Story By: John Semper
Written By: Brynne Stephens and Lydia Maranor
Music Composed By: Shuki Levy and Kussa Mahchi
Animation Services By: Toyko Movie Shinsha (TMS)
THE PLOT: In an attempt to become Curt Connors new lab boy, foreign guy and professional fashion reject Michael Morbius gleefully steals a vial of blood from Peter Parker’s science locker to cheat his way to glory. But the Michael Jackson cosplayer fails to realize he’s taken a vial of RADIOACTIVE BLOOD, and through a miracle of bats and science he becomes Morbius, the Living Vampire!
LONG STORY SHORT: Though Spider-Man manages to take down Morbius and see his transformation back to his normal self during the daytime, he misses his re-transformation at night due to his growing four other arms! Say what?!
MY THOUGHTS: This is probably the most well known era of the 90s show that has stuck with the series years after it has gone off the air. It’s easily in the top three things that was most known about it, along with black hole portals and the Insidious Six. The Neogenic Nightmare really gets started with this episode “Morbius”, as it is indicative of pretty much every single episode that follows throughout the rest of the season. You have Spider-Man wincing in pain due to his mutation disease, especially during fights. You have Morbius and his “plasma hunger” as opposed to his blood-lust that he had in the comics, because for some reason vampires drink blood in the comics as opposed to drain plasma from their palms like it is here. (Sarcasm btw) You have Felicia Hardy being pretty annoying throughout, and you have a lot of repeated animation in every episode. Most notably however, is the feeling of annoyance and fatigue once these things are repeated over and over again in the episode to follow.
I really am coming into this arc with a fairly negative attitude, just because I honestly did not care for the overall subplot of Spider-Man’s mutation disease. I personally don’t like it when heroes have some reason that keeps them from fighting crime, whether it be that they give up their identities or lose their memories or powers, and for that reason this season always stands out as one of the lesser ones in my mind. That being said, I have to say that this was not nearly as bad as I thought I remembered it. A lot of the first half I honestly did not even remember, with Spider-Man failing to stop a robbery, and especially the scene where he loses it in Dr. Kafka’s office. That was really some good stuff, and throughout the episode the pathos felt by Peter was pretty genuinely portrayed. This entire episode succeeded in making Peter an interesting protagonist to be concerned about, and not just having it be done because he’s Spider-Man. It moved him past feeling sorry for himself (kinda) and focused more on him being proactive about finding a cure for himself.
But though Peter is still our hero, the main crux of this episode is the man named Morbius. Michael Morbius to be precise, and this episode sees the rise and fall of a character no one really cares about in the comics aside from some guy who does a webcomic and one of Marvel’s writers…I forgot which. They’re not important. What IS important is how this series has handled the character of Morbius and how his interpretation stemmed and strayed from the source material. Originally appearing in ASM #101 (the issue funnily enough right after Peter gets six arms) Morbius from the comics is a lot like he is here, in that he’s initially a good guy working on experiements for beneficial means. In the comics though, he was seeking a cure for himself from a blood disease that is not unlike what Peter is going through in this season. The cartoon gives him a more altruistic approach in trying to free his hometown country from what I can only assume is the bubonic plague, although I wonder why he feel he has to do this and not go up to Connors in person to ask for his scientific advice. But whatever, the point is that swarthyness aside, this version of Morbius does seem to have been molded somewhat from the comics version.
Until he gets his powers. Once again, the FOX censors earn the internet’s ire and disgust in forcing the writers to bend to their will of changing Morbius’s vampiristic blood lust to having the urge suck on people through his hands.
Admittedly as a kid, I didn’t bat an eye at this explanation. But I will say it never made sense even to myself as a five or six year old fan. How exactly could that work? Barring that, why change the vampire powers? People and children alike know what vampires do, and it’s rarely all that scary. It’s just a fact of modern mythology. The dinosaurs died, Jesus was crucified on the cross, The Huns ran around in ancient China, Nazis made up a large part of World War Two, and vampires have always sucked blood. Did Fox Kids really think children would be scared by that? Were they so gutless in the face of unlikely parental backlash that they tried to destroy the barely-there logic of comic book science itself?
Attempting to get past that piece of insanity, I think this episode does do Morbius’ character justice for the most part. He’s shown to be very determined to get the results he wants, even by calmly stealing from the school and Peter’s locker. His ethics aren’t the best, but honestly neither are Peter’s. I actually think the parallels in how the two get their respective powers are pretty interesting, with Morbius basically getting bitten by a radioactive bat. But here’s the thing I don’t understand. He attacks a couple of students for their plasma on ESU campus, then nearly does the same to Spider-Man but backs away. Why? What impotence did he have for not doing the same to Spider-Man? Especially considering the fact that SPOILERS he gleefully does a couple of episodes later. I could understand it if he held himself back after seeing Felicia, but he does this before seeing her. That never made much sense to me…
Speaking of Felicia, and of not making sense, she’s either an idiot or just a jerk for blaming Michael being “kidnapped” on Spider-Man. This is a woman who’s seen Spider-Man save her from giant robot bugs and a four armed tentacle freak attempting to fry her with rocket exhaust. Why in the world would he want to kidnap a male ESU student? What reasoning did she come to in order to reach that conclusion? It’s really bad because aren’t we as an audience supposed to warm to Felicia in order to be as confused as Peter is in deciding which girl he’s more interested in? I’m of the opinion that Peter’s infautation with Mary Jane is a wee bit heavy handed, but at least we know why he’s attracted to her. Felicia in this series so far has been nothing but snobby and irritating, and even though she’s made to be like that because she’s rich, I assumed the series was trying to portray her as being deeper than that. I suppose I was wrong.
Though I have to say I did enjoy the scene where Peter tries to warn Felicia about Morbius, and she mistakes it as him being jealous. CDB’s exclamation of “WHAT?!” always stuck with me in that it was so wonderfully natural in its incredulous surprise.
Animation wise, this episode was about average. It was decent, and for the most part a lot of Morbius-centered episodes look like this if I remember correctly. One thing that bugged me was the constant repeating of the flashback where Felicia shows off to Peter that Morbius is dating her. They’ve shown that scene four time already, counting its initial appearance, the following episode’s previous episode re-cap, this episode’s re-cap and in the context of Spider-Man thinking of who Morbius would go after. Okay, seriously enough with that. It was a good little scene but it doesn’t need to be hammered into the ground. That was something that needed to be toned down, as well as both Morbius and Spider-Man screaming out the phrase “THE PAIN!!!” I have to imagine the majority of people who experience that much pain don’t actually yell out “the pain” while they’re in pain, because it’s a pain to hear the phrase “the pain” repeated over and over again. Just a pain. As a side note, I must credit this episode for introducing me to the word “excruciating” when I first watched it in ’95.
On a final note, I have to hand it to the show for giving the audience one HELL of an ending with Peter taking the supposed “cure” and having sprout from his sides four additional arms. I really don’t think anyone saw that one coming, and it truly was an excellent cliffhanger to keep the audience tuning into see what happens next.
Overall this is very much a set-up episode, and I really do like that aspect of it. I don’t think in any cartoon at the time did you see an episode devoted almost entirely to the overarching plot of the whole season, and this was rather refreshing. On the downside, a lot of the out and out stupidity really brings this one down, and while I liked a lot of it for the most part, at the same time I can’t ignore the negatives. Although I admit I’m tempted to raise the grade a point just because of the ending.
Best Quote Contender-
Liz Allan: *Speaking to Mary Jane* “If a guy isn’t interested in a babe like you, there’s only one explanation…he’s not human.”
All images taken from marvel.toonzone.net and drg4.wariocompany.com respectively.