By Ethan Kaye
[Welcome to Make Mine Marvel, a bi-weekly series of articles devoted to all the things we've loved about Marvel over the past 60 years. From toys to video games, movies to trading cards, Underoos to stamps and more, we embrace it—warts and all. Kick back and enjoy Marvel's merry past with us.
In the early '90s there existed a company called American Comics and Entertainment that would regularly advertise in Marvel books. A mail-order company, American Comics produced ads jam-packed with lists of back issues and prices, as well as some very, very excited (some would say "ravenous") reviews of the month's HOTTEST titles. In a pre-World Wide Web era, these ads catapulted smaller comic companies and
3rd-tier books into superstardom. And with one sentence in 1992, I discovered Morbius.
"More violent than the Punisher."
Now, what does that say to you? To 12-year old me, that meant THIS BOOK WAS GOING TO BE OFF THE HOOK, so I rushed out to collect it with absolutely no idea who Morbius was or why he'd be more violent than the Punisher, a character who I didn't read much to begin with. I was 12, give me a break.
For those unfamiliar with our boy Morbius, this dude's a living vampire—a term coined in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #101, specifically
to get around the Comics Code's prohibition against depicting the (un)dead ones. Morbius possesses all the powers of a vampire but doesn't have to die to get them, which is, hm, probably the point. Spidey fights his vampire(-esque) baddie, no Code rules are broken, life is good. We go home and dance.
Despite his penchant for drinking blood, Morbius also spent a fair amount of time fighting crime and thus, moved to the realm of "anti-hero." This probably wouldn't happen in real life, of course, but when you have a living vampire on your hands, boy, you get as much mileage out of him as possible. He received his own series in 1992, written by Len Kaminski and drawn by Ron Wagner.
In this incarnation he was trusted medical doctor by day, bloodthirsty Spirit of Vengeance™ by night. And while the concept of do-gooder vampire might have been done a few times since (see also "Angel," "Forever Knight," "Blood Ties," "Moonlight," etc.), Morbius got the headlines by being, well, more violent than the Punisher.
The MORBIUS series of the '90s was, to put it bluntly, dark. Any story about a living vampire should have appropriate levels of grit to it, but MORBIUS pushed the envelope and then drank its blood behind the bleachers. The series' lightest thing, color-wise, was the title character's pale skin; everything else: leather bodysuits, nightscapes, underground tunnels and dark cemeteries. And the death toll soared with every issue. Morbius, crazy cat that he is, regularly exploded into berserker rages, tearing into unfortunate folks like a polar bear ripping through a wet cardboard box.
Of course, they're all drug dealers and murderers and such, but a disemboweling's a disemboweling.
For 12-year-old boys and girls, graphic violence like this was a rarity. Sure, Wolverine got blood everywhere, but he heals fast and it washed off easily enough. The Punisher got off clear shots with no splatter. Power Pack didn't decapitate all too often (at least not often enough for my tastes). But Morbius? Morbius launched into people and really, really gored them, like Rosie O'Donnell vs a burrito. Sure, underground and indie comics of the era (and eras past, if you knew a comic shop with a decent back issue selection) showed the same kind of pulping, but this guy was a hero with his
own title who occasionally hung out with Spider-Man! And not only was he down with the whole hack n' slash part of it, he was absolutely fixated with blood! It was everywhere!
The stories dealt with Morbius stalking the street trash or taking on the occasional big bad—usually Vic Slaughter—a mercenary-turned-vampire; the Basilisk, a redneck-turned-lizard; and Doctor Paine, a doctor-turned-sadist. The series also contained numerous stories where he ol' Morby battled classic Marvel villains such as Nightmare and D'Spayre as well as crossovers that linked him to the Midnight Sons group (he appeared concurrently in MIDNIGHT SONS UNLIMITED). Usually the major villains would escape without much blood spilled via Morbius, but,
hey, it's tough to balance recurring villains with a hero who more or less kills everybody who bugs him.
Eventually, the series got canceled. The dark and gritty, über-violent Morbius of the early '90s retreated once again, transforming back into the tamer, controlled vampire with a turned-up nose. MORBIUS's moody style has been copped by numerous artists and writers, while the hero has made welcomed, but ultimately small appearances since cancellation. Maybe the Midnight Sons storylines overtook too much of the book, maybe the stories got tamer over the series' 32 issues. Maybe it was just time to relegate the living vampire to guest status. In any
case, the man is missed, along with his endless potential.
And admit it, how many of you were secretly really excited when his LEAGUE OF MONSTERS book came out?
What say you: thirsty for a new Morbius series, or even more guest spots? Sound off in the forums and check out a few Morbius appearances through Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.