30.11.11

New Blood: Morbius and the Vampire Genre (2) (Connecting Marvel to...Twilight?)


Welcome back! This segment is the second in a two-part article spotlighting Marvel's very own resident Living Vampire, Dr. Michael Morbius! A Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, Morbius suffered from a rare blood disease whose cure instead transformed him into a creature of the night with an insane thirst for blood.

In the previous segment, I reviewed Morbius' appearances from his 1971 introduction in The Amazing Spider-Man through his two solo series as protagonist, and finally his cure in early 1980, again in one of Spider-Man's series. But of course, as they say, you can't keep a good vampire down!

The prodigal vampire returns. Cover by Jackson Guice.
In Roy Thomas and Jackson Guice's Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #10-18, Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, was aging in the absence of real vampires to feed her unnatural appetite. (This story occurred during the brief period where vampires were eliminated from the Marvel Universe, in the wake of the "Montesi Formula" storyline in Doctor Strange #59-62, Jun.-Dec. 1983.) She abducted Morbius and restored him to discover if his blood could act as substitute, only to find it could not. The Living Vampire escaped and briefly took up residence with Strange and his allies, who couldn't prevent the negation of the original spell.

After Todd McFarlane brought him back in a pair of issues of Spider-Man, Marvel took another look at their horror characters. With the new Ghost Rider title gaining success, the administration sought to build an imprint around the character and supernatural concepts. Hence, the "Midnight Sons" were born, and Morbius became a charter member of the loose grouping that also included Ghost Rider teaming with original Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze as Spirits of Vengeance; Tomb of Dracula alums Blade, Frank Drake and Hannibal King as Nightstalkers; and a group of supernatural investigators tracking down evil pages from the cursed book, the Darkhold.

The Midnight Sons rise, and with them was Morbius. Cover by Ron Wagner.
In the new series by writer Len Kaminski and artist Ron Wagner, Morbius ingested demon blood and found he could now transform between human and vampire selves. After encountering Ghost Rider and allies and suffering the loss of his former love Martine, he vowed he would now only drink the blood of the guilty. He spawned another vampire in assassin Vic Slaughter, and encountered villains like Dr. Paine and Nightmare.

Eventually, the series went off the rails, with Kaminski replaced by Gregory Wright due to disagreements with artist Wagner (who left shortly after). From the end of the first year, Morbius was involved in crossover after crossover--including "Siege of Darkness" across the entire "Midnight Sons" line--that robbed the series of any momentum. Not-ready-for-prime-time artists like Isaac Cordova and Nick Napolitano mired the series down as Wright kept telling stories of the demon blood and characters derived from it.

The series was mired in too many crossovers for its second year.

During the last half-year of the series, Marvel passed Morbius to writer Lisa Trusiani, a writer whose main claim to fame to that point had been the company's licensed Barbie comic. Drawn by Craig Gilmore, an unknown, rough-around-the-edges artist, the series just kept sinking. The stories degenerated into an unintelligible mess, with Martine coming back from the dead...or was that really her? Gilmore left a few issues before the series mercifully faded away with issue #32.

Shortly following the conclusion of Morbius' solo series, the character debuted on the small screen during the second season of the 1994 Spider-Man animated series on Fox. Voiced by character actor Nick Jameson, Morbius was recast as a college student like Peter Parker, who experimented with vampire bats and found himself transformed into a vampire-like creature. Since the censors didn't allow vampires to feast on necks, this vampire's fangs were useless; rather, this Morbius fed on "plasma" using suckers on his hands. He appeared in seasons two and four, during which he interacted with Spider-Man, Blade, and the Vampire Queen Mirium, who intended to use the Neogenic Recombinator technology that created Morbius to create a race of vampires.

Without a series of his own, Morbius reverted to type. Cover by Romita Jr.

In the absence of a regular title, suddenly Morbius reverted to his previous characterization as Spider-Man villain with Peter Parker: Spider-Man #77-80 under writer Howard Mackie and artists Claudio Castellini and John Romita Jr. He popped up in Don McGregor and Brian Hagan's Blade limited series, canceled just three issues into its run of six.

Once again Marvel employed Morbius' sometime ability to transform other characters into vampires. In Peter Parker: Spider-Man #7-8, he bit the vampire hunter Blade. The unique enzymes in his saliva reacted with the hunter's already-unique physiology, transforming him into a "Daywalker" and in so doing aligning the character more closely with his recent movie depiction. At the time, early buzz surrounding the Blade movie sequel had Morbius as its primary villain, but that idea was nixed in later versions of the script, and Morbius remains unseen in live-action.

After a few years' absence, Morbius returned in Marc Guggenheim and Howard Chaykin's Blade series (#7, Mar. 2007), having signed the Superhuman Registration Act during Marvel's Civil War and allied himself with S.H.I.E.L.D. to try to apprehend the hunter. Later, he appeared as part of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s A.R.M.O.R. unit during Fred Van Lente and Kev Walker's Marvel Zombies 3 and 4 series, first captured by his other-dimensional, zombie-infected analogue, and later as head of a new group of Midnight Sons that included Daimon Hellstrom, Topaz and Werewolf By Night. After that, he and the Werewolf retreated under New York City, where they and the Man-Thing found a "disassembled" Punisher and rebuilt him as Franken-Castle (Punisher #11, Jan, 2010).

Morbius soon became a hero of sorts, again. Cover by Greg Land.

When last seen, Morbius took a blood sample from Spider-Man to work on a cure for the Werewolf in Amazing Spider-Man #622 (Apr. 2010) before perplexingly allying himself with Dr. Octopus against Spidey (Amazing Spider-Man #642, Nov. 2010). He's currently appearing again, in Dennis Hopeless and Juan Doe's Legion of Monsters limited series, starring as the apparent leader of a team that includes the Werewolf, the Living Mummy, the Manphibian and Elsa Bloodstone--virtually the same team as co-starred alongside Franken-Castle in Punisher. And fans reading The Amazing Spider-Man may have seen a familiar face during "Spider-Island"...!

Over the years, the character of Morbius may have struggled. Certain writers wisely emphasized the fact that Morbius was a scientifically-created vampire, while others have treated him like just another vampire character. Sometimes he's been able to spawn other vampires like himself, while at other times we're told that's patently impossible.

Still, the other traditional tropes of vampirism in fiction have remained with him. Like many other vampire protagonists (and antagonists, for that matter), he reviles what he is and wishes he didn't have to ingest human blood to survive. His addiction to blood compares favorably to any traditional human addiction to alcohol, or drugs, or sex. The difference with Morbius is that due to the nature of his condition, we're told without that blood as sustenance he will die.

Morbius with the new Legion of Monsters. Art by Juan Doe.

A major asset to Morbius' ongoing characterization is the fact he is a biochemist, and as such, he is well equipped to identify the various symptoms of his condition and effect potential cures. He creates formulas to temporarily make himself appear human. He tries to manufacture artificial blood. He looks after his fellow monsters' medical needs. Often, he considers the curses of other monsters like himself in scientific terms. Sometimes that outlook is an asset; sometimes, not so much.

What is most important about Morbius is that he is really the first popular vampire protagonist in literature. His power set and appearance follow that of the traditional vampire, unlike Dell's "New Dracula." And virtually every other do-gooder vampire out there who angsted about his condition--from Andrew Bennett of I...Vampire!, to Nick Knight of Forever Knight, to Angel of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to Edward Cullen of Twilight fame and many more--can ultimately trace that lineage back to Marvel's leading Living Vampire.

The premier vampire anti-hero? Art by Dave Cockrum.

And just think: we might not have had a Morbius had Stan Lee agreed to Roy Thomas' idea for Spidey to fight Dracula way back in 1971...

Yeah, take that, Vampirella.

~G.

SUGGESTED READING:
  • Marvel Zombies 3
  • Marvel Zombies 4
  • Punisher: Franken-Castle
  • Rise of the Midnight Sons (Out-of-Print)
  • Spider-Man: The Gauntlet, Vol. 3 - Vulture & Morbius
  • Spider-Man: The Next Chapter Vol. 2 (Coming Soon)

1 comment:

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