Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, January 12, 2023


Morbius:  The Living Vampire, by Roy Thomas, et al., 2019

Michael Morbius is a comic book character -- he's a Nobel Prize-winning scientist turned vampire.who first appeared as villain in the October 1971 issue of Marvel Comics' The Amazing Spider-Man.  Suffering from an incurable blood disorder, Morbius tries to create a cure using fluid extracted from vampire bats, along with an electrical shock treatment designed to create new blood cells; also included ion the projected treatment is some sort of "deadly radioactive materials."  (Of course, this makes no sense, but this is a comic book, after all.)  The experiment, conducted by Morbius's best friend and assistant, Nikos, did not go as planned -- it changed the brilliant scientist into a living vampire.

A bit of explanation here.  As a "living vampire," Morbius is a scientically-created blood drinker, as opposed to the traditional supernatural vampire who is one of the living dead.  A living vampire is not affected by religious crosses, holy water, or any of the other things that would normally deter a supernatural vampire.  A living vampire does not burn up in the sun's rays at daylight -- although sunlight does appear to weaken Morbius.  A living vampire casts a shadow.  A living vampire cannot create another vampire by drinking its blood.  Most of the supernatural claptrap that affects a supernatural vampire just does not apply to Michael Morbius.  Morbius, as a scientist, does not believe in supernatural vampires --  a belief that holds up for a number of adventures.  As a living vampire, Morbius has great strength and agility.  He has hollow bones, which aids him in gliding through the air with a special costume that has "wings" attached to the arms.  Morbius does have an overwhelming thirst for blood -- warm, thick blood, bubbling up from his victims.   The thirst can overwhelm him at night, turning him into a ravining, unthinking beast; during the day, however, the urge lessens and the guilt over what he has done sinks in.  Morbius is a vampire with a sometimes conscience.

Got that?  Good.  Back to the origin story.  The experiment has turned Morbius into a vampire and his first victim was his friend, Nikos.  Immediately after Nikos is murdered, Morbius attempts to go his fiance Martine for help but then his thoughts of the "warm -- rich blood coursing through her veins" frightens him; instead of going to her, he flees and attempts to drown himself.  Alas, vampires are not easy to drown.

Thus Morbius is condemned to roam, occasionally attempting to find a cure (and always failing), occasionally trying to avoid the blood thirst overtaking him (and almost always failing), and occasionally finding a sympathetic human to bond with (and that never works out well).  Because he is a "scientific" vampire, the conceit was to have his adventures fall into the science fictional realm.  Eventually, though, many of his adventures dealt with the supernatural.  Sometimes the two genres melded, resulting in tales which were unintentionally silly.

Morbius:  The Living Vampire is a large (over 850 pages!) omnibus containing every comic book appearance of the character for his first ten years -- 41 comics worth.  The stories may be light and predictable but, make no mistake, this is some heavy reading -- I weighed the book on my bathroom scale and it topped off at 6.4 poundsThe book has a cover price of $100.

One problem with the Morbius saga is the ever-changing line-up of writers and artists, as well as the fact that his adventures cover a total of twelve different comic book titles, from The Amzing Spider-Man to The Savage She-Hulk.  Some of the two-part stories suffered when the original writer (or artist, or both) was pulled from the story and assigned to a different title and whoever took over the task of completing the tale had no idea what the intended conclusion was.  Some consistency came about when Morbius was the feature character in a dozen issues of Adventures into Fear.  Most of his appearances were in the "regular" color comic books that were bound by the industry's Comics Code, a requirement that had been instituted in the Fifties durng the nation's great "comic book scare" that was destroying the morals of the nation's youth.  Not covered by the Comics Code were the full-size (8 1/2" by 11") black-and-white comic magazines which allowed more graphic blood, gore, violence, and sex.  After viewing the success of Warren Publications' entries into this field (Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella, etc.), Marvel joined the trend with several titles, including Vampire Tales, which featured Morbius and other characters, such a Blade, the vampire hunter.  The black-and-white magazines featured artwork several levels above that of the color comics.  The stories were more nuanced, although in the case of Morbius, sex was never a big factor.  (Females were drawn with wasp waists, large tat-tas, and plunging necklines -- but that was about as far as it went.)

The color comics were cruder in their approach to both art and story.  Monsters were often pathetically drawn and, in the rare cases where the story tried to be truly original, the artist could not live up to the challenge.   One sequence had a monster of a gadzillion eyes, each of which was a gateway to a nightmare dimension; it was impossible for the artist to capture the scripter's vision and the monster ended up drawn in the most laughable manner ever.  In another sequence, a mutant being from Acturus had a large eye for a head; the eye was round and white, the pupil pink, distinctly resembling a nipple surrounded by areola -- the only real attempt to breach the Comics Code that I could find in the book.

Also included are a number of letter columns from the black-and-white issues, full of gushng praise and puerile critism, as well as some remarkably on-point observations -- all giving the reader a sense of what was trying to be accomplished, outide of increased sales.

Consistency was not a hallmark in these stories; since they were often pubished months apart, that was not a large concern for either readers of Marvel.

It's not a title that will appeal to most people.  You probably know already whether you would enjoy something like this.  Let me end up by saying that I was hooked.  I had planned merely to dip into the book but, once I read the first story I just kept reading.  I really don't know if that was because of the character or because of the medium.  I finished the book in two days (fully convinced I would never have to lift arm weights again.)   And, yeah, I feel guilty for enjoying the book so much.

One final caveat:  Don't be like me -- this is a book that should be approached in bits and pieces.

1 comment:

  1. And I never loved Marvel's new work in 1970s as readily as DC's, and about as much as Charlton's and Gold Key's, as Marvel's was so desperate to be hip, and so clumsy at expressing this (this also occurred at the other publishers' comics but never so constantly). What I did enjoy most immensely were the reprinted 1950s stories in the fat DC mixed new/reprint issues of the likes of THE WITCHING HOUR, and in such Marvel reprint (from predecessor publishers such as Timely and Atlas) titles as TOMB OF DARKNESS, which were often at least comparable to EC horror and suspense comics, and sometimes even more off-the-wall. The black and white comics I saw then seemed too watered down, and too expensive, for very much the most part...