Like the first volume (read my review here), Duel of the Monsters, Vol. 2 features a riotous mix of combative monsters: vampire vs. utahraptor, bigfoot vs. grizzly, Mr. Hyde vs. the Phantom of the Opera, sea serpent vs. kraken, swamp thing vs. incredible hulk and many, many more.
Unlike the first volume, however, this latest outing is 100 percent satisfying. Looking back, the series debut was a fun romp through the monster-verse, but it was ultimately undone by poor execution. I’m happy to report that there’s been a big bump in quality for Vol. 2. There isn’t a duff cut in this 11-story comp. Congratulations to everyone involved.
What’s more, the new batch of stories has the potential to be serialized in future volumes. If you know anything about me, you know how much I love serialized fiction. I’m not sure what editor Christofer Nigro and his colleagues have planned for Vol. 3, but hopefully we’ll see more of Subject 17, papa wendigo, Arthur Osmond the werewolf hero and Bruce Banner Bradford the ramblin’ man-beast.
My favorite contributions come from authors D.G. Valdron and Matthew Dennion. Both of these stories compare the cultural legacy of two iconic monsters.
Dennion’s “Vile Intentions” pits Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde against Erik, the Phantom of the Opera. The two madmen share many of the same proclivities (they both love chanteuse Christine Daaé, for example), but each one is different in a fundamental way. ”You are simply a man who looks like a monster,” says Edward Hyde to his adversary from les souterrains de Paris. “But me, I truly am a monster.”
“The Masterpiece Creation” is a smart smash-up of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and King Kong. It’s a twisted tale of friendship, hate, love and sexual frustration.
The story by D.G. Valdron is told from the perspective of the great ape. “I was another of the master’s experiments,” he explains, “an effort to grant human intelligence to an ape. I was given human intelligence … and human desires.”
The ape and Mary Shelley’s original monster are good friends. They share a similar origin story and are united in their hatred for their creator. At night, when the master sleeps, they sip wine and play chess.
In the background, the Bride is waiting to be reanimated. She was made for the monster, but has aroused the ardor of the great ape. “She waits,” he says. “She is my dream, my vision, my perfection, my goddess, my empty vessel, my bride.”
Eventually, this unrequited sexual lust causes friction between the two friends. Who will win the affection of the newly reborn woman? Or is she just a pretty receptacle for the victor’s pleasure?
Even during battle, the great ape isn’t quite sure how things will turn out. He wonders: “Will she resent the two of us, and our base desires, for having brought her into existence, with no other intent than applying her to those desires?”
[Duel of the Monsters, Vol. 2 / Edited by Christofer Nigro / First Printing: November 2021 / ISBN: 9781737895923]