Scripter: Gerry Conway
Artist: Michael Ploog
Letterer: John Costa
Conceived and Plotted by: Roy and Jeanie Thomas
Reviewing as seen in Werewolf by Night – The Complete Collection Volume 1
Before the 1970s, there were no comics featuring the monstrously magnificent Werewolf as a protagonist. Despite its popularity three decades earlier in the 1940s with Universal Studios’ ‘The Wolf Man’ and its following sequels, there just didn’t seem to be a place for the hairy man-beast in the world of comics, until Marvel took that first step in Marvel Spotlight #2, which starred protagonist, Jack Russell, a young man who discovers that his bloodline is afflicted with a curse known as Lycanthropy.
Despite an earlier short story in Marvel Tales #116 in 1953, by Atlas Comics (the brand that would evolve into today’s Marvel Comics), called Werewolf by Night!, that story did not feature the werewolf as the protagonist and merely a year later in 1954, a set of rules came into place for comics known as the Comics Code Authority, which caused a lot of comics to pull back their violence and horror in order to appeal more to a wider audience amongst concerns over gory, violent and horrific content being accessible to young children. By the ’70s these rules had relaxed and though the CCA was not law, it was used as reassurance by many publishers, because if you had the CCA Approval stamp, you were more likely to make bigger sales.
This meant that stories like Tomb of Dracula, and Werewolf By Night could now be written, published, and read by many. Marvel Spotlight #2, released in February 1972, re-introduced Werewolf By Night but gave us new characters and a new plot.
Jack Russell is turning eighteen but his nights are tormented with horrifying dreams that feel all too real. He dreams of a beast, one that can kill with ease, beneath the light of the full moon, a beast that has the strength he wishes he had. Once vague, the dreams have grown more vivid in the days leading to his eighteenth birthday, and what’s worse, Jack awakens to find an injury on his arm, exactly where the beast in his dream was shot by a police officer.
After an incident involving Jack’s mother being in a car “accident”, Jack suspects there’s more to the story than someone is letting on, but on her death bed, Jack’s mother tells him the truth about his real father, and the curse that has seemingly passed on to her son on this, the night of his eighteenth birthday. Jack turns werewolf inside his mother’s hospital room, before leaping out of the window with only vengeance on his mind.
A struggle within his mind means that Jack must fight his animal instincts and regain his humanity, but the beast within is strong and has his own plans when it is in control of Jack’s body. Can Jack control the curse, or will the animal inside take hold of him for the night?
The story is much deeper than a typical wolf-man story. It’s a story of family, betrayal, and the consequences of secrecy. Jack knew nothing of this curse but at the same time, how could his mother actually tell him something so bizarre without sounding crazy? The scenes with the werewolf feel somewhat fast-paced which is obviously a good thing for the action sequences as it adds to the drama of a scene.
One thing I think that Marvel does well with its Werewolf By Night stories is to portray a deeper mentality to the werewolf. The story focuses quite heavily on the mental struggle between Jack and the Werewolf, when in wolf form, which gives us two characters in one, and both are perfectly balanced. The werewolf as you can imagine is the more animalistic side, the nature side that just wants to hunt, kill, and return to the forest, its home. Jack however must learn to control the beast within so that he doesn’t wind up killing innocent people, or the people he loves. This doesn’t always work out as Jack and the Wolf fight for control over their actions, but when it comes to the important plot details, this idea adds to the drama of the story, such as when Jack is fighting the bestial instincts in order to abide by his mother’s dying wish not to harm a particular character. It becomes intense because the reader doesn’t yet know if Jack will win or if the beast will take hold and go against Jack’s wishes, which would leave Jack with a lot of trauma to deal with when he wakes up as a human once again come morning.
The other thing I love is the descriptive thoughts and feelings that Jack endures when transforming such as “twisting my insides” and “ripping me apart” as it gives the reader a more detailed idea of what the character is going through instead of just having some easy and simple transformation. The descriptions feel almost like body horror, which is what you would expect from any good medium involving werewolves.
Okay so for me personally there’s not much bad about Werewolf By Night, I love werewolves and am totally biased in my opinions of most media that feature them, however, I do have some notes to make bout WWBN and of course the issue I’m reviewing.
First of all, I don’t know if this was purely a part of a world-building idea or if it’s just bad research on Marvel’s behalf, but in the early pages of this book, we get the classic poem about werewolves. However, this poem was written by novelist and screenwriter, Curt Siodmak, which he created for the 1941 Universal Monster Movie, The Wolf Man. Of course, since its creation, Marvel isn’t the only one who took this poem and classed it as an old folk poem from the medieval period when werewolves were believed to be real when in reality it’s not from folk history but film history. I know it’s not a big deal but little things like this do grab my attention sometimes because I’m a nerd, what can I say?
The only other gripe I have with the book which, again, isn’t much to moan about as it’s a comic, is just that some of the character relationships feel rushed, so you don’t necessarily get a chance to grasp an idea of how the protagonist feels about those around him unless he specifically picks them out as people he despises. I know comics only have so many pages to tell a story, and this comic in particular is a spotlight, meaning that it has to get to the point as soon as it can to be entertaining but as a modern reader, I prefer build ups, which I know we got more of when Werewolf By Night became it’s own individual title series away from the spotlight comics. So as I said before it’s not really a bad thing, but as a modern reader, it’s something I picked up on.
I loved reading this introduction to Werewolf By Night, as it gives us a great taste of things to come. We learn of the curse, the protagonist afflicted by it, as well as a quick hint as to what the beasts weakness is (spoiler alert – it’s silver) as well as getting a glimpse of the fact that a man can go toe to toe with the werewolf and still hold a decent ground in a fight against it, which makes the beast side feel more vulnerable, which in turn adds more drama to the plot, as the beast may not always get his way.
Marvel Spotlight #2 might not be the first-ever Werewolf By Night story, but it is the first one with these characters and this set up for future publications that will create a series I am truly fond of, and one that will become legendary in its own right as a classic Marvel comic book series.