Friday, March 13, 2015


Writer: Doug Moench | Artists: Don Perlin & Howie Perlin
Letterers: Ray Holloway (#32) & Debra James (#33)
Colorists: Phil Rache (#32) & George Roussos (#33) | Editor: Len Wein

The Plot: (issue 32) In Northern California, the werewolf, Jack Russell, is beaten within an inch of his life by the mysterious costumed Moon Knight. As they struggle, Russell flashes back to the chain of events which led him to this moment. Then, once more in the present, Moon Knight’s pilot Frenchie kidnaps Russell’s girlfriend and sister, while Moon Knight knocks the werewolf unconscious.

(issue 33) The werewolf comes around as Moon Knight ferries him back to the Committee, and another fight breaks out. But the sun rises and the werewolf reverts to Jack Russell, allowing Moon Knight to defeat him again. That night, the Committee observes Russell’s transformation into the werewolf and pays Moon Knight for his services. But Moon Knight takes pity on the werewolf and sets him free, and the pair takes out the Committee members. Moon Knight observes from a rooftop as the werewolf wanders away.

Continuity Notes: As this is the werewolf’s series, there are several references to his ongoing sub-plots to be found. Last issue he nearly killed a little girl and mauled his best friend, Buck, into a coma. Meanwhile, a Detective Northrop is on the way to Haiti with a lead on tracking down an ex-werewolf named Raymond Coker. And in Haiti, Coker, on the trail of a pack of zuvembies, is directed by a voodoo witch to seek out Jericho Drumm, a.k.a. Brother Voodoo. Also, apparently Jack’s girlfriend, Topaz, has latent psychic powers.
This issue marks the first appearance of Marc Spector, the Moon Knight. As seen here, Spector, a former soldier of fortune, is hired by a shadowy organization called the Committee to find and capture Jack Russell. The Committee provides Spector with a silver costume and names him Moon Knight.

As Moon Knight becomes a heroic character, this origin will, years later, be retroactively altered by Doug Moench in the pages of Moon Knight’s solo series, to reveal that Spector himself came up with the Moon Knight identity and manipulated the Committee into believing it was their idea (it actually works fairly well, and we’ll get to that issue someday).
Moon Knight’s pilot, Frenchie, also appears here for the first time, ferrying the Fist of Khonshu around in a helicopter. The chopper is a run-of-the mill craft in these pages, but later stories will find Moon Knight in a state-of-the-art stealth copter.

My Thoughts: In his first appearance, Moon Knight is outfitted specifically for anti-werewolf action. His cesta gauntlets and boots are lined with silver and his crescent-shaped throwing darts are made of the substance as well. The character is presented as a mercenary through and through, hunting the werewolf in exchange for $10,000 from the Committee, and showing little remorse for his actions (he saves Russell in the end, as noted, out of pity rather than guilt).

All of this will be ret-conned away in short order. The costume will remain silver, but the werewolf-busting gimmicks will depart. Moon Knight will be revealed as a millionaire philanthropist to whom ten grand is mere pocket change. And his past as mercenary Marc Spector will be just that: his past. Spector will be one of many identities used by Moon Knight, picked up and discarded as circumstances require.

So Moon Knight’s debut is a rare case in comics. There have been plenty of characters who we’ve seen introduced, but who have developed into more than they were at the time. It’s much harder to find a character who is introduced and then completely revised in quick order — by his own creator — to have an entirely different origin, backstory, and even personality than originally presented.

As a result, it’s hard to draw much from these early Moon Knight appearances, since we’ll learn later on that he’s merely play-acting and is not at all what he seems. The behind-the-scenes evolution of the character is fascinating, but what we see on the page is not the same character we’ll be covering for the next several weeks.

From the technical side, these issues are reasonably well done, but not without their quirks. The stories are narrated in first person past tense by Jack Russell, and Moench fills his lines with borderline pretentious flowery prose. There was a phase in the seventies where every writer seemed to adopt this style, and it served none of them well. Worse, the style has aged extremely poorly, far worse than the jovial conversational style of Stan Lee or the overwrought narration of Chris Claremont. Those two are at least fun to read. This is just a slog.

The art from Perlin and Perlin, on the other hand, is mostly quite nice. It’s a little cartoony, but their Moon Knight is a striking figure. The nondescript northern California city in which most of the action takes place seems a little on the deserted side, but otherwise there’s not much to complain about from these two.

And lastly: I don't know who she is, but Debra James is just a horrible letterer. A horrible, horrible letterer. Just awful. John Byrne claims that back in the seventies, the various writer/editors at Marvel would often give lettering and/or coloring jobs to whoever they happened to be dating at the time, whether qualified or not. I really hope that’s the case with James, whose name I don’t recognize from anything else, because there’s no way this could ever be called a professional lettering job.


  1. I think the closest comparison is probably Len Wein's Wolverine, who sounds and acts completely different in Hulk #181, where he's almost a Spider-Man style Ditko type character hopping around making zingers and talking about adamantium. Of course, the big difference is that Wein only wrote two Wolverine appearances, so it wasn't the original creator ret-conning everything away.

    I know your focus here is on Moon Knight, but how crazy is it that Jack Russel's adventures go on this long? Who does he fight every month? I mean I don't care for the Hulk comics, but they at least have General Ross, the Leader, and a few semi-memorable lower level rogues. This is such a weird intersection of the newly allowed supernatural and traditional super-heroics I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did.

    1. I absolutely love that he shares the name with the dog breed, Jack Russell terrier.

      About the lengthy publication, after the Comics Code started allowing the supernatural elements in an apparently welcomed move, could it be partly that they were reluctant to easily give up the trademark for the title for graps? Like, not uncomparably to the hassles concerning Captain Marvel.

    2. Well maybe not the title as such in all its glory, it's quite specific (I had leapt to think about Man-Wolf when posting my comment somehow), but maybe they wanted to keep that niche covered rather than give it for others.

      Quite curiously they did very recently publish a soft cover thick one-off book of early Werewolf by Night in Finland that found its way to be sold in the grocery stores' quite limited selection. It's a market that recently saw the local X-Men book cancelled, and the character has had zero presence in the country until now. Of course, it's marketability as a generic stand-alone horror comic may have played a role, but still there's soneone making these decisions and they can't actually afford many misses in such a small language area's markets.

    3. Oh wait, let's roll that back a bit: apparently they had a title "Frankenstein & Werewolf" published in the mid-70's for about thirty issues, quite freshly from the Marvel horror titles. So maybe they're nostalgia-gauging for the old comics fans then, what with there being poorly with the new ones.

  2. So Moon Knight’s debut is a rare case in comics.

    I've never really considered that before, but you're right. As Dobson said, Wolverine comes close, but his original creator wasn't really involved in the reshaping of his character.

    Those two are at least fun to read. This is just a slog.

    Yeah, it definitely requires the right touch when it comes to making that kind of narration of enjoyable, and not a lot of writers have it.

    @Dobson: how crazy is it that Jack Russel's adventures go on this long?

    I've long thought that too. Especially since, from what little I've read, it seems more like a typical (albeit Hulk-esque) superhero comic than some of the other horror comics that debuted around the same time (I mean, Tomb of Dracula ran a long time, but it was doing something very different from the typical fare).

  3. It is kind of remarkable that WEREWOLF BY NIGHT lasted as long as it did. It was just a different market back then, I guess. I've read that even as far back as the seventies, industry folks felt the sky was falling and comics would end, but looking at the Marvel line then versus now, the variety was much wider and "niche" books lasted much longer.

  4. Huh. In a surprising twist of coincidence -- so surprising that the normally on-the-ball Amazon doesn't even have a listing for it yet -- Marvel's just-released June solicits include a WEREWOLF BY NIGHT OMNIBUS. Don't think I'll get it, but I felt it worth mentioning.