The old-style short-snout version of Marvel's Werewolf.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1972
Creators: Gerry Conway (writer) and Mike Ploog (artist)
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In the early 1970s, expecting the superhero trend to fade just as it had in the late '40s, Marvel Comics prepared for a …

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… wholesale move into new categories of story. One of the genres they'd succeeded with before was horror; and besides, the Comics Code Authority had just relaxed its strictures in that area — and so, just between 1971 and '72, they introduced Tomb of Dracula, a new version of the western character Ghost Rider, Monster of Frankenstein and several others. Even one of the long-underwear guys, The Beast, a charter member of The X-Men, got a grisly new look for the new decade.

One of the longer-lasting and better-remembered of the bunch was Werewolf by Night, which debuted in the February, 1972 issue of Marvel Spotlight, a try-out title along the lines of DC's Showcase. It ran three issues there, then moved out into a title of its own. The first issue was dated September, 1972.

The protagonist was Jack Russell, who, on reaching the age of 18, fell heir to a family curse. Every night of the full moon (a full moon lasting three nights by werewolf reckoning), he would turn into a rampaging, uncontrollable beast strongly reminiscent of a Hollywood-style werewolf (i.e., sort of wolf-like, but with a human-style short snout and upright stance). Later interactions with various supernatural denizens of the Marvel Universe left him looking less man-like when in werewolf mode. Also, at various times in the character's history, he's been able to control his transformations and even, occasionally, to retain his human intellect — all depending, of course, on the needs of whatever happens to be the current storyline.

Werewolf by Night's creators were Gerry Conway (Ms. Marvel, Firestorm), who scripted his first few adventures, and artist Mike Ploog. Ploog, who had previously worked in animation, was unknown in comics when Werewolf started, but quickly made a name for himself in that medium. His artwork was strongly influenced by Will Eisner, creator of The Spirit and one of America's most highly regarded cartoonists. Ploog's art was very favorably received, but his career in comics was brief. He went back to animation in the mid-1970s, and has seldom been seen in comics since. Later, the character was drawn by Gil Kane (Star Hawks), Don Perlin (The Defenders) and other talents.

Unexpectedly, the superheroes didn't collapse again — in fact, Moon Knight, a minor success in that genre, was introduced in Werewolf by Night #32 (August, 1975). Still, the horror-style characters had healthy sales. This one wasn't a notable success in merchandising, but did appear on the occasional lunch box or Slurpee cup. He was also the subject of a book-and-record set, i.e., a package containing a comic book and a record to provide a sound track for it. He enjoyed a respectable five-year run in his own comic (ending with #43, March, 1977) before hitting the guest star circuit.

He remained mostly a guest star, appearing just often enough to keep his trademark current, for a little more than 20 years. In 1998 he was back in a book of his own, but that lasted only six issues. His story was continued in Strange Tales (a revival of the 1950s-60s title that introduced Doctor Strange and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.), which he shared with Man-Thing, but that run was even briefer. From there, he moved into The Supernaturals, a four-issue mini-series where he interacted with several of Marvel's characters from various astral planes. That one ended in December, 1998; since '99, he's been back on the guest star circuit.

But he may not be for long. There is now a movie version in development by Dimension Films and Crystal Sky, and news of its progress leaks out from time to time. Of course, lots of movies that go into development are never seen in theatres — but still, it looks like Jack's curse isn't going to be lifted any time soon.


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Text ©2001-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.