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The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s shadows are converging, forming a new corner. It’s filled not by brightly colored superheroes or villains, but by grey monsters forced to traverse a black-and-white world. Michael Giacchino’s Werewolf by Night, a 53-minute “Marvel Special Presentation,” knocks the door off its hinges and immerses fans in a world that has long resided on the outskirts, even within Marvel publishing. Marvel Comics introduced horror 50 years ago, changing their universe. It’s occurring again in cinema and TV 50 years later. Marvel’s got monsters.

Giacchino, known as the composer for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Jurassic World, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and The Batman, is a double-threat in the entertainment world with Werewolf by Night. Giacchino goes above and beyond what was expected and pays tribute to Universal and Hammer horror movies with the action and mood of Marvel horror comics from the 1970s.

Werewolf by Night shows Giacchino’s passion as a director and comic aficionado. In the Halloween special, monster-hunters compete for the Bloodstone, a magical item that weakens and controls monsters. Ted Sallis, aka Man-Thing, is the common threat. Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal) infiltrates the hunt and teams up with Elsa (Laura Donnelly) to save him. Once the other hunters learn Jack is a werewolf, that becomes difficult.

It’s a simple notion, yet so enjoyable that it feels like a back issue (despite Elsa Bloodstone being a relatively recent character, first appearing in 2001). No effort is made to ground the characters’ powers or place the film inside the MCU. Werewolf by Night is a bloody monster mash containing lore about monsters, vampires, and family curses. It’s similar to the film that made Marvel a cinematic giant: Blade (1998). Werewolf by Night features all Marvel characters and concepts, unlike Stephen Norrington’s picture. The fact that spectators get a fully-realized Man-Thing in the special (Kevin Feige’s idea) testifies to how dedicated Marvel is in building out this world.

Giacchino and co-executive producer Brian Gay have discussed the future of Marvel’s monsters and their centuries-old heritage. Man-Thing, Tomb of Dracula, Son of Satan, Tales of the Zombie, Frankenstein, The Living Mummy, and Manphibian feel like they might thrive in this space and be reinterpreted by Giacchino and a few skilled actors. There is also hope that these unknown people could work with well-known people on bigger projects.

Fans anticipate the TV special will launch an MCU Legion of Monsters or Midnight Suns. With a Blade revival starring Mahershala Ali and Ghost Rider being advocated for by Norman Reedus, Ryan Gosling, and Keanu Reeves, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before these horror strands come together and prove my Mephisto ideas. Newcomers to Marvel horror may wonder how the werewolf and Blade fit with Captain Marvel, Shang-Chi, and She-Hulk, but the MCU has begun forging that bridge.

Most of the monster lore in the comics comes from the demon Cthon and the book of dark magic, The Darkhold. In the Marvel Universe, werewolves, vampires, witches, ghouls, and goblins all trace back to Cthon. Doctor Strange, The Scarlet Witch, Moon Knight, and Agatha Harkness may tie Marvel’s horror realm to the Avengers’ fights.

Marvel has something new and has benefited from starting small and trying something new with the franchise. Werewolf by Night is similar to Iron Man, where a non-director puts their stamp on non-A-list characters. Many of these characters operate independently in the Marvel Universe, with limited comic book crossovers. Morbius, the Living Vampire, Marvel’s first official horror character, began as a Spider-Man enemy before becoming a ’70s anti-hero. He linked Werewolf by Night, Man-Thing, and Ghost Rider, resulting in the Legion of Monsters’ 1976 creation.

The internet may have succumbed to the assumption that Morbius is a joke at best, with the release of the Jared Leto-starrer, Morbius. But what’s interesting is that the guy is important to the founding of both the Legion of Monsters and the Midnight Sons. The film may not have worked for everyone, which I chalk up to pre-release hyperbole more than what’s on screen, but I think it’s a strong start with a character who may be better utilized facing off against Jack Russell or Blade. Given Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures’ renewed relationship, it doesn’t seem like much of a longshot.

The Morbius, Werewolf by Night, and Man-Thing were introduced to theaters this year, along with a Doctor Strange picture that included Cthon and the Darkhold. Ghost Rider is the only original Legion of Monsters member who isn’t there, and if they cast him this year, the internet might break.

Superheroes and horror flicks sell in today’s cinematic world. If Marvel continues to construct a bridge between the two, the MCU’s longevity and variety will benefit, attracting more fans and winning back those tired of square-jawed Avengers and wanting something with more bite. In this new age of gods and monsters, Marvel may overcome Universal’s unsuccessful Dark Universe series. Healthy rivalry is important for the genre and will hopefully help people rediscover iconic monsters. Werewolf by Night now rules.

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