Before JJ Abrams came along to reboot the franchise, fans all knew one very important fact about Star Trek movies: the even numbered ones were the good ones. Four issues into this new Morbius series, I’m beginning to think the same rule is going to apply here.
Writer: Joe Keatinge
Artist: Richard Elson
Color Artist: Antonio Fabela
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover Artist: David Lopez
Editor: Sana Amanat
Senior Editor: Stephen Wacker
THE STORY: In the past, David Brill (aka Noah St. Germain) is taken as a teenager by a group of people in plastic face-masks to a place called North Brother Island. A mystery man offers to make him “better.”
In the present, Morbius fights Noah’s gang after killing him again, but these men in masks crash the party and Morbius is forced to fight them alongside the gang. Rochelle, Noah’s girlfriend and now defacto head of the gang, tells Morbius that people – gangs, organized crime – have always fought over Brownsville and Noah was the only thing keeping them out. Now that he’s dead the floodgates are open. The men in masks make off with Noah’s body.
On North Brother Island, but still in the present day, the mystery man from the flashback has Justin, the homeless man from issue 1. It turns out Justin guided Morbius to Brownsville for this mystery man. The mystery man had physically improved Noah St. Germain, but Noah didn’t end up serving his purposes. Now he thinks introducing Morbius into Brownsville will burn it down so he can start anew. As the mystery man kills poor, homeless Justin, he is revealed to be The Rose.
MY THOUGHTS: As I said at the top, this was definitely a better issue. After #3 seemed to stall the story in place for an entire month, now we’re treated to more forward momentum in one issue than we’ve gotten in the past 3 combined.
One common aspect of the two issues of this series I’ve liked (#2 and #4) has been a more active Morbius. In this issue we see a Morbius who is “done arguing,” who is “fighting my way out.” He’s giving orders, not making requests. He’s getting angry, not mopey. He’s DOING instead of WHINING. This really makes all the difference in your protagonist. I can root for this Morbius. Considering this series has Morbius repeatedly getting shot and healing from it (yep, happens again in this issue!) it’s nice to see him portrayed as physically powerful in a fight, too.
The biggest thing Morbius #4 has going for it as opposed to the past 3 issues, though, is that we are given an actual villain. Noah St. Germain was never really a strong enough antagonist for this book, never really rising above the level of unusually strong gang leader with a silly haircut. From the beginning of this issue we see that there is finally something more, something bigger going on. That mystery added at the beginning was the first thing that made this issue a more enjoyable read. To be blunt, in the previous issues things didn’t really feel like they were going anywhere. But with that tease at the top, the rest of the issue all of a sudden had a trajectory. And by the end, it was paid off quite nicely. It was good, too, to see that “the most helpful hobo in the world,” as I called him in the issue 1 review, actually had a motivation to help Morbius and to direct him to Brownsville. A nice bit of loose-end tying there.
As for the new villain himself, The Rose, I am definitely interested by the choice. Chiefly interesting, of course, is that we don’t know who this Rose is. Most recently there was a new Rose in the “Amazing Spider-Man Presents: Jackpot” mini-series, but not having read that mini I admit to not really knowing anything about that incarnation or even if he survived. Could this be him? Could this be a new character? The catch is, it has to be someone who’s been around long enough to have pumped up Noah when he was young.
I also have to applaud Joe Keatinge’s choice of location for The Rose’s base. When I first read “North Brother Island,” I thought, “That is a STUPID name, is that the best you could come up with?” But because of a few bits of dialogue I wondered if it might be a real place. So I did a bit of googling and North Brother Island is indeed a real island in the East River in New York. And the place has a fascinating history, complete with quarantines, the real-life Typhoid Mary, and locked up addicts. The best detail is that it really is uninhabited and off-limits right now. This strikes me as EXACTLY the kind of place a supervillain would set up shop, and I love that it’s real and not just another made-up location. This is the kind of detail that can really flesh out a story and give it substance.
Rich Elson’s art was especially on fire in this issue as well. With the more commanding, active, action-heavy Morbius, Elson got the chance to flex his art muscles and he really seemed to enjoy it. You can see it in the action that Elson was having a good time drawing this stuff, and we end up with a better looking Morbius than I’ve seen in awhile.
I had to chuckle when Morbius made reference to Helleyes. He says, “I’ve encountered much worse. I once fought a guy who was covered in eyeballs. And he was from hell, so -” This is a reference to a villain Morbius fought in Adventure Into Fear #28-29 in 1975 who was honest-to-God named Helleyes. Now I appreciate a good continuity reference as much as the next guy – hell, probably more – but this comment really reads like Joe Keatinge saying “See! I’ve read Adventure Into Fear! I know Morbius’ history!” It’s flaunting continuity for the sake of nothing but self-congratulation rather than working continuity into the story. The fact that it comes in the same issue as an offhanded mention of the Midnight Sons only reinforces that feeling.
The biggest sore-thumb of a standout problem with this issue, though, is the idea that gangs, the Maggia, The Rose, and everybody’s brother wants to fight over the territory of Brownsville. This place has been established as the lowest of the low, a deadend, going nowhere, poor as hell little strip of nothing. Noah St. Germain seemed to be able to run it with impunity because it was so far gone nobody cared. But now we’re meant to believe that this is a piece of property all the criminals want, and the only reason there wasn’t an open war for it is because a guy with a pink mohawk and some enhanced strength kept everyone out. Rochelle even says, “It’s always been some kind of horrible. And for whatever reason, people kept fighting over it.” Well, that might be good enough for Rochelle, but as a reader I’m going to need a better explanation than “for whatever reason.” “Whatever reason” is not a reason. I don’t put it past Keatinge to actually have a reason in mind that he’s holding onto as a reveal later, but that’s not cutting it in this issue. Brownsville is the stakes, and those stakes are not established as very high right now.
There’re also several pages devoted to Becky and Henry (Morbius’ “friends”) hiding out in a diner and being saved by Henry’s mom from one of Noah’s men. You may remember in my review of issue 2 I said I really liked Becky and thought she had the potential to be a good supporting character. The problem is, that was the only issue she was even with Morbius. For two issues now, she and Henry have been on their own, hiding from the gang. And frankly I just don’t care. I haven’t gotten nearly invested enough in them yet to care about them on their own in a situation totally removed from anything having to do with Morbius. So until they link back up with the character I’m reading for, their pages are kind of a waste.
GRADE: C What we get in this issue is still average material at best, but that’s a big improvement over last month’s. The question is, will we continue to see improvement next issue, or will we continue the trend of only even numbered issues being worth reading?