Thursday, 12 March 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Werewolf By Night #27 (March 1975)

40 YEARS AGO - March 1975
Cover artwork by Gil Kane.
WEREWOLF BY NIGHT #27 (Marvel Comics)
"The Amazing Doctor Glitternight"
By Doug Moench (w); Don Perlin (a); Karen Pocock (l); Phil Rachelson (c) & Len Wein (e)

This is what I'm talking about. You don't see him on the cover, but Doctor Glitternight has got to be the eeriest Marvel villain of all-time. He reminds me of the Tall Man from Phantasm, only Glitternight came first. He's evil incarnate, a stone-faced, pupil-less hypnotic sorcerer who steals souls and turns the once beautiful Topaz into the horrible creature you do see on the cover, He floats like a manta ray overhead and projects black light onto his victims, stealing their very life-force. Unfortunately he's pretty much forgotten today, but I think he's the best unused Marvel villain there is.

Oddly, there is a 1938 crime film called The Amazing Doctor Clitterhouse (which has an amazing resemblance to the word clitoris, but nevermind), it's probable that Glitternight was at least partly inspired by it.

Glitternight was created by Doug Moench who took over the series at issue #20 and stayed on til the series ended with #43. I first came to deeply respect him after reading his run on Batman from the early '90's. For my money, he remains one of thee great Batman writers. For what it's worth he co-authored the famous Knightfall storyline that Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Rises is partially based on. By that time he was a master craftsman who easily balanced words with pictures and allowed the characters to dictate the story. At this early stage in his career, he was out of his mind, and I mean that in the best way possible. 

He came up in comics through the skinflint Warren Publishing company where he penned numerous tales of the bizarre and the macabre in the pages of Eerie and Creepy magazines before finding a home at Marvel and subsequently pigeonholed there as "the horror guy". One supposes he felt the pressure or the need to keep upping the stakes in his increasingly weird tales. After the invention of Doctor Glitternight, those stakes would never get higher, not on Werewolf By Night anyway. The series wasn't long for this world after this point though.

It was 1975, the horror fad at Marvel was dying down to a quiet murmur and I imagine Moench was looking for a way out of his typecast anyway. He had just been given the keys to the new Inhumans series with new artist George Perez and it seems he was focusing more on that. By the time Inhumans hit the shelves this storyline was already in the bag and though the Glitternight story is arguably the pinnacle of this series, the fall that came after was precipitous indeed. Unfortunately, both the Inhumans and Werewolf By Night series would peter out within the course of the next two years.

But it turned out, he had already given himself a way out of the horror zone and found a way in to more mainstream superhero comics to increase the longevity of his career. Five issues after this one, Moench introduced a superhero into the pages of Werewolf, his name was Moon Knight and he was a corporate sponsored vigilante. By the time he was given his own series just a few years later, he was a Lamont Cranston / The Shadow inspired multiple personality with ties to ancient Egypt and enhanced with werewolf infected blood. He remains one of the more intriguing heroes in Marvel's pantheon, but few, if any, writers have gotten him right since Moench left for DC to join the Bat-team.

When the Comics Code Authority eased its restrictions against depicting horror tropes such as vampires, werewolves, zombies and monsters, Marvel Comics jumped in with four feet. Though the trend didn't last long, the company managed to produce some great stories, especially on this series and in the pages of Frankenstein's Monster. This issue in particular is a true highlight of their efforts.

WHAT ELSE WERE THE KIDS UP TO BACK THEN?
After getting the creeps from reading Werewolf By Night it was time for a breather. It was time for something uplifting. Savvy audiences might then have turned to this album:



RUSH - FLY BY NIGHT
Rush's second album is a bit of a transition. They were about half a year away from releasing the 'Caress of Steel' album which featured a bit of more of what would come to be recognized as the Rush sound with moodier numbers and the ubiquitous side-long prog suites. 'Fly By Night' is a straight up hard rock album with mostly short, fast-moving numbers and is arguably more focused in its aims. The inclusion of the 8-minute mini-suite "By Tor and the Snowdog" announced that this was a transitional record in many ways.

[Image source]
Rush released their first album the previous summer with original drummer John Rutsey. It sunk with little trace. Part Budgie, part UFO the band appeared destined to fail commercially. Though the rockin' "In The Mood" and somewhat doom-y closing track "Working Man" are among the band's best numbers and with an incentive laced Canadian Content (MAPL) system in place, Canadian radio stations found it easy to ignore their native sons. It took a DJ from Cleveland named Donna Halper to discover the band and help them re-write the history of Canadian rock music. 'Fly By Night' was drummer / lyricist Neil Peart's first outing with the band giving Rush their signature pausiness. It was also Peart's love of fantasy and sci-fi that lent the band their trademark lyrical mysticism.

Rush wouldn't come to international prominence until a year and two albums later with '2112'.

But after absorbing the latest album from this emerging Canadian prog trio, it was time to watch a little TV. Flipping through the channels, the savvy viewer would have landed on ABC's Movie of the Week. Tuesday March 4, 1975 the movie was Trilogy of Terror, a three-part anthology of Richard Matheson stories, all starring Karen Black and directed by Dan Curtis.

Richard Matheson is most remembered as a writer for the original Twilight Zone television show and as the writer of such novels as I Am Legend (a personal favorite and partial inspiration for Night of the Living Dead), Hell House and The Shrinking Man. He was also an elite short story writer, his Shock series alone (4 volumes) is a must-read for genre fans. While his novels were often dark and poignant, his stories were crisp, sharp and sardonic, sometimes even silly. The stories featured in Trilogy of Terror were of the latter variety, though you wouldn't notice at first glance through director Curtis's dark interpretation.

This made-for-TV movie is best known for the third and final segment, "Amelia", which was an adaptation of Matheson's "Prey" (found in the Shockwaves or Shock IV collection). The story is about a woman who buys a Zuni fetish doll as a gift. When the doll comes to life and attacks her with spear, razor-sharp teeth and crazed, but fixed expression it is truly frightening. Jon Niccum of the Lawrence Journal-World wrote that this segment was "arguably the scariest piece ever crafted under the made-for-TV label." Trilogy of Terror deserves a special place among made-for-TV horror lore, along with the original Don't Be Afraid of the Dark for having memorable, possibly even traumatizing scenes of a totally supernatural origin.

The first two segments aren't nearly as memorable as "Amelia", though they're quite good. However, they are opening acts at best, the headliner is well worth the wait. You can watch the whole film below:


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