It’s October, so three guesses at what that means? If you guessed Frankenstein’s Monster, Werewolf by Night and the Living Mummy, I’d say you looked at the cover! This month writer Joe Caramagna adapts the Halloween episode “The Howling Commandos,” featuring a cast of Marvel’s horror-themed characters, into another kid-friendly comic book. Continuing from last week’s issue, Nick Fury assigns Spider-Man a new team in order to rescue his friends and foil Dracula’s plot. Though they are named the Howling Commandos in this comic and the episode from which it is adapted, the team up of Frankenstein’s Monster, Werewolf by Night, the Living Mummy, and eventually Man-Thing, more accurately describes the Legion of Monsters, a team that first debuted in Marvel Premiere #28 way, way back in 1976.
Regardless of their team name, their presence, along with antagonist Dracula, adds the necessary set pieces for a good all-ages Halloween issue. The story begins as the typical setup for a team-up: Spidey joins forces with friends in order to accomplish a task that was too big for him, there’s inter-group conflict, and everyone learns a little about themselves and each other through the resolution of the conflict.
As the story progresses, we see the conflict is actually not with Spidey and the Howling Commandos, but the Howling Commandos and the outside world, culminating in The Living Mummy turning coat, no longer wanting to be a part of “Fury’s collection of freaks.” It’s a development that has some build up to it and elevates this issue past flavor-of-the-month team-up tale to something more nuanced, if ever so slightly. That’s not to say Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors #12 is a great tragic tale of the Living Mummy; this is a very surface level exploration of a motivation beyond your typical Saturday morning cartoon villain’s world domination plot, but that’s to be expected from an adaptation of just that – a Saturday morning cartoon.
Like all proper Halloween stories, this one takes place mostly at night and in the shadows. Unfortunately, due to the darker color palette of Man-Thing, Blade, and Werewolf By Night, it becomes difficult to see exactly what they are doing on the page when they are shaded in. This is a by-product of taking television screen captures and putting them directly on the page; the colors print darker than they appear on the TV and that is extremely apparent in this issue. Details are completely lost, characters are obscured and the readability is severely impacted.
It’s impossible to tell what the Monster Truck actually looks like, Blade’s face is difficult to make out in almost every panel he appears, and often Werewolf by Night is nothing more than a dark mass with eyes and a mouth. Bright eyes contrasting a dark, shadowy body works in scenes where the emphasis is on action of the cloak-and-dagger variety (it was employed with success in Amazing Spider-Man #645, for example), but this is persists through the entire book, muddying action scenes and causing confusion during dialogue. I actually developed a headache trying to discern details from squinting at the pages as I read them.
That’s not to say the issue is without its charms though. Frankenstein’s Monster is visually fun and interesting, he has a hammer for a fist and a Minigun, as well as a nice shout out to the Punisher’s stint as his own version of the Frankenstein’s Monster from Punisher vol. 7. It’s disappointing the issue is so hard to see because it’s got so many enjoyable aspects in it. Man-Thing is just cool no matter what you put him in, and as such he steals every scene he’s in. His silence, as well as his strange appearance lends to an air of eeriness around him, mitigated by Frankenstein’s Monster’s insistence on referring to Man-Thing as “the Big Guy.”
The issue concludes with a kaiju-style giant-sized monster fight in the middle of New York City and a decent enough sight-gag with the Invisible Man, of all people to use for a sight-gag. There’s a solid mix of Spider-Man and the Howling Commandos, so it really feels like a team-up story rather than a Spider-Man story with some backup characters thrown in for variety.
While the issue doesn’t try to employ Halloween itself for anything more than a joke or two, the issue throws enough classic monsters and Marvel horror icons at us to succeed in making a Halloween themed issue feel appropriate. In all, it’s a decent adaptation from the television episode suffering mostly from issues with shading and a few sequencing issues with the action scenes. Is it the be-all Halloween issue? Not in the slightest, but it never had those aspirations and accomplishes its goal of introducing the somewhat dusty corner of the Marvel universe’s horror characters to a new generation.