11 Things You Need To Know Before Watching MCU's Werewolf By Night

Warning: The article below contains major spoilers for "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness."

After "Moon Knight" unleashed kaiju into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Sam Raimi resurrected a zombie-Strange in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," fans have been (rightfully) wondering if a new horrific era is dawning at Marvel Studios. Disney's trailer for "Werewolf By Night" further teased the universe's nightmare-fuel potential, confirming the MCU debut of the titular werewolf (Gael García Bernal), Man-Thing, and the bloodsucker-defeating-badass Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly)! The black-and-white trailer introduces us to a gothic manor where monster hunters prepare to battle what goes bump in the night. Almost dripping in candle wax, the project homages the early days of Universal Horror, when any group gathering leads to a deadly night of unforeseen consequences. 

But who are these hunters? Who are these monsters? If you're champing at the bit to learn more about the world of Disney+'s first-ever holiday special, fear not! Here, we sink our teeth into the comic book history behind the "Werewolf By Night" series that inspired the show, its characters, its brooding storylines, and more. Be forewarned! Once you start digging into this show's connection to the comics, you might not return from your research. This show has the immense power to reshape the MCU as we know it — if Marvel Studios decides to take that dark road full of vampires, mad scientists, demons, and black magic.

Censorship delayed Werewolf's solo series

Although it might be hard to imagine a world without Marvel's prolific superhero lineup, the company once had completely different genre priorities. In the 1950s, publisher Martin Goodman founded the distribution comic company known as Atlas Comics, working with editors like Stan Lee. Their array of titles ran the gamut — mystery, horror, romance, Westerns — and looked more like what we now call weird fiction. Creepy series like "Menace," "Uncanny Tales," and "Strange Tales" hit comic stands, giving young readers the zombies, ghosts, and ghouls that they craved. By 1953, Lee reigned as the editor-in-chief of Atlas, and horror stories were approximately 25 percent of the publisher's lineup. That same year, "Marvel Tales" #116 introduced a five-page one-shot titled "Werewolf by Night!"

Then, things get complicated. A book called "Seduction of the Innocent" debuted in 1954, arguing that comics corrupted children. Afraid of how this moral crusade (there were comic book burnings!) would affect Atlas' bottom line, Goodman and other publishers created the Comics Code Authority, an agreement to strike things like sex, monsters, queerness, and vulgarity from comics. Authority figures like cops and politicians also had to be respected. As you can imagine, these guidelines made it easier to publish superhero stories that vilified chaos agents like Loki than craft complicated tales about actual corruption. Ironically, this censorship occurred while America devasted Korea in the Forgotten War.

Things get weird again in the '70s!

According to the CCA, werewolves and vampires were forbidden, but that didn't stop Marvel from sneaking bloodsuckers into '60s-era comics via dinosaurs. (Sadly, our Werewolf didn't receive a prehistoric treatment, leaving his story untouched for years.)

During the 1970s, CCA revisions ultimately ruled it was fine for vampires, werewolves, and creatures to appear in comics — but only if rendered classically. Why does the Werewolf we meet in 1972's "Marvel Spotlight" #2 seem like a monologue from a Universal Horror film? How come he kills someone in every issue but we never see any bloodshed? That's how he had to be. In the two subsequent issues, his conflict is limited to his monstrous infliction. However, the success of his stories opened the door for now-iconic Marvel characters like Ghostrider, Moon Knight, Spider-Woman, and Son of Satan.

Based on the "Werewolf By Night" trailer, I'm willing to bet that the MCU's outing will be equally bloodless, as it already seems to be leaning more into Victorian-gothic vibes.

Who is Jack Russell?

The first time we met "The Werewolf By Night" in Atlas' pages, the wolfman was more of a simplistic creature than a well-defined character. In "Marvel Spotlight" #2, we meet Jack Russell. Although there have been two wolfmen in Marvel Comics, the upcoming Halloween special will star the dogged Jack Russell. He's blonde, buff, and lives in a mansion with a stepfather who seems to be plotting his mother's murder. On the night of his 18th birthday, Jack turns into a werewolf. He (poorly) keeps his secret hidden. When he confesses his condiction to his dying mother, she reveals that he comes from a line of lycanthropes. Long ago, Dracula cursed one of Russell's ancestors. While that curse becomes dormant, it reawakens when Jack's grandfather interacts with the Darkhold. Directly following the events of "Marvel Spotlight," 1972's "Werewolf By Night" solo series follows Jack's most persistent conflict: Everyone hunts him for his connection to the Darkhold.

From the '80s onward, Russell's control over his form and incredible strength fluctuate. Sometimes, he's more of a rampaging beast like in the "Moon Knight" series by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz. In others, he teams up with characters like Morbius to fight a zombie outbreak as in 2009's "Marvel Zombies" series. Regardless, Jack reminds readers a bit of the brooding Angel from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," denying what he wants (and hurting others in the process) because he can't come to terms with who he is.

Moon Knight's complicated history with Jack

Moon Knight made his Marvel Comics debut in "Werewolf By Night" #32, as a morally ambivalent mercenary hunting Jack for a $10,000 payout (about $70,000 in today's currency). The pair nearly kill each other but instead team up to take down the Committee (who initially hired Marc Spector to capture Jack). After that event, things seldom improve for the pair. Moon Knight can't trust a Darkhold-made monster. Jack can't believe that the silver-clad antihero won't betray him because silver hurts him. Occasionally, the two will team up to defeat a looming threat, but they often end up brawling with each other. However, Moon Knight also calls him a brother in battle, as he once helped him kill his enemy Belial. (Still, friendship never feels paws-ible!)

Understandably, the internet has been a-buzz about whether or not a "Moon Knight" crossover will happen with the MCU's upcoming Halloween special. Based only on what "Werewolf By Night" director Michael Giacchino has said, it seems unlikely for now. Giacchino told ET Canada that there are "no immediate plans" for a crossover. However, it's fair to remind readers that even if there is a Marc Spector cameo in the project, Giacchino wouldn't be able to tell us, so who knows?

How is Jack tied to the Darkhold?

That dang book! Nothing good ever comes from the Darkhold. Tragically, Jack is one of the few Marvel characters who wants nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, fate doomed him to be eternally linked to the sinister tome. In 1972's "Werewolf By Night" series, we learn that Jack's grandfather created a copy of the Darkhold from a collection of ancient scrolls. Somehow his creation of the book changed his family's lineage forever. How? Jack never truly learns, but obsessively evil cults, creatures, mystics, and mad doctors consistently kidnap him to find out. Often, their plan is the same: Drain Jack's blood to gain access to the Darkhold's powers. Since Jack inherited the book from his late father, he often ends up in possession of it — increasing the likelihood that he'll have to battle creatures from it or those in want of it.

Thanks to this dark grimoire, he'll face off against powerful enemies like sorcerer Morgan le Fey, Braineaters, and Switchblade (a Darkhold-controlled Eric Brooks).

Allies and foes

Despite hanging out with (mostly) supernatural beings, Jack has a handful of close human companions. Jack's first friend in the comics is Buck Cowan, an investigative journalist intrigued by the Werewolf By Night's mysterious and action-packed life. He also deeply cares about his sister, Lissa, who broke her curse, although her daughter Nina still inherited it. He even flirted with Marvel's iconic monster-hunter Elsa Bloodstone (more on her soon!)

While Jack's werewolf side might come from a Darkhold connection, he spends most of his time fighting alongside those who don't want its evil powers unleashed on the masses. He's been part of several mythic-powered teams. including the Midnight Sons (Doctor Strange, Blade and the Nightstalkers, Morbius, Vengeance, and the Darkhold Redeemers) and the Legion of Monsters (Man-Thing, Morbius, and Ghost Rider).

Understandably, he's no fan of Dracula nor the Committee, as they're beings who abuse their powers for selfish reasons. Typically, Jack is fairly humane in how he handles the world, especially since he knows what happens when power goes unchecked. (He almost slaughtered Buck in werewolf form and his wolf side has killed heaps of humans. Yikes!)

On October 19, Marvel will release the one-shot comic "Crypt of Shadows," an anthology told from the perspective of Doctor Strange's vampiric brother, Victor Strange. He retells stories about Morbius, Werewolf by Night, Moon Knight, Elsa Bloodstone, Man-Thing, and Blade's daughter, Bloodline, so I'm sure we'll learn plenty more secrets there, too!

How the Bloodstone family became monster hunters

To understand who the Bloodstone family is in the pages of Marvel Comics, you have to start very long ago. In 8250 B.C., a hunter spied a mysterious cavern near his tribe. He entered it and encountered Ulluxy'l, an immortal, god-like guardian of the Bloodstone gem. The interdimensional being gave the hunter power and asked him to bring his tribe to the cavern so they could receive power. Sadly, the ritual failed and destroyed the hunter's entire tribe. However, the hunter leaped onto the gem, shattering it. A portion of the gem lodged itself in the hunter's sternum, imbuing him with immortality and vitality. Ulluxy'l became the hunter's eternal enemy, as both sought revenge for what the other took from them.

The hunter took on the name Ulysses Bloodstone. For centuries, Ulluxy'l unleashed monsters to attack the immortal man. This paved the way for him (and his family) to become Marvel's premier monster-hunting family. Ulysses gained power and influence through mercenary work and faced creatures like Dracula, the Mummy, alligator men, cannibals, and zombies. However, becoming the world's best monster hunter made Ulysses incredibly ruthless. He sent his wife, Elise, to a mental institution when she interfered with his career and their daughter's monster hunting training. He threw an infant Elsa into a battle with a Blight Beast! And a long time ago, he cast his secret daughter, Lyra, into the cosmos.

What's Elsa Bloodstone's deal?

Armed with the power of regeneration, a Bloodstone gem-choker, and blood that can hurt vampires, Elsa Bloodstone is a formidable monster hunter. Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Michael Lopez's "Bloodstone" #1 introduced the vampire slayer to Marvel fans. Later runs expanded on how her father brutally prepared her for a future career in monster hunting — like throwing her into a pool of great white sharks when she was 13. Due to her father's influence, Elsa initially has an "all monsters are bad" policy. However, as she delves more into the mystic areas of the Marvel Universe, she realizes that there are creatures (and magic users like Doctor Strange) that save the world from destruction. Known for her fighting skill, gymnastics, and cynicism, she's often compared to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Similarly, her views on vampires change after she works with one (in this case, Morbius) during her tenure on the Legion of Monsters team. In "Death of Doctor Strange: Bloodstone," Elsa, her half-brother Cullen, and their estranged sister, Lyra, band together to restore balance to the universe.

In Disney+'s "Werewolf By Night," Laura Donnelly portrays Elsa. Having starred in "The Nevers," Donnelly is no stranger to playing a role that dabbles in magic and combat, so we'll likely see her fighting prowess appear in the upcoming Halloween special.

Why is Man-Thing in the trailer?

Created by Stan Lee, Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, and Gray Morrow, the scientist-turned-vegetable-creature, Man-Thing, debuted in 1971's "Savage Tales" #1. After an experiment to turn Dr. Ted Sallis into a super soldier goes wrong, he transforms into the indestructible (and slimy) Man-Thing. Sadly, his grip on conscious thoughts and intelligence is lost in the process in much the same way Jack's wolf form separates him from critical thinking. 

Sometimes, he regains access to his mind, like in 2017's "Man-Thing" limited series that shows the creature taking on Hollywood. Unfortunately, those abilities often disappear. Still, he'll team up with people like Luke Cage and Werewolf By Night to fight for the forces of good or guard the Nexus of All Realities (an interdimensional portal).

Why did Man-Thing appear in the trailer for MCU's "Werewolf By Night?" Likely, it's due to his connection to the Midnight Sons team-up in 2018's "Doctor Strange: Damnation," freeing Doctor Strange from Mephisto's influence. That iteration of the Midnight Sons team also includes Elsa Bloodstone, Spider-Man, Wong, and Blade. While it's unclear if any of these team members will appear in the upcoming black-and-white special, it's safe to say that his appearance ushers in a lot of possible connecting storylines to Wong's current journey in "She-Hulk: Attorney At Law" as well as Elsa's and Blade's upcoming MCU debuts.

How does Blade fit into this?

Fun fact: Blade co-creator Marv Wolfman penned some of Jack Russell's earliest adventures. (Of course, Marvel didn't miss the opportunity to write, "At last, Werewolf written by a Wolfman!" in the opening of 1972's "Werewolf By Night" #11.) However, the Daywalker has often crossed paths with Werewolf By Night, as they both consider Dracula to be their nemesis. In Marvel Comics, Blade, King, and Frank Drake gather together to become the Nightstalkers. As mentioned above, the trio joins Jack Russell when he's a part of the Midnight Sons. Also, Blade has teamed up with Elsa Bloodstone quite a bit.

Considering Blade's (Mahershala Ali) upcoming feature film and the special's focus on monster-hunting, it seems like he has to appear. Some rumors suggest that Ali's Blade had a planned cameo in "Werewolf By Night" that fell through due to scheduling conflicts. However, this hasn't been confirmed (or denied) by Marvel Studios, so who knows? Maybe it'll still happen, or there'll be a juicy end-credits scene, alluding to what the vampire-human-hybrid has been up to since the Multiverse opened the MCU to unforeseen horrors. 

How does the series tie into the MCU?

Based on the ominous ending of "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" and Wong's growing role in the MCU, my money is on the special functioning an incredible platform to launch a version of the Midnight Sons, who save Stephen Strange from damnation after he uses the Darkhold. Jack Russell, Wong, Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Elsa Bloodstone, Morbius, Spider-Man, and Blade have served on this team. Elsa even battled the evil Scarlet Witch, who, let's face it, is powerful enough in the MCU now to avoid that death by a surprise avalanche at the end of "Multiverse of Madness." All of these characters share complicated and compelling stories about defeating the dark arts and evil monsters. 

However, I don't think we'll see the fully formed team anytime soon. Remember, Marvel Studios geared up its Avengers team through a series of standalone films that started in 2008 and didn't connect them all until 2012. Let's not forget the ongoing (and incredibly confusing) timeline of Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios' conversations about who owns the rights to Spider-Man! I think this serves more as an early who's who guide to Elsa and Jack, with maybe some Darkhold references. Regardless, the creepy potential is there if Marvel Studios dares to dip its toes in the realms of mummies, bloodsuckers, mythic beasts, and other unimaginable horrors.