Michael Morbius was teased to be the mysterious “Number 6” at Horizon Labs back in Spider Island, and that tease is being delivered on now with the character’s triumphant return. I say triumphant because the last time we saw Morbius was a disappointment at best, and this appearance handles him much better. It makes for a solid issue that will hopefully lead into more solid issues in the future.
The Amazing Spider-Man #679.1
Words by Dan Slott & Chris Yost
Pencils by Matthew Clark
Inks by Tom Palmer
Colors by Rob Schwager
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Well, it’s time for another .1 issue, I guess. I’m pretty sure no one has ever thought this numbering gimmick was actually a good idea except for whoever came up with it at Marvel, but in this case, it doesn’t really make much difference; 679.1 isn’t any more of a “jumping on point” than your average issue as far as I can see, and frankly I’m glad it doesn’t really try to be. After all, the writers could have gone out of their way to give history lessons on Morbius if that was the aim, and I hate that kind of writing — always makes me think, don’t they know about Wikipedia?
As it stands this is, I believe, just a one-shot that essentially brings us up to date on where Morbius stands right now and also helps to develop Horizon further as a part of Peter Parker’s world. That’s a good thing, because Horizon is by far the best thing that Dan Slott has done for the title since he took over and I think overall his strongest issues tend to be the ones that focus on it.
Follow my lab partners!
This issue is defined by Uatu, one of Peter’s Horizon coworkers who is revealed to have an obsession with monster movies, monsters in general, and monster hunting. Uatu idolizes Reed Richards and seems to know the ins and outs of the Marvel universe as well as any real life comic nerd would, and he and Peter end up getting together to brainstorm in this issue about who Number 6 might really be, with Uatu claiming it has to be some kind of supervillain — they must be brilliant, need their presence to be secret, and give off a weird creepy vibe.
I like the way Uatu is used in this story because he’s creating a world of possibilities and showing off the true potential that exists in Horizon. This whole time, we’ve been seeing how Peter’s been able to take advantage of his job there to develop tech he can use as Spider-Man. This kind of situation for him has been long overdue: there’s no reason why a guy this brilliant, who invented his own web shooters as a high school student, shouldn’t be getting paid to come up with ideas and creating tech to use as Spider-Man. But it wasn’t until this issue that any consideration was given to the notion that someone else might be able to take advantage of their job at Horizon in a similar fashion.
Uatu turns out to have his own tech stashed away that he’s developed specifically for fighting monsters. He doesn’t seem to have an actual identity that he associates with this stuff, but I’m actually kind of hoping he will be developed to have one in later issues. This is the stuff that classic characters were made out of in the glory days of Spider-Man. It’s a little ridiculous, sure, in the way that all comic book heroes and villains tend to be. I’d actually argue that the mixture is just right. Take a character with the means to do something extraordinary (in this case a brilliant young scientist) and a motivation that is his own (in this case fascination with monsters) and use it to craft him into a themed character. The fact that he’s taking advantage of an already established setting makes it feel like a natural development, and too much has felt entirely shoehorned into this title recently. Uatu’s got potential for an actual costumed identity and a lot more stories, and he’s the first new character I’ve felt that about in a Spider-Man title in ages.
I’m left wondering what else could come from Horizon. For example, Uatu mentions early on the possibility that Max could be harboring a mysterious supervillain as Number 6 because maybe Max could be secretly evil himself — an A.I.M. employee, perhaps. I find it as unlikely as Peter does that this would be the case, but now that the possibility has been introduced it’s something I’ll have to think about every time he appears in a future issue. This sort of mystery surrounding everyday characters in Peter’s life was a hallmark of classic Spider-Man, and I’m finding it very enjoyable to be entertaining those kinds of notions again. This reminds me of why I got so addicted to reading my way through the history of ASM in the first place.
A little blood never hurt anything, right?
Morbius’s return is handled well, too. His situation here makes a lot of sense both for the character and within the larger Spider-Man universe. He’s been stashed at Horizon presumably because he has some kind of connection to Max — he describes him in the issue as one of his oldest friends — and he now appears to be working on attempting to create some kind of artificial plasma which would function both as a means of helping patients in need of blood and of curing Morbius’s cravings without him having to victimize anyone. We find that Max has been using his own blood to help Morbius out while he works on this project, and it’s revealed that the basis for the plasma is the Spider Island cure Reed Richards codeveloped with him — which means that it might also be able to cure mutated humans, a possibility which I’m sure is going to be explored in the future.
Naturally, Morbius is having some trouble perfecting the artificial plasma, and the inherent risk of harboring a pseudo-vampire and feeding him vials of your blood is the main source of the action in this issue, of which there’s plenty. The clash between a blood-crazed Morbius and Spider-Man adds a well-executed battle to round out the issue and, as far as I’m concerned, that checks off everything a good comic needs. Clark’s pencils do a good job conveying the tension and he’s pretty solid outside of a few wonky facial expressions. Well, he does seem to be excessively into cargo pants, but I’ll let him go on that one.
When you add all this up, it’s back to exactly what I want out of Slott’s run. I’d compare it to the recent two-part Vulture arc, in that it’s bringing back a classic character with respect for the past while developing his future, and it’s an all-around solid Spider-Man tale without filler or excessive goofiness. Sure, Slott throws in some of his trademark “fun,” and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. It doesn’t dominate this story; I feel like I’m reading a Spider-Man story with some laughs thrown in, not a long joke that’s loosely themed as a Spider-Man story.
And perhaps most importantly, 679.1 does what a lot of recent stories fail to do, which is to capture that sense of always developing potential new characters and plot threads to be exploited later. The best one, Uatu, is something I am really looking forward to seeing more of. There’s a more dubious one at the conclusion, which I’ll go ahead and spoil because Marvel’s undoubtedly going to spoil it with promotional material anyway — The Lizard. Last time we saw that character, he was taken to a place I think nobody wants to remember, and I don’t envy Slott the burden of trying to follow up on that mess. But following up on a mess is pretty much the story of Slott’s run, and as critical as I am of the guy I genuinely believe he’s done an admirable job of trying to work with what he’s been given, so I’m going to wait and see with this one.
At any rate, this was a nice read. More like this, please.
- There’s a lot of potential beginning to unfold here. Uatu the monster hunter could be a good addition to Spider-Man’s cast, and the larger notion that Horizon could be harboring more such additions is very promising.
- This is a good treatment of Morbius, much better than the lame story we got last time he was brought back.
- Solid action sequence, lots of content, and a real sense of gravity while maintaining the light-hearted tone of the Slott run. This is how I wish he’d always read.
- I have no real complaints about this issue. I still think there’s a bit of excessively cheesy Slott-speak at work in this issue, but it was very minor — perhaps this is Yost’s influence, and anyway it felt like seasoning rather than defining the whole story.