When you have a character being published in multiple monthly comics for upwards of fifty years, you tend to play out some very kooky ideas. Flash, for example, had an entire storyline about his imaginary friend from childhood who was actually a real alien. It was written by Grant Morrison, so the story is better than it sounds, but it was still pretty goofy.
No comic fan will dispute that DC Comics has had way more of these kinds of stories than Marvel Comics has, but one thing we can all agree is that Marvel has had some of the weirdest. One of them, one that will forever stick in the minds of readers is Capwolf – the time Captain America turned into a werewolf.
It all started in 1992, specifically in CAPTAIN AMERICA issue 402, when in the woods of Massachusetts, the body of a man is found by Wolverine. It appears that the guy has been killed by a werewolf. It so happens that John Jameson – astronaut, son of James Jonah Jameson, Cap’s personal pilot and a werewolf, himself, is missing. Worried that his friend has once more become entwined in the power of the Moongem, the item that originally turned John into a werewolf, Cap goes on the search for his pal.
Checking the woods where the dead man was found, Cap is attacked by a werewolf, but is saved when a werewolf hunter called… whew… Moonhunter shows up and kills the werewolf. Cap learns that for some reason, lycanthropes all over are converging on the town of Starksboro, Massachusetts. When he arrives, he finds himself surrounded by werewolves, which you would think he would have expected. It becomes clear to all involved that the people of Starksboro have all been turned into werewolves via a serum created by the evil Nightshade. Nightshade’s boss Dredmund, has taken over the town. Even worse, Dredmund has Wolverine under hypnotic control. Hiding in the town, Cap is spotted by Wolverine and they duke it out. Wolverine overpowers Captain America and Moonhunter deals the final blow, knocking America’s favorite son unconscious. Nightshade injects Cap with her serum, turning him into a werewolf.
Maybe because of the Super Soldier Serum already pumping through his veins or maybe because Steve Rogers is so awesome, Capwolf is able to withstand the full effects of the werewolf serum and while he takes on werewolf looks, he keeps his mind intact. Capwolf escapes capture and runs off into the woods. Wolverine tracks Capwolf down and the two fight again. This time, Capwolf has the upper hand and he solidly beats the crap out of Wolverine. Still, that annoying jerk Moonhunter shows up and captures Capwolf.
Penned up with other werewolves, Capwolf quickly beats the tar out of the alpha male, taking over. Wolfsbane, a mutant who has wolf traits, is in the pen and helps Capwolf learn to speak in his wolf form. Now as leader of the penned up werewolves, Capwolf creates a plan to escape with his new army. Capwolf’s wolf army breaks out and quickly overtakes Moonhunter and Nightshade. Capwolf and his crew reach Dredmund’s headquarters just as Dredmund is slitting the throat of Doctor Druid and using his blood to charge up the Moongem. The super powered Moongem turns Dredmund into Starwolf. Capwolf attacks, but is easily beaten by Starwolf. Meanwhile, just outside of town is Cable, who is looking for his X-Force teammate, Feral! Cable enters the town and, being Cable, just starts shooting everyone. Capwolf disarms Cable, which was maybe a bad idea, since it lets Starwolf use his magic to wrap Capwolf and Cable into a carpet, then he drops a monolith on top of the carpet seemingly crushing the two heroes.
Another werewolf, during all of this, snuck out with the mortally wounded Doctor Druid and has brought him to Nightshade’s lab. The man-wolf finds an unconscious Nightshade there and injects her with her own lycanthrope serum, turning her into a werewolf. Nightshade, not wanting to be a werewolf, starts to work on an antidote to her own junk.
Moonhunter escapes his captivity and snags Wolverine along the way. They go to get Nightshade, only to find her in her current state. Doctor Druid uses his power to free Wolverine and Moonhunter of the mind control they are under. Wolverine heads to Starwolf’s headquarters with Moonhunter close behind.
Wolverine frees Capwolf and Cable, who were saved from being squished by Cap’s shield. The four men, Capwolf, Cable, Wolverine, and Moonhunter take on Starwolf and are able to separate him from the Moongem, returning Starwolf to the human form of Dredmund. The people of Starksboro are given the antidote that Nightshade has created. Sure enough, the wolf that forced her to make an antidote was John Jameson. He’s alive! Cap returns to human form too.
Werewolves are very popular in the Marvel universe. In some cases, they are mutants, like Wolfsbane and Feral. Other times, they are people made into werewolves by Moongems, like John Jameson. Others are just werewolves. Capwolf is, undoubtedly, the most famous of all comic book werewolves.
The Greeks believed that werewolves came from a curse made by Zeus. As the story goes, King Lycaon of Arcady, once a proud supporter of Zeus, who demanded that temples be built in honor of the deity, had begun to lose his faith in the god. Zeus, being Zeus, decided to test Lycaon – he turned himself human and showed up at the palace doors as a local countryman. Lycaon, not being a dummy, figured out that it was Zeus and decided to screw with the deity. He welcomed the disguised Zeus into his palace. Now, there are two different ways the next part of the story is told…
Both versions agree that Lycaon had his youngest son killed and roasted to be served to the disguised Zeus. One version says that Lycaon’s plan was to trick Zeus into eating human flesh, which would cause Zeus to be stuck in human form forever. The other version is that Lyacon did this as a sacrifice to show Zeus the power of his faith. Either way, Zeus was grossed out by the cooked child. He turned Lycaon and his remaining sons into wolves as punishment.
I personally have an affection for werewolves. Unlike most other classic monsters, werewolves are not one thing. Vampires all love drinking blood, for example, but some werewolves hate what they are.
In Estonia in the 17th century, 18 women and 13 men were put to death for being werewolves. These 31 people confessed to being werewolves after being tortured, saying that they attacked cattle while in their wolf forms. Even after these trials, werewolf attacks continued in the area.
Arguably the most famous werewolf trial is that of Peter Stumpp, the Werewolf of Bedburg. Stumpp was caught by his neighbors removing his “wolf girdle” as he assumed human form. He was arrested and, as things went at the time, tortured until he confessed. Stumpp, who was probably not a werewolf, was certainly not a good person. He was a cannibal who killed his own son and ate his brains. He also regularly raped his daughter. Stumpp claimed that when he was 12, Satan came to him and gave him the girdle, which let him turn into a wolf. He then used the magic girdle for 25 years, killing and raping whenever he felt. Along with sheep, Stumpp claimed to have killed and eaten upwards of fourteen children. He also confessed to killing two pregnant women. He then tore the fetuses from their bodies and, to use his own words “ate their hearts panting hot and raw.”
Stumpp was put to death, as was his mistress and daughter because they did nothing wrong, but hey, you may as well take out the whole family.
Like I said, though, not all werewolves are evil. In Jurgensburg, Latvia – then called Livonia – in 1692, an 80 year old man named Thiess of Kaltenbrun was accused of being a werewolf. Thiess admitted that he was a werewolf, but swore his was a “hound of God” and that three times a year, he and other werewolves would journey into hell in order to fight witches and Satan and retake any grain and livestock the witches had stolen from Earth. Thiess was not put to death, but instead whipped for trying to turn people away from Christianity. He was also banished for life.
Werewolf trials haven’t ended, but the form they take has changed. In April 2006, Medicine Hat, Alberta, a town of just over sixty thousand people found itself in the midst of a werewolf attack. Marc Richardson and he wife, Debra, were found dead in the basement of their home. The body of their son, eight year old Jacob, was found upstairs. Making matters worse, their twelve year old daughter, J.R. was missing. She was found the next day in Leader, Saskatchewan with her boyfriend, twenty three year old Jeremy Steinke. Steinke and the Richardson daughter, whose name was kept out of all reports and court documents because of her age, were arrested for the murders. Steinke would claim that he was not twenty three, but actually a three hundred year old werewolf. His friends said that Steinke used to wear a vial of blood around his neck and that he claimed to be a lycan. He once threatened to eat a friend during a full moon. Steinke was convicted of the murders and given three life sentences to be served consecutively. The girl was given the maximum sentence allowed for a person her age, ten years.
Capwolf, by the way, has made a recent return. Late last year, in CAPTAIN AMERICA: SAM WILSON issue 3, the new Cap, former Falcon Sam Wilson, was turned into a werewolf as both an homage and a little bit of a chance to goof at the previous Capwolf story. The great monsters, even when they are in bad stories, never really go away. They keep popping out of the darkness to creep us out yet again.
*Photos: Marvel Comics