Fandoms like to connect dots. Wanting to make sense of the fictional worlds that our favorite characters inhabit is often one of the things that helps to define a particular fandom. Vintage comic book fans — Silver Age Marvel fans in particular — have developed a notion which has come to be called character "prototypes". A prototype is a usually-obscure character that preceded a more famous or important character and is similar to that character in a noteworthy way. "Prototype" probably isn't quite the right name for the concept. It's often just a name, a visual look, or a super-power that was recycled for later use — perhaps sometimes knowingly, perhaps not. Still, prototypes do have their appeal. It's another little hook into understanding comics history. While Marvel Tales #116 isn't widely considered a prototype by collectors, perhaps it should be. It contains a werewolf story called "Werewolf by Night", 19 years before a character of that name became a Marvel horror icon beginning in Marvel Spotlight #2. There's a Marvel Tales #116 (Atlas, 1953) CGC VG/FN 5.0 Cream to off-white pages up for auction in Thursday's 2021 November 4 The Black Cat Collection and Pre-Code Horror Showcase Auction #40183 at Heritage Auctions.
There's are a few reasons why this issue hasn't yet caught on among most Marvel prototype collectors — all of which serve to make Marvel Tales #116 all the more desirable. Most Marvel prototype issues have a relatively short gap between the appearance of the prototype and the debut of the "real" character. In the case of the very popular Strange Tales #97, which contains a prototype for Spider-Man's Aunt May and Uncle Ben, the prototype appeared just two months before the real characters appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15. Many Marvel prototypes appeared a few years prior to their more famous counterparts at best. That scenario wasn't possible with Marvel Tales #116, as the Comics Code subsequently banned werewolf characters until the guidelines were relaxed in 1971. However, Menace #5, the PCH appearance of Bill Everett's Zombie character, was also cover-dated July 1953 — the same month as Marvel Tales #116 — and Marvel explicitly tied that character to his reemergence in the Tales of the Zombie magazine series in 1973. This raises the possibility that Marvel Tales #116 did indeed inspire the Werewolf by Night of 1972.
Perhaps more importantly, Marvel Tales #116 is much more difficult to get than traditional Marvel prototypes. For example, there's only 34 entries for the issue on the CGC Census, compared to 226 entries for Strange Tales #97. But there's a good shot to get a solid copy with Marvel Tales #116 (Atlas, 1953) CGC VG/FN 5.0 Cream to off-white pages up for auction in Thursday's 2021 November 4 The Black Cat Collection and Pre-Code Horror Showcase Auction #40183 at Heritage Auctions.
Marvel Tales #116 (Atlas, 1953) CGC VG/FN 5.0 Cream to off-white pages. "Werewolf by Night" story. Joe Maneely cover. Joe Sinnott, Jack Abel, and Tony DiPreta art. Overstreet 2021 VG 4.0 value = $108; FN 6.0 value = $162. CGC census 9/21: 8 in 5.0, 8 higher.