Marvel Comics’ most infamous lycanthrope is coming to the MCU this Halloween, in the Disney+ Halloween Special Werewolf by Night, starring Gael Garcia Bernal as the fangtastic man-beast. But what is the history of Marvel’s interpretation of the classic monster? It actually all goes back over fifty years, to an era when Marvel was just beginning to explore the world of horror comics for the first time in decades.
Werewolf by Night in Marvel Comics
In 1954, hysteria over “immorality” in comics led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority. This censorship board forbade many subjects in the pages of every comic, but especially anything horror-related. So no witches, no zombies, and definitely no werewolves. But by 1970, the Comics Code loosened up its restrictions, and that allowed for supernatural characters to flourish again. With vampires, this led to Blade. And with werewolves, it allowed Marvel Comics to publish their own lycanthropic antihero series, Werewolf by Night.
Werewolf by Night first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #2, published in February 1972. The idea for this character came from Avengers writer Roy Thomas and artist Mike Ploog, although the name for the series came from Stan Lee. After a successful four-issue try-out run in Marvel Spotlight, the character graduated to his own comic book, which lasted for 43 issues. Lon Chaney’s cinematic Wolfman of the Universal Monsters directly inspired his look.
Ironically, many issues were written by Blade creator Marv Wolfman, having a “Wolfman” write a werewolf. (We imagine Stan Lee loved that). Issue #32 of Werewolf by Night is of particular note, as it introduced the character of Moon Knight to the Marvel Universe. Moon Knight became a hero that would largely outstrip Werewolf by Night in popularity. Someone currently valued a copy in good condition of that issue at $10,000.00. Although his own series only lasted a few years, the Werewolf by Night appeared in many other Marvel series. In the ‘70s, he often fought against Dracula. After they canceled his comic in 1977, he showed up in the pages of Spider-Woman, Doctor Strange, and West Coast Avengers.
Who Is Werewolf by Night? The Characters’ Powers and Identities
The titular Werewolf by Night was an American man named Jack Russell. (Yes, as in Jack Russell terrier. Apparently a pure coincidence). Unlike the werewolves of lore, Russell didn’t get bit by a werewolf and survive with the curse of the full moon. No, instead Werewolf by Night inherited the curse from his father genetically and manifested his first transformation when he turned 18 years of age.
The Curse of the Darkhold and Werewolf by Night
Jack’s mother was an American college student named Laura, who met Jack’s dad Baron Gregory Russoff two decades earlier on a trip to Transylvania. Something cursed the bloodline of Jack Russell when his ancestor Grigori Russoff was bitten by a werewolf during a battle with Dracula in 1795. However, the lycanthropy curse of the Russoff family laid dormant until Gregory bound Chthon’s Darkhold scrolls into book form. Yes, the very same Darkhold that Scarlet Witch had so much trouble with, and that also caused the birth of Marvel’s vampire race.
The Darkhold re-awakened the family werewolf curse, starting with the Baron Russoff. Jack was born two years after his father met his mother, and his last name was Americanized to Russell. He manifested his first transformation on his 18th birthday. So Jack Russell was an adolescent werewolf over a decade before Michael J. Fox was in Teen Wolf. Russell then went on a search for a cure, and his adventures took him all across the globe. While he was not a superhero, he did often help those in need. On the flip side, he also often injured innocent people just as often, although this only occurred whenever he was in feral form.
Werewolf by Night in the Marvel Universe
The ‘90s saw Werewolf by Night become a supporting player in the pages of Morbius: The Living Vampire. He didn’t get his own limited series again until 1998, over 20 years on from when his original comic ended its run. However, as far back as 1973, Russell was a part of several supernatural teams at Marvel. The first was the Legion of Monsters, along with Morbius, Man-Thing, and Ghost Rider. Later, in the ’90s and 2000s, he faced off against the Midnight Sons. The 2000s saw a revival of the Legion of Monsters, and he was once again a member. In the last few years, most of Jack Russell’s adventures have been with none other than Deadpool.
In 2020, a new mini-series introduced someone new using the Werewolf by Night moniker, Jake Gomez. He was a young Native American man who also inherited the werewolf family curse. He lived on a Hopi reservation in Arizona, along with his grandmother and his sister Molly. Jake was co-created by Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas, along with writer Benjamin Jackendoff and artist Scot Eaton. His mini-series was his only appearance thus far.
Werewolf by Night’s Powers
Like most werewolves, during the three nights the moon is full, Jack Russell couldn’t control his transformations into werewolf form. His full moon wolf was totally feral and with no intellect. In his 7’2″ hybrid wolf/human body, the Werewolf by Night had superhuman strength, speed, and stamina. He had all the senses of a wolf, including incredible smell, and razor-sharp claws that can rip through metal (luckily for Wolverine, not adamantium).
Eventually, like his similarly tragic companion on Earth 616, the Hulk, Jack Russell was able to integrate his human mind into his wolf form. This allowed him to control his Werewolf by Night transformations when the moon was not full. Speaking of Wolverine, Russell had a healing factor, although not quite on Logan’s level. But he’s quite vulnerable to magic, especially silver and silver bullets. All of these rules and restrictions applied to Jake Gomez as well.
Werewolf by Night and Moon Knight
These days, the Werewolf by Night series is perhaps most famous for introducing another Marvel hero, Moon Knight. Marc Spector took on a bounty to take down Russell in his first appearance, Werewolf by Night #32, in 1975. Moon Knight went on to bigger cult status in Marvel Comics and far more solo series to his name than Jack Russell ever had. Funnily enough, the two quarreled little over the interceding decades. Although both are going to have a rematch in Moon Knight Annual #1 in October, 2022. Their destinies do seem linked, though, as both would debut as MCU heroes on Disney+ in the very same year.
The MCU’s Werewolf by Night Halloween Special
Werewolf by Night will make his MCU debut in a new black-and-white Halloween special airing on Disney+ this fall, directed by prolific film composer Michael Giacchino. It looks to be an homage to old Universal horror films and stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Jack Russell. The tone seems very tongue-in-cheek in the trailer, which also showcased actors Al Hamacher, Harriet Sansom Harris, Eugenie Bondurant, and Laura Donnelly as monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone. You can check out the trailer right here:
And although Werewolf by Night will be a self-contained entry into the MCU, we feel we’ll likely see its characters and world again soon. The Marvel Halloween Special, Werewolf by Night will premiere on Disney+ on October 7.