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‘Werewolf By Night’ Is A Nifty Little Marvel Halloween Treat

Remember when the MCU started, when the big debate about the upcoming Marvel movies was how could a character like Captain America be used in such a cynical time like … 2011? You know, Captain America, an A-list superhero if there ever was one, and the discussion was, “Can this work?” (For the record, I have no doubt I participated in that discussion.) Well, flash forward a decade or so and now the conversation is, “Hey, have you seen Werewolf by Night yet?” Or, “Hey, Man-Thing is in the MCU now … that’s pretty cool.” Honestly, it blows my mind that there’s a Werewolf by Night MCU entry now.

Well, in this case, “entry” means “Marvel Studios Special Presentation,” the first of its kind. It’s not quite a movie, but it’s not a series. It’s a self-contained story, coming in at just under an hour, that, in theory, is just supposed to live on its own as an eerie Halloween treat.

The original Werewolf by Night premiered in 1972, then got his own title that ran for 43 issues. My dad, strangely, had a lot of Werewolf by Night comics, so he was one of the first Marvel characters I ever read. They were fairly accessible, as were most horror comics from that era – in that I wasn’t expected to know a ton of supporting characters or a lot of backstory. (Moon Knight actually made his debut in a now very expensive issue of Werewolf by Night) So it’s fitting that the Werewolf by Night Marvel Studios Special Presentation follows the same formula. A viewer has to know literally nothing about anything that came before in the MCU. The only thing that would help would to be familiar with what a werewolf is.

Gael García Bernal plays Jack Russell, the title character and the original lead character of the Werewolf by Night book. (There’s another Werewolf by Night, but the whole theme of this Marvel Studios Special Presentation seems to be to keep it simple, so let’s not delve into that.) Monster hunters from around the globe are summoned to a secret meeting after their leader has died. They are to anoint a new leader, and the way this will be decided is a hunt for a ferocious monster somewhere at the lair in which they have all gathered. No, they are not hunting Jack. Jack is in attendance as a hunter, yet no one knows what lurks beneath his surface. The monster they are all there to hunt is the aforementioned Man-Thing. As much as I can’t believe there’s a show (sorry, “Marvel Studios Special Presentation”) I doubly can’t believe there’s a live-action Man-Thing.

Now, more people are familiar with the DC character Swamp Thing. There was even a live-action Swamp Thing movie, directed by Wes Craven, that came out in the early 1980s. And then there was the quickly canceled television series from 2019. But Man-Thing predates Swamp Thing by over a year, even though Man-Thing often creates puzzled looks on people’s faces when he’s brought up over cocktails. (I speak from experience.) Well, no more! From now on when people look confused at the mention of Man-Thing’s name, it can easily be resolved by saying, “Oh, you know, that monster guy from the Werewolf by Night Marvel Studios Special Presentation.”

Directed by Michael Giacchino, best known for his work as a composer, he does that here, too … I’ll admit, Werewolf By Night was gnarlier than I expected for an MCU entry debuting on Disney+. Of course, this is still going to be MCU-level gore, but there is a mood and tone here that feels fresh. And being presented in black and white gives it a spooky charm. The whole thing, being released in October, makes a lot of sense. I hope Marvel actually does more of these kinds of entries with their lesser-known characters, ones that aren’t superheroes, that are self-contained, and have literally nothing to do with anything that has come before. For instance, Marvel has a plethora of Western titles that were published in the ’70s, just as Werewolf by Night. (My dad had a lot of these, too.) I’d love to see an MCU rendition of Two-Gun Kid or Rawhide Kid. (If you delve into the more recent history of Rawhide Kid, there’s quite a bit that could be done there.)

But for now we’ll take this as a nifty little Halloween season treat from Marvel.

‘Werewolf By Night’ premieres via Disney+ on October 7th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.