"Begin the operation!!"

Those words, in the world of Franken Fran, are the inevitable introduction to (or on occasion culmination of) events which will amuse and astound, disgust and delight, those with a peculiar sense of humour, a thing for horror, and a strong stomach for illustrated bizarro gore and hilarious surgical mayhem. Franken Fran (フランケン・ふらん) is a serial manga which has been in publication for about five years, with more than 50 issues of about 25 pages each (plus the occasional short or filler story). The presentation is largely episodic, with each story being fairly self-encapsulated, though a trend of more recent episodes has been revisitation of events of past stories.

Our star, naturally, is the lovely patchwork girl, Fran Madaraki. She is something like Frankenstein's monster, if the monster had been a passingly pretty blonde who happened as well to be the second greatest surgeon ever to have twirled a scalpel. The greatest, the Dr. Frankenstein amped up a hundred times over in this fictional realm, is Fran's 'father,' Dr. Naomitsu Madaraki, who is conspicuous throughout the series by his lengthy absence from the vast Madaraki Estate housing the mansion where Fran now lives. He is occasionally commented to have been heard of or encountered by others in his travels abroad performing medical miracles -- and occasionally examples of his own handiwork (other than Fran herself and certain of her regular companions and foes) appear. Fran herself is attractive enough to receive male attentions, though she is clearly sewn together from parts somehow brought to life, and has large and distinctive Frankenstein-referencing bolts sticking out from the sides of her head. Additionally, when she begins performing surgery, she is able to exude four to six extra arms which simply pop out from some unimaginable source on that rail-thin body. She is a master of all things medical, biological, surgical, occasionally psychological, and in some cases apparently treading into the metaphysical (the biometaphysical, if such a thing exists).

The dark humour of the series arises largely from Fran's parodoxically sunny and optimistic personality. For, you see, she is a fixer, and she'll fix you too, if there's something wrong with you -- and, oh, the fix might involve turning you into a horrid half-man/half-insect with a taste for flesh as a side effect, or planting your brain (along with those of a few other people) in a living doll's body; but the point is (to her) that she's fixed you -- because life is precious, and she's done what was needed to save yours!! This is more than simply subtext; some episodes have Fran engage in frank philosophical discussions about the value and quality of life. Though Fran is the only one of Dr. Madaraki's creations to reflect her allegorical father's surgical talents, her two 'sisters' have talents all their own, though decidedly not in the direction of healing the infirm. One is the largely amoral killing machine (in a young girl's body) Veronica who has overcome initial resentment and come to develop a soft spot for Fran, and serves as her bodyguard. Veronica presents a philosophical counterpoint to Fran as well, proposing to Fran that the greater good comes from quickly killing evil people. And then there is the downright evil killing machine Gavrill, a degenerate regenerating shape-shifter who desires to kill Fran and take over the Madaraki Estate. When not appearing as a young (perhaps twentysomething) woman, Gavrill's preferred form is more like a cross between a giant werewolf and a toothsome crocodile. Gavrill is first introduced as the head of a gang of criminals, but the gang is quickly killed off, sacrificed by Gavrill as part of her first ploy to kill Fran.

Naturally, given her talents (and despite the drawbacks inevitably associated with her methods), Fran is sought out both by those with the most desperate medical problems -- ranging from 'incurable' ailments to the desire to revive recently dead loved ones -- and by the authorities to solve mysteries involving deranged attackers and monstrous beasts. The latter communications may be prompted in part by the fact that the Madaraki Estate is home to many such beasts, mostly Fran's affectionate creations ranging from a cat with a human head to creatures looking like straight-up werewolves and other mythic night terrors. These police assists have produced one recurring minor character, Officer Kuhou -- recurring not simply because she occasionally involves Fran in her investigations of the grotesque, but because at one early point in the series ("Multiples: Take 2"), Fran created a clone of Kuhou which was capable of reproducing by mitosis, generating many more clones (this was initially done so that the clones could hunt down and exterminate the copies of another person with a similar ability, accidentally imbued by Fran). But now and then Kuhou clones show up themselves in a story. For example, in one series, Gavrill has been stranded on an island with thousands of Kuhou clones, who form an army which constantly replenishes through mitosis even though they are barely able to keep up with Gavrill's murderous rampage against them. In a later series, Fran sells the clones to a super-wealthy man who has them dressed as school girls with different hair colors and styles, so that he can live out his fantasy of being popular at school. It's never 100% clear whether the original Kuhou still lives, or whether perhaps any version we see is simply another clone.

But the more prominent thread of Fran's adventures involve medical services provided to private clientele. To those seeking medical miracles or body modifications, Fran often extracts a hefty price -- but she has a soft spot for love, and will often volunteer to 'fix' somebody whose loved one is pining over their ailment. In one episode ("Hold Me Tight"), she comes across a man who has just that moment stabbed his girlfriend to death, and plans to kill himself as well. Obtuse to the horror of the situation, Fran offers to restore the murderered girl to some semblance of life by transplanting parts of her organs into her skull, resulting in her being nothing more than a head sewed to a hand on which she scurries around, seemingly having forgotten her prior existence. Later Fran temporarily grafts this head onto a monstrous body (while creating a more comely model for a final transplantation. But in the interem it is discovered that the murdered girl had retained her memories after all -- and in the end it is reported that her 'boyfriend' (in actuality only a stalker all along) had been horribly mutilated by an unkown monster.

Another group of recurring characters are the Sentinals -- crime fighters with powers imbued by Fran's handiwork. However, much weirdness evolves from this situation; the first Sentinal is jealous of later copycats. One of those copycats discovers a secret plot to destroy the world through overpopulation fed by orphanages and food banks, and begins attacking such facilities. Another one has a sidekick made, a fast healer who serves no other purpose than to be the victim of attacks which justify the hero taking revenge on the attacker.

But sometimes (if rarely) things turn out on a more positive note. When the brilliant surgeon who was scheduled to perform life-saving surgery on a little girl was gravely injured in a random carjacking, the hospital -- having heard of Fran's questionable experiments -- turns away her offer to perform the surgery in his place. Barred from operating on the patient in need, Fran does the next best thing, operating on the injured surgeon and rebuilding him into a surgical dynamo.

Fran herself is not above using her surgical skill for less-than-benificent ends. She blithely patches up victims on both sides of a mob war, enabling the escalation of their fighting while accepting ever-increasing payments. And in one chilling series ("God and Dog"), she learns that a woman posing as a secretary to an elderly doctor, who is one of Dr. Madaraki's old friends, is using a surveillance team to spy on both the old doctor and on Fran herself. Fran has her minions seize the surveillors, and when the secretary next shows up to Fran's mansion, she is shown that Fran has dissected those men and reassembled them into hairless doglike creatures -- who then sniff out their master. In the last panel, it is shown that the secretary has been subjected to the same surgery, appearing much the same as the dog-made men, except for her voluptuous teardrop breasts.

Fran has some unusual religious undertones. In one segment, she discovers the Wandering Jew (who has over the centuries evolved into a living colony of insects) and restores his humanity, making it possible for him to finally die. In another, she delivers a baby growing in the head of a once-evil man who has since become a Cardinal, and is in line to be the next Pope. And most bizarely of all ("Piety"), when it turns out that a missing girl has been bodily transformed into a building which serves as a temple, she helps the girl give birth -- to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The limits of Fran's own capacity for weirdness are found in "People of Unusual Taste," where several of Fran's former patients invite her to join them at a ski lodge, only to be mysteriously murdered (thankfully with Fran on hand to restore them). It turns out that the murders are faked, and that the 'victims' have simply become obsessed with being operated on by Fran.

Possibly the single most triumphant moment in the entire course of the comic comes in "Eternal Beauty," when Fran is hired by a wealthy woman seeking immortality. What Fran does not know is that this woman has hired other doctors for the same purpose before, and after benefiting from their knowledge, has had them murdered. So once Fran comes up with a most promising methodology, it is no surprise that the woman's henchman comes up behind Fran, grabs her and slashes her throat so deeply that it almost comes to the point of beheading her. Satisfied with his murderous deed, the henchman leaves the body -- but Fran still has just enough life left in her to gasp those immortal words.... begin.... the.... operation. And with that, her extra arms come out, sutures at the ready, and she is able to sew her own head back on, artery by artery. The murdering miser gets her own comeuppance, not in any vengeance effected by Fran, but because she purloined Fran's advances before they could be fully tested. The woman does indeed achieve possible immortality, but only once her entire body has become one giant, swollen tumor, unable to move and unrecognizable as a human being.

Franken Fran is something of an acquired taste and perhaps a guilty pleasure, but if you care for lushly drawn gore and hilariously absurd comic scenarios, then this one's for you.

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For The Nodegel from Yuggoth: The 2011 Halloween Horrorquest

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