Re-Animator Comics Analyzed - Part 01 - Herbert West and the Opposite Sex in Re-Animator #0
By Nicholas Diak
Second only the Great Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft’s character of Herbert West has had a sizable impact on popular culture and other works, be it films, short stories, table top role playing games, and comics. The Jeffrey Combs Re-Animator films are probably the most well known of these successor stories, but the series has been dormant since Beyond Re-Animator in 2003. In 2005 however, Dynamite Comics resurrected West in a series of comics books with brand new stories, giving new life to the iconic character. There are currently three story-arcs with Herbert West published by Dynamite for a total of 10 issues (as of 2015-07-01):
· Re-Animator #0 / Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator #1-4 – Sept 2005 to Feb 2006
· Army of Darkness Re-Animator one shot – Oct 2013
· Re-Animator #1-4 - Apr 2015 – July 2015
Each of these comics expands and builds off the original Lovecraft story, fleshing out some minor aspects into bigger ones, but also modifying and retconning major elements as well, causing some incompatibilities with other works, both in and out of the mythos.
This blog entry will be the first in a series to do a deep reading on these comics, highlighting the new and altered elements, how they trickle through the Lovecraft-verse (be it mythos or not), how that expand the character of Herbert West, and other general musings. This particular entry will start with examining Re-Animator issue #0, the first chronologically in this Dynamite-Reanimator canon. The issue is extremely small, acting more as a prologue of sorts to Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator proper, but despite its condensed form, the story and visuals raise many questions that are worth exploring. For this first essay, it will concentrate on West and his relationship with the opposite sex. However first, a plot synopsis will need to be given to lay the foundations for subsequent analysis of this issue.
|Personal Copy of Re-Animator #0 (autographed by Nick Bradshaw)|
Plot Synopsis of Re-Animator #0
In a medical lecture hall of Miskatonic University, Professor Halsey admonishes his class whilst returning the student’s graded exams. One of the students, Herbert West, lashes back at Prof. Halsey, taking the position that a dead body could be revived even after brain death. West has been working on a formula to accomplish such a feat for many years, but his subjects only last a few minutes before they disintegrate. At the urging of his friend Candy, West approaches University Chairman Whateley in the hopes to remove Halsey so West can work on perfecting his regent. Whateley, in possession of the Necronomicon and working in alliance with Halsey, instead has plans to summon Yog-Sothoth. He casts a spell on West, splitting him into two: his human self, apparently dead, and a double, dubbed “The Re-Animator”, who promptly stabs Halsey in the eye with a paper weight. Whateley resurrects Halsey by extracting a fluid from the binding of the Necronomincon, and hints to the West double that he has plans for the rest of his classmates.
West and the Opposite Sex
Lovecraft stories are acknowledged for their lack of female characters, (Lavinia Whateley from The Dunwich Horror not-withstanding), and the original Herbert West-Reanimator is no exception. Aside from the mother of the missing child who dies during a fit of hysteria in the “Six Shots by Midnight” segment, there are no other female characters in the story. During the many decades that transpire during the story, one could pose a few questions: Does the narrator and West ever have any romantic encounters? Girlfriends? Wives? The nature of their macabre work probably means the two characters are unable to form close ties with other people, let alone establish romantic connections.
|West, Candy and another female student|
Re-Animator #0 has a unique scene that gives a bit more dimension to West in this regard. There are two female students: one who goes by the period appropriate name “Candy” and wears glasses, and one nameless lass wearing an upside down mars-symbol necklace.
|West in the lecture hall|
West sits between the pair in the lecture hall, with the Candy putting her arm on his shoulder to hold him back from lashing out at Prof. Halsey. She later offers the advice to West that he should go above Prof. Halsey to Dr. Whataley, the university chairman (more on these characters in a future essay).
|Candy suggests West to go above Prof. Halsey|
Both ladies could be considered attractive, (classic occidental version of beauty; blonde hair, slender, cleavage showing). The unnamed female student only appears in one panel (she is blocked for reader viewing by Halsey who stands in front of her during wide shot panels) while Candy appears in seven panels. Candy’s numerous appearances and interactions with West: calming him from lashing out, giving him advice, comforting him after Halsey’s verbal lashing, indicates a more complex relationship. She even colloquially refers to West as “Herbie”. However, the unnamed female student is also shown grabbing West’s bow tie and gently tugging it to lead him away.
The way these interactions are portrayed can be taken in a variety of manners. Both girls could simply be friends with West. If teen comedy films have taught us anything, West could be the “nice guy nerd” that the ladies copy their homework off of. However, West is not exhibiting these traits: he is not reaching out to the women to win a modicum of their affection or attention (after all, his singular focus is his re-animation formula), but it is the women who are reaching out to him. It could be argued they are reaching out to him solely for help in their own academia, but Candy’s actions in particular seem to transcend this. The body language, touching, and possible terms of endearment could indicate that West is actually quite a ladies man, and it is not too farfetched to conclude that the two students are actually attracted to him.
|Bodily contact - Candy restrains West|
It’s only a few panels, but a semiotic reading of them and of the characters’ interactions (hopefully articulated succinctly above) do support this idea. There are other possible readings of these panels that should be acknowledged: perhaps the two girls are acting in a “big sister” capacity to West, or perhaps they are truly gold mining his book smarts to their own ends, but these two scenarios seem to be the weakest supported by what transpires in the sequential art. If the attractive angle is accepted it adds a bit more dimension to the West character, that he has a modicum of desirability to women and if acted on it, he could establish a romantic relationship with one (or perhaps both!). If extended to the original short story, such an attractive attribute would no doubt be a boon to West if he ever chooses the route to seduce any women with the intent to perform his experiments on them.
One final thought to entertain, if the sexuality angle isn’t palpable, is the idea that Candy could perhaps be the narrator of Herbert West-Reanimator. Since the narrator’s name and gender are never divulged, it is open to interpretation and exploring. Going by the relationship of the narrator and West as described in the opening salvo from the story forms the foundation:
…when we were in the third year of our course at the Miskatonic University Medical School in Arkham. While he was with me, the wonder and diabolism of his experiments fascinated me utterly, and I was his closest companion.
The actions and dialog of Candy could be the early stages of this partnership. She’s obviously in a relationship with West that’s more than student-peer or acquaintance. The dialog shown is mostly one sided, from Candy to West, but again, this could be the early stages of forming the partnership that is yet to come. Accepting Candy as the future narrator of the short story would have a profound change on a re-reading of it, such as envisioning a female lieutenant surgeon during WWI. Another pill that could be hard to swallow, but certainly plausible and worth entertaining.