What Big Comic Fans Don’t Know About Morbius The Living Vampire

Since the announcement that Jared Leto was
going to be appearing as Morbius in an upcoming Sony film, movie fans across the world have
been asking the same question: who the heck is Morbius? The short answer is that he’s a vampire
whose curse comes science rather than magic, who operates sometimes a villain, sometimes
as a hero, and often a bit of both. Beyond that simple concept, though, is a complicated
character, a tormented soul seeking salvation… and blood. Here’s the untold truth of Morbius, the Living
Vampire. Blood-sucking fiend? Morbius tends to be a good guy by default
these days, but when he first showed up in 1971’s Amazing Spider-Man #101? He was tragic and he was tormented, but there
was no anti-hero nonsense going on. Morbius was a killer. That issue was memorable for a few reasons;
most notably being that it was the first issue of the comic that wasn’t written by Stan Lee. Roy Thomas took over writing duties, picking
up on the cliffhanger ending where Peter Parker had six arms. Spider-Man sought out the Nobel-prize winning
Dr. Michael Morbius in hopes that he could find a cure, but instead found a bloodsucking
vampire who looked like he raided The Bee Gees’ wardrobe. Thomas considered Morbius to be a one-shot
enemy for Spider-Man, but he also knew there was more to him than just simple super-villainy. As he said in a 2009 interview, “Both sides
of him were always there. He was always supposed to be a fairly sympathetic
character.” Morbius vs the Code The Comics Code was a self-imposed industry
standard that among other things banned all representations of the undead starting in
1954. Some fans believe that Morbius was referred
to as a “living” vampire as a sneaky way of getting around the Comics Code, and that his
subsequent popularity helped break it down for good. His “living” status was Marvel’s loophole…
or so the legend told. The truth is that his creation was actually
a response to the Comics Code having already loosened its rules about vampires, zombies,
and other undead creatures. Since they were no longer restricted under
the code’s old rules, Thomas and Lee considered using the most famous vampire of all and making
Dracula the villain in Amazing Spider-Man #101. Instead, Lee opted for a twist on the classic
vampire as a costumed super-villain although Marvel would launch Tomb of Dracula the following
year, giving the original blood-sucking count a series that ran for 70 issues. Ironically, while Morbius’ creation didn’t
create any friction with the Comics Code, another Marvel artist claimed to have locked
horns with the Code over his work on the character years later. Penciler Ron Wagner worked on the first fourteen
issues of Morbius: The Living Vampire, and in 1993, he told Wizard Magazine he got in
trouble with the Code for sexually explicit drawings in the comic. Operative word: living While Morbius’ “living” status wasn’t meant
to sneak around the Comics Code, it was an important aspect of his character if for no
other reason than the fact that it allowed him to remain in the Marvel Universe far longer
than his undead contemporaries. In 1983’s Doctor Strange #62, the Sorcerer
Supreme famously used his magic to boost a magic spell called the Montesi Formula, killing
Dracula along with every other vampire on Earth. Eventually, Dracula would make his return
coming back from the dead is just what that dude does but it would take a full decade. In the meantime one vampire remained completely
unaffected by any of it: our man Morbius. Because his condition had nothing to do with
being bitten by some seductive undead temptress, or stabbing a church, Doctor Strange’s war
on Dracula had no impact on Morbius. Other than the fact that he probably had a
lot more food available considering all the competition was dust. To Infect, or not to infect Over the past few hundred years, people have
defined vampirism pretty thoroughly, especially after Bram Stoker gave us all the blueprint
in 1897. Morbius, on the other hand, is all over the
place, including the question of whether his bites can create other vampires. Even when he drinks someone’s blood, they
only become vampires, like, sometimes. The first character he ever transformed was
Jefferson Bolt in Marvel Team-Up #3. Unlike traditional vampire spawn, Bolt retained
his free will and intelligence, eventually turning on Morbius. More often than not, however, The Living Vampire’s
victims either die from the normal injuries you’d expect from having your neck snacked
on, or survive them with the usual mundane consequences. Whether or not his abilities allow him to
infect others has less to do with his condition, and way more to do with what’s convenient
for the story. A little help from my She-Hulk One of the most important stories in Morbius’
history, the tale that transformed him from a tragic villain into a dark hero, involved
a weirdly violent court scene in the pages of Savage She-Hulk. Temporarily cured of his pseudo-vampire condition,
Dr. Morbius was working on ways to help another character with an interesting blood-related
problem: lawyer Jennifer Walters, whose gamma powered blood transfusion from her cousin
Bruce Banner turned her into the She-Hulk. While helping her, Morbius was arrested, and
when Walters defended him during the trial, she used a bizarre method to protect her client. To prove Morbius was not in control of his
actions while he was a vampire, Walters brought a pair of rabbits into the court and fed one
of them the formula that had transformed him. Predictably, the rabbit immediately went full
Holy Grail and killed its furry mate. “…I warned you!” Walters succeeded in getting Morbius’ charges
reduced, but the public wasn’t happy. Right after the jury read its decision, her
father told her he was ashamed of her, which might be even more painful than what happened
to that poor rabbit. Story vs gory When Morbius got his first shot at a solo
title in 1992, it began with the creative team of Len Kaminski and Ron Wagner. In spite of the passion Kaminski felt for
the project, his time on the title was short-lived. The reason? Apparently he wrote too much story. Speaking to Back Issue magazine in 2009, Kaminski
described Morbius as one of his dream projects, and said that he’d plotted 50 issues of
the series when he started, including a crossover with Spider-Man and Venom. Unfortunately, he was fired from the book
after only eight issues. Kaminski recalled that that he wasn’t sure
why editor Bobbie Chase fired him, but in a 1993 Wizard article, Ron Wagner said he
was tired of Kaminski’s character-driven stories, that he wanted more action and more gore,
and that Chase agreed. When Wizard reached out to Kaminski for comment,
the writer said Wagner used to leave snide notes in the margins of Kaminski’s scripts,
and that he tried to call Wagner to talk over changes, but never got a response. Once Chase fired Kaminski, colorist Gregory
Wright gave Wagner the gorier scripts he wanted… for a little while. Wagner himself was gone from the book by #14. Ultimate Morbius When Jared Leto brings Morbius to the big
screen, there’s a chance he won’t be a “living” vampire at all. Ultimate Spider-Man #95 introduced an updated
version of Morbius who had a much bigger connection to the vampires of his world than the regular
Marvel Universe’s version. He was a more traditional, undead vampire
who told Spider-Man he was the son of Dracula, and spent his time hunting his brethren and
operating as a villain. While Marvel officially put the nail in the
Ultimate line’s coffin in 2015, its impact on the film adaptations can’t be ignored. A lot of what we’ve seen in the MCU was first
seen in the Ultimate Comics. Nick Fury was first drawn as Samuel L. Jackson
in The Ultimates six years before the actor appeared as the S.H.I.E.L.D. Director in Iron Man. Black Widow and Hawkeye being a part of the
original Avengers line-up, Captain America’s World War II era uniform, the invading alien
soldiers from the first Avengers film, and plenty of other visual elements seen in the
movies were lifted from the Ultimate line. There’s no reason to believe the Morbius filmmakers
wouldn’t learn from the MCU’s example and draw on a much less complicated version of
the character. Morbius versus Blade… or not While he never actually made it to the screen
for a film adaptation, Leto’s casting isn’t the first time that Morbius has had a brush
with Hollywood. In fact, if screenwriter David Goyer’s original
plan had been realized, the Living Vampire’s first big-screen appearance would likely have
pre-dated the MCU by eight years. The DVD for 1998’s Blade, written by Goyer,
features a deleted scene in which a mysterious figure in a dark trench coat watches from
a nearby rooftop as Blade and Karen emerge triumphant from their conflict with La Magra. In 2016, David Goyer confirmed the figure
was intended to be Morbius and, had he gone on to direct Blade II, Morbius would have
been the villain for the sequel. Instead, Guillermo del Toro directed Blade
II and the story was altered to pit Blade against the Reapers instead. By the time Goyer directed Blade: Trinity,
the focus had shifted to Hannibal King and the spinoff-ready Nightstalkers. All three movies wound up featuring stone-cold
evil bad guys, which makes sense since we all want to see Blade chop their heads off,
but presenting a more tragic and sympathetic foe could’ve made for a very different,
very interesting movie.

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