Monday, October 17, 2016

Clap for the... Man-Wolf - Creatures on the Loose 30

Creatures on the Loose #30 (July 1974)
"Full Moon, Dark Fear!"
Doug Moench-George Tuska/Vince Colletta

Doug: We're about to let October sneak away without much Monster Mayhem. Pretty uncharacteristic on the BAB, huh? I'll do my part today with a review of the first solo outing of John Jameson, the Man-Wolf. You may recall that the character debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #124 (September 1973), and the story finished an issue later. He next menaced our favorite Web-Spinner in Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1 (June 1974), and then won this ongoing series the very next month. Again, it's strange to see a so-called "super villain" as a headliner, but with all of Marvel's other monster-type mags at the time, this seemed fitting. Fitting, particularly if Spider-Man might cameo for marketing purposes. He did, of course, but the series was more notable for the George Perez art that came our way after a few issues of George Tuska.

Short plot summary, you said? Sure! Here -- have a 100-Word Review:

Our tale opens with a raging Man-Wolf crashing through an upper floor window. Immediately we flash back to a time when John Jameson and his father, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson discussed John’s situation concerning the moonstone that had become grafted to his neck. We’re told that John becomes a werewolf when the moon is full, and sure enough… Back in the present, the NYPD hires former CIA agent Simon Stroud to solve the “werewolf problem”. With clues garnered by the police, Stroud confronts JJJ, and begins to track the younger Jameson. Their encounter ends atop the Statue of Liberty!

The Good: I chose today's review strictly on its monster merits. Truthfully, I had no idea about the level of satisfaction I'd have upon completion. It was not a waste of my time. If I can open this secton with a general comment, it's that the story was all set-up for the most part. Spider-Man actually did not appear, and thus the purpose of the events in between these covers was the creation of a storyline and new supporting cast of characters. In that regard, it's a simple story with really no surprises. But as I said, that was OK.

The character of Simon Stroud seemed a bit bold for being former CIA. Let's just say that if he was a spy of any caliber, he forgot what he learned. He's brash, a real "warhawk" in terms of hunting werewolves, and he's certainly not afraid to be dangerous in public. But it's this over-the-top sort of guy who fits right into the Bronze Age, when we all agree comics might have been a bit more brash, like Stroud. I'm guessing in a "Fugitive" sort of way, Stroud made for a good antagonist. We're also reminded that John Jameson has a lady friend, his fiance' Kristine, but we only see her in a portrait smashed by the Man-Wolf.

I'm going to slot the art in this category, not because it was great, but because I got what I expected. It seemed in the mid-70s more often than not George Tuska was paired with Vinnie Colletta. Vinnie's feathery touch really didn't do Tuska any favors, as the penciler by this time perhaps needed a stronger line. I thought the art on humans and objects was pretty good, but the Man-Wolf seemed to lack something, maybe around the ears. Not bad, just not quite as the team of Gil Kane and John Romita first imagined the character.

In the spirit of Dick Sprang and those huge Silver Age Batman backdrops, the Statue of Liberty was a nice scene for the climactic battle.

The Bad: So Stroud was a good character for this story, said I, and I'll stand by that. But he's a loud guy, and by that I mean what I also alluded to above -- there doesn't appear to be any sizeable amount of stealth in this fellow. I just felt that scribe Doug Moench might have given him a different background than ex-CIA.

I wasn't sure what to make of JJJ. He was written sympathetically, and that's not the first time (or last) it would happen. But for there to be only one panel of his bravado, his megalomania... it almost seemed like I got short-changed.

The Man-Wolf presents a problem akin to Man-Thing -- a protagonist who does not speak. And similar as well to the muck monster, there's nary a thought balloon either. This is the only solo Man-Wolf adventure I've ever read, so if this changes later I'd appreciate being informed. I guess it can work. But honestly, when the Man-Wolf was on-camera here, he was just running amuck. Nothing else. That could get boring in a hurry.

The Ugly: You know I'm usually at a loss to put anything in this section. It's not often I strongly dislike any elements of the comics I read. But in the era at hand, I've come to really notice some of the cartoony faces Tuska draws. In a humor mag I'd probably laud them as caricatures. But in a horror story it's an odd mix -- terror from the fangs of the Man-Wolf, yet goofy-looking mugs on other characters.

I'd welcome any thoughts from our readers who were able to go beyond this issue, deeper into the Creatures on the Loose Man-Wolf series. Karen reviewed a couple of these stories several years ago. I'd be especially interested in thoughts on the art of a very young George Perez, and I thank you in advance.


Redartz said...

I bought this issue off the stands, but never picked up any further issues. At the time it seemed a bit superfluous- Marvel already had the "Werewolf by Night" series going, Man-Wolf just had the gimmick of John Jameson's curse behind it. Plus the art seemed a bit flat, not a huge Tuska fan. Missed out on the Perez work, unfortunately...

Doug, you mentioned "Man-Thing" as another character lacking dialogue. In his (it's?) case, the strength of Steve Gerber's oddball cast characterizations helped carry the load. In "Man-Wolf", it seems like more standard fare. Perhaps this changed later in the series; it will be interesting to see more details about those succeeding issues.

Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for the review, Doug. Never had these; as I mentioned in that comments to Karen's review of another Man-Wolf all those years ago, I only had the conclusion to the Man Wolf saga that appeared in Marvel Premiere. And like then, I still wish Marvel would put out a Man Wolf trade or something that collects all of his '70s appearances (by the way, for those who are curious about what the issues done by Perez look like, our friend at Diversions of the Groovy Kind has them all posted).

Humanbelly said...

I do have most of Man-Wolf's CotL run- including this issue- and I have to say that the Tuska issues don't stick in my memory at all. That may be because of the no-win situation of the premise, though. There's already a (rather better, more compelling) werewolf book on the stands at this point that had at least started out w/ a great artist (Mike Ploog). And it was, uh, being written (IIRC) by the very same guy. I'm a little foggy on the timeline overlap w/ Werewolf By Night, though. The Tuska/Colletta art works a little better for me here than it usually does with either artist. Although George does suffer mightily from Face Distinction Disability. If John & Stroud didn't part their hair on different sides, would ANYONE be able to tell them apart?? I do like the little panel w/ the Man-Wolf perched 'way up on the crown-spike.

I think many of the following issues suffered because they were a combination of shortened original material followed by an aged horror reprint story-- something that I've no doubt was a cost-cutting practice. ANNNND it was a bi-monthly title (!). So the pacing of the continued story was kind of choppy. . . a real hurry-up & wait feeling to it. But let me tell YOU-- that first issue w/ George Perez doing pencils was like coming up out of the water to grab a huge gulp of air. . . when you weren't even aware you were about to drown. I distinctly remember having an oh-wow-this-is-really-GOOD-all-of-a-sudden! reaction at the time. Moench was pulled off pretty darned quickly, and the book transitioned to Dave Kraft, who lost little time in morphing it into a science fiction book-- which was a smart and neat niche, 'cause it took the character out of the realm of sort-of-supernatural (yet somehow not)- which was already passe' & cliche'-- and gave Man-Wolf a possible path for future, continued relevance in a post-horror-craze Marvel Universe. Mind you, that didn't exactly work out-- but it was still the best move to make, no question. Also, unless I'm mistaken, Kraft is the fellow who introduced John's being able to remain "himself" while he was in Wolf form. . . and he communicated telepathically or something ('cause wolf-throats can't make human sounds). It made him into a shape-shifting superhero, basically.

Because, y'know what?, serialized stories that revolve around a)unending curses, and b) perpetually being on the run are UNSUSTAINABLE. And Marvel already had plenty o' them in its stable. Heck, both elements were the perpetual stumbling block when it came to keep THE INCREDIBLE HULK fresh and relevant.

(See how I did that? How I manage to turn any post into a Hulk-referanceable topic? Hahahahhaaaaa!!!)


Edo Bosnar said...

HB, as noted above, I only read the two Man-Wolf stories in Marvel Premiere, and even though I had no idea how it all happened, I loved that Man Wolf was in an SF setting with some Conanesque swordplay thrown in for good measure. And yes, having John actually be in control instead of just a mindless beast was a really smart move, too. Since, I had no idea about the earlier stories in Creatures on the Loose at the time when those Marvel Premiere issues came out, I recall wondering why a regular Man Wolf series wasn't launched, because I thought the whole concept was awesome: an intelligent werewolf who travels to space and even other dimensions to go on swashbuckling adventures. What's not to love?

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