The Ghoul (2023)

THE GHOUL (2023) is a sequel to THE MAULING MAN (2022), which follows the adventures of a good-natured werewolf named Hal. In that story, Hal fights a supervillain called the Ghoul, who turns out to be a werehyena with a tragic backstory. THE MAULING MAN concludes with Hal rescuing the Ghoul, who then renounces his evil ways and becomes the hero’s brother and friend.

THE GHOUL begins a few years after these events. Its titular protagonist has been living with Hal, Hal’s mate Grace, and their wolf pups (some of whom are werewolves like their father) out in the woods since he left his criminal life among the humans. This has helped the Ghoul heal from his childhood as a tormented baby hyena, which is what drove him to evil and cruelty in the first place. He helps to raise Hal & Grace’s werewolf pups, who cherish him as their beloved uncle. He grows especially close to the smallest pup, the runt of the litter, whose name is Molly.

One day, while teaching little Molly to read, the Ghoul notices a newspaper article about a new supervillain who is now terrorizing the city in which he used to live. Known only as the Wraith, this masked maniac has been robbing banks, murdering crime lords, hiring their unemployed assassins, and leaving public messages for the Ghoul, defying him to come and stop them from aggressively monopolizing the entire criminal underworld if he can.

The Wraith’s reign of terror is so profound, even some of the city’s toughest crime lords—like Old Man Lugosi and Don Carradine—have been begging for the Ghoul to come back out of hiding and back them up. None of these people know the Ghoul is really a hyena who only becomes a man whenever he needs to interact with the human world, and that he has been living a good hyena life with his adopted wolf family this entire time.

The Ghoul is extremely troubled by this news, knowing he is responsible for creating this mess in the human world, and that his family’s Gods—Anubis and Wepwawet—demand he should go and set things right.

While the pups are asleep one night, the Ghoul tells Hal he must return to the city, and why. Hal immediately proposes to go with his brother, but the Ghoul insists this is his mess, and he alone must clean it up. He also knows Grace would never forgive him if Hal left again and never came back. So the Ghoul leaves, writing a note for Molly to practice with during her reading lessons. He hopes he will one day return to his new family—the first souls to truly love and accept him since his original hyena family was wiped out by humans—as he goes out to save the creatures he once tried to destroy for revenge.

The next morning, little Molly is not at all happy to learn her Uncle Ghoul has gone. So while the other young werewolves are playing, she runs off to follow him, tracking him by his scent. (There aren’t too many hyenas running around North America in the wild, after all.) Molly makes sure to bring the Ghoul’s note with her too, so she can practice reading whenever she rests.

By the time Molly catches up with her uncle, the Ghoul (in his human form) has bust in on a secret meeting between Lugosi and Carradine, demanding they take him to the Wraith. The mobsters are all too anxious to do so, thinking they might make a deal with the Wraith by offering them the Ghoul in exchange for a truce. They take the Ghoul to the Wraith, and Molly follows (still in her wolf form).

When Lugosi and Carradine’s men deliver the Ghoul to their tormentor, the Wraith responds by killing them and sending their corpses back to their employers as a message. Then the Wraith reveals their true identity to the Ghoul, because they want him to know exactly who they are before he dies.

When they remove their mask, the Wraith reveals they are invisible. Their true name is Claudia Raines, who once worked as a chemist at the city university—until the Ghoul blew up the lab where she worked, during one of his crime sprees in the past. In the explosion, Claudia was covered with too many dangerous chemicals to name; and though she somehow survived, she became permanently invisible, which has driven her insane.

One might think invisibility would be a cool super power, but not when you can never turn it off, and not when fully implementing it requires being nude. Imagine having to keep your face covered at all times just for people to know you are even there, or to see your own reflection in the mirror. Imagine being sick or injured and not being able to receive proper medical care, because the doctor literally can’t see you. This, combined with a history of feeling consistently ignored throughout her entire life to begin with, feeds the Wraith’s obsession with being SEEN and making OTHERS feel invisible for a change.

To do this, the Wraith kills crime bosses and appropriates their underlings for her own gang, executing any who refuse to join. She pays these minions—whom she calls her “apparitions”—with the funds she steals from the city’s banks, and she makes them all wear replicas of her mask and outfit, so that everyone is a decoy and no single gang member can be identified or profiled by eyewitnesses. This has the added effect of giving them the mystique of being “cloaked” under the Wraith’s invisibility, which people outside the gang are intended to think is just proverbial. The fact that Claudia Raines/the Wraith is quite LITERALLY invisible is a closely guarded secret, shared only with people the Wraith is about to murder personally (such as the Ghoul).

The next phase in the Wraith’s plan will truly cement her visibility in the public eye. At a specified time, she and her “apparitions” will loot and riot in different neighborhoods of the city simultaneously. This will make the Wraith seem “omnipresent” during a traumatizing municipal crisis, which is the closest Claudia Raines believes she can ever get to never being invisible again.

Having learned of his responsibility for the Wraith’s nightmarish quality of life, the Ghoul tries to apologize and explain his own origin story, which the Wraith mocks as a joke or a fairy tale. The Ghoul says he will gladly lay down his life if it will stop the Wraith from continuing with her madness. She says it won’t; but thanks, I think I’ll still kill you anyway. And that’s when Molly, in her bipedal wolf-person form, suddenly breaks in to bust her Uncle Ghoul loose. The Wraith witnesses the Ghoul transform (from human to hyena) as he escapes with his niece, and she realizes he wasn’t kidding about his true identity after all.

When they reach safety, the Ghoul embraces Molly, telling her he has never been happier to see her. Then he has a meltdown, feeling the weight of his evil former life, knowing a whole lot of people still have yet to be harmed as a result of his past misdeeds. He starts panicking when he realizes the Wraith might try to track down Hal & Grace’s Den, back in the woods. The thought of being responsible for any harm done to his beloved wolf family makes him hyperventilate.

Molly embraces the Ghoul and tells him her mom, dad, and siblings are ready for anything. And you might have done bad things in the past, Uncle Ghoul, but you have done lots of good things since then too. As long as you keep doing your best, that is all you can do, and I think you are good, and I love you. Then the pup pulls out her uncle’s letter and starts trying to read it to him; helping her read it makes the Ghoul feel a little better.

Meanwhile, the Wraith tries to do exactly what the Ghoul has imagined she might do. She remembers something she once read about “real werewolves” by Dr. Betsy Phibes, a disgraced cryptozoologist who tried to capture Hal alive in THE MAULING MAN (2022). Dr. Phibes is only taken seriously by crackpot conspiracy theorists nowadays, but she soon finds herself abducted from her home by the Wraith’s apparitions. She is then grilled for everything she knows about the Ghoul’s fellow shapeshifters in the woods, which she gives unwillingly (since she has only ever wanted to capture and study these creatures, not to destroy them).

Dr. Phibes gives the Wraith a sense of where Hal & Grace’s Den might actually be located. The Wraith orders several of her apparitions to scout the location and exterminate anything unusual they might find. In the meantime, she will prepare her remaining apparitions for their combined assault upon the entire city.

The apparitions close in on Hal & Grace’s Den during a snowstorm. The snow makes them even less visible in their white masks and outfits. But unbeknownst to them, Hal and his werewolf children are all pretty terrific with tools in their human forms, and their entire forest is booby-trapped. They have built an intricate system of tunnels underground, which they use to sneak around their would-be assailants unnoticed. Hal was also warned of the oncoming attack by a neighboring pack of normal wolves, who thought these weirdo humans dressed all in white looked extremely suspicious.

Even worse for the apparitions, Hal’s kids have each been highly trained in hunting and stealth by their father and the Ghoul. The apparitions are easily neutralized despite all of their firepower, and one is left conscious for interrogation. From this survivor, Hal learns that Molly is with the Ghoul, and that she rescued him and has him hidden safe somewhere (which makes him very very proud of his youngest pup).

When Hal learns how the Wraith intends to “haunt” the entire city all at once, he knows Molly and the Ghoul will both need all the help they can get. So he and the other werewolves locate Molly and the Ghoul; then they all head back to the city together, as a werewolf army.

That night, the Wraith and her apparitions launch their assault upon the city—looting random homes and businesses in sync with each other across different neighborhoods. But they are quickly taken down and left for the police by the Ghoul and his werewolf pack. The shapeshifters even rescue Dr. Phibes, despite all the trouble she has ever caused for Hal and Grace.

The Ghoul unmasks the Wraith, revealing her invisibility for everyone present to see. She curses him, blaming him for what she is and what she has done. The Ghoul agrees he is responsible for making Claudia Raines invisible; but Claudia Raines is responsible for turning herself into the Wraith. The Ghoul offers to help her learn how to own this and do better, if she will let him; but the Wraith just promises to kill him and his entire family if she ever breaks out of prison. The Ghoul accepts that she will never forgive him, and decides to move on.

Claudia Raines is incarcerated at a maximum security facility for the dangerously insane, where she is kept under constant surveillance with thermal imaging cameras. Her hatred continues to fester, and she waits patiently for any opportunity she might find to make her escape and appear once more as the malevolent Wraith.

THE GHOUL ends with our hero back home in the woods, helping Molly with another reading lesson. This time, the pup is reading the letter her uncle wrote to her without any help. When they take a break, Molly asks her about the Wraith, wondering why human beings can be so horrible and destructive. Thinking of his original hyena family and their terrible fate, the Ghoul says we should try not to judge the humans too harshly; after all, they are really just frightened animals, like all the rest of us. “But I learned something really important. A very wise little werewolf once told me the only way to make things better is to keep doing our best. And do you know what? That wise little werewolf is absolutely right.” Molly smiles and embraces the Ghoul; then they continue with her reading lesson.