With the Morbius film due to make its debut in early 2022, one assumes that more people than ever are looking back to the early days of our dear Michael M. to see what makes him tick. Though Morbius would later go on to have a more complex arc that would bring many nuances to his strange morality, his early days portrayed him as bloodthirsty and ravenous, destroyed by the experiments that were meant to save his life but instead saw him cursed to be—you guessed it—a LIVING VAMPIRE!
Following his premiere in Amazing Spider-Man #101, Morbius quickly grew in popularity via the pages of Marvel’s various horror titles, enjoying brief stints in anthology titles like Fear and Vampire Tales. For fans of the bizarre horror/sci-fi/superhero stories coming out from both Marvel and DC during the early 1970s, Morbius’s early appearances will scratch a very specific itch, while newer fans might find enjoyment in the camp factor of juxtaposing superhero hijinks with the tortured self-loathing of vampires.
Issues Collected: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1963) #101-102, MARVEL TEAM-UP (1972) #3-4, FEAR #20-26, GIANT-SIZE SUPER-HEROES #1, and material from VAMPIRE TALES #1-8 and GIANT-SIZE WEREWOLF #4
MORBIUS, MORBIUS, WHATFORE ART THOU, MORBIUS
Morbius came to be as a result of the Comics Code Authority slightly easing up on its ban on supernatural characters, which opened the floodgates for some very PG-13 horror-adjacent storytelling in mainstream comics of the ’70s. He is very much like the vampires of this era, but through a superhero-y lens. Using cold hard fake Marvel science as the grounding point for his vampirism, the writers go out of their way to insist that this transformation has absolutely nothing to do with mysticism. In fact, Morbius indignantly cries out, “but I’m a scientist!” every time someone asks him to imagine any religious or occult solution to his problems, which is hilarious considering the fact that he is indeed also a vampire. Time to consider some new alternatives, my friend.
Morbius came to be when he attempted to cure himself of “a rare blood disease” by self-experimenting. These experiments involved vampire bats, but I like to believe that they were ultimately set free and lived long and happy lives. He ended up making himself a vampire (as one does), and then took his bestie as well as his fiance Martine out onto a boat alone just to see what would happen. He ended up killing his friend and leaping into the ocean to avoid doing the same to Martine, and that’s where we meet him in Amazing Spider-Man #101.
At his root, everything Morbius does is in the name of love. He begins his experiments on himself in hopes of prolonging his life, but it is his love for the beautiful and incredibly-out-of-his-league Miss Bancroft that makes him want to live to begin with. By all accounts, Morbius was already a pretty weird dude before experimenting on himself, but his transformation into a creature of the night brought on a heavy dose of guilt-ridden nightmares and severe social awkwardness, so most of his inner monologue is 100% self-chastising and 0% self-love. Though most of his dialogue revolves around the existential crisis he’s undergoing, he does attack a whole lot of people on the street, so he’s not the easiest character to feel sorry for. Nevertheless, he is a proto-goth with serious anxiety issues and a knack for wearing open-collar shirts, so it’s safe to say that he’s still pretty relatable for a lot of us.
THE MORBIUS IN THE MIRROR
In his first appearance and subsequent encounter with Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #101-102), we see the parallels between Peter Parker and Michael Morbius spelled out for us. When Peter wildly experiments on himself in an attempt to reverse the effects of the radioactive spider bite that granted him his powers, he ends up further mutating and giving himself six whole arms in the process. Does that sound familiar? For instance, earlier in this article when Morbius experimented on himself to cure his affliction and ended up becoming a vampire? Just to push it all home, they are joined by Doctor Curt Connors, who… experimented on himself to cure his affliction and ended up becoming a lizard/human hybrid. Let’s face it, the story makes a fairly solid case for, you know, not conducting medical experiments on yourself.
Regardless of the ill-advised science hijinks, this story opens on some classic Peter Parker pathos, flips to a creepy vampire story aboard a freight ship, and ends up a weird and wild brawl between two of Marvel’s strangest complicated villains and the superhero that loves to fight them. That is to say, it’s an enjoyable if brief roller-coaster ride through this era of Spider-Comics. Before he became a protagonist in his own right, Morbius was a pretty solid Spider-Man villain, and artist/co-creator Gil Kane’s original Morbius design continues to be his most iconic.
MORBIUS, YOU’RE A STAR
Meanwhile, besides the first issue, Fear #20-26 is written by Steve Gerber, and as such has no shortage of Gerber’s trademark for wildly veering plotlines and a penchant for leaping from location to location. Morbius attacks a woman on the street and then runs around feeling sorry for himself for a bit. He seeks out the X-Men and Professor Xavier, who run some “tests” after Morbius attacks the students/paramilitary troop, which involves him using a bizarrely helpless Jean Grey as a human shield. Xavier shrugs and admits he has no idea what’s wrong with Morbius or how to fix him, so Morbius decides Xavier is a quack (fair), breaks free, and runs off. The X-Men quite literally do not care whatsoever, and that closes Morbius’s tenure as a potential member of the O5 X-Men.
Morbius then encounters a Rabbi named Krause and a Reverend named Daemond. Daemond uses Morbius’s bloodlust to destroy the Rabbi and enslaves Morbius to do his bidding. His bidding in the moment is for Morbius to kill a child named Tara, who quickly transforms into a scantily clad adult woman to trade punches with Morbius. Once he has bitten her, she becomes a child again. He then runs into a group of bald guys named the Caretakers (who will come up again but not right now) who are conducting experiments and creating life in tubes. They tell him if he helps them, they’ll give him Martine. Thus, Morbius goes to slaughter Daemond, but he sees that Martine is already with him, practicing what comic books of the 1970s imagine Satanic rituals to be like, aka wearing hip-huggers and sitting on a pentagram with some candles. Nefarious!
Again, this story is by Steve Gerber, so it starts off the rails and ends up in, quite literally, another dimension. After briefly fighting Cat-Demon, Morbius is drawn into The Realm Within, where he continues to wreak havoc on all who cross his path. He encounters a species with giant eyeball heads and heeds their warnings, crash-lands on earth, runs into Blade, and kills Tara. Listen, this story… is a lot, but if you can make the leaps it needs you to make, it works pretty well as one of Morbius’s first solo stories.
There are a handful of other comics, including the mostly incidental appearances in Vampire Tales, a neat fight with Spidey and Human Torch in Marvel Team-up #3-4, and the highly entertaining brawl with Werewolf By Night from Giant-Size Werewolf #4, but that just about wraps it up. This isn’t exactly an essential collection, but it does a lot to establish the backstory of Morbius: The Living Vampire! and takes us on a fun little jaunt through his chaotic early adventures. Morbius is almost definitely one of the silliest of all the vampires, but he is still pretty neat and works well in context to the greater Marvel Universe. Anyone looking for a campy good time with one of Marvel’s oldest horror-adjacent antiheroes will find a lot to love in this trade.