Marvel Spotlight (1971) #4

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The issue opens with a splash page of Jack Russell, in his hip seventies clothes, waking from a nightmare about being the Werewolf by Night (unsure if it’s a nightmare or a werewolf outing), and it’s somehow obvious the art this issue’s going to be superior. In that one page, artist Mike Ploog gets in some great, active figure drawing and a fantastic expression on Jack. It’s probably the best Werewolf story so far, even if it didn’t have the best art—Ploog gets to do all sorts of things, including introducing a tragic femme fatale—but it’s also got a somewhat wild script from Gerry Conway.

Keeping with the now established structure, Jack opens the issue with his family, then they disappear. But he also meets a writer named Buck Cowan, who’s sneaking around the house looking for information. Cowan knows all about the Darkhold, Jack’s real father’s European castle, but nothing about the werewolf. It’s a strange exposition method, but then again, Cowan and Jack’s scheme to get Jack’s step-father’s boat involves Cowan wearing a disguise… so everything about it’s a little strange.

Except Cowan can’t accompany Jack on their boat trip—some eccentric bought Jack’s dad’s castle and shipped it over from Europe. Jack’s evil step-father Philip sold it right after Jack’s mom died, and he got control, which means the eccentric was able to ship it over in five months? And rebuild it? I’ve lost count of Werewolf months, but I think they’re only on four, actually. Plus however much time has elapsed since last issue, it’s not clear it’s a month later.

Though it’s definitely some multiple of a month because wouldn’t you know it, Jack forgot it’s going to be the full moon, and he’s going to werewolf out.

Once he gets to the private island, he’s got too many immediate problems to worry about getting furry, including the aforementioned fetching femme fatale. She’s a younger teenager named Marlene who wears sunglasses all the time, and her dad’s an intense creep who runs a private institution and employs a machine gun-toting thug.

The werewolf will fight that thug, which gives Ploog something different from a Frankenstein’s monster stand-in, especially since they’re duking it out in a castle. Ploog gets to mix three different visual tropes, and the result is sublime (and not at all disjointed).

Conway changes the formula a little, giving Jack a big thought balloon sequence on the boat, then taking over for the werewolf’s beast narration. The werewolf gets occasional thought balloons, but most of it’s Jack narrating the werewolf’s adventure in the exposition boxes.

It works out.

There are twists and turns, big reveals, secret liaisons, and a great cliffhanger. The beginning’s unsteady as far as the writing, but Ploog holds it all together. Conway does all right, but the comic’s all about the art, and Ploog keeps delivering through various set pieces and moods.

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