Werewolf by Night – birth name Jacob Russoff, legal name Jacob Russell, nicknamed Jack – is a fictional character, an anti-heroic werewolf in the Marvel Comics universe. The Werewolf by Night (usually referred to by other characters simply as the Werewolf) first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #2. (February, 1972) and was based on an idea by Roy Thomas.
The apparently ‘sudden’ appearance of monsters and horror themes in mainstream comics around this time is almost entirely based upon the updating of Comic Code in January 1971. This allowed the depiction of corruption, criminal activity to be shown in a sympathetic light on occasion and even the killing of police.
The update also allowed for ‘classic’ horror characters to appear in comics – these could range from protagonists in the literature of Poe, Lovecraft and other notable writers but also those of vampires, creations of mad scientists and werewolves. Still off-limits were zombies and other monsters which had no firm literary basis but the scramble to bring previously forbidden foes to the page was immediate.
The series name was suggested by Stan Lee and the debut story was crafted by Gerry Conway (co-creator of the Punisher) and Mike Ploog (also responsible for Man-Thing and The Monster of Frankenstein). The character made additional appearances in Marvel Spotlight #3 and #4 and then graduated to his own eponymous series in September 1972. Werewolf by Night was published for forty-three issues and ran until March 1977.
Absent for much of the 1980’s, Russell was gradually introduced in ‘guest star’ roles in issues of Spider-Woman, West Coast Avengers, and Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme. Werewolf by Night was later revived in the pages of Marvel Comics Presents, where he appeared irregularly from 1991-1993. He also made regular appearances as a supporting cast member in the pages of Morbius, the Living Vampire from 1993-1995.
Werewolf by Night, Volume 2 ran for six issues in 1998. The series was written by Paul Jenkins (creator of the Inhumans) and pencilled by Leonardo Manco. After the book’s cancellation, the story was continued in the pages of Strange Tales, which also featured the Man-Thing, though this was short-lived, the strand cancelled due to poor sales.
In early 2007, Marvel published a one-shot entitled Legion of Monsters: Werewolf by Night, with art by Greg Land, followed in January 2009 by the four-issue limited series Dead of Night Featuring Werewolf by Night. He was featured as a member of Morbius’ Midnight Sons in Marvel Zombies 4 in 2009.
Though eyebrows could quite rightly be raised at Marvel’s pun-laden name, there was no little thought went into the back story of Russell’s condition. Ancestors of Russoff were plagued with the mark of the wolf as far back as Grigori Russoff in 1795, seeing Dracula slay Grigori’s wife Louisa after he refused to acknowledge Dracula‘s primacy upon his return to Transylvania. Grigori then ambushed and destroyed Dracula, but was turned into a werewolf by Lydia, a werewolf formerly imprisoned by the vampire lord. Grigori took a second wife, but accounts vary as to why lycanthropy failed to pass to his descendents. Sometime prior to May 1930, Grigori’s descendent, Gregor, obtained the legendary Darkhold scrolls, binding them back into book form. Reading lycanthropy’s origins in the Darkhold under a full moon triggered the dormant curse, turning Gregor into a werewolf. Gregor further transcribed much of the Darkhold into Grigori’s diary, essentially creating a Darkhold copy, which he used as his own diary.
Other adventures saw him pitted against adversaries clad in silver-plated armour and an appearance by the Lovecraftian elder God, Chthon before the story skips forwards several generations to another Gregor Russoff, married to Laura, the former girlfriend of his younger brother Philip. Jacob (later Jack) was born in Mediaş, Transylvania, soon after, and Laura became pregnant with Lissa within two years of marriage; however, when lightning struck Russoff’s Transylvanian castle during a full moon, the werewolf Gregor escaped confinement and began attacking villagers. They tracked down and killed Russoff with silver bullets. Gregor’s mother, Maria, was stoned and driven from the village, living with gypsies and learning magic. After Gregor’s death, Laura found Philip – who had moved to Los Angeles, anglicising his name to Russell – and they married after a year; Jack and Lissa remained unaware of Philip’s past. By the time Jack is eighteen, the curse is now apparent in him, causing him to lock himself in a cage during full moons to try to tame his alter-ego, whilst also battling against mystical forces, the law, and strange cults, all of whom would rather see him dead.
This particularly Marvellian intertwining of backgrounds completed, the comic series concentrates on Jack’s battles against numerous foes, which can neatly be split into three. The supernatural element to his plight allows the writers to pit him against the likes of the demon, Krogg; 12th century Mad Monk, Aelfric; the sorcerer, Taboo; the ghost of 19th-century black magician Belaric Marcosa and many others. The horror aspect of the character allows him to seamlessly slot into battles (and sometimes partnerships) with other well-known horror characters: Morbius the living vampire; Frankenstein’s monster, and Mr Hyde, as well as new-comers on the block, Man-Thing and Ghost Rider. More conventionally, the werewolf also features in story-lines featuring Spiderman, the Hulk, Iron Man and Moon Knight (with whom he regularly appears, for obvious reasons), as well as a host of others.
Jack Russell is a descendent of the mystically altered offshoot of humans known as Lycanthropes. During the night of the full moon and the two nights surrounding it he is forced to transform into a werewolf, a large, powerful form which is a hybrid of human and wolf, and loses his human intellect. Through a series of events, he is also capable of transforming voluntarily outside of the full moon, at which time he remains in control of himself.
As a werewolf, Jack gains the proportionate physical advantages of a nearly 7-foot-tall (2.1 m) wolf. In this form, he possesses superhuman strength, speed, stamina, durability, agility, and reflexes, as well as possessing a superhuman sense of smell, which carries over to his human form. He has razor sharp teeth and claws able to rend light metals. The werewolf is resistant to many forms of conventional injury and very hard to kill by conventional means. Though he can be severely wounded, he recovers from non-fatal wounds much faster than a human would. He is vulnerable to magical attacks and, like all supernatural creatures, he can be killed by weapons made of silver, due to its inherent mystical “purity”.
By 2008, Jack had been rebooted entirely for Dead of Night Featuring Werewolf by Night, part of Marvel’s MAX line, intended for ‘more mature’ readers – a green light for gore, nudity and bad language. This allowed writers the freedom to do away with much of the mysticism and magic that permeated many of the story-lines and concentrate more on the plight of Jack’s situation, putting him nearer in league with Hulk’s inability to contain the beast within. The werewolf has also appeared in one-off (“one-shot”) issues, often under the Legion of Monsters banner, which sees him protecting other monsters from harm. He has also found himself interwoven into Marvel’s most popular modern horror line, Marvel Zombies, hunting down the undead as well as assisting in the search for a cure.
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• Werewolf by Night appears in The Super Hero Squad Show episode “This Man-Thing, This Monster“, voiced by Rob Paulsen. Iron Man arrives and helps Werewolf by Night fight an army of mummies led by N’Kantu, the Living Mummy until his girlfriend Ellen is captured. Together with Iron Man and Man-Thing, Werewolf by Night fights Dracula and his mummy army. After Dracula retreats, it is discovered that Ellen was turned into a vampire and joins Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing into forming a team that would defend the town from future monster attacks.
• Werewolf by Night appears in the Halloween-themed episodes of Ultimate Spider-Man entitled “Blade” and “The Howling Commandos“, voiced by Ross Lynch. He is a member of Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos and seems to have had a bad history with Blade.
• Werewolf by Night, along with the Howling Commandos, appears in the Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. episode “Hulking Commandos“, voiced by Nolan North. He appears as a member of Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos.
• The episode “Days of Future Smash: Dracula” featured Werewolf by Night‘s grandfather (also voiced by Nolan North) who was around in 1890 during the Victorian era and helped Hulk, Frankenstein’s Monster, and N’Kantu the Living Mummy into thwarting Leader and Dracula‘s plan to blanket the Earth in darkness with their Gamma Furnace.
• A film version of Werewolf by Night, written by Robert Nelson Jacobs (The Water Horse), was announced in 2005, though some years later, there are no further developments.
• Russell appears in Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds in Jill Valentine’s ending. He attacks her and Blade alongside other Marvel monsters.
• Werewolf is a playable character in Marvel Super Hero Squad Online.
Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia.com