Origins of the Werewolf by Night Comics
Believe it or not, but the popularity of superhero comics declined after WWII during the Golden Age of Comic Books. Only three superheroes still had their own titles running during that time: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.
Several other genres become popular afterward, and one of them was horror comics. However, when Dr. Fredric Wertham associated a link between juvenile delinquency and comic books with the publication of The Seduction of the Innocent and a congressional hearing that almost crushed the comic industry, comic publishers formed an agency called the Comics Code Authority to restrict undesirable or unsuitable content.
The self-imposed censorship was drastic. One of the restrictions was that comics could not have "horror" or "terror" in their titles. Imagine that, yeah? Those were the times, though. Let's remind ourselves that during the mid '50s, the comics industry wasn't that old. It was relatively a new industry, but—like all things—times change, and an industry has to change with the times.
The Horror Genre During the Bronze Age of Comics
In order for comics to stay relevant, they had to reflect the world around them, and by the time the Bronze Age of Comics rolled around, the times were definitely a' changing.
An unpopular war was raging in Vietnam, Black Americans and other minorities took to the streets to fight for civil rights, and drugs were becoming a problem—so much a problem that the government even approached Stan Lee to do a story about the growing drug problem, and thus comic issues #96–98 of Amazing Spider-Man were published without code approval.
It was evident that the Comics Code Authority needed to relax some restrictions, and that they did. The Bronze Age saw the rebirth of both DC and Marvel's horror and supernatural genres with characters like Morbius, Ghost Rider, Dracula, and Werewolf by Night.
The First Werewolf by Night Stories
As stated by co-creator Gerry Conway, editor Roy Thomas and his wife Jean Thomas approached Conway with the initial concept of Werewolf by Night to flesh out and bring to fruition. Gerry Conway wrote the werewolf's earliest stories, and, alongside comic artist Mike Ploog, launched Werewolf by Night into comic book history.
Meet Jack Russell, the Werewolf
In the comics, the original Werewolf by Night character is Jack Russell, but there was an older story titled "Werewolf by Night" in the pages of the first Marvel Tales series. That was issue #116, which came out in the later Golden Age of Comics in 1953. Despite the name, the story had nothing to do with Jack Russell.
As mentioned prior, Roy Thomas and his then-wife came up with the concept and then had writer Gerry Conway flesh out the character. Jack debuted as Werewolf by Night in Marvel Spotlight #2. The comic series doubled as a try-out series for new comic artists and new characters as well.
Is He Named After the Dog Breed?
It was speculated that Conway had deliberately named the character Jack Russell as a joke. However, the legendary comic writer admitted that he didn't know much about dogs, and the association with the Werewolf's human name and Jack Russell Terriers was completely coincidental.
Jack Russell's History
In the comics, Jack Russell is simply known as the "Werewolf" in his beastly form, and he is a descendant of a lycanthropic curse that stretches back centuries in his family's lineage.
His first known werewolf ancestor was Grigori Russoff, a baron from Transylvania in the 18th century. Grigori had a personal grudge with Dracula, as the vampire king had killed his wife, Louisa. After breaking into Vlad Dracula's castle and thinking he destroyed the vampire, Grigori was bitten by a captive named Lydia who was a werewolf. Thus the curse began for the Russoff clan.
But in actuality, the curse was dormant in the Russoff clan and needed to be triggered. (Accounts vary and are unclear as to why this curse needed to be activated.) One of Jack's ancestors named Gregor obtained and translated the Darkhold scrolls and triggered the curse after reading the origins of lycanthropy under a full moon. That act made the curse uncontrollable for some descendants, like Jack and Gregory Russoff.
Death of Jack's Father and Mother
Gregory Russoff is Jack's father and was also a Transylvanian nobleman and baron. Jack's mother was an American college student named Laura who fell in love with Gregory while on a holiday. They were wed, and Jack was born in the Transylvanian city of Medias. His sister Lissa soon followed.
For three nights out of every month, Jack's father sealed himself in a tower room with explicit instructions not to disturb him. On one night, a lightning storm blasted a hole in the tower, and word about a werewolf prowling the countryside began to spread among the locals. Some of the locals hunted the beast down and killed it with silver bullets. Thus, they discovered the baron was, in fact, the werewolf.
After his death, Laura went back to the U.S. with Jack and Lissa and met and married Philip Russell. After his mother's death from a freak car accident where the brakes suddenly failed, Jack learned that Philip was actually his father's very own brother. Before she died, Jack's mother told him the truth of his father and the curse he inherited.
My Revigorated Love for Werewolves
Werewolves have captured the imagination of many long before Lon Chaney Jr. became the iconic Wolf Man in the 1941 classic horror film The Wolf Man. However, that film did spawn my fascination with the lycanthropic character. Nudged by a short story by Stephen King called Cycle of the Werewolf (and its adaptation to the big screen called Silver Bullet), I found that werewolves became my favorite classic horror monster. I remember that I even dressed up as one for Halloween when I was a young lad.
Despite my childhood love for werewolves, I never got into them when it came to comic books. Yep, I was like Sam in The Lost Boys. Horror comics weren't my thing. Werewolf by Night? Naw, I was deep into the superhero genre of comics as a kid and even most of my adult comic-collecting life. I wasn't remotely interested in the tragic tale of Jack Russell and his doomed search for a cure to his beastly curse.
Disney Plus' Werewolf by Night Halloween Special
I'll admit that the announcement of the Werewolf by Night Halloween special helped renew my interest in the howling, hairy savages. I'd been slowly getting into Marvel Comics' Werewolf by Night before then, however—not in a big, bad way, but here and there. I got Werewolf by Night #1 from the Bronze Age a while back, and I bid on a Marvel Spotlight #2 CGC 9.4 before it blew up to ridiculous prices, but I seriously got sniped by a dollar or so. That was a bummer, but I picked up a few Werewolf by Night comics prior.
However, I did get excited when the Halloween special was announced. I was stoked that the MCU was going to explore their Bronze Age horror realm, and, as I said before, werewolves are my favorites out of the classic movie monsters.
The MCU's Horror Realm: My Review
The horror realm in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) really begins with the Werewolf by Night special. Some say it began with the original Blade films, but those are technically not in the MCU just yet. I really loved this special as it was a great homage to the old horror movie classics.
Jack Russell in the Show
Gael García Bernal as Jack Russell was passable, but to be honest, there wasn't much to go on with Jack's character. With Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night special also seemed to start the character somewhere after an official beginning or origin story. He had already been a werewolf for quite some time and even had a so-far-secret history with Man-Thing.
Elsa Bloodstone in the Show
The show seemed to set up the character of Elsa Bloodstone a lot more. Her family and some aspects of her past were hinted at without delving too far into it. For example, it was stated and shown that there was a falling out between Elsa Blood and her father and family. That was never explained, however, but the story takes place when she goes back home to retrieve her father's Bloodstone.
Laura Donnelly played Elsa, and I thought she did a great job of capturing the character while making it uniquely her own. Unfortunately, the character did remind me of both Kristen Ritter's Jessica Jones and Brie Larsen's Captain Marvel. Seems the MCU is making some of their female heroines a bit too one-dimensional.
I liked that the Halloween special started both characters off in these places. There's a past resentment of family that can be explored with Elsa while she takes up the family profession of Monster Hunter, and Jack's werewolf origins have much to be explored in the near future of the MCU.
What About Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing in Comics?
Unlike in the show, Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing did not seemingly have that close of a friendship in the comics. Both monsters have been in several comics together, and the first is most likely Marvel Premiere #28. This comic has the first appearance of the Legion of Monsters, which wasn't a long-lived team, to be honest. They had a single appearance in the Bronze Age of Comics.
Both Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing would become members of the Midnight Sons much later in comics, but not in the original iteration of the group. However, they were not part of the same team lineup but were team members in later Legion of Monsters comics.
When Did They Meet Elsa?
From what I could dig up, it seems that Elsa Bloodstone first met Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing in a Franken Castle comic (see the image below). Both Man-Thing and Werewolf by Night were in a later incarnation of the Legion of Monsters, with the Living Mummy replacing Ghost Rider.
Shortly after, Elsa Bloodstone would join the Legion of Monsters in the volume 2 four-issue series. This team roster also included Werewolf by Night but not Man-Thing. Elsa would be team members with Man-Thing in the reformed Midnight Sons that fist appeared in Doctor Strange: Damnation #2. Werewolf by Night was not a member of that iteration.
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© 2023 Vic