First Impressions – MORBIUS: THE LIVING VAMPIRE #1

Moebius-1-variant-Gabrielle-Delotto

Straight from the pages of (the now canceled) Amazing Spiderman, we have yet another anti-hero floundering about, trying to find his place in the world. This isn’t your little sister’s vampire. Micheal Morbius has a series all his own, once again.

Backstory time, children: way back, during the before-times of the fifties to the seventies, the comic book medium was dominated by an organization called the Comics Code Authority. An industry created self-regulating body, the CCA put strict guidelines on what could appear in comics. Anyone not conforming to those rules was denied a Comics Code stamp of approval, which in sales terms was basically a death sentence.

Many of those rules were made with the best of intentions (especially considering what the government would have mandated if the CCA had otherwise not formed), but by today’s standards they were puritanical and limiting. One of those rules was the complete ban on all undead/monsters, including zombies, werewolves, and of course vampires. But as the Bronze Age of comics rolled in, comic companies began to challenge the rules, and they began to loosen bit by bit.

It was here that Morbius, the Living Vampire came into the picture. Created during this period of change, the character was one of many characters in the revival of the horror element so long ousted from comics.

Born with a degenerative blood disease, Nobel winning scientist Micheal Morbius worked for years to cure his condition. For reasons that most probably made more sense at the time, he experimented with vampire bats to develop a method of boosting his blood cell count. To no one’s surprise, the process mutated him into a horrible monster with beastial instinct and a thirst for blood. And thus, the Loving Vampire was born!

Make no mistake, despite Morbius being basically a science vampire, it’s not like he’s the rule for vampires in the Marvel universe. Regular, classic flavor vampires exist on Earth-616; Dracula himself regularly tangles with heroes. Jubilee, long-time member of the X-Men, became a vampire after losing her mutant powers! What makes Morbius so interesting for people is that his unique convergent approach to vampirism is for many a welcome change from the moody, Gothic vampire scene.

Plus, the fact that he regularly tangles with Spiderman helped his popularity.

Speaking of Spiderman, that brings us to his recent appearances in the now-defunct Amazing Spiderman. He tried to cure the Lizard, but mostly as a means of developing a cure for his own condition. And then he got tricked into going into a blood frenzy, biting one of Peter Parker’s coworkers. Peter, having grown tired of his villains ruining everything around him, basically washed his hands of Morbius, despite the latter’s pleas for help.

Doesn’t much matter now, given recent events, but what can you do?

Which pulls everything, finally, to MORBIUS: THE LIVING VAMPIRE #1. Having recently escaped from a SHIELD prison during the events surrounding ASM #700, Michael has settled in Brownsville, a…district(?) of New York City rampant with crime where no meddlesome super heroes venture. A wretched hive of scum and villainy where Morbius can lay low until he can accomplish some vague, undefined “things” he needs doing.

By the way, if you happen to live in Brownsville, I mean no offense. I’m just describing what the book is giving me.

Much of the issue revolves around defining for new readers what it means to be a “Living Vampire”; how he’s similar and different from stereotypical strigoi, what his strengths and weaknesses are. Another large part is devoted to detailing how Morbius came to be what he is – with most of such details lifted wholesale from Amazing Spider-Man #699.1, which can be described as a prologue to this issue. And lastly, the issue sets up his current predicament, namely his street life in Brownsville, and him running afoul of a street thug named Noah St. Germain.

Oh, and he dies apparently. Maybe. It’s one of those fake deaths to induce people into reading more, and as such is not a spoiler.

My research on this series lead me to interviews with writer Joe Keatinge and artist Richard Elson. Among the little said about their plans, it’s made clear that in all of Morbius’ prior appearances, how the man thinks of himself is glossed over. And that they intended to portray the Living Vampire as a man with no direction, who doesn’t himself know what his purpose is. Such comes off well in this first issue, because it’s very clear Morbius has hit rock bottom.

Now does this make for a good series? Or at least a good series opener? Not sure.

An anti-hero going through the world to find himself is a concept that can go two ways. On the one hand, many can relate to aimlessness and the need to find their place in the world. And I cannot personally think of a superhero (even an anti-villain like Morbius) who lives literally on the streets as an evil-fighting homeless person. Maybe Hancock. Both have drinking problems (wink wink).

But on the other hand, if the story doesn’t have a direction to move towards and gets on it fast, readers with considerably less angst will quickly grow frustrated and leave. Many books were killed precisely for having no end goal. Also, Morbius always tormented himself over his need to drink blood fresh from the vein, and the animal savagery that came with it. This is not new, though we can only hope the writer goes light on that particular baggage from here on.

On a side note, is it just me, or does Morbius take altogether too easily to being a hobo? Sure he complains about Brownsville plenty, but mainly about the rampant crime and stuff. If it weren’t for the people, you’d think he felt at worst indifferent to living on the street. What do you think? Am I crazy?

I don’t know guys. This series has some promise. It’s certainly different from most every other vampire media out these days (alongside The Strain). And with the Spiderman franchise…the way it is now, I could use some classic Spiderman stories, even if concerning one of his sometimes allies/sometimes villains. But then again this could go south so easily. The issue, naturally, spends so much time getting new readers up to speed about the character that the main plot barely gets rolling (and it a somewhat confused, nonlinear sort of way). Plus, if you liked Morbius’ costume, prepare to be disappointed because he spends most of the issue dressed as a junkie.

On the other hand, there are few places where the book makes me chuckle. But on the other other hand, I’m following enough series these days that at best I’d be willing to see where this first few set of issues goes. And maybe not even that, given that the next issue’s cover is a closeup of a fanged mouth.

Morbius_The_Living_Vampire_Vol_1_2_Textless

Last thing I need is a reminder of dentistry.

What do you think? Can a homeless science vampire fighting crime and being slightly emo work in a comic? Are you sick of the usual brand of vampire fiction? And how do you feel about buying a comic with a mouth on the cover? Leave a comment below. Feedback is always appreciated.

Oh, and I’m kind of disappointed I couldn’t get this issue with the Marvel Baby variant cover. The idea of little Morbius the Living Chibi Vampire is adorable and hilarious.

Morbius-1-variant-1

Oh well, a man can dream.

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