Monday, October 10, 2016

Review- WEREWOLF BY NIGHT OMNIBUS



WEREWOLF BY NIGHT OMNIBUS (Marvel, First Printing, 2015; Hardcover)

Collects Marvel Spotlight #2-4, Werewolf By Night #1-43, Marvel Team-Up #12, Tomb Of Dracula #18, Giant-Size Creatures #1, Giant-Size Werewolf #2-5, Marvel Premiere #28, and selections from Monsters Unleashed #6, 7 (cover dates February, 1972- March, 1977)

Writers: Roy Thomas, Jean Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Mike Friedrich, Tony Isabella, Doug Moench, Don Perlin, and Bill Mantlo

Artists: Mike Ploog, Werner Roth, Ross Andru, Tom Sutton, Gil Kane, Gene Colan, Don Perlin, Pat Broderick, Virgil Redondo, Yong Montano, and Frank Robbins with Inking by Frank Chiaramonte, Frank Bolle, Jim Mooney, Paul Reinman, Tom Palmer, Mike Royer, Vince Colletta, Klaus Janson, Sal Trapani, Howie Perlin, and Steve Gan



This book has been a dream of mine ever since I reentered this hobby in 2003. I had (and still own) some of the originals of this series from days as a quarter box diver in 1983. I also bought, and subsequently sold when this book was announced, the black and white phonebooks Essential Werewolf By Night Vols. 1 and 2. I've read this stuff before and read this book slowly over the course of eleven months.

The series launched after a trio of Marvel Spotlight issues, which was Marvel aping DC's “try out book” format. If someone picked up issue 1 of this title off of the stands in June of 1972 they would find themselves in the middle of a story. For those of you new to the character, here's the gist. On Jack Russell's 18th birthday he inherited his father's curse...a father who comes from a long line cursed with Lycanthropy. Jack never does find a cure for his affliction in this book but towards the end becomes able to manage it and even talk(!) in his werewolf form.



One of the nagging questions that I had when I started reading this book was the pronunciation of Jack's sister's name, Lissa. As a kid I always pronounced it Lissa, as in short for Melissa, but as an adult I wondered if that were correct. I Tweeted her creator, Gerry Conway, and he confirmed that the correct pronunciation is indeed Lissa, as in short for Melissa. This is why the Internet rules.

I like how the Werewolf is often overpowered by foes and gets out of predicaments by dumb luck or an ironic twist. Seldom does his animal instinct win the day. This series is probably the first ongoing comic book to use first person narrative. All comic books today use it, but in the early 1970s it was groundbreaking. It gave the book an offbeat flavor. Our “hero” was not even heroic. If he saved the day it was almost always by accident.

Note the Will Eisner homage.


Mike Ploog is the original artist, and he got better with each issue. My favorite issues in the book are non-Ploog ones, believe it or not. I found #8 and 9 in a quarter box in 1983. I didn't have many comics back then, so the ones that I had I read so many times that I would memorize them. I can still recite those two issues word for word for the most part. #8's “The Lurker Behind The Door!” is a Len Wein masterwork. Werner Roth and Paul Reinman handled the artwork, and little did ten year old me in 1983 realize that those cats were turning out some serious artwork in the 1950s. I read this issue so many times as kid, and Wein really nails a foreboding atmosphere. I love the ending, which I won't spoil for you. Suffice it to say that Krogg, The Lurker From Beyond rules. #9 introduced me to the work of the legendary Tom Sutton. I had no idea what a lucky kid I was.

Issue 12 introduced us to Raymond Coker, Jack's neighbor in his new apartment. Coker is caustic, and there is something about him that raises a flag for Jack. By #18 we learn what that is: Coker is also a werewolf! Coker is featured throughout the series, even curing his werewolf affliction at one point using voodoo. #18 was another quarter box find from 1983, also coincidentally with Don Perlin artwork. Issue 13 introduces Topaz, who would go on to become Jack's love interest throughout the series.



Future Avenger Tigra makes her first appearance in Giant-Size Creatures #1. Glitternight is the most ridiculous villain in this series, a problem made worse by Doug Moench heaping even more importance on him toward the end of the series. He is fun in an offbeat, only in the Bronze Age of comics sort of way. I used to own Giant-Size Werewolf #4 as a cheapo back issue in the '80s. I bought it for probably .35-.50 because it had Morbius The Living Vampire in it. These old monster comics were worthless back then.

Doug Moench wrote the majority of the series. While Moench is best remembered for Shang-Chi, Master Of Kung Fu and his work on Batman this is where he made me a fan. If I had to pick a favorite issue of his run it may have to be Giant-Size Werewolf #5. It's filled with all of the Hollywood inspired faux occult goodness that you could possibly want. Yong Montano's artwork on that issue is exquisite. He was a Filipino comic artist who did some work in the '70s and one or two things after, but other than that is among the largely forgotten artists from the Filipino comic book scene who did so much good work in the Warren Magazines in the '70s.



Another thing that Moench is remembered for is his co-creation Moon Knight, who first appeared in #32 and would go on to become a fan favorite. He is a mercenary who was hired by The Committee, an ongoing threat to the Werewolf throughout the series, but revolts after he is paid and sets the Werewolf free. Moench ramps things up, but the radical shift in tone at the very end of the series is evidence that he was trying to bring the Werewolf more into the main Marvel Universe by featuring Brother Voodoo and then Iron Man. The second issue of the two-parter with Iron Man, #43, was another quarter box find for me in 1983. Unbeknownst to me and every other reader of that issue at the time, it was the final issue of the series. Moench explains on that issue's letters page, reprinted here. In a pre-Internet world I wondered how many issues there were in this series, and now I knew. I found it in a quarter box as a kid and was bummed with the series ending. The book ended on a whimper, with Iron Man being the final one on stage, so to speak. It bothered me as a 10 year old kid how the series ended, and it bothers me now. Obviously the plug was pulled with little notice, and I always wonder what would have happened next if Marvel would have allowed him to wrap things up.

The only downside to these Bronze Age monster comics is that they are set within a superhero framework. It's always fun to see monsters duke it out, so who's complaining? Werewolf By Night was considered crap by the “serious” comic collectors who scoffed at this scruffy kid poring over quarter boxes at Magina Books back in 1983. I always thought that the joke's on you; you don't get it. All these years later it appears we were both right. It is crap compared to serious comics of the day, but it is fondly remembered fun crap. This title remains a not-so guilty pleasure of mine and I will always scream it's greatness from the top of the rooftops of the Internet.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.25 out of 5.

The OCD zone- I have a love/hate relationship with the Omnibus format. On one hand, it's great to get everything available to you in one fell swoop. On the other hand, these books are heavy and unwieldy.

The recoloring is very good but not Masterworks perfect.




Linework and Color restoration: The linework is good. Not Masterworks good, but very good overall. The original color palette is faithfully maintained. I did comparisons with the original comics side by side and was pleased with the accuracy of the recoloring, although the trained eye can spot errors all over the place.

The original comic.

The Omnibus.


Paper stock: Marvel switched the paper stock in their Omniboo a while back, but this is the first book that I have read with it. It is noticeably thinner but it still has a fair weight to it. It's bright white coated stock with a slight sheen. The plus side to the thinner paper is that the book block weighs less. Heavy blocks can pull away from the casing, causing the condition known as “Omnibus sag”.
Binding: Sewn binding. Lays flat like all 2007-on Marvel Omnibus hardcovers.

Front cover sans dustjacket.


Dustjacket and Hardback cover notes: The dustjacket has a glossy lamination. The hardback has a paper wrap with a matte coating which is sufficiently resistant to scuffing. 

Back cover sans dustjacket.

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