When it comes to the supernatural in the North American comic book market, British scribe Mike Carey is one of the first names that come to mind. From the diverse creatures of the night in DC Comics/Vertigo’s “Crossing Midnight,” to the mystic conflicts in Marvel Comics‘ “Spellbinders,” Carey has made a name for himself by telling acclaimed stories of the paranormal. Arriving in February as part of Marvel’s celebration of their classic horror characters is the “Legion of Monsters: Werewolf By Night,” a new one-shot by Carey. CBR News caught up with the writer to learn more about Jack Russell’s titular alter-ego’s return to glory and the scribe’s fascination with horror.
“I come from Innsmouth and my grandma was one of the spawn of Shub-Nigurath,” Carey told CBR News when asked why he’s so drawn to horror and the supernatural. “But in these enlightened times I hope everyone will just take that in their stride.”
Fans of Carey’s work won’t be too surprised to see that the writer is tackling werewolves, since the quest for identity, definition of self and other themes associated with the lupine creatures often appear in Carey’s work. These creatures of the night appeal to the writer for a lot of reasons. “It’s very much this horror archetype of ‘you can’t keep him out because he’s already in here with you,'” said Carey. “All horror is about the meeting of the self and the other, the human and the alien. In werewolf and vampire stories, and in Stevenson’s ‘Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde,’ the twist is that the alien is the human – that the meeting place is actually inside you. I think that’s one reason why werewolves and vampires have proved to have such a tenacious grip on our imagination.”
Carey has made no secret of his love for vampires, those other popular supernatural beings: but while the creatures are thematically linked, he doesn’t see them as interchangeable. “The erotic or psychosexual overtones that you get with vampires aren’t there with werewolves,” he mused. “Although in both cases you can see the monster as an expression of something bubbling up from the human subconscious, it’s a different something in each case. The werewolf channels naked aggression: the vampire channels a more refined cruelty that has sexuality as part of it. So literature is full of sexy, self-possessed, charming vampires, but werewolves tend to be desperate and driven. It would be fun to set those cliches on their heads some time. Terry Pratchett, of course, has a very sexy werewolf named Angua – and she’s one of the reasons why I love the novel ‘Men at Arms.'”
Getting back to this new “Werewolf By Night” one-shot (“a self contained horror vignette,” said Carey), it may be linked to the past tales of Jack Russell, but Carey explained that he’s taken steps to ensure it is new reader friendly. “You don’t need to know anything. If you know about Jack’s previous adventures and quests then there’s an extra dimension to seeing him here at a different point in his life and with a different relationship to the beast inside him, but none of those previous stories is directly referenced, and none of the supporting cast either from the original series or from the Jenkins/Manco series appear.
“The two main characters are Jack Russell – the Werewolf by Night himself – and a young woman named Rhona. The story is told from Rhona’s point of view. She lives in a small town in Alabama, Salvage, which has a certain history with werewolves and certain accepted ways of dealing with them. Jack wanders into this situation at a point where there’s a lot at stake for Rhona, and he radically changes how things come out.
“The only other named characters are a man named Cal Escher and a woman named Adrienne – both very nasty pieces of work.”
Lest you worry that Rhona will be the typical “spunky young female companion” dreaded by so many readers, Carey said that won’t be the case. “She’s actually a kind of tragic figure – although I think some literary critic once said that ‘passive suffering isn’t a fit subject for tragedy.’ Rhona is passive, until she meets Jack. She acquiesces in the terrible things that are done to her and her family. And then suddenly she sees that there’s another way. It’s like she’s had this tunnel vision up until the events of the story, and we see her mind being opened up to new perspectives.”
In past interviews, Carey has said that he wants to explore Jack Russell from a new perspective, not as a slight to past work, but because, “We didn’t want to just revisit the same situation that was the cornerstone of the Paul Jenkins run – the idea of Jack trying to find a way to bind or excise the wolf. So what we’ve done is to move him a few years down the road and show him at a point in his life where he’s come to accept – at least to some extent – the limited control he’s got over the beast and the part, both positive and negative, it plays in his life. There’s a point where he’s asked, ‘how can you bear to be what you are?” and he basically replies “it’s better than trying to be what you’re not.’ Put like that it maybe sounds a little flip and superficial, but in the context of the story the words have more resonance because we’ve seen how far Rhona has gone and how much suffering she’s put herself through to try to do exactly that.”
In preparation for writing this cult favorite character, Carey “soaked” himself in classic Jack Russell tales, which was quite fun for him, as the Brit is a big fan of the original “Wereworlf By Night” series. “Yeah, I loved all the off-beat stuff that Marvel were putting out in the seventies – the horror titles, the sci-fi stuff, the sword and sorcery epics. I can remember being absolutely blown away by the ‘War of the Worlds’ comic and by ‘Savage Sword.’ ‘Werewolf by Night’ is part of that same set of memories for me. And it had great art – Colan, Ploog, Gil Kane. It just seemed a lot cooler than most of the superhero stuff that was going on at the time.”
As a vocal fan of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” which dealt with many supernatural characters, Carey admitted that the Joss Whedon television series (featuring Seth Green as a werewolf) may have been an influence on his writing. “It must be on some level, if only because I’ve soaked up all 150-some episodes of Buffy so avidly. I think the influence of ‘Buffy’ goes beyond horror, though – it’s a primer in great storytelling, and particularly in the handling of an ensemble cast. I can’t pin down any specific places where I’ve borrowed a riff from Buffy, but I bet anyone who sat down with a bunch of my comics and a bunch of Buffy episodes could spot a dozen correspondences if they worked at it.”
Joining Carey on “Werewolf By Night” is superstar artist Greg Land and the scribe couldn’t be happier. “I think it’s fair to say that Greg’s love of the series and the character was the catalyst for the whole project, so it’s more a question of how I got involved than how he did. And basically the answer to that is that John Barber (who’s also got a fondness for the darker corners of the Marvel universe) put us together. It’s great to get a chance to work with Greg: I jumped at the chance. Umm, but it was a normal, human-sized jump – not a standing leap of ten yards as the baleful light of the full moon shone down on my fanged and grinning mouth, et cetera.”
If given the chance, there is another specific supernatural character from Marvel lore that Carey would love to script. “I’ve still got a yen to tackle Doctor Strange,” revealed Carey. “He’s a very cool character, and I go way back with him. I can remember reading the early Lee/Ditko stories as a kid, in black and white UK reprints, and then not being able to get to sleep afterwards. Now I want to do that to a whole bunch of other kids, bwa ha ha.”
Given the proper response from fans, Carey would love to plant a full moon in his creative sky and tackle “Werewolf By Night” in further tales. “Yeah, we’ve got some ideas,” admitted Carey. “And the story – although the immediate situation is resolved – leaves some things hanging in an interesting way, so it’s easy to imagine letting it run on into a mini of some kind.”
As for potentially running into the Howling Commandos, a supernatural team of federal agents looking for Jack Russell, showing up in more of Carey’s stories, “If we get to revisit Jack, then who knows? That would be a fun story to write.”