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Marvel Retro Review:  Werewolf by Night #32 – spoiled kinda?

Doug Moench, Don Perlin, Ray Holloway, Phil Rache, Len Wein

SPOILER ALERT

I…uh….think this counts as SPOILING.

 

Moon-Knight-1-coverWith the newest incarnation of Moon Knight dripping from the satirical mind of Warren Ellis and into your local comic shop on March 5, I felt that we could examine his very first appearance amidst Marvel’s many pages, in Werewolf By Night #32.

Werewolf By Night follows the protagonist, Jack Russell, as he deals with all of the pitfalls of his lycanthropic lifestyle after inheriting his father’s curse on his eighteenth birthday. This issue opens on the mysterious Moon Knight dealing a powerful blow to the werewolf, driving him into some garbage cans. I must say, the art seems to have come right out of a time machine, showcasing some of the best available in the 1970s.

Also noteworthy, the typical word-heavy writing of the time period is augmented by a truly prose worthy support of panels they take place in. A personal favorite was a description of how being driven to the ground by silver felt for the werewolf, “…like an oak felled by silver lightning.”

As this comic is a horror title, the sheer one sided hopelessness of the opening fight scene inevitably gives way to a brief explanation of the previous issue, involving the tragic injury of a beloved friend. For those of you who enjoy werewolf fiction, this has become a classic conflict, be it television, film, literature, or comic books.

An interesting forerunner to more modern takes on lycanthropy, the injuries of the afflicted carry over to effect the more savage alter ego. In this case, a hand broken when Jack Russell strikes a wall out of frustration.

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Upon returning home, the villainous Moon Knight confronts our hero, clad in silver and jet, using Russell’s father as bait. A monologue later, Moon Knight seeks to capture the hero and his stepfather intervenes, buying time to escape. Finally, the comic comes full circle with the inevitable transformation and the Lunar-themed pursuer catching up with him, descending from a helicopter, no less.

The brawl continues and the werewolf finally lands a worthwhile blow to the Moon Knight causing a brief respite. While the two lay prone on the ground, Russell in agony from attacking silver with his broken hand, and his assailant from the sheer savage strength of the blow, we are treated to a scene of narrative dissonance. Frenchie, later revealed to be Moon Knight’s pilot, kidnaps two of Russell’s loved ones. The final panels show Moon Knight coup de grace the wolf and carry him towards his approaching helicopter, claiming that nothing is more important than getting paid.

All in all, this is a wonderfully crafted book that is more of an icon of it’s era than a relic. Still fun to read, and without the typical dated dialogue of it’s time, this issue withstands the test of time.  If you read closely, you can see the roots of the dialogue writer Doug Moench would later use with the gangster element of gotham in his lengthy run in Batman

Moon Knight may not have been only the focus of the issue, but he was a prominent one. Some of the foundation laid in this issue clearly captivated the audience and found its way into his lore as he branched out into his own comic book title. As a mercenary, combined with his partner Frenchie and his non lethal approach to capturing Jack Russell, Moon Knight doesn’t cross any lines that would keep him from making the conversion from villain to hero. Even the ironic choice to use moon symbolism in his theme offered both a poignant connection to the werewolf, as well as being intriguing enough to build upon later.

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Since then, Moon Knight has been a mercenary, a playboy, a vigilante, a fugitive and an Avenger.  From a rather humble beginning as a contrived villain for Werewolf By Night, he certainly has come a long way.

My rating: 4 / 5 (against today’s standard of comic)

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