Werewolf by Night was born because Stan Lee stood up to the Comics Code Authority.
Created in 1954 to curb the excesses of horror comics, the code banned sadism, lust, excessive bloodshed, disrespect for authority, sympathy for criminals, physically exaggerated females, werewolves, vampires, zombies and drugs.
Lee challenged the latter prohibition because he was determined to do an anti-drug story in Amazing Spider-Man (May 1971). His widely praised effort led to a loosening of the code’s restrictions that permitted Marvel to introduce Spidey’s foe Morbius the Living Vampire and to publish titles like Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night.
Written by Roy and Jean Thomas and Gerry Conway, the cheekily named Jack Russell was introduced in Marvel Spotlight 2 (Feb. 1972). The basic Jekyll and Hyde/Wolf Man plot structure is one Marvel had been using since its second title, The Incredible Hulk, in 1962.
“The Marvel formula of creating a troubled life to make the character more interesting applied here to Jack; his mother had married an overbearing, manipulative man and neither Jack nor his younger sister Lissa cared much about him,” noted the Marvel Monsters blog. “Jack had never known his true father but didn’t learn of the curse over him until his mother explained it to him on her deathbed after the family’s driver tried to bump her off in a rigged car wreck.”
The Werewolf was a more vicious but less powerful protagonist than the Hulk, caught in a tragic situation familiar to viewers of the old Universal horror movies on TV. What was special was Mike Ploog’s beautifully fluid, cartoony-but-unsilly artwork.
Some artists are a perpetual pleasure to the eye, and Ploog is one of them.