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Essential Werewolf By Night Volume One
posted January 12, 2007
Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Mike Friedrich, Doug Moench, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Mike Ploog, Gene Colan, Gil Kane, Tom Sutton, others
Marvel, softcover, 576 pages, October 2005, $16.99
The aggravating thing about Essential Werewolf by Night
Vol. 1 is that in reading a bunch of the unsuccessful character's adventures in a row you can't help but think the book represented something of a missed opportunity, as much as a trend-following comic from the lower slots on the spinner rack can be said to be much of anything opportune. I may be fooling myself, but it seems the travails of werewolf life experienced by protagonist Jack Russell could pretty neatly be tied into a young person against the norms of society structure, something hinted at but never explored. Who hasn't woken up half-naked in the woods with no memory of the night's previous activities once or twice in their early 20s? Who at that age hasn't felt a need to escape? Further, the character's stories strongly echo the Lee-Ditko Amazing Spider-Man
run in that you have a character trying to come to terms with adulthood with this horrific burden thrust upon him and just about every potential adult role-model being at least a gigantic jerk if not an outright villain.
Instead of Spider-Man's oddly compelling pop theme work in his first 150 issues or so, or a decent take on classic werewolf themes achieved by grasping onto some element of the concept and going from there, what you get with our friend Jack Russell is a lot of lame done-in-one horror stories of the television movie variety. The writing is so hackneyed that by page three you can usually point out the dangerous henchman the werewolf will later fight. The tendency of early Marvel writers to steal like madmen from other sources of pulp entertainment worked in many of their comics because of the idiosyncratic set-up of the superhero and the sparks caused by rubbing two such different sources (romance, fantasy, crime) together. Here you just get a straight replication of the source material, with a tiny bit of patented Marvel continuity between issues that never seems to stick or go anywhere. As a result, this is the most boring, tedious group of Marvel comics I've ever read, and I've read a lot
Another way to look at this book is to do so for the art, although even then the werewolf's boring design -- which I don't think changed until later when Bill Sienkiewicz did something with it -- never allowed anyone to break out in a way the better-looking Marvel stuff served as a springboard. The Gil Kane and Tom Sutton stories are solid and dramatically staged, the Mike Ploog stuff is way more cartoon-like than art you're used to seeing from a company like Marvel, while an issue with X-Men
artist Werner Roth provides the usual opportunity that came with Marvel's employment of artists like Bill Everett and Mike Sekowsky during this period: to sit back and see how the heck they would interpret the Kirby-through-Buscema-and-a-bit-of-Adams version of the Marvel house style. Roth doesn't disappoint; it's the strangest looking piece in the volume. Pleasures like these are manufactured ones, though, and I can't recommend the book simply because there's fun to be had with it.