Partially motivated by the review of Ravenous, I spent most of the last few days thinking how much I love Werewolves as the pivotal horror characters.
While in the blog entry about the Frankenstein monster I focused on the tragic aspect of the myth, werewolves carry within the myth the savagery of a ravenous beast, and the pain of involuntary transformation, from man into said beast.
Vampires are interesting. Bram Stocker was able to draw a multilayered monster who had to strike a balance between its vulnerabilities and its powers. Of course, written in the 1800’s it is full of baroque and overcomplicated gothic connotations. Some contemporary readers may complain that it is too hard to read, maybe spoiled by quick-paced modern paperback novels. Future takes of vampires made things more or less interesting (less, more often than more) till Anne Rice brought the vampire chronicles to the public.
Other authors had humanized and explore vampires before, but by a synergy of events, Anne Rice’s creations captured the interest of a public that at the time was ready and craved something more mature on the vampiric theme.
The Big Two have used Werewolves scarcely in their published offerings. DC had loose stories starring our furry menaces in those House of Mystery books, but they were too constricted by the comicbook code authority, to dare anything noteworthy.
From the pages of Weird War Tales (an excellent series) spurn The Creature Commandos. Some “brilliant” editor had the idea of putting together a Frankenstein monster, a vampire and a Werewolf and send them off to war. They were not the MAIN monster, the Dracula and Frankenstein creature per se, though. They come up with replacements, stand ins and put them under a human commander. How long could this one trick pony last? Surprisingly a couple of years, thanks to some brilliant and creative writing from those script mages!
These stories were very rudimentary, but surprinsingly were also full of subtext. When I read Creature Commandos, I keep finding myself surprised by how often the humans are depicted as monsters and the monsters as sensitive and abused creatures.
Trying to take things a bit more serious, we find the work by Jim Warren in Creepy and Eerie, where loose stories about werewolves were dispersed through the pages here and there.
Most of these mags can still be found in LCS, and ebay. Worthy of mention is how DarkHorse launched a Collected Works in hardcover of some of these mags, and that is a wonderful place to pick them up and read them sequentially in one sitting.
The master Richard Corben did a graphic novel in the 1970’s called Werewolf, that had a much higher acceptance in Europe than in the US, as with most of the work of Corben.
We should request/demand that a publisher picks up Richard Corben’s work and republish it on prestige format but that may be better suited for another post.
The biggest strive done in recent memory towards publishing a good Werewolf comic may have been Werewolf by Night, by Marvel Publishing. By “Biggest strive” I mean the largest exposure to the largest US Market that reported a decent amount of sales.
These comics from the 1970’s are slowly gaining value and the recognition they much deserve, mainly driven by collectors efforts, so much so that a few years ago, Marvel included them in their anthology of Essentials, where they publish the whole run in softcover and black & white.
These comics started being written by Gerry Conway and drawn by the amazing Mike Ploog, before Ron Perlin took over on the art, among others. The stories were good representatives of Marvel soap-opera style: Drama with the family, secrets being kept, and dramatic villains and heroes who over explain and over-act. But they were mostly solid tales. Edgy tales. They were OK for young readers (I wouldn’t say kids) and adults alike, because they had background and had depth. But since then, I haven’t been able to enjoy a well done werewolf again.
If you are a fan of the 1070’s Werewolf by Night, you may enjoy the commentary Mike Ploog made on the creation of the title to the publisher TwoMorros on the book Modern Masters dedicated to Mike Ploog. Here he tells how when Marvel charged him with the visual design of the werewolf character, he made the conscious decision of shortening the snout to make him look like a pug. And the puns of the character’s name (Jack Russel) is not lost on anyone.
Some decades later, Marvel relaunched Werewolf By Night,(in 2008 if memory serves me), under the Max imprints. Interesting, but lacking the catchiness and the popular appeal of the original. It was a pretty decent horror story on its own merits, though, dealing with the effect of conscience and the psychological side-effect of being a werewolf.
They went more for the psychological horror, than the gore-monster-scaring, jumping at you.
One of the problems I see with prolonging a serialized version of a werewolf story is the lack of depth of current story-tellers.
Of course, we are fascinated with the transformation, the fact of a man being overtaken by a beast, in a savage take of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde.
Going back to Werewolf by Night as a frame of reference for a way of serializing a werewolf story, you have the protagonist who struggles with what happens to him, his family, some of whom keeps secrets, some who don’t know what happens and need to be kept in secret, superheroes (spiderman, moon knight, Dracula, Frankenstein, ghost rider, within the marvel universe), a love interest that happens to be the daughter of a villain… it was interesting and made for a rich tapestry in which to tell these stories.
Then again, Marvel had to impose The Marvel Way, and mix poor tormented Jack Russel with the rest of the heroes, resulting in some less-than stellar moments.
Taking a supernatural character and mixing it in the context of a super-human character created some plot holes, like having NewYork native Peter Parker having to travel to C
alifornia for a job, and who would think it? The one time he travels to California, he bumps into the California alter ego of Jack Russell. Or vice-versa and the werewolf has to travel to New York. Pretty forced, and even my peers in their young teens could tell at the time that something was forced in the script.
In the other hand I am afraid of those authors who are so enamored with the genre, that they believe that a half-assed tale of savagery, fur and claws will be able to carry a series. I have no doubt that a savage werewolf makes for a great gory graphic novel, or short story, but it takes more than fangs and guts to make it hold the readers interest in the long run.
Then again, we go back to the basics of any genre: You need the foundation of a good story, before you add the rest of the elements.
That happens with horror, and with cheesecake, with westerns and with erotica.
Then there are those that have great stories (and I am generalizing, not talking about werewolves only) but then fail on the art department.
Comics are a complex art form, no matter what the populace says.
If you hunger for Werewolves in comics, will make a few recommendations
Start with Richard Corben’s Werewolf. You can still get it in some LCS (local comic shops) and on Amazon or e-bay.
Then you may want to move to something with a more campy flavor, such as
Werewolves on the moon, vs. vampires, published by Darkhorse
It was published as a three-issue mini-series from Dark Horse.
On the ongoing series Fables, there are short arcs dealing with Werewolves talking a shot at the idea of a wereman, vs. a werewolf. The character Bigby Wolf gets some pagetime as the sheriff of Fabletown.
As the literal Big Bad Wolf of the fairy tales, Bigby’s less of a werewolf and more of a wereman, and constitutes and interesting take on the genre.
But where else do you go if you want to catch a nice dose of werewolf antics?
Well, Independent Comics of course.
Back in 2005 Alias Enterprise launched a comic titled Lethal Instinct, written by Romulo Soares and art by Jack Jadson and Ruy Jose.
That imprint KICKED ASS for that time.
Among other titles, they released Monsters Unleashed.
And you can also find them in specialized stores and e-bay. They retold the story of Frankenstein’s monster, and had werewolf appearances in abundance.
Publisher Silver Phoenix Ent Inc
Latest Release Date: April 1, 2009
I found this title a few years ago, in a friend’s house. The friend lost touch, moved and so did the title.
I am dying to re-read it if only I could find it.
The cover looks faboulous and I remember the story being very pulpish, very retro, in a good way.
It was about a vagabond with a curse that deals with the monster within while fighting other monsters.
An artist in Paris roams the nights in the neighborhood of Montpellier disguised as a werewolf. What he doesn’t take into account is that the real society of werewolves don’t take kindly to people impersonating them.
OK, not much gore or savagery here, but it has a flair for self-deprecation and an ambiance of impending doom that really sticks with you.
I recommend it highly for the adults who want to read some artsy, brainy, deep of meaning comic (and everyone at some point in their life should mature into this stage, I should add)
Werewolf The Apocalypse Published by Moonstone
Based on the role-playing game, this collection released 4 books, I think.
Problem for me was that unless you knew the role-playing game universe, the comics didn’t build up enough background stories to make me care.
Enjoyed the art, though.
The latest addition to the genre, hopefuly will be out in stores by February 2012.
Of course there are hundreds of titles that I am not covering here.
I would love to receive recommendations to add more titles, but in the meanwhile keep this as a humble guide of some sources to contemplate when covering werewolves in Comicbooks.