Briefing

What is Werewolf by Night, and why is it important to the MCU?

Marvel is continuing to get spooky with Werewolf by Night. But what exactly is this new Disney+ Marvel entry, and what implications does it have for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Here's what you need to know:

Is "Werewolf by Night" a movie or a show?

It's neither! Werewolf by Night, streaming Oct. 7 on Disney+, is billed as the first "Marvel Studios Special Presentation," so you can think of it as a standalone Halloween special. Clocking in at under an hour, it's not a full movie, nor is it a new Disney+ series — so don't expect another episode next week.

That makes Werewolf by Night an interesting experiment for Marvel, which has never tried this format before. But in December, the studio will release a Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special on Disney+, which is also billed as a "Special Presentation." If both are well received, it's possible Marvel could lean more into these kinds of one-off specials in the future, rather than push a full movie or TV series for all of its ideas.

In this case, Werewolf by Night continues Marvel's recent turn to horror, as it's a love letter to the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s. It's almost entirely in black and white, and replicates the feeling of watching such classics, complete with cue marks in the corner of the frame (which used to signal when the projectionist needed to change the film reel). 

The plot involves a group of monster hunters who gather at a spooky castle after the death of their leader, Ulysses Bloodstone. A relic known as the Bloodstone is now up for grabs, and all the monster hunters want it — so Ulysses' widow announces that a monster will be unleashed on the property, and whoever can hunt it down gets the Bloodstone. The catch? None of the monster hunters realizes that a werewolf is hiding among them. 

Who is Werewolf by Night in the comics?

That werewolf is a man named Jack Russell, portrayed in the special by Gael García Bernal.

In the comics, two characters have gone by the Werewolf by Night moniker — Jake Gomez being the most recent. But Jack Russell, who debuted in a 1972 issue of Marvel Spotlight, was the original.

Jack's lycanthrope affliction was inherited, so he wasn't bitten by a werewolf himself. In the 1790s, Jack's ancestor Grigori Russoff was turned into a werewolf while trying to get revenge on Dracula for killing his wife (yes, that Dracula). Flash forward almost 200 years, and Jack's grandfather, Gregor, comes across the Darkhold — the evil book that influenced Wanda's killing spree in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness — and makes a copy of it. "Reading lycanthropy's origins in the Darkhold under a full moon triggers the dormant curse, turning Gregor into a werewolf," Marvel.com explains. The curse was then subsequently passed to Jack. 

Jack, who was born in Transylvania, is pretty much your classic werewolf with a Marvel twist: He transforms when there's a full moon, and gains superhuman abilities (including super strength) when doing so.

Who — or what — is Man-Thing?

Werewolf by Night also introduces Man-Thing to the MCU. In the comics, Man-Thing is a swamp creature who debuted in 1971, and is similar to DC's Swamp Thing (though Man-Thing came first ... by two months). 

Man-Thing was once a human professor of biochemistry named Dr. Ted Sallis, who was trying to re-create the super soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. But Sallis ended up taking the serum himself and then crashing his car into a swamp, transforming him into a creature with little memory of his past life. 

In the comics, Man-Thing and Werewolf by Night have teamed up, with the former joining the latter (and Morbius) in a group known as the Legion of Monsters. Man-Thing's powers include superhuman strength, as well as the ability to burn those who are fearful by touch. "Whoever knows fear burns at the touch of the Man-Thing," the comics said. Man-Thing actually got his own movie on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2005, three years before the MCU began ... but let's just say it was no Iron Man

Who is Elsa Bloodstone?

Yet another Marvel character introduced in the special is Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), the estranged daughter of late monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone. 

That's roughly the same as her backstory in the comics, in which she follows in her father's footsteps as a monster hunter. She takes on a variety of supernatural creatures, including vampires Dracula and Nosferatu; you can think of her as Marvel's version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Elsa's Bloodstone choker gives her superhuman abilities, including super strength, though she claims some of her powers come from her blood. She's also immune to vampire bites

Elsa is a relatively recent addition to Marvel compared to Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing, as she was introduced in 2001 as part of a series called Bloodstone. Her father Ulysses, however, has been around since the 1970s. In the comics, Elsa has fought Scarlet Witch, been recruited by Doctor Doom to join his Avengers line-up, and teamed up with heroes like Deadpool, with whom she had a relationship

Why is "Werewolf by Night" important to the MCU?

Although Werewolf by Night is a one-off special, Marvel surely wouldn't introduce these popular characters without plans to use them again. Indeed, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige says that, with Werewolf by Night, "We're introducing a world that will ultimately become quite important to the future of the MCU." 

No further appearances by the special's characters have been announced, but it's likely we'll eventually see Werewolf by Night meet Moon Knight, Oscar Isaac's character from his eponymous Disney+ series. Moon Knight was actually introduced in a Werewolf by Night comic, in which he's hired by a criminal organization to capture Jack Russell but helps him escape instead. 

The comics also feature a team known as the Midnight Sons, an Avengers-esque group for the spooky, supernatural corner of the Marvel universe. Werewolf by Night, Man-Thing, Elsa Bloodstone, and Moon Knight have all been a part of that team, as has Blade, who will be introduced in the MCU in a November 2023 film starring Mahershala Ali.

Doctor Strange is also associated with the Midnight Sons, so getting Benedict Cumberbatch involved would make sense (especially given Multiverse of Madness' horror themes). There's definitely room for Marvel to lean more into classic horror going forward; in the comics, not only do Dracula and Nosferatu exist, Frankenstein's Monster does, as well.

Ultimately, Werewolf by Night could be part of a larger plan to introduce numerous horror-focused characters into the MCU so they can eventually join forces as the Midnight Sons — and perhaps even take on Dracula one day. Spooky Avengers ... assemble! 

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