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Villain Spotlight: Man-Wolf

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I have always been a huge fan of the 1941 film “The Wolf Man,” starring Lon Chaney Jr. There was something fascinating about the personal torture he went through, coupled with the amazing transformation into a half-man, half-wolf creature that had me parked in front of my TV as a kid every Saturday afternoon. Saturday afternoons were reserved for “Creature Double Feature.” I had to sit through two-headed monsters, gigantic, flying turtles, and B-Movie vampires in order to see a werewolf on the screen now and then.

This was not enough to sate my thirst for werewolves!  It was up to Marvel to fill my fix. They finally gave me a werewolf that was fashioned after the Lon Chaney Jr. beast in 1972 but this time the tortured soul was Jack Russell. And then, in 1973, Marvel upped the ante, and the werewolf population, when they introduced the Man-Wolf in 1973. In a Spider-Man comic no less! That was issue #124 of Amazing Spider-Man and the brainchild of writer Gerry Conway. Not only that, but this werewolf was someone I already knew, someone who had been with me since the very first issue of Amazing Spider-Man, J. Jonah Jameson’s astronaut son John Jameson!

IMAGE1But let’s step back for a moment. Before we get to John’s transformation into a salivating man-beast, we should first acknowledge John’s earlier appearances in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. After all, John does have the distinction of being the very first person whose life Spider-Man saved. As mentioned, this was in Amazing Spider-Man #1 when Spidey hopped on board John’s malfunctioning space capsule to replace its guidance system.

Not too long after that he again saved John’s life by freeing him from the clutches of the Rhino… twice (see Amazing Spider-Man #41-43). We also find out that during one of John’s missions into space he was exposed to space spores that provided him with super-strength, albeit short-lived super strength.

IMAGE2John’s career as an astronaut allowed him to enjoy considerable exposure in the Marvel Universe over the years. Shortly after his run-in with the Rhino he had the unique distinction of being saved by yet another icon of the Silver/Bronze age, that being the Silver Surfer in his very own inaugural issue, Silver Surfer #1.

It seems that John had a knack for getting into trouble during space missions (as seen in later and more recent years).

John’s luck really took a turn for the worse (or better, depending on where you sit) when another space mission, this time a lunar mission, introduced John to a little red stone that would have a major impact on his life. Taking the stone from the moon’s surface as a souvenir, John had it fashioned into a pendant which he wore around his neck. The stone also became attached to its owner… literally. And not only that but, when the moon was full, it had the nasty side-effect of turning its host into a mindless wolf-like creature forever to be known as the Man-Wolf (this all happened in Amazing Spider-Man #124-125).

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The Man-Wolf’s first order of business? Taking a page from the 1941 “Wolf Man” film, he does what any self-respecting werewolf would do: attack his father. Spider-Man is of course there to step in and save Jonah’s hide by ripping the pendant from John’s neck and tossing it into the Hudson. These two issues were also very special as they were soon to be immortalized as one of Marvel’s first attempts to sell book & record combinations (if I only had my original copy of this….)

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Life as a lunar-fiend was not over for John . A year later (in real world years), the vampire Morbius, in hopes of curing his own Universal Horror movie inspired illness, once again attached the stone to John’s neck (see Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1). Spider-Man was again available to put a stop to Morbius’ scheme, and John’s Man-Wolf stint, but not for long. Never content to let sleeping dog’s lie, the Man-Wolf again makes an appearance as a minion of Baron Von Shtupf (nice name) or, as Shtupf likes to call himself, the Monster Maker. Aided by Frankenstein’s Monster, Spider-Man puts the lid on the good Baron’s plans, and the Man-Wolf is carted away by S.H.I.E.L.D. for safe keeping.

The popularity of monsters from the the golden age of cinema was running high in the mid-1970s due to programs like the “Creature Double Feature.” So much so that Marvel resurrected many of those monsters to grace the pages of its books, namely the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, and even the Mummy. Marvel also launched a short lived series called Creatures on the Loose in 1975. Creatures on the Loose featured an assortment of monsters and barbarians and, in issues #30-37, they focused the series on the escapades of the Man-Wolf. Here we see the Man-Wolf being stalked by ex-CIA agent Simon Stroud and doing battle with other villains such as Kraven the Hunter and the Hate Monger. Jameson eventually surrenders himself to the authorities, but we are given a glimpse of the future direction of the Man-Wolf character. His transformation is still controlled by the phases of the moon yet, when it is waning, he is allotted a little more of his intelligence. This makes him a more formidable foe.

IMAGE5And thus begins the strangest part of John’s Man-Wolf stint. John, under the guidance of Nick Fury, accepts a sort of plea bargain with the powers that be and agrees to travel to an orbiting space station in order to investigate a communication blackout. John crashes onto the Lunar surface which permanently places him in the form of his alter ego. In doing so he stumbles upon a portal which transports him into the ‘Other Realm’. It is here that the origin of the moonstone is finally revealed. Apparently, a dying ruler known as the ‘Stargod’ transferred his essence into the moonstone and placed it on the moon’s surface to be discovered. The discoverer would return to save his world. That discoverer was John and in the ‘Other Realm’ he is the Stargod (Marvel Premier #45-46, 1978), complete with his wolf strength and appearance but with all of his own thoughts and intelligence. John, aka Stargod, fulfills his destiny in the ‘Other Realm’ and returns to Earth where he again reverts to his savage ways as the Man-Wolf with an unforeseeable side effect. The moonstone is poisoning him.

At this point it is decided that John’s condition is incurable so he is cryogenically frozen and placed in a safe place under medical care. There is hope, and one that is fervently prayed for by Jonah, that John can be cured at a future date when science catches up.

Unfortunately for John, villainy has other plans in store for him, and it comes in the form of Spencer Smythe (See Amazing Spider-Man #184 & #188-190). Smythe, who is sick and dying from radiation poisoning, is out for revenge on Jonah. It was Jonah, after all, who was responsible for Smythe’s work. Smythe steals John’s body and sets him up to serve as Jonah’s killer. So, disguised as a mummy, John attacks his father only to be intercepted by Spider-Man. The wrapping is unraveled and the Man-Wolf is revealed. The battle travels to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge, the very bridge where Gwen Stacy was killed, and concludes with another fall, this time John’s. Before he hits the water he suddenly disappears in a flash of light. This provides Jonah with more fodder for his rants and culminates in a “Spider-Man Killer” crusade (a step up from the “Spider-Man Menace” days).

So where did John disappear to? The ‘Other Realm’, where he joined forces with She-Hulk and Hellcat to save the realm once again (Savage She-Hulk #13-14).

John, as the Man Wolf, eventually returns to his lupine ways on Earth and is seemingly cured by Dr. Curt Connors (Peter Parker: Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #3) . The moonstone is destroyed and John takes some much needed time to rest and to try to enjoy life.

For a time this appeared to be the case for John and we didn’t hear from him again until the late 80s through the early 90s. When he resurfaced it was as Captain America’s pilot, ferrying him around the globe to battle criminal masterminds such as Baron Zemo, the Red Skull, Crossbones, Bullseye, and the Kingpin to name a few. It was during one such battle with the villain Dredmund Druid that John reverted briefly back into his wolf form.

IMAGE6After leaving Cap’s employ he worked as a security guard at the Ravencroft Institute. Things were looking up for John until he was essentially brainwashed by Mad Jack (a Jack O’Lantern incarnation) into smothering Jonah with a pillow. In the aftermath, John regressed into his Man-Wolf persona but one which did not include the transformation (Spectacular Spider-Man #247 & #250). Hoping to break through the block imposed on John’s mind by Mad Jack, the Institute’s Director, Dr . Ashley Kafka, accidentally triggers the primal Man-Wolf transformation once more. It was good to see him, although it was a very short-lived appearance (as I’ve said, I’m a sucker for a good, old-fashioned, ‘unintelligent’ werewolf).

We’ve only been afforded a few glimpses of John since the turn of the century. He made another appearance as the savage Man-Wolf in the 2006 Sensational Spider-Man ‘Feral’ story arc (#23-27, a Stegron inspired jaunt). During this time he fell in love and married Jennifer Walters, aka She-Hulk, whom he fought alongside of in the ‘Other Realm’ for those of you who have been paying attention. In She-Hulk #10 he morphs into the Stargod once again and their romance, and their marriage, fizzles out. They both want different things. John wants Jen Walters, and not She-Hulk, nor she does not want to be married to Stargod. In the end they part ways and he thankfully renounces his Stargod persona.

Where has he been since then? Well, John has popped up here and there. Once again as Stargod in the pages of Nova (#33-35, 2010) during a battle with the time ravaged Sphinx and, recently, in more familiar territory within the pages on Amazing Spider-Man (#653 & #680-681, 2011) during the ‘Spidey In Space’ arc. In this story Spidey travels with Johnny Storm to the Apogee space station where John has been commissioned to work. There has been another instance of a communications failure (remember the similar plot way back in Marvel Premiere‘s pages in 1978?). Not knowing that the whole thing is an evil plot by a dying Doc Ock, John, the Human Torch, and Spidey fight the station’s crew who have been basically turned into zombies by Ock’s octobots.

At the time of this writing, John Jameson is lying low. As a writer with a soft-spot for good werewolf stories, let’s hope there will soon be “a bad Moon on the rise”…

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