Hello there! Welcome to the inaugural installment of The Cushing Critique! For my first in this new regular series of editorials, I thought I’d start out with a subject near and dear to me – Morbius the Living Vampire. More specifically his recent return in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, which we now know leads to a new ongoing series starting this January. Now, we have two fine men already reviewing the Amazing Spider-Man title on this website, so my purpose here is not to simply add my review onto those already in existence. My mission here is much narrower: to examine specifically the handling of the Morbius character in these recent issues, and see how we’re doing on the road to the character’s first ongoing since 1995.
Is everybody ready? Because I’m about to give Dan Slott props. If that doesn’t make you click for more, I don’t know what will.
The Living Vampire has had a long and winding story going way back to his creation in Amazing Spider-Man #101 by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, cover-dated October 1971. That’s right, he’s been kicking around the Marvel Universe for 41 years (start planning your 50th anniversary celebrations for 2021 NOW!). In that time he’s only had 2 short-lived ongoing series of his own (counting his 11 issue run as title character of “Adventure into Fear” back in the 70s, and, of course, his 32 issue solo series in the 90s), but he’s had numerous appearances in the titles of others (Fantastic Four? Check. Savage She-Hulk? Check.) and minis and one-shots over the years.
But in the early part of this century, we saw very, very little of the greatest original vampire character in comics. There were some extremely forgettable appearances here and there, mostly marked by some awful characterization, but for my money things didn’t really start up again for Morbius until late 2007. Since we can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been, lets take a quick look at Morbius’ journey of the past 5 years since that fateful one-shot.
Legion of Monsters: Morbius one-shot. This rather short story by Brendan Cahill, a writer I’d never heard of, and artist Michael Gaydos endures as one of the best Morbius stories of all time. It’s almost certainly THE best comic published featuring the character of the past 15 years. Here we got back to Morbius’ humanity and tragic heroism, and the die was cast for more Morbius in the Marvel Universe once again.
Marvel Zombies 3 mini-series. Brand New Day scribe Fred Van Lente took over the Marvel Zombies franchise and added Morbius as a head scientist for a group known as ARMOR that monitored the dimensional walls. The story is ultimately forgettable, but it’s notable for it’s overtly heroic portrayal of Morbius, which is a huge departure from the way he’d been used since the end of the original Morbius: The Living Vampire comic. This may actually be the most outright heroic Morbius we’ve ever seen.
Marvel Zombies 4 mini-series. I’ll come right out and say it – I got blue-balled by this one. The previous mini ended with Morbius saying he had to get the Midnight Sons together. If you’re unaware, Midnight Sons was the comics group in the nineties that included Morbius, Nightstalkers/Blade, Ghost Rider, and Darkhold (a title best forgotten). Naturally I expected to see these guys getting together again and taking out some zombies. Instead, I got Werewolf by Night (who actually was a member of the original Midnight Sons and was written well here, so yay!), Hellstorm (in a characterization I found really odd until the recent Venom series – now I’d take this random Jesuit priest version any day), and Man-Thing (…). So – disappointment. This comic was notable in Morbius’ career for showing him as an actual leader, which is a very different role for him.
Amazing Spider-Man #622. Morbius returned to Amazing Spider-Man for the first time since Maximum Carnage! …and it was a gigantic letdown. Also written by Marvel Zombies writer Fred Van Lente, this issue saw Morbius using Spider-Man’s blood to try to cure Werewolf by Night of the zombie virus he’d been infected with in the previous mini-series.
Punisher/Franken-Castle. Morbius next started appearing in a very unique era of the Punisher’s life written by Rick Remender (who would later go on to launch the current Venom title). After the Punisher was cut to ribbons by Wolverine’s son Daken, Morbius helped piece him back together, Frankenstein style. I admit to not reading this one, though later word of mouth says it was actually very good. But considering the way the concept sounds – can ya blame me for not expecting “good” to be the word applied to it? Frankly I had previously had every intention of reading all Morbius appearances, but a couple of Marvel Zombies mini-series and a poor ASM issue was enough to disillusion me at this time.
Marvel Zombies 5 mini-series. As you can tell from that cover, this is really not a Morbius-centric story. In fact, Morbius is only credited in 2 of the 5 issues on comicbookdb.com. Thus, I did not pick this one up at all. If I missed something important, do let me know – but I’ll be pretty surprised if that’s the case.
Legion of Monsters mini-series. This one, by Dennis Hopeless and Juan Doe, was truly an odd duck. Spinning out of the Punisher/Franken-Castle status quo, we see Morbius leading an entire underground network of 400,000 monsters, and being not only a doctor but their head monster cop, also leading the Legion of Monsters. Not a status quo I care for, but the mini was some odd crazy fun. It was notable in the life of Morbius for two reasons: A) It blew the usual comic book standard of a character having a sliding timeline all to hell by establishing an event in Morbius’ vampiric life and grounding it in 1973. Usually comics refer to past events by saying how many years it’s been, not the actual year, so you can keep updating what year that was and not have, say, Spider-Man have to be 66 years old this year. This event means Morbius has to be at LEAST 70 years old (probably more), and has been a vampire for at least 40 years. This is no small detail. And B) It established a past enmity between Morbius and Dracula, and a recent meeting between the two in Dracula’s current post-X-Men-resurrection form. I, for one, would not mind seeing the King of Vampires pop up again in the upcoming Morbius: The Living Vampire series. It’s certainly a better place for him than X-Men.
Spider-Island. Morbius had a brief appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man’s Spider-Island storyline by Dan Slott, establishing that he had been the secret occupant of Horizon Labs’ Lab 6 the entire time Peter Parker had been working there, and helped Reed Richards and Max Modell come up with the Spider-Island virus cure. I honestly have no idea how this jives with the Legion of Monsters status quo, but I’m going to come right out and say it – I don’t care. That may surprise you, but here’s why – Morbius is a character that hasn’t had an ongoing for over 15 years, and thus is a character that readily bounces to new status quos all the time. And that’s a good thing. If one didn’t set the world on fire, why not move to the next one and see if you can position the character better. And considering this was the first step on the road to an ongoing, I think the move was a success.
Hulk #52. Part 3 of “Haunted Hulk” by Jeff Parker. I admit to not having known about this at all until I did my research for this article. From the cover it seems the Legion of Monsters made a reappearance. I’ll definitely be tracking this issue down for my collection, but considering it was during Morbius’ ASM appearances and they’ve been ignoring the Legion of Monsters idea, I highly doubt this one issue had a lasting impact.
And, after an incredibly drawn-out prologue, we’re now ready to take a look at the main event – Morbius return to Amazing Spider-Man glory in Amazing Spider-Man #679.1 and 688-691!
First let me say that I found the characterization of Morbius in these issues to be excellent. I know a lot of people probably expected to hear me complaining a lot when my favorite character was used in this story, but the truth is, Mr. Slott really made great use of the character and seemed to understand his characterization very well.
Right off the top, it’s very refreshing that Morbius is used as a scientist first. We found out in Spider-Island that he’s been working in that lab all along, doing what he does best – biochemistry. He did win a Nobel Prize for it, after all. This story also establishes that Max Modell is one of Michael Morbius’ “oldest friends on the planet,” which is a cool touch considering Max is supposed to be this big time rock star scientist. I’m almost flattered for Morbius that he was looked on as worthy of helping legitimize that status for Max in the Marvel Universe. We also see Morbius working with Reed Richards on the Spider-Island cure (well, we don’t technically see it, but we know it happened), which is also great. If you’ve been reading the parentheticals of this article you know Morbius appeared in long ago issues of Fantastic Four!
This story is also notable for the scientist in Morbius being what draws him into the story rather than “Must….have….plasma!” He is, as ever, at work on trying to cure himself of his self-inflicted vampirism, and he kicks off this plotline by using The Lizard as a guinea pig. Which, in itself, is another sort of continuity callback, since Morbius and The Lizard met in Morbius’ very first appearance! There’s even a great little recreation of an image from Amazing Spider-Man #102 in this story, of Morbius, The Lizard, and Six-Arm Spider-Man!
We also get plenty of Spider-Man’s rage at Morbius in this story. He beats him up. A lot. But this is consistent with the way Spider-Man has acted towards Morbius his entire career. Way back in the 90s, during the Morbius: The Living Vampire series, Spider-Man’s guest appearances were always annoying to me. This was an era when Morbius was really trying to be heroic and do the right thing. Spider-Man, though, just started punching every time he showed up. Did not want to hear it. He pretty much flew into an almost inexplicable rage just at the sound of Morbius’ name, as if Morbius was somehow as bad as the Green Goblin or Venom. So Spidey’s ‘punch first, don’t ask questions’ approach from the first time he discovers Morbius is in Lab 6 in ASM #679.1 may seem a bit irrational, but that’s just Spidey for ya. The guy just does not like vampires.
One thing that’s on full display in this story for Morbius is change. And that’s a good thing. First, he tries an experimental cure in #679.1, but it makes his hunger worse. Even after the cure is “burned out of him” (by electro-shock, which is a great reference to his origin), he knows his hunger is still getting worse than before – which is what leads him to test The Lizard next time. And in “No Turning Back,” the smell of blood in the air makes him lose control. Once Spider-Man’s beaten him, Morbius admits that he’s not in his right mind and he can’t control the hunger anymore.
All that taken together certainly sounds like the beginning of a story that’s leading somewhere. One can only hope it’s going to be addressed in his new ongoing. What is happening to Morbius? Is his hunger getting worse just because of the things we’ve seen on panel, or is there something deeper happening to him? And how far will this go? Will he have to become more monster before he can start to regain his humanity? All interesting questions, leaving Joe Keatinge plenty of new ground to break in the upcoming series.
Though first, Mr. Keatinge is going to have to stage a jail break. At the end of No Turning Back, Morbius is locked away in a cell in the Raft prison. Considering Morbius’ next appearance is Amazing Spider-Man #699.1, written by Keatinge and described as a “Morbius Zero Issue,” it’s my assumption that Slott and Keatinge were in communication on this and the Raft will be a springboard to start Morbius’ new ongoing journey.
So what do I want from the future? Well, it wouldn’t be wrong to say my hopes are high. Morbius getting an ongoing is not something I really ever expected to see again, and my excitement when Brad Douglas texted me about the news was absolutely uncontainable. But in the end, all I really want is a good read from someone who gets the character. Beyond that, I’m not too picky. Sure, there are things I’d like to see, such as Morbius’ friendship with Werewolf by Night (especially since he’s another character I love with no permanent comic home), run-ins with folks like Blade and Dracula, and a rise to popularity such as we’ve never seen before – but yeah. In the end I just want a good comic.
So, in summation, I’d like to thank Dan Slott for shepherding this great character into a new era and making an ongoing series possible, and I would like to wish Joe Keatinge (and Rich Elson! WONDERFUL artist!) the best of luck on Morbius: The Living Vampire. With any luck, we’ll all have some new great comics to read come January.
And an announcement! I’m sure it was obvious to everyone this was going to happen, but I am locked in as this site’s official reviewer of Morbius: The Living Vampire as soon as it starts! Look for my review of ASM #699.1 in December to kick things off, and then more Morbius every month thereafter!
Well that’ll do it for this week, folks. Hope you enjoyed it. And remember, if you just can’t get enough of me blathering on about comics, don’t forget to check out my Scarlet Spider reviews every month on the Crawl Space Home Page!
And please do comment! I’d love to hear some discussion on this!