once he’s left humanity behind he discovers there’s a whole beautiful world that will embrace him. Humanity is no longer the center of his universe.
The story quickly turns to our other protagonist, Dr. Baker. What can you tell us about her?
LaValle: She’s a brilliant scientist—think Tony Stark or Reed Richards, Riri Williams or Moon Girl—and she’s also a grieving mother. Years ago, she worked for an organization—The Lab—who funded her research into extended life. As the last living descendant of the Frankenstein line, she’s got an almost biological interest in the subject. But she left the Lab after having misgivings about its ultimate goals. She found a university job and raised her son and continued her research privately and she felt content. But when her son is murdered by the Chicago PD, Dr. Baker snaps. She succeeds in that old task—she reanimates her dead son—but what has she brought him back to do? The Lab, and the rest of us, may not be so happy with her plans.
Her relationship with Akai informs a lot of her story in Destroyer, and there’s real-world parallels to how she lost him. What made you decided to make the element of this new “creature” so much personal to Dr Baker?
LaValle: Why would someone bring back the dead? As I stated earlier, not even Victor Frankenstein (in the novel) is simply doing it out of scientific curiosity. Grief is the reason. It wasn’t difficult for me to trace a line from that kind of grief to the stuff I witnessed in 2015 (and in the years before it). I wanted to talk to, and about, the current moment. It was a no-brainer that, as a writer, I was drawn to these victims in particular.
You’re setting up an interesting dichotomy between the original creature and Dr. Baker’s “creation”. Can you tease what sort of conflict the creature and Akai will have as the series progresses?
LaValle: This comic is a triangle between Dr. Baker, the Monster, and Akai. You could think of the Monster and Akai as the devil and angel on either shoulder. The Monster is through with humanity and he hopes, in his way, to sway Dr. Baker to his point of view. While the creature can cause a great deal of damage, Dr. Baker’s technological genius could wipe out whole swaths of humanity. Akai, meanwhile, is trying to remind his mother of what she taught him, how she raised him. He’s trying to get her to see there’s a chance for love and forgiveness. He died when he was only 12 so he still believes in such concepts. The Monster and Akai will battle for her soul, both figuratively and literally, and that’s going to be become pretty destructive.
What do you hope people take from Destroyer when they pick up the first issue?
LaValle: First, I hope they have so much fun reading this comic. For all its serious issues, I also wanted to have a blast writing the thing. If could imagine Alan Moore’s From Hell blended with all the old Toho Studios movies where Godzilla battles other monsters, then you’ve got the kind of comic Destroyer is going to be.
Destroyer #1 hits shelves in May.