The moon has swollen full in the sky several hundred times since February of 1972, and for those three nights each and every month, a troubled young man lives through hell. Even doomed Bruce Banner can control his monstrous transformations through meditation and self-control. But no man can halt the phases of the moon, least of all the Werewolf by Night.
So named for the terrier and just as tenacious, “Jack” Jacob Russell inherited the curse of lycanthropy through bad genes. His ancestors tussled with the legendary Dracula in the 18th century, inscribing their exploits and the origins of the Russoff family tragedy in a mystical text called the Darkhold, something of a totem for occult adventurers. Jack first developed temporary pangs of murderous intent and patches of fur in strange places when he turned 18. It proved an eventful and unhappy birthday for the young man, as he learned of his true parentage and lost his mother to a deadly car crash.
In his Werewolf form, Jack exhibits the same animalistic nature and stature of the classic wolf man of legend. In addition to heightened sense, he grows to roughly 7’ and develops razor-sharp claws. It’s a significant boost in physical strength, agility and speed, but it all comes at the cost of control. It’s why he shies from civilizations and chains himself to the walls three times a month.
Created by Gerry Conway and Mike Ploog, with input from Roy Thomas and Stan Lee, Werewolf By Night first appeared in the pages of MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #2, eventually bounding into his own solo title by the fall of that same year. He not only cameo-ed with other Marvel horror and fantasy characters like Dracula, Moon Knight, and Doctor Strange, but also with Avengers like Tigra, Iron Man and Spider-Woman, eventually tangling with the West Coast Avengers team.
A tragic antihero, the Werewolf, as he came to be known, functions much as the Incredible Hulk. He spends a good deal of his time on the road, uneasy about forming new relationships. Though his own intelligent persona eventually manifested itself during periods of transformation into the werewolf, Jack’s bestial alter ego often wound up a pawn of stronger-minded opponents and cults. As with the Hulk, the Werewolf represents an enviable trophy for hunters and wicked sorcerers, and frequently finds himself cast into servitude by powerful villains. Jack’s younger sister Lissa enjoys similar bad luck, once imbued with the augmented curse of the Were-Demon.
The Werewolf by Night concept succeeds for much the same reason as many of Marvel’s more heroic figures, including Spider-Man. Jack Russell may not be a valiant hero, but readers identify with his plight—the fuzzier among us, especially so. Jack tries to choose his friends wisely, but like many of us, he got dealt a set hand at birth, unable to deny or ask for any exchanges on that Russoff family blood. With this power comes an even greater responsibility. That he continues to fight the monster within and places the safety of others over his own comfort, makes Jack Russell one of the most heroic of Marvel’s monsters.
Marvel 70’s Monster Week continues tomorrow! For more on the 75th anniversary of Marvel, visit marvel.com/75 or join the conversation on Twitter using the hash tag #marvel75