Essential Werewolf By Night volume 2


By Doug Moench & Don Perlin with Bill Mantlo, Virgil Redondo, Yong Montaño, Frank Robbins & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2725-3

As Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in 1970, in the wake of losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators – Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby – they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties.

The only real exception to this was an en bloc wave of horror titles rapidly devised in response to an industry-wide down-turn in superhero sales. The move was handily expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

Almost overnight nasty monsters (plus narcotics and bent coppers – but that’s another story) became acceptable fare within four-colour pages and whilst a parade of 1950s pre-code reprints made sound business sense (so they repackaged a bunch of those too) the creative aspect of the contemporary fascination in supernatural themes was catered to by adapting popular cultural icons before risking whole new concepts on an untested public.

As always the watch-word was fashion: what was hitting big outside comics was to be incorporated into the mix as soon as possible.

When proto-monster Morbius, the Living Vampire debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #101 (October 1971) and the sky failed to fall in, Marvel moved ahead with a line of scary superstars – beginning with a werewolf and traditional vampire – before chancing something new via a haunted biker who could tap into both Easy Rider’s freewheeling motorcycling chic and the supernatural zeitgeist.

Werewolf By Night debuted in Marvel Spotlight #2 (preceded by masked western hero Red Wolf in #1, and followed by the afore-hinted Ghost Rider) although the title, if not the character, was actually cribbed from a classic short thriller from pre-Code horror anthology Marvel Tales #116 (July 1953).

Marvel had a long-time tradition of using old (and presumably already copyrighted) names and titles when creating new series and characters. Hulk, Thor, Magneto, Doctor Strange and many others all got notional starts as throwaways before being re-imagined as major characters…

This copious compendium compiles and completes in moody monochrome the remaining adventures of a good-hearted young West Coast lycanthrope who briefly shone as an unlikely star for the entire length of a trading trend, gathering between two soft covers Werewolf By Night volume 1 #22-45, Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #2-5, and a strange team tryout from Marvel Premiere #28 collectively spanning October 1974 to March 1977.

Jack Russell is a teenager with a thankfully rare but very disturbing condition. On her deathbed his mother revealed unsuspected Transylvanian origins to the kid: and explained a family curse which would turn him into a raging beast on every night with a full moon… as soon as he reached his 18th birthday.

After many months of misunderstanding as Jack tried to cope alone with his periodic wild side, Jack’s stepfather Philip Russell expanded the story, revealing how the Russoff line was cursed by the taint of Lycanthopy: every child doomed to become a wolf-thing under the full-moon from the moment they reached eighteen.

Moreover the feral blight would do the same to his little sister Lissa when she reached her own majority…

As the lad tried and repeatedly failed to balance a normal life with his monthly cycle of uncontrollable ferocity he met his mentor and confidante Buck Cowan, an aging writer who had became Jack’s best friend when the pair began to jointly investigate the wolf-boy’s history. Their incessant search for a cure was made more urgent by little Lissa’s ever-encroaching 18th birthday.

In the course of their researches they had crossed swords with many monsters – human and otherwise – including off-the-rails cop Lou Hackett, who had been going increasingly crazy in his hunt for a werewolf nobody believed in, and fellow lycanthrope Raymond Coker who had found a shocking remedy. For one werewolf to lift his curse he/she had to kill another one…

Written entirely by Doug Moench and pencilled for most of the run by the criminally underrated Don Perlin, the midnight mysteries resume here with the Vince Colletta inked Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #2 where ‘The Frankenstein Monster meets Werewolf by Night’.

Roaming the streets of New York in ‘Prisoners of Flesh!’, the massive mute monster hops a freight train west after overhearing of a mystic named Danton Valya who can transplant souls into new bodies…

He arrives in Los Angeles just as Jack Russell discovers his sister has been abducted by Valya’s Satanist cult ‘To Host the Beast’ and cataclysmically clashes with the monster who has only to let the diabolists sacrifice the werewolf and Lissa to gain his heart’s desire.

Tragically the noble artificial man has more compassion than the cultists and prefers his own sorry existence to benefiting from ‘The Flesh of Satan’s Hate!’

Werewolf By Night #22 (Moench, Perlin & Colletta) introduced a crazed murderer dubbed Atlas who stalks and slays many of Buck’s movie friends. However when Russell’s hairy Other encounters the ‘Face of the Fiend!’, Atlas beats the beast unconscious and in the morning light Jack is arrested for the latest murder…

Lieutenant Vic Northrup was a good friend of the deceased Hackett and knows Russell is hiding something, but eventually has to release him for lack of evidence. Picking Jack up from the station Buck reveals he has gleaned the inside story of Atlas and his own historical involvement in the story, only to become the next victim…

However, the werewolf is on hand when he strikes and the battle explodes into LA’s streets where disbelieving cops had to admit that ‘The Murderer is a Maniac!’

In #24 Buck introduces Jack to fringe scientist Winston Redditch who claims to have chemically isolated the constituents of the human psyche and thus might be able to suppress Jack’s periodic bestial outbursts. Sadly the boffin accidentally tries the serum himself first and unleashes ‘The Dark Side of Evil!’

The remorseless thug he becomes calls himself DePrayve and fights the werewolf to a standstill, giving Northrup an opportunity to capture the hirsute “urban legend” which has stalked the city and drove Hackett crazy…

From WBN #25 the art took a quantum leap in quality as Perlin – already co-plotting the stories – began inking his own art. When the beast busts out of custody ‘An Eclipse of Evil’ finds Redditch turning his warped attention to the lycanthrope as a potential guinea pig for further experimentation, only for both the feral fury and dastardly DePrayve to be targeted by deranged vigilante and “protector of purity” The Hangman

The horrific three-way clash resulted in ‘A Crusade of Murder’ with Redditch hospitalised, the vicious vigilante in custody and battered, bloody but unbowed Jack still free and cursed…

Eschewing chronological order for the sake of unbroken continuity-clarity, January’s Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #3 pops up here and reveals a ‘Castle Curse!’ (inked by Sal Trapani) which sees Jack return to Transylvania after receiving a monster-infested vision of former love interest – and psionic powerhouse – Topaz in ‘Spawned in Dream… Slain in Nightmare!’

Jack drags Buck and Lissa ‘Home to Slay!’ in the Balkans, finding the old family home under siege by pitchfork-wielding villagers who have all their worst fears confirmed when he goes hairy and gets hungry, before finally tracking down Topaz in the care – and custody – of a gypsy matriarch with an agenda of her own.

The blood-crazed old witch has a tragic connection to the Russoff line and was exploiting Topaz’s restored powers to enact a grisly ‘Vengeance in Death!’ upon the villagers by raising an army of zombies. The chain of events she set in motion could only end in death…

Werewolf By Night #27 (March 1975) began a chilling and fantastic extended saga with the introduction of ‘The Amazing Doctor Glitternight’. Back in the USA Jack’s feral alter ego runs loose on the isolated Californian coast and is drawn to a cave where a bizarre wizard is making monsters from what appears to be fragments of Topaz’s soul…

The eerie mage is hunting for Topaz’s dead stepfather Taboo and will not be gainsaid, even after Jack’s uncontrollable were-beast slaughters his eldritch masterpiece…

The mage intensifies his campaign in ‘The Darkness from Glitternight’ heaping horrors upon Jack and friends before capturing Lissa on her birthday and using dark magic to turn her from simple werewolf into ‘A Sister of Hell’

The ghostly reappearance of Taboo proves a turning point as wolf battles hellbeast and everybody clashes with Glitternight before a ‘Red Slash Across Midnight’ seemingly results in a cure for one of the tortured Russell clan…

April’s Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #4 offers a long-delayed clash with living vampire Morbius beginning with ‘A Meeting of Blood’ (Moench & Virgil Redondo) as the former biologist tracks his old girlfriend Martine and discovers a cure for his own exsanguinary condition.

Unfortunately the chase brings him into savage and inconclusive combat with a certain hairy hellion and the solution is lost…

Also in that double-sized issue was Moench & Yong Montaño’s ‘When the Moon Dripped Blood!’ wherein Jack and Buck stumble across a group of rural loons all too successfully summoning a ghastly elder god. Although great at consuming and converting human offerings and acolytes, the appalling atrocity is seemingly no match for a ravening ball of furious fangs and claws…

Werewolf By Night #31 (July 1975) was a turning point as ‘Death in White’ (Moench & Perlin) has Jack plumb depths of utter despair after a skiing weekend turns into a nightmare when the werewolf stalks a little girl and Buck nearly dies trying to save her.

With the same cover-date and catching up at last, Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #5 shifted into full-on fantasy mode. Illustrated by Montaño, ‘Prologue: I Werewolf’ recaps Jack’s peculiar problems before ‘The Plunder of Paingloss’ discloses how the leaders of dimensional realm Biphasia – permanently polarised between night and day – instigate a ‘Bad Deal with the Devil’s Disciple’ on Earth when demonist Joaquin Zairre kidnaps the werewolf…

Dispatching the beast though a ‘Doorway of the Dark Waters’, Jack is soon a pawn in a sorcerous war where ‘Fragile Magic’ on the world of light and darkness allows him and his allies to raid the ‘The Ark of Onom-Kra’ and expose a secret tyrant in ‘Silver Rain, Sardanus and Shadow’

Returned to the real world Werewolf By Night #32 (August 1975) introduces mercenary Marc Spector who is hired by criminal capitalists, equipped with a silver-armoured costume and weapons and tasked with capturing Russell or his animal other as ‘…The Stalker Called Moon Knight’ (Moench & Don Perlin with the assistance of Howie Perlin).

The bombastic battle and its ferocious sequel ‘Wolf-Beast vs. Moon Knight’ received an unprecedented response and quickly promoted the lunar avenger to prominence as Marvel’s edgy answer to the Batman: especially after the mercurial merc rejected his employers entreaties and let the wolf, as well as hostages Lissa and Topaz, run free…

Next up is a uniquely odd attempt to create a team of terrors. Marvel Premiere #28 (February 1976) introduced The Legion of Monsters in ‘There’s a Mountain on Sunset Boulevard!’ by Bill Mantlo, Frank Robbins & Steve Gan.

When an ancient alien manifested a rocky peak in LA, the werewolf, Man-Thing, Morbius and Ghost Rider were drawn into a bizarre confrontation which might have resulted in the answer to all their wishes and hopes, but instead only lead to death and disappointment…

Werewolf By Night #34 (October 1975, Moench & Perlin) began another eerie suspense thriller as Jack, Lissa, Topaz and Buck’s girlfriend Elaine Marston braved a haunted house in search of cure for Cowan’s werewolf-caused coma.

Elaine had lost her first husband to the doomed domicile and it took a lot to bring her back. That triggering event is the dying Buck muttering the name of deceased spiritualist Belaric Marcosa who apparently still roamed the hell-house where ‘Not All the Shades of Death nor Evil’s Majesty’ could rein in his sadistic games…

Braving the unknown the terrified quartet fetched up to the mansion and were soon enduring ‘Evil in Every Stone, No Longer Hiding’; becoming enmired in a war between ‘Marcosa in Death’ and the spirits of the many victims he had tortured and destroyed.

Their horrific psychological ordeal eventually results in victory for Jack and his companions as ‘The End’ produces a miraculous recovery in the dying Buck and the cessation of Marcosa’s phantom depredations…

WBN #38 took a sharp change of direction as Jack exiled himself to the wilderness only to stumble on a desperate fugitive fighting to save his baby from a murderous gangster who had taken up with his former wife. In the midst of such mundane matters Jack is visited by a trinity of infinite beings who threaten to alter his existence forever and ominously warn that ‘Rebirth Also Kills’

The celestial visitants are also in touch with former werewolf Raymond Coker as he squats in a hut in distant Haiti and even appear to Lissa and Topaz as they tend the still recuperating Buck.

The “Three Who Are All” are subtly ensuring all the players are in place for a game of cosmic consequences and in #39 when Jack races back to his friend he finds Coker and mystic troubleshooter Brother Voodoo waiting. No sooner are introductions made than an army of zuvembies attack and Russell learns that ‘Some are Born to the Night’

Portentous proclamations of unfulfilled destinies propel the adventurers and Topaz back to Haiti where obsessed Vic Northrup is still looking for answers to Lou Hackett’s death. Ahead of them all is an infernal pit nurturing a shocking travesty of life with the resurrected Glitternight in charge of all the ‘Souls in Darkness’

Revealed in WBN #41 as a former member of the gestalt which was once “Five Who Are All”, Glitternight’s fascination with monster-making is at last explained as the arcane abomination’s attempts to dominate reality are spectacularly thwarted through the return of the missing fourth celestial as well as the indomitable resistance of Brother Voodoo and Jack in ‘…And Death Shall be the Change’.

Key to their eventual triumph is the moment when Russell discovers how to become a werewolf in full control of his mental faculties; at will, day or night…

Returning to America, the Werewolf-by-Choice naturally decides to become a superhero and moves to New York in time to stumble onto a plot by the Masked Marauder. Also on scene is a certain Armoured Avenger and, after the usual misunderstandings, Jack is shaggy knees-deep in trouble with ‘The Marauder and the Man of Iron’

The tale, the series and this essential edition all conclude with Werewolf By Night #43 as ensorcelled fang-&-claw unite with high-tech wizardry to destroy an awesome animalistic automaton and end the ‘Terrible Threat of the Tri-Animan’

Despite the rather lame and ill-considered attempt to reinvent the series at the last, this moody masterpiece of macabre menace and all-out animal action covers some of the most under-appreciated magic moments and terror tales in Marvel history: tense, suspenseful and solidly compelling.

If you must have a mixed bag of lycanthropes, bloodsuckers, aliens, masked mystery men and moody young misses – this is a far more entertaining mix than most modern movies, books or miscellaneous matter…
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.