The genealogy of Marvel’s resident werewolf, Jack Russell, has always been a bit muddled, and the Marvel Universe’s so-called “sliding time scale” has only made the situation worse over the years, by constantly stretching the interval between “today” and certain established points in history, until whole generations suddenly pop into existence to fill newly-created voids. However, within my timeline for the Original Marvel Universe, such complex ongoing revisions are rendered unnecessary, and at long last a clear picture of Jack Russell’s family history can emerge.
For many years it was unclear whether there was a distinction between “Gregory” and “Gregor” Russoff, Jack’s most immediate progenitor(s), both of whom were werewolves during the first half of the twentieth century. Even when it was finally established that they must have been two different characters, it remained uncertain which of them had done what in terms of family history. Attempts to clarify the issue often only muddied the waters further, especially since there was even confusion about how many Books of the Darkhold there were and who had which one when. With the recent publication of the first volume of Essential Werewolf by Night, I decided the time had come to sort it all out once and for all. As usual, plugging the stories into my OMU timeline made all the difference. The resulting chronology traces the history of the family curse from the original affliction of Jack’s ancestor to its manifestation in Jack himself.
Note: The following timeline depicts the Original Marvel Universe (anchored to November 1961 as the first appearance of the Fantastic Four and proceeding forward from there. See previous posts for a detailed explanation of my rationale.) Some information presented on the timeline is speculative and some is based on historical accounts. See the Notes section at the end for clarifications.
Finally… The True History of the Russoff Werewolves!
1795 – After more than a decade away from Transylvania, Dracula returns to his castle in Borgo Pass, having been driven out of France by the chaos of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. However, he finds that several local noblemen have taken advantage of his long absence and encroached upon his lands. Only Grigori, the Baron Russoff, refuses to relinquish his claim, and Dracula’s threats do not intimidate him. In fact, the Baron swears to kill Dracula if he makes a move against him. Unable to brook such insolence, Dracula stalks Grigori’s wife Louisa, the Baroness Russoff, and murders her.
Upon his wife’s death, a distraught Grigori sets out to get his revenge. Well aware of Dracula’s vampirism, Russoff storms Castle Dracula in the middle of the day, finds his victim sleeping in his coffin, and drives a wooden stake through his heart. The vampire’s body immediately crumbles to dust, leaving only a desiccated skeleton. Grigori then dumps a sack of garlic cloves into the coffin, seals it shut, and heaves it over a balcony into the river far below. Then, fueled by rage and grief, Grigori begins destroying whatever valuables he can find in the ancient castle, intent on smashing anything Dracula may have cherished.
In the midst of his rampage, he hears a female voice coming from behind a thick wooden door, held shut by a heavy beam. Realizing the fiend has been keeping a prisoner in the castle, Grigori manages to lift the beam away to open the door. Within the room he finds a beautiful young woman who calls herself Lydia. She relates the harrowing tale of her victimization, and Grigori vows to protect her. She is grateful, and they set off together on foot through the forest towards Castle Russoff.
As they walk, however, the sun sets and the full moon rises, triggering a terrifying transformation in Lydia. Too late, Grigori discovers that she is a werewolf. She attacks him, but he manages to fight her off, as she is greatly weakened from her long imprisonment. However, he suffers numerous bites and scratches.
Soon after, to his everlasting horror, Grigori finds himself transformed into a werewolf as well. Though he is able to hide this fact from his grown children, he begins keeping a diary to record his tormented thoughts.
Some months later, after killing a village girl named Valeria Ptacek, the Grigori Russoff werewolf is nearly captured by a mob of locals, but is wily enough to evade them. Upon returning to his human form the next morning, he makes his way back to his lonely castle. Eventually, Grigori dies and his son becomes the new Baron Russoff. Although his decedents are mystically marked by the curse of lycanthropy, it remains dormant in them since his children were born before he was afflicted.
1895 – One hundred years later, Gregor Russoff, the great-great-grandson of Grigori, is born, the eldest son of the current Baron and Baroness Russoff.
1900 – Gregor’s future wife, Maria, is born to another family of the Transylvanian aristocracy.
1917 – When his father is killed during World War I, young Gregor becomes the new Baron Russoff. He and Maria are married.
1918 – Their firstborn son and heir, Gregory Russoff, is born.
1920 – Their second son, Philip Russoff, is born.
1921 – An avid student of the occult, Gregor purchases the Darkhold scrolls from the sorcerer Taboo in Constantinople and has them bound into book form. Once he is back home in Transylvania, Gregor begins translating the text. In the process, he transcribes much of the contents into his ancestor Grigori’s diary, his discovery of which years earlier had inspired his fascination with the occult. He also uses the diary to record his own ruminations and insights. However, his studies of the evil tome cause him to fall under the power of its original author, the demonic Elder God Chthon. The ancestral curse of lycanthropy is thus activated, and Gregor begins turning into a werewolf with each full moon.
Gregor is able to hide his terrible secret from his wife Maria and their two sons, but it causes a growing rift in the family. Furthermore, he begins spending more and more of their money on his dark pursuits, searching desperately for a cure, which brings financial hardship to the family.
1923 – Upon learning that Dracula is searching for the Darkhold, Gregor sets up a telescope in a secret room in their manor house, with which he can observe Castle Dracula off in the distance. He becomes paranoid that someone may discover that he possesses the vile book, for, so far as he knows, only he and Taboo know its current location, and a man like Taboo is not to be trusted.
1928 – Gregor finally becomes too paranoid to feel safe staying in Transylvania. And so, leaving their two sons in an exclusive boarding school, he and Maria close up the castle and move to their estate in the small neighboring country of Transia, a large tract of land which includes Wundagore Mountain. Gregor leaves the bound scrolls of the Darkhold hidden in the castle library, but takes with him his diary, into which most of the spells have been copied.
1929 – Needing more money for occult books and manuscripts, not to mention living expenses, Gregor sells most of the family’s Transian land to the British scientist Jonathan Drew, whose wife had recently inherited an adjoining estate. Months later, Gregor is infuriated to learn that the land he sold contains uranium deposits worth a fortune, and that Jonathan Drew has become a very rich man.
1930 – Gregor discovers that Drew and his associate, Herbert Edgar Wyndham, are constructing a vast scientific research facility in a remote area on Wundagore Mountain, the same area he prowls during his monthly transformations into his lupine form. In fact, the werewolf is spotted a few months later by Drew’s wife, prompting Drew and Wyndham to try hunting him down. However, they are not successful.
1931 – After stalking the inhabitants of the Citadel of Science for many months, the Gregor Russoff werewolf finally kills Merriem Drew. Four weeks later, he tries to kill Wyndham as well, but is driven off by the rising sun. Another month later, the werewolf attacks a group of Wyndham’s subterranean worker drones, but Wyndham, now wearing a protective suit of silver-plated armor, manages to trap the werewolf in a holding cell. When Gregor eventually reverts to his human form, Wyndham offers him a deal: if he allows Wyndham to fully study his affliction, then Wyndham will take full responsibility for caging his lupine form. After some consideration, Gregor accepts the offer.
Gregor reveals to Maria that he has a “sickness” and is going to stay at the Citadel of Science for treatment. Before withdrawing completely from the outside world, Gregor arranges for his eldest son, Gregory, to assume the baronetcy upon his maturity. Maria informs the boys of their father’s decision, also that she will remain in Transia to be near him and that they will return when he is cured. However, although she remains living in the house nearby, Maria will never see her husband again. Gregory and Philip continue to visit their mother on their holidays from school.
Gregor takes up residence at the Citadel of Science, helping Wyndham put the finishing touches on the facility after his subterranean workforce deserts him. Gregor brings with him his diary containing the Darkhold spells to continue his studies of black magic. Wyndham, meanwhile, continues to develop the technology he needs to study the evolution of life.
1936 – Upon reaching the age of 18, Gregory becomes the new Baron Russoff and returns to their ancestral castle to live. Nevertheless, Maria still hopes for her husband to be cured and to return to her.
1938 – Uninterested in the trappings of the Transylvanian aristocracy, Philip decides to go to college in the United States of America.
1940 – Transylvania is dragged into World War II, getting caught in the crossfire between the Nazi and Soviet armies. However, although Gregory is completely unaware of its presence, the evil aura of the Darkhold keeps the German soldiers away from Castle Russoff.
1941 – On Wundagore Mountain, Gregor Russoff observes as Wyndham perfects his genetic accelerator, which he then uses to transform animals into humanoids. One of his first creations is a cow-woman he names Bova. He continues to create his so-called “New Men” out of a wide variety of animals, dubbing himself “the High Evolutionary.” Gregor believes Wyndham has gone mad and thinks his experiments are an abomination of nature, yet decides to remain in the safety of the citadel until a cure for his werewolfism can be found.
1945 – While in graduate school, Philip Russoff meets an American girl named Laura, and they date for a few months. However, they ultimately decide to just be friends. Meanwhile, World War II comes to an end.
1946 – One night, Gregory is magically driven out of Castle Russoff by the sorcerer Taboo, who has come to use the Darkhold to transform his son into a superhuman warrior. However, Gregory uses his authority as a baron to round up a mob of local villagers to take back the castle. They succeed in smashing down the door, stopping the sorcerer’s incantation, and chasing him from the castle. Burdened by his son’s now-comatose body, Taboo barely manages to escape capture. Then, picking over the ransacked chamber, Gregory discovers the Darkhold and becomes curious about it. He begins to study the ancient tome, and soon succumbs to its evil power. Then, as he reads of the origins of lycanthropy in the Darkhold under the light of the full moon, the latent werewolf curse inherited from his ancestors is activated, and like his father before him, he is transformed into a werewolf. Unfortunately, the active curse will be transferred to his descendents as well.
Gregory soon devises a way to imprison his werewolf self within the castle tower on each night of the full moon. Only occasionally does he fail to lock himself away in time, in which case his bestial alter-ego terrorizes the countryside.
Having earned his degree, Philip brings his friend Laura with him to visit Transylvania on her summer vacation, for he still has feelings for her and hopes to rekindle their romance. However, when he introduces her to his brother, Gregory, they hit it off immediately. Before long, Gregory and Laura have fallen madly in love and decide to get married. Gregory’s mother, Maria, journeys from Transia to attend the wedding. After the wedding, Laura, now Baroness Russoff, leaves school and moves into the family castle. Somewhat dejected after seeing his former girlfriend marry his brother, Philip moves back to America permanently, settles in California, and even Americanizes his name to “Russell.”
1947 – In September, Gregory is overjoyed when Laura gives birth to their son Jacob Russoff. He often plays with the baby and says nice things to him.
1948 – In England, the spirit of a sixth-century sorcerer named Magnus possesses Jonathan Drew and causes him to return to Wundagore Mountain. After seventeen years, Gregor Russoff barely remembers Drew, who now tries to convince Wyndham to cease his experiments before he inadvertently frees the demon Chthon, who is trapped within the mountain. The High Evolutionary scoffs at such talk of the supernatural. However, he agrees to Drew’s plan to instill a sense of honor into the New Men by training them in the ways of medieval chivalry. In the months that follow, Gregor speaks with Jonathan Drew at length about Chthon and the threat the demon poses, as well as the incalculable magic power he possesses.
Meanwhile, after two years of an idyllic life, Laura becomes pregnant again. By this time, she has begun to grow suspicious of the three days and three nights each month that Gregory spends locked within the castle’s tower. He convinces her that he devotes that time to his “studies.”
1949 – One night, a few months later, a bolt of lightning strikes the castle tower, shattering its wall and freeing the Gregory Russoff werewolf. Wandering into the nearby village, he kills a carpenter. Knowing that Baron Russoff is a student of arcane texts, a group of village men come seeking his aid and meet with the Baroness. The Baron’s unexplained absence arouses their suspicions. The following night, a hunting party tracks down the werewolf and kills him with silver bullets. As he dies, the werewolf reverts to the form of Gregory Russoff, and the villagers turn their wrath upon the Russoff family.
Widowed and disgraced, the pregnant Laura takes Jack and flees Transylvania, returning to the United States. She contacts Philip Russell in California, who is glad to help. When she reveals that Gregory was a werewolf, Philip agrees to help protect the family name, acting as trustee to the Russoff family holdings, which young Jack is due to inherit one day. Soon, Laura gives birth to her daughter Lissa Russoff. Spending so much time together, Philip and Laura find their former romance rekindled, and the two eventually fall in love.
1950 – On Wundagore Mountain, Gregor Russoff comes to believe that only Chthon can free him from the werewolf curse, and so he uses the Darkhold spells in his diary to attempt to summon the demon to Earth. However, at the critical moment, the spirit of Magnus possesses Gregor and forces him to read the Darkhold’s Ritual of Banishment. Chthon is cast back to his own dimension, but at the last moment he lashes out with a bolt of evil energy that kills Gregor instantly. Magnus returns to Jonathan Drew’s body and buries Gregor Russoff on the mountain.
Soon after, Maria is informed by an emissary from “Dr. Wyndham” that her husband has died. The emissary presents Gregor’s locked diary to her, which she carries with her as she finally returns to Russoff Manor in Transylvania. Then, leaving her husband’s diary behind, she immediately travels to Castle Russoff, where she learns that her son Gregory is dead, and the rest of the family has left for the United States. To her horror, Maria is accused by the local villagers of consorting with Satan to mother a werewolf. They drive her from the village, preventing her also from returning to Russoff Manor. Thus homeless and friendless, Maria wanders the woods for weeks until she stumbles into a Gypsy camp. The Gypsies take pity on her and offer her a place among them. She subsequently spends over 15 years with them, and eventually begins to study the black arts of sorcery.
In California, Philip and Laura are married, and Laura decides to Americanize the children’s last names to “Russell” as well. As they grow up, Laura’s children remain unaware that their stepfather is also their uncle. Philip has most of Gregory’s possessions, including the entire contents of the castle library, shipped to Los Angeles and put into storage. In the process, Laura takes the opportunity to read through many of her late husband’s books and papers.
1951–1961 – Jack and Lissa enjoy a normal childhood at their beachside house in Westwood, a suburb of Los Angeles, but Laura is haunted by her fears of the children inheriting their father’s curse.
1962 – A clandestine group of unscrupulous business executives, who refer to themselves as “The Committee,” hires a top detective agency to find them a real live werewolf.
1964 – After two years of very expensive research, the agency reports to the Committee their findings that the deceased Baron Russoff of Transylvania had been a werewolf, and that his two teen-aged children are currently living in Los Angeles. Their research suggests that both children either are or soon will be werewolves themselves. Using this information, members of the Committee begin blackmailing Philip Russell, threatening to reveal his family’s dark secret unless he pays hush money. Hoping to protect Laura and the children from the scandal, Philip agrees to pay.
However, as the months pass, the Committee’s demands for money continue, and Philip realizes he must sell what he can of the Russoff estate in order to raise the necessary cash. He finds a buyer for the ancestral castle and most of its contents in a wealthy eccentric named Miles Blackgar. Philip is surprised by Blackgar’s plan to move the castle stone-by-stone to an island off the Monterey Coast, a process that will take many months.
1965 – Early in the year, Philip is forced to employ Max Grant, an agent of the Committee, as a chauffeur. Grant also serves as his liaison with the blackmailers and collects Philip’s payments. However, Grant is insolent, verbally abusive towards Laura, and gruff with the children. By the end of the summer, Philip is fed up with the situation and attempts to stop making his payments. The Committee is not pleased.
In September, as Jack Russell celebrates his eighteenth birthday, the latent curse of lycanthropy is activated and he transforms into a werewolf for the first time. Simultaneously, the Committee orders Grant to tamper with the brakes of Laura’s Rolls-Royce to teach Philip a lesson. When Jack runs out on his birthday party and disappears, Laura goes out searching for him, and her car soon careens off the road into a ditch. Fatally wounded, Laura is taken to the hospital. Before she dies, she reveals to Jack the truth about his father and the curse of being a werewolf by night.
1795 – Jack’s ancestor Grigori Russoff was introduced in Werewolf by Night #15, and further details of his encounter with Dracula were provided in Tomb of Dracula Magazine #3. He was originally referred to as Jack’s great-great-great-grandfather, but genealogical analysis reveals that he must have actually been Jack’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, since he did not appear to be a particularly young man in 1795 and his children, reportedly, had already been born. His later activities as a werewolf were shown in Werewolf by Night #18. In this issue, his victim’s name is written as “Patcek,” but I believe this is a typographical error. The name “Patcek” is virtually unheard of, whereas “Ptacek” is fairly common. I myself knew a family named Ptacek in grade school. It’s pronounced “TA-check,” incidentally.
1921 – It was originally said that Gregory/Gregor purchased the Darkhold from Taboo in Istanbul shortly after World War II. However, he was then shown to be in possession of it in 1931 during the “Evolutionary War” storyline. Therefore, I surmise that Gregor obtained it shortly after World War I—when the city was still called Constantinople. Gregor is first seen with the Darkhold in Werewolf by Night #3.
1923 – The secret room in Russoff Manor and its spectacular view of Castle Dracula are revealed in Tomb of Dracula #18, although its use is wrongly attributed to Jack’s father. In fact, Gregory Russoff was never in possession of the Russoff Diary. It’s important to distinguish between the manor house and Castle Russoff, which were always located several miles apart.
1929 – The transfer of ownership of Wundagore Mountain from the Russoff family to the Drews was shown in Avengers #187.
1930–1931 – The early days of the Citadel of Science on Wundagore Mountain were chronicled in the High Evolutionary series of back-up stories in Marvel’s 1988 Annuals. The appearance of a toddler-aged Phillip Masters in these stories should be discounted as apocryphal, as the future Puppet Master was quite a bit older than that.
1946 – Gregory’s encounter with Taboo, at which time he became aware of the Darkhold’s existence, was shown from Taboo’s point of view in Werewolf by Night #13. His relationship with Laura is first shown in flashback in Marvel Spotlight #2, with further details explained by Philip Russell in Werewolf by Night #14.
1949 – The death of Jack’s father is seen in Marvel Spotlight #2.
1950 – The death of Jack’s grandfather is seen in the High Evolutionary back-up story in Uncanny X-Men Annual #12. His wife Maria’s story is told in Giant-Size Werewolf #3. She is the obvious candidate to carry the Russoff Diary from Wundagore back to Russoff Manor, where Topaz discovers it in Tomb of Dracula #18.
1962 – The results of the Committee’s years of investigation are on display in Werewolf by Night #11.
1964 – The Committee’s blackmail plot is introduced in Marvel Spotlight #2, developed haphazardly over numerous issues, and finally explained in Werewolf by Night #14. In Marvel Spotlight #4 and subsequent stories, it is made to seem that Castle Russoff was sold after Laura’s death, but Jack is merely confused on this point. It would take quite a bit of time for Miles Blackgar to have the castle disassembled, transported halfway around the world, rebuilt stone-by-stone, furnished, and then turned into a laboratory for his sadistic experiments. Since not nearly enough time elapses between Marvel Spotlight #2 and 4, it must have occurred previously. Whether Philip sold off Jack’s inheritance with or without Laura’s knowledge is still an open question.
1965 – Jack Russell’s life as a werewolf begins in Marvel Spotlight #2.
Next Issue: The Book of Sins!