This post was originally published on July 13 2009
Amazing Spider-Man #124, September 1973
“The Mark of the Man-Wolf!”
Gerry Conway/Gil Kane & John Romita
Doug: Welcome to our initial installment of an on-going series on post-Code comics. Periodically in the coming weeks and months we’re going to discuss Marvel’s venture into previously forbidden territory: werewolves, zombies, vampires, demons – you name it. If it was too violent or too occult, then it was too much for the Seduction of the Innocent-inspired Comics Code Authority!
Karen: I’m sure everyone knows that the Code was established in 1954, in part in response to the EC Comics of the day, which often featured gruesome stories of the macabre. The Code was very restrictive, and outlawed the depiction of zombies, vampires, werewolves, and so forth. It was not until the Code was revised in 1971 that monsters were again free to prowl the comic racks! At least, vampires and werewolves were; for some reason, zombies were still off-limits (although Marvel got around this by calling them zuvembies!).
Karen: So Marvel decided to jump on the monster bandwagon. Many new monster characters began appearing in the 70s, including the subject of this review, the Man-Wolf. In an interview in Comic Book Artist #13, then-Marvel editor Roy Thomas describes the birth of the Man-Wolf:
“Stan just wanted a character called Man-Wolf. It was that whole Marvel-flooding-the-market- thing! If you’ve got Dracula, you can have Morbius. If you’ve got Werewolf, you can have Man-Wolf. We didn’t have a concept for Man-Wolf, and Gerry (Conway) and John Romita were trying to come up with something. My only contribution was to say, ‘Hey, make it J. Jonah Jameson’s son! He was an astronaut, and he went up in space, and he found a moon rock, and it turns him into a wolf!’ Just like Morbius was a science-fictional vampire, we could make Man-Wolf a science fiction werewolf.”
Doug: As any true Marvelite will know, Amazing Spider-Man #124 comes only two months after the fateful events that concluded in ASM #122 – the deaths of Peter Parker’s long-time love Gwen Stacy and his most dangerous enemy the Green Goblin. In fact, Spidey thinks to himself (and to clue us in) that it’s only been 10 days since those deaths.
Karen: It’s interesting to me how Peter is shown as trying to get past the death of his girlfriend – at one point he thinks, “All I want to do is forget---start my life over again.” I think Conway hit this right on the nose, as I’ve seen this sort of thing in a number of male friends and family who have lost someone. For some, there’s a desire to avoid dealing with the pain and to just begin anew.
Doug: Do you think, though, that when Conway tells us that it’s only been 10 days that there is a slight reconciliation of time problem for the reader – after all, for him/her it had been 60 days! Ah, the old discussion of Marvel-time vs. real-time…
Doug: Conway is at the top of his game in this story. You know, every time I read a Bronze Age-era story, I’m just overcome with joy at the characterization, the amount of words per page, and the use of narration boxes and thought balloons to move the story along. Conway, of course, currently works as a screenwriter and one can see how he cut his teeth back in the day in the storyboard-like genre of comic books. He nails J. Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson – their verbal sparring is spot on given the way Stan Lee used to write them. Conway also gives us a great deal of emotion in Peter, fully displaying his anguish and insecurity over the events of the past two weeks.
Karen: I know what you mean Doug; you actually have to spend 20 minutes or more reading these old books! When I read a new comic, it’s usually done in 5 minutes! Personally, I like the thought balloons and captions; it gives us a way of seeing in the characters’ heads that’s not afforded by current methods – which apparently are driven by the idea that comics should be like movies, which is ludicrous; they’re two distinctly different art forms.
Doug: The art in this story is by Gil Kane with embellishment by John Romita. This is a nice combination – I’ve often felt that while JR’s Spidey is the quintessential look for the character, Kane brought back a little bit of Ditko-esque presentation to the book. Kane tends to be longer, sinewy, wiry. Romita, while his pencils were graceful, didn’t have quite the same pell-mell look to Spidey that Ditko had begun. Where Romita really adds to Kane’s linework is in cleaning up the faces and giving them a consistent look with which we’d grown familiar.
Karen: Kane was the artist on the title when I began reading it. But I was aware of Romita because of Marvel Tales, and I’ve always thought of Romita when I think of Spidey. That being said, I like Kane’s depiction of Spidey for the same qualities you mention: the leaner look is appealing. I enjoyed Romita’s inks because it also meant I didn’t have to look up everyone’s nose! I never understood Kane’s obsession with that…
Doug: Gil Kane’s noses – no doubt!! Noses were the main thing that put me off toward Kane when I was a kid. As an adult, I’ve really come to appreciate his work (particularly his Silver Age Green Lantern and Atom for DC).
Doug: The basics of the story are this: We are reintroduced to J. Jonah Jameson’s son John. To the best of my knowledge, John was last seen in ASM #42 (which is also the first appearance of Mary Jane Watson), and hadn’t been seen since. John is an astronaut, reportedly the last man to walk on the moon. Jonah is justifiably proud of John, and even more so when introduced to John’s fiancée. But John holds a secret, contained in the necklace he wears. A side observation here, yet pertinent to the story: in his original appearance, John was a redhead but in this book his hair is some shade of gray. But think about it – have you ever seen a red werewolf? Anyway, John does indeed turn into a werewolf, and of course ends up in pitched battle with Spider-Man. We are left with an approaching sequel to that battle as our last-panel cliffhanger.
Karen: I always liked the look of Man-Wolf. I suspect that he was gray so as not to be confused with Marvel’s other lupine hero, Werewolf by Night! Manny also had a more bestial look to me – more of a snout than WBN. But you’re right; Jameson had reddish hair in his previous appearances. He also re-appeared in ASM a few times after ish 42. In issues 55-58 he was the security chief for a special project (“The Nullifier Weapon”!) and even met Robbie Robertson then, something that obviously neither Gerry nor Roy remembered! He showed up for a few panels in issues 71 and 88 as well.
Karen: It occurs to me that Manny is one of the few gray-colored characters to stay that color. Of course the Hulk started as Grayskin and became Greenskin, and the Beast, who had mutated into his furry form just a year before this comic came out, was also originally gray, but quickly became blue – because there are so many blue-furred animals in nature!
Doug: You are a reference goddess, Karen! As you can see, my laziness has arisen to bite me on the behind. So, with minimal effort I will provide a link to the Marvel Wikia, which will give the curious observer not just the above-stated young JJ appearances, but all of his appearances on Earth-616: http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Category:John_Jameson_(Earth-616)/Appearances
Karen: A nice aspect of this story is that it gives us a chance to see Jonah as something other than just a comedic foil for Spidey. Every once in awhile, Stan would show us that there was more to J.J.J. than all his bluster, and Conway does it here too. His feelings towards his son illustrate that he was more than a one-dimensional character.
Doug: Back to the Code for a second – I have to ask, after reading this story: What was so bad about the werewolf angle? There wasn’t any blood, there wasn’t really a graphic use of Man-Wolf’s claws – really nothing that would scare or alarm a reader outside of normal (whatever that is!) super-baddie behavior!
Karen: I think the Code had really been devised for the more gruesome comics of the 50s; under Stan, Marvel books always had action, but very little real violence. In this story, Man-Wolf is no more violent than any other Spidey villain. I don’t think that was necessarily the case with the stuff EC had put out, although I doubt it would have turned kids into psychopaths. I think Werewolf by Night was a little more graphic, with the Werewolf actually attacking people, but again, at least in the color books, the violence was minimal. It was just the way Stan wanted to do things, to keep the comics mild enough for kids.
Karen: Next time we’ll look at the exciting conclusion to our tale!