Well, here we are. I could write a very long intro to this review about how I’ve been a Morbius fan for about 2 decades, how I never thought I would see the day where Morbius gets a new ongoing amidst an initiative like Marvel Now, or all about Morbius’ long and/or recent history. But I think if you’ve ever been to the Crawl Space before, you probably know all this by now. If you want to catch up a bit, I’ll just point you to my recent editorial on Morbius and my review of this series’ “zero issue” in last month’s Amazing Spider-Man #699.1. But besides that, let’s just get right down to a book I’ve been incredibly excited about since it was announced.
Writer: Joe Keatinge
Artist: Richard Elson
Colorist: Antonio Fabela
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover Artist: Gabriele Dell’Otto
Variant Cover Artists: Skottie Young, Ed McGuinness & Marte Gracia
Editor: Sana Amanat
THE STORY: Morbius is in a fight with some gangsters and then gets shot. We flash back to see him after he escaped from prison getting help from a hobo who helps him get clothes and tells him to go to Brownsville “where the superheroes never even heard of.” In Brownsville Morbius overhears a gangster arguing with a woman who reminds him of his mother, and Morb gets involved where he shouldn’t. Thus – fighting some gangsters and getting shot.
MY THOUGHTS: Oh so many, many thoughts. Not even sure where to begin here.
Well, let’s start at the very, very beginning. Even before the beginning, actually. I’m talking, of course, about the covers. If I never dreamed Morbius was going to get a new ongoing series, I DAMN sure never dreamed he was going to get covers like this! The main cover by Gabriele Dell’Otto is the image they announced the series with several months ago, and I think we’ve been seeing it so long now that we might be starting to take it for granted. But man, you can’t overlook how incredible that cover is. A fantastic painting of Morbius in the violent throws of a bloodlust in his classic costume. Just excellent. And as I said in my Thunderbolts #1 review, these Skottie Young baby variants are really starting to become my favorite thing in the world. Tiny Morbius has a blood bottle! Come on! How can you not love that? And then we get a great, iconic, classic image from Ed McGuinness to round the set out, which is another wonderful piece of Morbius art. …oh wait, that isn’t all of them. Yes, webheads, I poo you not, there is a Morbius: The Living Vampire “Blank Variant.” I just…I just…no one will ever be able to adequately explain those things to me. “I’d like to pay full price for a cover with no art on it.” If I was your comic shop owner, I’d be telling you about this bridge I’ve got to sell you…
But I digress! Since we’re on a theme, let’s continue talking about art but move past the cover to Rich Elson, Antonio Fabela, and Clayton Cowles’ art in this issue. Now, you notice I include the letterer’s name in there, which is not usually something one does when listing the artists on an issue. It’s true, lettering is an art and it’s an extremely important and underappreciated one, but it’s usually seen as a separate art from the pencils, inks, and colors. Here, I feel I have to mention all these folks together because the lettering becomes such a part of the art. Don’t believe me? Check out the images I have posted in this review. For as much as they’ve hyped up this series, for the life of me I could only find one preview page on line with colors, and ZERO with letters. Look at how unfinished those pages look. They look a bit off. And that’s because all of those black boxes you see are supposed to be filled with letters. This, honestly, is a letterer’s comic as much as anybody else’s. And the results vary. Mr. Cowles and Mr. Elson did a very good job of integrating the letters into the art, that’s for sure. Really the only times it doesn’t work are because the writing doesn’t really support it, so you can’t fault these guys at all. Bravo to Clayton Cowles for going above and beyond the usual here.
As for Elson and Fabela, the art is typically very nice looking. These two are experts and know what the hell they’re doing. They are and definitely will continue to be an asset to this series and a central reason to keep reading. Elson’s art is dynamic and moody while still having a loose and very nearly cartoony feel, and Fabela’s characters match that perfectly. The only times I don’t care for the art in this issue are when I don’t really care for WHAT they’re portraying, and again, I can’t fault these guys for that. The art in this issue, from covers to interiors, gets a solid A.
So by now I imagine you’ve seen through me and noticed I’ve been putting off talking about the writing of this issue. There’s a reason for that. I’m extremely conflicted about it.
Without getting into every little detail of the issue right now, I think it’s safe to say the main thing that’s bothering me is – I don’t see Morbius in here. And it’s not that he’s wearing a hoodie and bumming around Brownsville. Morbius has had changes of costume and scenery before and retained who he is. No, I just don’t see my old classic Living Vampire in these pages. In the letter at the end of the issue from editor Sana Amanat, she says, “But what we wanted to know was, what did Morbius consider himself? And what we realized was that Michael Morbius didn’t seem to know.” She also says they hired this creative team to figure out “who Morbius truly was.” And I think those ideas inform a lot about what I see happening in this comic. The way it appears to me, at least, is that Mr. Keatinge examined Morbius and didn’t find definitive answers to his character. So he had to make some decisions on his own, and then he basically created a character around those decisions. But what we get here, instead of new depth to an old character, is a character who doesn’t walk, talk, or act like the Michael Morbius I’ve come to know. Where I praised Joe Keatinge in my review of ASM 699.1 for letting Morbius talk more naturally than the stunted, rigid, too-formal dialogue most writers use because he’s foreign – now we’ve gone too far. This Morbius sounds far too hip, young, and good humored. He sounds like a fairly generic version of a character from any indie comic trying to sound “fresh” (read also: trying to ape Matt Fraction in general). I do want Morbius to talk like a real live person, but I want that person to be Michael Morbius, not a guy I might work with.
Keatinge’s also continuing to push his origin retcons and that’s annoying me quite a bit. We got kind of a retread of the origin story from ASM 699.1 here (making one wonder why that issue was even published, really) and we see young Morbius deathly ill again. I can’t stress enough how that just did not happen. And the change in origin was annoying enough to me, but to have it pushed at me two issues in a row made me roll my eyes. If we’re going to keep this up, this is going to be a difficult series for me to read. And for the record, it’s not because I’m some old fanboy with my head up my ass. It’s because this retcon means either A) the research was faulty, or B) he made a decision to make this change even though it changes who the character is and hasn’t added anything to the story. Either one of those meanings spells potentially bad things for a fan like me.
And yes, when I read about Morbius’ hypnotic vision, my inner-fan started ranting in my head about how he only had that power when he was possessed by Bloodthirst during the 90s series, but honestly I’m going to try not to be THAT nitpicky and let that one go. The powers of any vampire in modern fiction fluctuate pretty drastically anyway. If that’s the worst of it, I’m not going to let it get to me.
I also have to question the convenience of some things in this issue that make it come off as contrived. First, Morbius pops out of the water and the person who is randomly there happens to be the most helpful hobo in the world. “Here, let me get you some clothes and teach you how to get free subway rides.” Most hobos I’ve ever met would have either tried to rob you or yelled, “Richard Nixon can see inside my brain!” Of course, after helping Morbius he then directs him to a town that is outright post-apocalyptic in its rule-by-crime. There are a bunch of places there aren’t really many (or any) superheroes. Why’s helpful hobo gotta direct him to Thunderdome?
The other contrivance is that this random woman reminds Morbius so much of his mother that he’s going to get involved in this random generic gang thing that’s going to get him shot. His entire experience of this woman was that she told a d-bag gangster to stay away from her son and then was rude to Morbius when he asked if she was ok. What we know of Keatinge’s all-of-a-sudden-important version of Morbius’ mother is that she made him stay inside a lot. Yeah, that resemblance is uncanny. Better go get a shotgun to the gut.
Ok, so after getting all of that off of my chest, I think I realized that I liked this issue even less than I thought I did. The more I think about it, the more it falls apart, and that’s a really bad thing. I was just sort of put off on my first read, but now I find myself actively disliking what’s being done here and worried about the future. We’ve got a new Morbius ongoing series, but is it a good time to be a Morbius fan? I guess we’ll see.
RATING: 2.5 helpful hobos out of 5. An opening issue that doesn’t seem to get the character is maybe the biggest problem an opening issue could have. This one is bolstered by some incredibly solid art and inventiveness with the form, but all in all this was enough to put off a longtime fan and I fear it may drive away the new readers Marvel is trying to attract. I’m still going to have my fingers crossed for next month, though.
I’m particularly interested in what everyone else thinks of this one, so please leave a comment!