Monday, October 15, 2012
BAB Frightfest: Marvel Spotlight 2 -- Werewolf by Night
Marvel Spotlight #2 (1971 series; February 1972)
"Werewolf By Night"
Gerry Conway (plot by Roy and Jeannie Thomas)-Mike Ploog (cover by Neal Adams)
Doug: Hairy dog-man today, kiddies. It's Marvel's spin on an old monster legend, and it's a pretty good take. A couple of things about the telling of the story may take the reader aback: one, it's set in California, and two, the narration is told in the first person. I didn't find either to be a huge issue, although I'll admit my ignorance of Los Angeles geography and landmarks required me to have a real faith in the creators (isn't that silly -- I've only been to New York twice in my life, and only for a few hours, but it always feels like home!). You might also notice that this was a 25c issue, and the story is indeed 27 pages long. So enough first impressions and nuts and bolts from me, let's get to it.
Doug: I actually really liked the way Gerry Conway wrote the narration boxes. It was nice to be in Jack Russell's head, and the script conveyed the fogginess in his brain as humanity struggled with animal. Russell, in full wolf-mode, is staggering through the alleys of LA when he gets a visual of the knife of a mugger hiding in the shadows; the guy doesn't stand a chance. As the cops arrive, the werewolf leaps away -- he's winged in the process, but manages to escape. He next wanders the backstreets, hoping to get back to the forest. But as his cloudy brain seeks to make sense of all of this, we find that it was all a dream.
Karen: I'm torn on the whole werewolf narration thing. On one hand, it's probably very useful to the writer to be able to use the main character's thoughts to describe what he's feeling, since he can't actually talk. But at times it seems awkward. Also, regarding the art: while it is quite obviously the one and only Mike Ploog, I would say it is still early Ploog- a bit rough around the edges.
Doug: Well, was it a dream or not? Our scene change takes us to the bedroom of 18-year old Jack Russell, who awakens in a cold sweat. He looks at his shoulder, wondering if he'd have a wound from the bullet -- apparently he does have a mark, and this causes him to question these night visions. Suddenly his mother opens his door, imploring him to come down to breakfast. On the way, we're introduced to Jack's sister, Lissa, and two other characters -- his step-father and the old man's chauffeur. There really isn't much subterfuge in the latter two guy's characterizations, as we can see this won't end in a positive light.
Karen: The chauffeur, Grant, is your prototypical thug. He'd fit right in as a part of the Maggia over in Amazing Spider-Man!
Doug: Jack leaves for the day after an argument with his mother, and we next find him hanging out with his friends. This scene struck me as a bit odd, as we don't see these other kids long enough to get a sense of whether or not they'll become a supporting cast -- I think Conway really needed to get Jack away from the house for a transformation. And that's what eventually happens -- it's no great visual deal, as we really don't see any bone-molding or hair-growing. But it is a vehicle to get Jack out and moving about town, where he soon stumbles back by his home and upon Grant the chauffeur, working on Mrs. Russell's car. Jack wonders why Grant is working on the car so late, but is pulled away by the feelings raging in his body. Making his way to the shore, the transformation complete, Jack for the first time realizes what's happening to him -- he sees his hand, and then his face in the water. The dreams, after all, were real.
Karen: It's kind of odd -Conway has the two Russell kids get up in the morning, presumably to go to school -Lissa at least is carrying some books - but we never see school, or an environment outside of the Russell home. We go straight from home -back to home! We do get to see a couple of Jack's friends at the party they are having for him back at his house but as you said, it's not enough to get any impressions about them. I do like the panel where Jack goes running from the party and there's a gigantic pale moon in front of his body. The scenes on the beach are also effective.
Doug: You know, I read the part about Jack's friends twice, and totally missed the line about him leaving the home and driving to Malibu and then back for his party. Duh to me...
Doug: The Werewolf makes his way to Pacific Palisades, an ocean-overlooking district of run-down mansions. Following his instincts, he makes his way into a dilapidated building, what's left of Jack Russell's senses telling him that a pack of wild dogs had been reported running in the area. Making no stealthy approach, the Werewolf crashes and bangs his way around the abandoned mansion. A large brown wolf suddenly leaps from the shadows and it's a two-page lupine showdown! The Werewolf of course uses his man-smarts to get the better of the animal, but it's not without being on the receiving end of some bites, etc. Once his adversary has been kicked over a cliff, the Werewolf lets out a blood-curdling howl of his own and then staggers back away from the building. He's found, in full passed out Jack Russell form, by his step-dad near the grounds of their home.
Karen: As I said earlier, I don't think Ploog was at his full strength yet, but this was a really well-drawn sequence! The Werewolf has a sinewy quality that magnifies his animal nature. The pose he strikes as he howls his victory is particularly animal-like. I also liked the way Ploog depicted the Werewolf's delirious state as he changed back.
Doug: After Jack's brought in and warmed up, he notices his sister is crying. Asking what the deal is, Jack's basically jumped by his step-dad who tells him that if he'd been there -- he'd know! It turns out that Mrs. Russell was in a terrible car accident; turns out the brakes on her car were defective. Jack is told she was found two miles down a hill, out searching for him! This is pretty obviously a guilt trip being laid on the lad by the old man. Distraught from both ordeals now haunting him, he's given a sedative by the family doctor. Later, as he begins to come out of it, Jack overhears a conversation between Grant and his stepdad that definitely isn't on the up and up. We then cut to the hospital, where Jack attempts to see his mom. Uh uh -- no visitors. But you just know the boy snuck into the room.
Karen: Yeah, ol' step-dad definitely lays some heavy guilt on poor Jack. As an aside, how about the extra-groovy 70s chair in Jack's room? Not sure what those were called, but they were sort of like half-an egg. I think some even had speakers built in!
Doug: I didn't run the panel with the picture you reference, but suffice it to say for our readers -- Mork from Ork would have been quite comfy in said chair!
Doug: Jack sits on the side of his mother's bed, and she feels his pain. He tries to smile, and then she begins to apologize to him -- for bringing a curse upon him. Conway and Ploog then give us a 4-page origin not really of Jack Russell -- but of his father. Jack's mother tells of marrying a baron in the Baltic states, and living in the family castle (would you have expected any less?). Of course the man was a werewolf, but holed up in the castle's tower during the full moon days/nights. As fate would have it, because in these sorts of yarns that's what happens, a lightning strike blew the wall out of one side of the tower. That night a man was killed in the village. And you know what happened next -- something to do with silver bullets... Jack asked his mother what the curse was -- she explained that upon his 18th birthday, whenever the moon was full, he would henceforth turn into a werewolf. But then, we knew that.
Karen: It's funny how in the Marvel Universe, all European nations besides France and Germany seem to exist in some strange fairy tale land of castles and villagers! It's interesting that Jack's lycanthropy is inherited, almost like a genetic condition, rather than coming from an attack.
Doug: As they finished talking, Jack's mother made him pledge to never raise a hand against her husband. Jack said that if it pleased her he would make that promise. Suddenly, as she passed away, he began to change into the Werewolf. An orderly came into the room just as the Werewolf leapt to freedom. In his foggy mind he remembered the conversation between his stepdad and Grant, and hastened to the warehouse where the two men were to meet. His wolf side kept pulling him toward the forest, but he suddenly sensed the presence of Grant on the premises. About this man, no pledge was made. The Werewolf attacked, but Grant was no pushover. Originally thinking he was being attacked by a guy in a costume, Grant was ticked off and not in the mood for any messing around. The Werewolf went for Grant's throat, but Grant beat him back. They continued to struggle until Grant figured out that this was no mere dude in a creepy mask -- this was for real! Grant tried to make a break for it, but the Werewolf was upon him and choked him from behind -- hard. Grant's body soon went limp.
Karen: It kind of surprised me that the Werewolf had such a hard time with Grant. I mean, he's a big guy, but he's not super-powered. Between the wolf earlier and Grant now, my general impression of the Werewolf is that he's not very tough!
Doug: No, it is weird to me, too -- my assumption would be that Jack Russell would inherit "the proportionate strength and agility of a wolf" or some such thing. You know, works with spiders...
Doug: The Werewolf hid in the shadows as he heard the voice of his stepfather. Through the haze in his brain he recalled the oath he'd taken to his mother. And Phillip Russell lived that night -- although he probably didn't deserve to. In the darkness of the crates and boxes, the Werewolf had heard what sounded like a confession -- $10,000 dollars for Grant, the news that Mrs. Russell had died, and that Mr. Russell was now a wealthy man. We can assume that he would have stood to inherit the wealth of the baron, Mrs. Russell's first husband. And the Werewolf just stood by, his animalistic brain now comprehending how this all fit together. And he was an angry, sad Werewolf by Night.
Karen: Conway has the Werewolf note that Phillip Russell's voice breaks as he speaks of his deceased wife, implying some sadness over her death, so doubt is cast over his involvement in it. I take it he is setting up a bit of a mystery for the on-going series. I'm still not completely sold on having the Werewolf narrate things though. But I enjoyed this enough that I am going to look up more of these early issues -right now my WBN collection is very spotty! I'm not too excited about the Don Perlin years though.
Doug: And for that, you could bear no blame! As I said at the top, this was a fun story -- we could have run it back during Giant-Size July, though, because those extra seven pages really made it feel like an annual! But Conway's take on some familiar themes was a decent updating of the I-was-a-teenaged-werewolf riff. Mike Ploog's cartoony, illustrative style again served the subject matter well -- I would, however, like to see the original newsprint version. I thought the coloring was just a bit too bright on the trade-stock paper. As we've gone through this and the past two weeks, I think it's quite safe to say that anyone who wants a real flavor of Marvel's Bronze Age revolution needs to check out the Marvel Firsts: the 1970's series of trades. These are such a great resource, and a real memory book for that time when Marvel was again becoming the House of Ideas.