by MATTHEW PRICE
From the Friday, Oct. 28, 2022 edition of The Oklahoman
Halloween is a great time for monsters to prowl, and Marvel is sharing one of its most successful monsters with viewers in the “Werewolf by Night” special.
The Disney+ Halloween special stars Gael García Bernal as Jack Russell, aka the Werewolf by Night, and directed by Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino.
Russell debuted in “Marvel Spotlight” #2, written by Roy Thomas, Jeanie Thomas, and Gerry Conway, with pencils by Mike Ploog, cover-dated Feb. 1972 and on sale in late 1971. The title was suggested by then-Marvel editor-in-chief Stan Lee.
Jack is the latest in a line of a family who is cursed with lycanthropy.
Roy Thomas writes in the introduction to “Marvel Masterworks: Werewolf by Night” Vol. 1, that Conway took over from the original concept and steered Russell through the supernatural side of the Marvel universe.
“Gerry guided the storyline skillfully, as Jack Russell sought the world over for a cure for the werewolf curse that affected him,” Thomas writes.
Werewolves and other horror-type monsters had been mostly absent from comic pages following a ban in the mid-1950s.
In the mid-1950s, the powerful industry organization the Comics Code Authority specifically banned zombies, as well as vampires and werewolves, from the pages of comic books. This helped end the popular line of crime and horror books from EC, which recently had been drubbed in a U.S. Senate hearing and the book “Seduction of the Innocent” by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham.
The publisher Warren avoided the ban by making its comics magazine-size and black-and-white, distributing them as magazines that weren’t submitted to the Comics Code Authority. Thus, publications with titles like Vampirella, Creepy and Eerie, spearheaded by Tulsa native Archie Goodwin, kept the pulse of horror comics alive in the 1960s.
According to “Horror Comics in Black and White: A History and Catalog, 1964-2004,” Goodwin wrote nearly 80 percent of the output of stories for Warren from 1964-67, working in many cases with some of the artists who had worked on horror titles for EC Comics, which essentially shut down its horror line after the onset of the Comics Code. (EC’s humor title MAD also survived by going magazine-sized and black-and-white to escape the Code.)
The horror boom in comics in the 1970s, brought on by the relaxation of the Comic Code’s rules barring supernatural characters, welcomed “Werewolf by Night,” “Morbius the Living Vampire,” “Man-Thing,” “Tomb of Dracula” and other horror titles to Marvel.
“The early success of Creepy and Eerie … gave color comic companies like DC and Marvel the desire to re-enter the horror field, which helped spark the changing of the Comics Code and directly led to the horror boom that comics went through from 1971 to 1975,” author Richard J. Arndt wrote in “Horror Comics in Black and White.”
Werewolf by Night was quickly successful, moving from “Marvel Spotlight” to its own title, which ran for 43 issues in the 1970s and returned for multiple miniseries since.
I like ‘Werewolf by Night’ and loved the short film,” said podcaster and blogger Dean Compton of theunspokendecade.com. “The title itself is just so good, and everything after that with the character just makes your heart go out to the cursed Jack Russell.”
Matthew Price, matthew@matthewLprice.com, has written about the comics industry for more than two decades. He is the co-owner of Speeding Bullet Comics in Norman.
Marvel’s “Werewolf by Night” issue #1