Werewolf By Night Comes Alive Through Power Records
"The man I attacked....was dead."
These are among the first words spoken by Jack Russell in a very ominous tone. They are the first words that hit us after the narrator boldly proclaims, "Power Records presents....THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF!"
Therefore, the "fact" reported in the 1980's Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe noting "the Werewolf never killed anyone" isn't correct. Perhaps the editors meant the Werewolf hadn't killed anyone since his first appearance in Marvel Spotlight #2.
Finding back issues of Marvel Spotlight's second issue was not going to be easy - or cheap - in the 1970s and early 1980s, but the (partial) reprint of Werewolf By Night's debut remained available through Power Records. The imprint of Peter Pan Records, a popular Newark, NJ producer of children's LPs and 45s, released the dramatization as one of their horror titles along with other 1970's Marvel monster comics. The book and record (and record only releases) remained in circulation from 1974 to around 1982.
Retitled "Curse of the Werewolf" - likely after the Hammer Wolfman movie of the same name - this issue edits pieces from various issues of Werewolf by Night to craft a semi-coherent story. The re-edited narrative deals with Jack Russell's slow discovery he is a werewolf and then moves into the origin of the Russell family's werewolf curse. Attempting to end things on an ambiguous level via an inconclusive battle with Dracula doesn't work and becomes too abrupt. The beginning provides a unique mix of horror and melodrama, capturing the tones present in earlier issues of the comic series.
The first two-thirds of the book is both scary and haunting. Turning Jack Russell/The Werewolf into a psychological study helps the proceedings, and does so surprisingly. After all, the book-and-record targeted the children's market.
Jack Russell's Werewolf Thoughts
For children who grew up with Lon Chaney Jr.'s images as The Wolfman, the striking thing about the opening of the Power Records tale is Jack Russell, himself. The alter-ego of the Werewolf narrates from a lost and confused perspective. Jack Russell does not know he is a werewolf. He wakes from dreams with fragmented memories of awful excursions the previous night. As the Werewolf runs from the police officer who shoots him in the opening sequence, Jack Russell's narration presents raw confusion and emotional pain.
These are not elements commonly found in werewolf films of the 1970s nor previous eras. Writer Gerry Conway took the narration approach to flesh out the character and made him more than a creature who merely snarls and growls. Mike Ploog's outstanding artwork brought forth a werewolf who was both frightening and vulnerable.
Matricide and Patricide in Children's Comics
18-year-old Jack Russell discovers he suffers from the curse of the werewolf, but there are worse terrors the young man must deal with. He lives with his stepfather, mother, and sister. After he transformed into the werewolf one night, his mother went out searching for him. She was involved in a car accident and, near death, she tells Jack Russell about his father. The elder Russell was a werewolf who was eventually killed by villagers after a rampage. Jack Russell's mother reveals his father was a very good man, but the werewolf's curse turned him into the proverbial wild animal.
Having lost his father, Jack Russell now loses his mother as she succumbs to the injuries from the car wreck. Young Russell's stepfather definitively puts guilt on the young man's shoulders by saying had Russell not be out that night; his mother would not have been searching. The accident would not have happened, had Jack remained home.
Of course, Jack Russell did not leave of his own accord. The werewolf's curse is what led to the tragic scenario. And this is the true curse. As long as he remains a werewolf, Russell will always be a threat to others and never live a stable home life. His father made the mistake of trying to live a normal life. The consequences were tragic. And the true tragedy is the curse of being a werewolf led to Jack Russell's mother and father's death. Matricide and patricide are deep subtextual themes to be found in a terror comic. During the early 1970s, D.C. and Marvel comic books did delve into social commentary quite overtly. In this work, the commentary is more subtle but no less impacting.
The curse of the werewolf could take on many forms. The connecting thread among these forms would be the symbolism of a destructive element capable of ruining a family. The fantasy tale could be transformed into a real one with few alterations by changing "werewolf-ism" to alcoholism. A father's alcoholic tendencies may lead to his death, and, genetically, a potential for alcohol abuse could be carried through genetic and hereditary lines.
Powerful themes, indeed. Whether intended or not is unknown. Regardless, the strong themes do come through.
A Nod to Artist Neal Adams
Although Mike Ploog was the brilliant artist whose masterful work made Werewolf By Night so memorable, the amazing cover created by Neal Adams of Green Arrow/Green Lantern social commentary fame for Marvel Spotlight #2 deserves mentioning.
Likely, Roy Thomas wrote the text since he held an editorial position and was the person who came up with the idea for a monthly werewolf comic book. All those who came up with this cover deserve massive praise. From a marketing perspective, the cover is perfect. Any horror comic book fan who saw this excellent, eye-catching cover had to be hooked at first glance. Any wonder why graced the Power Records adaptation?
Interestingly, the man who turns into the werewolf looks nothing like Jack Russell. And the burly Wolf Man looks very little like Werewolf by Night. Is this a completely different werewolf? Possibly. Is the cover a masterpiece? Absolutely. The multi-panel Neal Adams art combined with Tom Palmer's inks is solid 1970s comic book artwork.
The slow transformation of the young man into the beast under the full moon's light captures the frenzy and confusion of the werewolf's curse. And that last panel of the hulking beast roaring off to the side in the shadows as unsuspecting people go about their business reflects brilliant comic-horror art.
The werewolf's presentation in the foreground and humans in the background has a chilling subtext to it: the strange, mysterious, and the unknown often lurk right around the corner of known reality. That is the approach that makes horror work best.
Essential Werewolf By Night
If the Power Records adaptation intrigues you, check out the collected reprint of Jack Russell's 1970's adventures in Essential Werewolf by Night Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Consider it a worthwhile investment to purchase the other Marvel horror Essential titles, as well.