A young black boy is killed by police. There is no justice, and definitely no peace for his grieving mother, Dr. Jo Baker. She comes from a long line of researchers, and she immerses herself in science rather than religion to fight through her grief, finally unearthing a family secret that may allow the unthinkable: a way to bring her son back.
This is the setup for Destroyer, a new monthly comic book series that fuses the heartbreak of the Black Lives Matter movement with an age-old story: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
The BOOM! Studios comic, written by horror novelist Victor LaValle (The Ballad of Black Tom, Big Machine) and illustrated by Shaft and Incredible Hercules artist Dietrich Smith, doesn’t just take cues from Shelley’s 1818 novel — it continues it.
Dr. Baker is the last surviving family member of the mad scientist who first brought life back to the dead — unless you count another “descendant”: the original Frankenstein monster, who still stalks the earth seeking revenge against humanity. Dr. Baker is seeking vengeance too, furious at the world for the injustice done to her child.
Here, EW presents an exclusive first look at the comic book, plus an interview with LaValle. Destroyer arrives in May.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So this is a modern Frankenstein story – literally. Dr. Jo Baker is a descendant of the scientist from Mary Shelley’s book.
VICTOR LAVALLE: She’s actually a descendant of Edward Frankenstein, the only member of the clan who survived the monster’s wrath in the novel. One of the things that always stays with me is the end of the book. While some people think the monster goes off and dies, there’s nothing that actually says that clearly.
He just floats away…
That’s right. He just drifts off. The other funny thing is, there are two different versions of the ending. The one we know is Percy Shelley’s ending. Mary Shelley actually had an ending where he pushes away from the shift, but Percy didn’t want that because he didn’t like that the monster was rejecting civilization. He thought civilization should reject the monster. It’s a tiny change, but it makes so much difference.
You’re incorporating both. This is set in the present day, but the monster lives. And he has rejected the world.
The other thing that bothers me about the monster in the original novel is the monster is so needy. He needs Victor’s approval so profoundly. I felt like, okay, at that time I understand. Mary Shelley’s a genius and I’m not going to question her. But the more modern take on this should be, “Why should I ask you for your love when you made me and rejected me?” It’s the difference between a needy abandoned child and an angry abandoned child.
So what’s the mindset of your version of the monster?
He’s actually done with humanity. Due to something that happens in the first issue, he makes it his mission to wipe humanity off the face of the earth.
Let’s talk about Jo Baker. Her son is killed by police. He’s a young black boy and there’s no justice for his mother after his death. Are real incidents like this and the Black Lives Matter movement part of the inspiration for Destroyer?
Absolutely. The idea is, Dr. Baker was someone who, in many ways, was totally signed into society. She’s a brilliant scientist. She works at this point for the University of Montana, but she’s worked for the government. She has felt like, “I finally have my chance to join. This country is willing to accept me.”
But it doesn’t work out that way.
Yeah, then her 12-year-old son is coming home from baseball practice, and his baseball bat and batting helmet are treated like he’s holding a weapon. Members of the Chicago police department kill him, and no one is blamed. And this turns her. It flips a switch. It’s a theme I’m interested in. How close is a good, upstanding citizen to cracking?
Becoming a monster in a way, right?
You have great sympathy for her, but when her rage and grief push her to the point where she agrees humanity should be wiped out — when does she become that monster? And when do our sympathies change for that type of person?
There’s no shortage of real-life shootings like this, but your story reminds me of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old in Cleveland who was shot while playing with a toy gun.
That is definitely a clear inspiration. In the comic, she listens obsessively to the 911 call that is made that gets her son shot, and I’m using transcripts from that [Rice] case to try to make it really land. Really hurt.
Let’s talk about the individual characters, starting with her son, Akai. How did you choose that name?
He’s a 12-year-old black boy, and the no-brainer would have been to name him Tamir. But in a way, it felt too on the nose, and maybe a little ghoulish. Akai Gurley was another black man killed in New York. I feel like his name and his story has been somewhat missed. This was a small way to at least honor that.
What we see is a boy with a cybernetic shoulder and part of his chest and arm. This is different than the old Frankenstein technology. So what has she done to him?
She has used nanobots to rebuild the portions of him that were lost. I’m always trying to layer in pieces of truth and history, so when we were coming up with the design, I wrote to the original artist, Dan Mora, and I sent him documents from the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson. The autopsy includes a figure where they show all the places where the bullets hit. On Akai, the android parts of him match that autopsy image.
That’s where Akai was shot, and what parts of his body needed to be replaced?
Exactly. I want you to be thinking every time you see Akai that this is the proof of how he was murdered. I thought it would be a subtle touch. Most people will look at it and think it’s just cool and cyborg-y. But I wanted it to have that underlying layer of something with weight and history.
Let’s talk about Dr. Baker’s look. She’s in a white coat with a bloody smock. I see a little Bride of Frankenstein white in her hair.
Yes! Yes, I thought that was the best little nod. Half Storm, half Bride of Frankenstein [Laughs].
The white streak is always the sign of being a little bit crazy.
That’s right. It’s like, you’ve seen something. You went past the threshold of the veil and you came back. You have too much knowledge.
Is there anyone else in their lives, or is it just her and her son?
We meet the father of Akai, who works at a place called The Lab, which long ago learned about Victor Frankenstein’s experiments and have been trying to master the art of eternal life ever since. Dr. Baker and her husband used to work there. She went on the run because she felt at a certain point, “What we’re doing is wrong,” but her husband did not. He basically felt, “Well, it’s kind of evil, but they pay well.” [Laughs] “And I like making money! I’m an up-and-coming black man.Why don’t I get my shot?”
She chose the good side then.
She chose the virtuous route and became a university-funded scientist. He stayed with The Lab. Neither of these things, neither of these ways of becoming upper middle class, protected their son. All that accomplishment, all that brilliance, it doesn’t change anything if your son is walking alone on the street on a bad night.
The original Frankenstein monster is still living but has exiled himself to Antarctica at the start of Destroyer.
Part of the reason he goes mad is he’s been living in Antarctica, given up on humans.
The monster — he looks worn out. He’s got the Hulk ensemble. Just the pants are left.
I didn’t think anything would last in Antarctica for that long, but he needed pants because we couldn’t have his d–k swinging around the whole time. Too much Doctor Manhattan! [Laughs]
Now we’re getting into Young Frankenstein territory!
That’s right! [Laughs]
He’s been alive for centuries. Does he have extra-human abilities?
Well, two things: He can’t be killed. And his rage and strength — he’s an unstoppable force. You can’t kill him, and he’s willing to kill anyone.
What did you want for his look?
I sent the artist two images I wanted him to find a way to meld into our monster. It was Iggy Pop and Moses. I think he did an amazing job of giving me both.
Then there’s the missing nose, which makes him very corpse-like.
That’s a nod to what may be lost to frostbite even on him, living 225 years in the Antarctic.
As he journeys north to encounter Dr. Baker, he is indiscriminate in his hatred of humanity — even people helping him.
I wanted to get at this question: If you go far enough into rage and grief, you start wrestling with the question, is any humanity worth saving at all?
Are we worth it?
Are we worth it! That is actually the question of the entire comic. Dr. Baker, in many ways, doesn’t know. The monster decides no. Her revived son is still young enough that he thinks the answer is yes. But she’s still in the middle, trying to decide which side sways her. If she sides with the monster, they could pull off mass destruction. If she sides with the son, they’re going to have to fight the monster.
Destroyer debuts in May from BOOM! Studios and will have a six-issue arc.