Marvel Spotlight #2
Issue(s): Marvel Spotlight #2
In fact, the thing that surprised me the most when i decided it was time to get into this series (yes, by buying the Essentials) was the prevalence of the Darkhold right from the beginning. I definitely expected the first year or so of the book at least to be generic "Oh no, i'm a werewolf!" stories. And i guess they are. But mixed in with that right from the first issue is a subplot regarding Jack's deceased father and the story of how the Russell family came to be afflicted with the werewolf curse.
The thing that surprised me the second-most is the fact that the Werewolf has thought bubbles. He's not exactly intelligent, but he's more self-aware than one would expect from a werewolf, which i always think of as feral killing machines.
His desire to "return" to the forest is a repeat theme of the early issues.
The story begins with the lead character Jack Russell (whose name: hahahahaha!) thinking that he's waking up from a dream of being a werewolf (the "First Night", "Second Night", "Third Night" captions, indicating the three days of the full moon, will be a mainstay of the series)...
...but upon waking he sees evidence, in the form of a bullet wound, that it was in fact not a dream. Jack has just turned 18. His family consists of his sister Lissa, his mother, Laura, and his step-father, Philip. The family, based in Los Angeles, is well off enough to have a chauffeur named Grant, although Grant is rough and belligerent and Philip is suspiciously ok with that.
At his birthday party the evening of the second night of the full moon, we meet Jack's girlfriend Terri (who won't be in the series long enough to get a last name) and then the transformation is on him again and Jack is forced to get out.
As Jack is fleeing, he notices the chauffeur Grant messing with the family car, but Jack is focused on getting away. Instead he winds up tracking down a wolf (possibly a werewolf?) that was responsible for attacks that the papers were attributing to a pack of wild dogs.
Jack kills the wolf and is found by his step-father the next morning. He learns that while he was out, his mother was in a car accident; her brakes failed and she was fatally injured.
Jack sneaks into the hospital's intensive care ward to see her before she dies, and she tells him that she knew about his werewolf curse but was willfully avoiding thinking about it, hoping it wouldn't happen. She also tells Jack about his true father, a man that she met in "a small Baltic state" while traveling as a student on vacation. When a mysterious killer was loose in the local village, the villagers came to him because he was known to have books about demons (the Darkhold will specifically be named next issue)...
...and it also turns out that he is the demon, or rather werewolf.
He was subsequently killed by peasants armed with silver bullets. According to Jack's mom, the lycanthropy is a hereditary curse, and Jack's sister Lissa could also be afflicted when she turns 18. Jack's biological father is not named in this story, but he'll eventually be called Baron Gregory Russoff. The surname is suspiciously close to Philip Russell's; i've actually always thought the idea was that the name was bastardized when the family moved to America (as a way to get away from the unfortunate Jack Russell name), but right now that doesn't seem to have been the intention. However, as we'll learn in Werewolf By Night #14, that actually is the case.
Laura dies making Jack swear that he won't hurt Philip despite the animosity between him and Jack. Instead, when Jack transforms into the werewolf for the third time, he hunts down Grant, who he now knows tampered with his mother's car brakes. Grant is unusually strong...
...but he gets rattled when he finds out that Jack isn't wearing a mask.
The "that's not a mask" thing will be seen again in this series and it'll be a staple of the later Ghost Rider book as well. I think it's a contrivance that doesn't serve the story very well; i guess the characters don't look very "real" if everyone thinks it's just a guy in a Halloween costume.
The Werewolf kills Grant, and then Philip Russell shows up. The Werewolf hides and listens as Philip talks out loud, looking for Grant, trying to give him $10,000 dollars that he got from his wife's death. Remembering his mother's promise, Jack/Werewolf doesn't attack or even confront Philip, but he now realizes that his step-father was complicit in his mother's death.
This issue is also the Marvel debut of Mike Ploog, and it's pretty much his comics debut in general aside from a couple of scattered issues of Warren horror comics. Ploog's art is a break from Marvel's house style. It's exaggerated, sometimes crude features work well for horror stories, and it was a big part of what made this series a success.
A few other notes:
First Note!: i've always referred to this character as "Werewolf By Night" even though he's really just called the Werewolf in-story for the most part. I'll continue to do that in the Characters Appearing section and throughout the reviews, but it's really just my way of having a non-generic, recognizable way of referring to the character.
Second Note!: this will be the first issue of Marvel Spotlight that appears in my project. Issue #1 features the Western era Red Wolf, who went on to his own series. The Marvel Spotlight series, especially at first, seemed designed as a showcase for characters with the intention of launching them into their own books. That was the case with Red Wolf ( even though his series only lasted 9 issues, the last 3 of which feature a modern version of the character), and it'll be the case for Werewolf By Night after 3 issues here, and then Ghost Rider, and then Son of Satan. After that the book will have less success in cultivating spin-offs.
Third Note!: This issue was published during the month where Marvel had briefly raised their prices to 25 cents with a higher page count. So it's an extra long story (27 pages), and it also included a reprint of a Golden Age Venus story, although that wasn't included in the Essentials reprint).
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Essential Werewolf By Night vol. 1
Inbound References (5): show
I'm a bit surprised Jack came before Dracula in the releases. I guess somehow it was just easier to get a werewolf story up and running compared to one involving vampires and their lore. He really is a mainstay in Marvel, though, considering he goes easily from his horror roots to having quite a few matters with the mainstream heroes, including the Darkhold and Moon Knight as mentioned, but also Tigra and Spider-Woman in some ways.
Posted by: Ataru320 | December 24, 2014 9:04 AM
Jack's mother is described as having met his father in a "small BALTIC state" but starting with Werewolf by Night 2, his father is describe as a "scholar in the BALKANS". Somebody probably realized that if Jack was born in early 1972, he was conceived in 1953, and in 1953 the Soviets were in control of the Baltic states, and trying to stamp out an insurgency.
Posted by: Michael | December 24, 2014 5:36 PM
God, Michael - Jack's mom must have cursed Jack herself, having to gestate that puppy for 18+ years!
Posted by: cullen | December 24, 2014 6:29 PM
I meant if Jack turned 18 in 1972, he was conceived in 1953.
Posted by: Michael | December 24, 2014 7:15 PM
Roy Thomas originally wanted this series titled "I, Werewolf!"
Posted by: Mark Drummond | December 24, 2014 8:31 PM
Uh, I know I will look silly asking this... but what is wrong with Jack Russell as a name?
Posted by: Luis Dantas | December 24, 2014 10:53 PM
Posted by: Michael | December 24, 2014 10:55 PM
Posted by: Luis Dantas | December 24, 2014 11:09 PM
I always hated the name of this series: of course he's a werewolf by night! That's when you get werewolves! Now, Werewolf by Teatime, that would be an intriguing title. (It gets even worse in a few decades when we're introduced to his impossibly old niece, who is genuinely billed as Vampire by Night.)
Posted by: Omar Karindu | November 5, 2015 1:27 PM
It's sheer coincidence that I read this entry yesterday... because today there is an interview with the scripter of this issue, Gerry Conway, talking about how this was one of his favorite books and he is revisiting the Darkhold in the new, ongoing "Carnage" series he's writing. I had to come back this morning and share that -- http://www.comicbookresources.com/article/conway-explains-supernatural-carnage-twist-becoming-more-than-a-serial-killer
Posted by: Jeff | February 23, 2016 9:51 AM
'Werewolf By Night' is a Stan Lee title. Roy wanted to call it "I, Werewolf" but Stan recycled a title he had used for a cover story on one of the 1950s' ATLAS mystery stories.
Posted by: Wis | November 23, 2016 5:15 AM
I remember this on the old Power Records blended with WBN #15 and Tomb of Dracula #18 and featuring narration from the late Peter Fernandez of Speed Racer fame, plus if I recall, he also voiced Philip Russell. I mentioned on my earlier posting on ToD #18 how it was such an odd blend of art styles, but both Mike Ploog and Gene Colan were among my earliest comic art heroes, along with Neal Adams and Curt Swan from the Distinguished Competition.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | June 21, 2017 11:35 PM
@Fnord- All right, it's high time I put on my Mike Ploog fanboy hat again. In your historical significance rating of this issue, shouldn't the fact that this is Ploog's first Marvel work, though you did mention it in your initial review, be worth a slight bump and/or notation? Not only is he a significant comics artist, but also notable for his work in animation (Filmation, Ralph Bakshi), film and TV production design, even doing the cereal box promotional art for the original GHOSTBUSTERS film and illustrating cards for Magic: The Gathering. Hell, the Johnny Blaze-era Ghost Rider was his design! Now that I've pleaded my case, how about something more succinct: Pretty please?
Posted by: Brian Coffey | August 31, 2017 9:29 PM
Isn't the historical significance rated according on what happens in-story, i.e. significant events that change the Marvel universe? I don't think Fnord considers external factors, such as who wrote or drew the comic, when he gives the rating.
Posted by: Tuomas | September 1, 2017 3:52 AM
As per the Rules i do sometimes award Sig points for the debut of creators who have a large impact on the Marvel line. Unfortunately for Brian Coffey, that doesn't really apply to Ploog, whose contributions to Marvel were fairly limited. This isn't a comment on his talents or a reflection of his work outside of Marvel universe books. I just don't want to get into the habit of debating the score for everyone's favorite artist/writer.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 1, 2017 1:35 PM
@Fnord- Taking off my fanboy shades and replacing them with my bifocals of objectivity, I must say your reasoning is correct. Though it keeps me from being too bitter in my middle ages, I confess to a mix of overexuberance and sentimentality at times, and for that I apologize. I've been collecting comics since I was five, and even at that young age I was more of a "story" guy than an "art" guy (the frustrated writer in me!). However, there were a handful of artists who impacted me with their distinct styles: Curt Swan, Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, and Mike Ploog. Since I had/have an overlapping love for older horror movies, Ploog had a doubled appeal to me. Sorry if I went off the rails there.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | September 1, 2017 5:23 PM
Roy Thomas, who edited the book, said in an interview in Alter Ego a while ago that he didn't know when they created the character that a Jack Russell was a breed of dog. He added that if he had known he would have called the character something else.
On the other hand, a lycanthrope named Jack Russell isn't as unlikely as a Marvel writer of stories about same named Marv Wolfman.
Posted by: The Small Lebowski | December 15, 2017 7:27 PM
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