Back Issues: Werewolf by Night #32/33

Writer: Doug Moench – Artist: Don Perlin

Story Title: “..The Stalker Called Moon Knight”
27 May 1975 (cover-dated August 1975)

Story Title: “Wolf-Beast vs. Moon Knight”
24 June 1975 (cover-dated September 1975)

The Background:
In February 1972, Roy Thomas, Jeanie Thomas, Gerry Conway, and Mike Ploog came together under the watchful eye of the legendary Stan Lee to bring Jack Russell/Werewolf by Night to readers in the pages of Marvel Spotlight. After years of being banned from publishing stories involving werewolves and other supernatural creatures, the writers enjoyed exploring these elements with characters like Werewolf by Night, who graduated to his own self-titled series in 1972. Jack Russell came from a long line of lycanthropes thanks to a complex history involving Count Dracula and a cursed tome known as the Darkhold; under the light of a full moon, Jack would become a feral, bloodthirsty beast who attracted the attention of a nefarious cabal known as the Committee. It was the Committee who were responsible for Moon Knight’s first appearance in Marvel Comics, though the silver-clad mercenary was created by Doug Moench, Don Perlin, and Al Milgrom. Inspired by pulp heroes from the 1930s like Lamont Cranston/The Shadow, Moon Knight was initially the alias of Mark Spector, a cloaked hired gun who sported weaponry in the shape of crescent moons, but his personality and background was later greatly expanded upon by the likes of Bill Mantlo, Gregg Hurwitz, and Warren Ellis. One of Marvel’s more obscure superheroes, Moon Knight has often been unfairly compared to the likes of Bruce Wayne/Batman but is actually one of their more complex and adaptable characters thanks to him suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, which means he exhibits a range of different, often conflicting, personality traits that lend the character towards constant reinvention. Given the darker nature of the character, and the success of his Disney+ show in 2022, and the recent live-action debut of the Werewolf, this seemed like a good time to take a look at his debut appearance and help bring the character into the spotlight a little more.

The Review:
“..The Stalker Called Moon Knight” opens with a suitably dramatic full-page spread of the titular Werewolf by Night being smashed in the face by a double-handed uppercut from the mysterious Moon Knight. I’ve never read or even encountered anything with Werewolf by Night in it before so it’s refreshing to see Jack’s internal monologue is very different from the usual diatribe from Marvel Comics; Jack speaks in conjunctions, is quite lazy with his terminology, and has a twang to his language that conjures up a Brooklyn accent. It also turns out that he’s more of a man-wolf than literally transforming into a four-legged fiend; in this regard, he’s visually more akin to Lawrence “Larry” Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) from The Wolf Man (Waggner, 1941) than David Kessler (David Naughton) from An American Werewolf in London (Landis, 1981). However, while Jack is able to provide coherent narration while in his feral state, when transformed into a werewolf he seems to be incapable of speech, understanding complex sentences, or any intelligence at all beyond savage instinct. Of course, anyone who’s familiar with the character probably already knows all this (and more) but this is literally the first time I’m encountering him so it’s interesting to me to understand the mechanics of his transformation. As vicious as Werewolf by Night can be when transformed, all his ferocity and augmented strength is meaningless against Moon Knight since the cloaked mercenary is garbed head-to-toe in a silver outfit that burns the Werewolf on contact (and the beast is also struggling with a broken hand when the story opens). Though enraged by Moon Knight’s tone, the Werewolf only receives further punishment when he takes a blow from the merc’s spiked gauntlet, which drives silver right into the beast’s face. Moon Knight expresses disgust and hatred towards the ferocious Werewolf, easily putting him down with a “savate kick” and then riddling his chest with silver, moon-shaped blades, and Werewolf by Night is left a beaten, confused creature unable to fight back against Moon Knight’s silver tricks or physical prowess and feeling betrayed that an emissary of the same Moon that grants him his powers should be beating him so thoroughly.

Already reeling from attacking his best friend, Jack is attacked by a ruthless, silver-clad mercenary.

So, right away Moon Knight makes an immediate impression; he’s an uncompromisingly brutal foe who attacks Werewolf by Night without mercy or hesitation. He regards the beast as nothing more than a bloodthirsty freak and his sheer merciless assault of the creature earns him the awe of the terrified onlookers (who see nothing more than another garishly-garbed vigilante attacking a fierce man-wolf) and even the begrudging kudos of Jack, who has little choice but to acknowledge Moon Knight’s skill and prowess. Hurt and struggling against his pitiless silver foe, Jack’s mind wanders back to the previous issue and the recent events that lead him to the dingy alley where he’s currently getting his furry ass kicked. Out in a blizzard in Northern California, the Werewolf had been stopped from murdering a young child by his best friend, Buck Cowan. Unfortunately, while this spared the girl, Buck was severely mauled by the Werewolf, who then reverted back to his human form after sheltering from the snowstorm. Retrieving his clothes and stumbling his way back home, Jack is distraught by his actions, which have left Buck in a coma from which he may never awaken, and he angrily lashes out at a wall (breaking his hand in the process) in shame and anguish. Tormented by the curse that transforms him into a primal beast under the light of the Moon and causes him to be a threat to friends and loved ones and innocent lives everywhere, Jack vows that his days of living as a ravenous werewolf are over but is stunned when he returns home to find Moon Knight there, ready and waiting to deliver Werewolf by Night to the malevolent Committee.

The Werewolf and Moon Knight’s brutal conflict takes them up into the sky and across the pier.

Moon Knight reveals to Jack that he is Mark Spector, a veteran of numerous conflicts, former prize-fighter and a Marine commando who now works as a soldier of fortune and mercenary. Interestingly, in Moon Knight’s recounting of the job offer from the Committee, his face is left in shadow and it’s the Committee who provide him with his trademark outfit and Moon Knight moniker (a codename Spector admits is “pretty stupid”). The Committee furnished Spector with everything he needed to subdue Werewolf by Night and promised to pay him ten-thousand dollary-doos on receipt of the Werewolf’s beaten (but still living) form. Thanks to Jack’s father holding Moon Knight off, Jack was able to beat a hasty retreat, but Moon Knight easily tracked him down using his friend Frenchie’s helicopter, which led to the brawl between Spector and the freshly-transformed Werewolf by Night in a nearby alley. The startled onlookers eventually snap out of their fugue state long enough to alert the cops, and the Werewolf finally manages to grit through his pain to land a stunning blow to his attacker; however, Spector’s assault has left the creature wounded and unable to capitalise on this brief advantage, which allows Moon Knight to bludgeon the Werewolf with a silver baton and finally knock the beast unconscious just as Frenchie hovers overhead for the pick-up (with Jack’s friend, Topaz, and sister, Lissa, as hostages for good measure). The second part of the story, “Wolf-Beast vs. Moon Knight”, picks up with Moon Knight escaping from the cops with Werewolf by Night’s prone body by use of a ladder dangling from the chopper; an errant shot from the cops wounds Spector’s shoulder, but Frenchie’s able to get them away from the gunfire and the startled crowds. Unfortunately for Moon Knight, the Werewolf regains consciousness just over the city pier and attacks Spector in a blind rage, causing them to plummet five-hundred feet to the water below. Hurt and frustrated by the Werewolf’s tenacity and refusal to go quietly, Moon Knight doubles down on his attack, landing huge haymakers to the beast’s jaw and wrestling with the lycanthrope in and out of the water.

Moon Knight is so stunned by Jack’s predicament that he has a change of heart and sets the beast free!

Eventually, however, the strain of the fight begins to take its toll and Spector starts to tire but, just as the Werewolf is about to land a killing blow, the first light of dawn hits and he painfully reverts back to his human form right before Moon Knight’s startled eyes. Moon Knight wastes no time in taking advantage of this and knocks Jack out with a boot to the face, before removing his crescent darts from the cursed man’s body and airlifting him away to his promised payday. However, despite delivering Jack, Lissa, and Topaz to the Committee, Spector is infuriated when the organisation’s head honcho insists that they wait for the next full moon to verify that Spector’s quarry is actually legitimate. When he awakens, Jack is equally incensed to find he’s been caged like an animal and that his loved ones are being held hostage by the Committee’s “emetic” head man, who reveals that he went to all this trouble to use the Werewolf’s feral nature for his own nefarious ends like a pet. Jack delivers an impassioned condemnation of all of them, especially Moon Knight, for treating him like some wild animal that needs to be locked up and vows to make them all pay right before transforming into the Werewolf, much to the glee of the Committee. Their leader finally gives Moon Knight his cash reward, much to the scathing disgust of Lissa, and everything Spector has seen and heard has been enough for him to have a change of heart. He releases Werewolf by Night from his cage and joins the beast in attacking the Committee; Moon Knight frees Topax and Lissa and then tosses the Committee’s head man to the Werewolf to get his brutal comeuppance. With all of the Committee members present presumably slaughtered and Jack’s loved ones free, Moon Knight makes a swift exit when the feral beast turns on him. However, as the Werewolf by Night stalks into the darkness once more, forever doomed to his cursed fate, Moon Knight watches on with a newfound respect for Jack and his torment and wishes his newfound (if tentative) ally well.

The Summary:
I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would, to be honest. With absolutely no idea who either Werewolf by Night or Moon Knight are, I really wasn’t sure what to expect; in many ways, the Werewolf has a similar situation to Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk in that he is powerless to resist transforming into a ravenous beast under certain conditions, but Jack’s curse is also notably different as he only undergoes the transformation when there’s a full moon and the Werewolf exhibits absolutely no intelligence beyond basic, primal instinct. Similarly, while I’ve briefly researched Moon Knight here and there, his characterisation was nothing like I expected and his first appearance paints him as more of a highly skilled and enthusiastic mercenary and, in that regard, his debut is very much in the same vein as the likes of Frank Castle/The Punisher and even Wade W. Wilson/Deadpool in that he shows up with an awesome look, spouts some witty barbs and absolutely wrecks a formidable character, but is revealed to have a strong moral code by the conclusion of the story. For those who are more familiar with the show or Moon Knight’s more recent portrayals, there are no hints towards his multiple personalities or ties to Egyptian deities; instead, he’s just a very dangerous mercenary who’s asked to don a garish costume to give him the edge against a supernatural foe. Moon Knight’s debut is at its best when the character is on the page, and especially when he’s throwing down with Werewolf by Night. This brutal clash is, unfortunately, interrupted with side stories regarding the Werewolf’s supporting cast, which is fine and I’m sure all part of a bigger pay-off for the character in the overall context of his ongoing comics, but, for me, this got in the way of the main appeal of the story. This isn’t an uncommon trick in comics books from this era (and before, and even now, to be fair) but I felt like it’s worth pointing out as both Moon Knight and the Werewolf made a visual impression on me and I was just naturally more interested to see what they were up to rather than the Raymond Coker and Victor Northrup side stories.

While depicting Jack as a tortured character, the story is at its best when the two are going at it!

Moon Knight is quite the physically gifted foe; he’s an expert in multiple martial arts and more than capable of matching the Werewolf’s feral strength blow-for-blow. Thanks to the hooded silver costume furnished by the Committee, he’s ideally placed to subdue the Werewolf, who is consistently unable to really deal much damage to Spector as just touching him causes him agonising pain, to say nothing of Moon Knight’s spiked gauntlets and crescent darts. In fairness, the core narrative on show here is nothing we haven’t seen before in multiple Hulk stories (and one I’m gonna assume crops up a lot in the pages of Werewolf by Night), which is the cliché one-two-punch of a clandestine organisation wanted to exploit a mindless creature for their own ends and a cursed individual being prejudiced against because of his monstrous alter ego. The execution is a little different, however, as, while Moon Knight is stunned to find that the Werewolf is actually a man afflicted by a devastating curse, he delivers his quarry to his employees regardless since his primary motivation is to get his ten-grand payday. It’s pretty clear, even without seeing Spector’s face, that Moon Knight is rattled by this revelation, though, and his stoic silence during Jack’s tirade against the Committee and their leader’s shameful disregard for human lives speaks volumes considering Moon Knight hasn’t been able to keep his trap shut up until that point. Ultimately, it would’ve been easy for Spector to take the money and go, or free the Werewolf and then get out of there, but he chooses not only to free the beast but also to cut Topaz and Lissa loose and then join the Werewolf in brutalising the Committee to somewhat make amends for his misguided actions. Even better, Spector keeps the blood money he earned from the Committee (which I find hilarious, for some reason), and also ends the story far more comfortable with his newfound persona as Moon Knight. Overall, this was a fun, action-packed two-part tale that cast Jack as a sympathetic figure tormented by his bestial alter ego; he’s a man who has no control over that side of himself and who just wishes to be free from his curse, but won’t back down from a fight when forced into a corner. The story also gets high praise for its fantastic introduction of a visually unique and complex new character to comicdom in Moon Knight; seeing him absolutely dominate the Werewolf in all of their encounters was a great way to sell Spector as a force to be reckoned with and depicting him as both a ruthless mercenary and a man of honour really helped to make him make an impression beyond his striking costume.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Moon Knight’s debut in the pages of Werewolf by Night? Are you a fan of the titular Werewolf or, like me, did you only recently become fully aware of him because of Moon Knight’s live-action debut? What did you think to Moon Knight’s depiction here, his costume and gadgets and characterisation? Are you a fan of the character and, if so, what are some of your favourite Moon Knight stories and moments? Whatever you think about Moon Knight, feel free to sign up to leave your thoughts below or drop a comment on my social media, and be sure to check out my review of his Disney+ show!

2 thoughts on “Back Issues: Werewolf by Night #32/33

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