There’s no doubt that vampires have been the kings of the supernatural pop-fiction world almost since Nosferatu graced the silver screen. Frankenstein’s monster, wolfmen, creatures from lagoons that are black- there have been many contenders for your supernatural fancy. Zombies are making a huge resurgence. As a genre they may even be fighting for the title. But zombie stories are more about the people than the individual monsters. In fact, there are no individual monsters in zombie movies. They are a collective mass, a plague representing the worst of mankind. A mirror.
As a single enemy that has gravitas, one with staying power and cool factor, vampires are tough to beat. The fact that there are so many variations on their theme lend strength to the concept. Vampires are malleable. They are cursed men who must balance great power with inhuman urges. Unlike un-thinking zombies, the morality that follows is half the fun.
With this in mind, it is no wonder that another staple of pop-culture has been the werewolf. They are similarly cursed. They must also struggle with animalistic impulses. Where other creatures have flashed in the pan in their time, werewolves have also proved to have some staying power. Yet, in any story that features both types of monsters, vampires always win out as being the coolest. Why is that?
Forgetting about individual powers and depictions, here are three key factors that I think come into play.
Not all vampires are necessarily undead and immortal, but most are. Still, who says a werewolf can’t be those things? While this might be a feature that makes a vampire more powerful, digging into the appeal a little bit more brings to me the fact that vampires often have much richer histories. Many stories depict the creatures as existing for many centuries, sometimes in a cheesy ancient order, in many cases from a different time. They have textured families, intricate rules, and colorful traditions.
Contrast this with the werewolf who is usually just a normal dude who got bit. It’s all very mundane. In some cases, this approach can be much more grounded and relatable. As mentioned above, much of vampire lore is the ultimate cliché at this point. But there is something here, a void that many werewolf stories don’t fill. Still, there’s more.
Disregarding wolfman interpretations (which have never quite worked if you ask me), the appeal of werewolves has very often been their downfall. Turning into a wolf or a monster is cool but, much like zombies, it transforms the menace from an intelligent one to an animalistic one. It can be horrific, but it’s less thought-provoking.
Zombies don’t talk and werewolves usually don’t either. This often reduces them to a pack threat. Vampires, on the other hand, are many times articulate and complex. It’s interesting to consider that vampires used to turn into wolves and bats in popular mythology but pop-culture has all but dropped that aspect of them altogether. Even demonic man-bat versions of them that exist are not as compelling. Why become something dumb when something so much more real and threatening already exists?
To me, this is a key point when exploring the inferiority of the werewolf, but it misses the mark ever so slightly. My next topic uncovers where I think the true problem lies.
A vampire is a powerful entity with several strengths and weaknesses. A werewolf is a normal man who, sometimes, becomes a monster. Notice the difference? Now, if you wanted to explore the sanity of a man dealing with the repercussions of his monstrous actions, a werewolf might be the easy choice. But if you asked a kid, someone with a wide-eyed naïve wonder that focused on the powers of these creatures, which of them they wanted to be- vampires sound like the cooler choice. And, downsides aside, the constancy of their abilities is why.
A vampire could throw down at any moment. They might need to stay out of the sun but they’d be a formidable opponent indoors. A werewolf? Well, unless the moon’s out and he’s a raging lunatic, he doesn’t have much going for him.
In The Seventh Sons Of Sycamore, I directly address this problem. The novel is a serious crime thriller with a light treatment of the supernatural that provides exciting action and background more than anything else. In my fiction, werewolves do change into wolves (without tails) twice a month (during the full and new moons, when the planets are aligned with the sun). But the men and women who live in between those periods are awfully powerful as well. They have inhuman strength and endurance. They are more dangerous than when in their wolf forms because they can think more clearly and use weapons. This makes their wolf forms a disadvantage, like avoiding sunlight- and while that was always the case from a purely human perspective, it now fits better in a world of action.
So are vampires cooler than werewolves?
The clear answer here is no. That it depends on the treatment. Vampires have had the benefit of getting cooler ‘upgrades’ over the years. We don’t talk about thwarting them by throwing mustard seeds on the ground anymore. Werewolves, on the other hand, have stagnated a bit. There haven’t been many new ideas for them to excite audiences. Some recent wolfman depictions have even gone backwards. In my mind, we should try to push the creatures ahead into something we haven’t quite imagined yet.
Did I miss something? Which of these bad boys are your favorite?