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Legion of Monsters: Werewolf By Night #1

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Legion of Monsters: Werewolf By Night #1

Credits

  • Words: Mike Carey & Skottie Young
  • Art: Greg Land & Skottie Young
  • Inks: Jay Leisten & Skottie Young
  • Colors: Justin Ponsor & Skottie Young
  • Story Title: Smalltown Girl/To Be a Monster
  • Publisher: Marvel Comics
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Feb 21, 2007

Take a walk on the wild side as Jack Russell, the Werewolf By Night, returns to the Marvel Universe, with the Monster of Frankenstein waiting in the wings.

Back in the 1970s, Marvel had two stabs at using the title Legion of Monsters as a springboard for their horror characters. The first was Legion of Monsters #1 (September 1975), a black and white anthology magazine with stories featuring Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster and the Manphibian. The second was a fun, if little-remembered, team-up of Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Morbius the Living Vampire and Werewolf By Night in Marvel Premiere #28 (February 1976).

This month sees the debut of the first of a short series of Specials starring some of those 1970s supernatural books under the Legion of Monsters banner. This first issue, while marketed as a Werewolf By Night issue, is actually split equally with the Monster of Frankenstein, another old Marvel monster dusted off for a rare appearance. At 28 pages for $2.99, this is a decent page count for your money.

The Werewolf By Night tale concerns a young woman in a small town whose family has all been wiped out by the locals because they carry the curse of lycanthropy. Jack Russell, Marvel’s original wolfman, encounters her in a bar just as the townspeople are about to inflict the same fate on her. Having recognised a kindred spirit, can Jack not only save her but make her accept her true nature as well?

This first story falls down because, as brutal and vicious as the locals are, we have no idea whether or not they’ve been terrorised by the werewolf family. We know that the last surviving daughter has suppressed her curse but what of the others before her? Perhaps if this had been a little more clearly expressed in the narrative then this might have worked a little better as the parable for tolerance and understanding it’s clearly meant to be. Don’t believe the hype about this story being some kind of epic turning point for Jack Russell either. Although he seems more reconciled with his wolf side than he’s been for a long while, this is still a fairly superficial read.

Greg Land’s photo-realistic art is as stunning as ever. His Werewolf has the appearance of the classic Jack Russell from Werewolf By Night; more Lon Chaney Junior Wolf Man than full-blown American Werewolf in London in appearance, emphasising his humanity. Land employs a "less is more" approach to the gore and the carnage. Leaving the effects of the violence to the reader’s imagination only underlines the ferocity of the lycanthropes’ battle with their tormentors.

In the second half of the issue Skottie Young provides a Monster of Frankenstein adventure as the Monster comes face to face with an evil scientist using the original Dr. Frankenstein’s notes to create his own monsters.

This is a welcome return to the classic Marvel interpretation of the character with the Monster a tragic and tormented soul, as per his literary origins, rather than Marvel’s odder, somewhat inappropriate uses of him in the last decade or so (for example as comedy sidekick in Bloodstone or his gun-toting "clone" in Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos).

Young’s distorted art style creates a gothic atmosphere entirely in tune with the subject matter. There’s a real feel of 1930s Universal horror movies to these pages with Young’s fitting choice of color emphasising the grotesque aspects of his tale. Readers less familiar with Marvel’s Frankenstein book should find this a compelling story of trust and betrayal. Those more in the know may feel this is a retread of the same themes Marvel regurgitated ad nauseum with this character in the Seventies.

The main problem with both stories is that they’re just far too short to do justice to the characters and concepts involved. You wonder just who this is aimed at. Those unfamiliar with Marvel’s horror stable will find little to hook them in these slight adventures, while longer-term fans, though pleased to see a return to the 1970s incarnations of these properties, will nonetheless find the brevity and inconsequentiality of these appearances disappointing.

This first Legion of Monsters Special then, feels like something of a missed opportunity. Well done to Marvel for giving them a brief return to the spotlight, but the rest of this series of Specials will need to be more memorable than this if their horror characters are to ever again become more than just a fondly-remembered footnote in Marvel history.

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