It’s Halloween, folks, so I thought I’d take an appropriate theme for this week’s Flashback. Now, I know Marvel has a long and storied history with horror comics, but I thought I’d go a little more mainstream and go to 1971 for a look at the first appearance of Morbius, the Living Vampire in Amazing Spider-Man #101.
Roy Thomas and Gil Kane created a monster – two monsters, in fact. The story begins with Peter distraught as his formula meant to take away his spider powers instead has grown him four extra arms. After being a complete jerk to Gwen to keep her from finding out his massive mistake, he continues to sulk over the issue. He mentions how characters are trying to find ways to “strike terror into the hears of evil-doers. The Shadow, Batman…” in a funny little nod to the folks across town. He puts in a phone call to one Dr. Curt Connors, and asks to stay at a secluded house of his (complete with lab, of course).
It’s interesting to not how separate Peter Parker and Spider-Man were back in these comics. As Peter, he was nothing but a big ball of worry, but as soon as he put on the mask, he started cracking jokes again. Granted, he was talking to himself along a trip from Manhattan to Long Island, but there’s a clear tonal shift when he dons that mask.
Spidey gets to Doc Connors’s home by the ocean, and something sets off his Spider Sense, though he can’t tell what at first. A ship just off port is the source of the sense of dread. Seems crewmen have been going missing, and the Captain has turned up dead. The crew confronts their only passenger, who promptly defeats them all before running off at super speed and hiding. That night, he comes out of hiding and kills every last one of them before jumping off the ship. He takes up roost in the attic of Connors’s home, the same one that Peter is in the basement of, trying to remedy his arm full of problems.
As night falls again, Morbius descends the stairs and sees the six-armed man, diving at him to fill his thirst for blood. After the tussle begins, Spidey realizes he’s in fact fighting a vampire, though Morbius implies that he may be more than a simple vampire. Upon Spider-man’s defeat, Connors arrives on the scene, and confronts the pale-faced attacker. Doc Connors gets so agitated, the stress transforms him once again into The Lizard! Spidey wakes up to see two foes now fighting over who gets to kill the wall-crawler, and he’s no closer to solving his initial problem.
This initial introduction of Morbius presents him as another duplicitous personality. By day, he’s conflicted about who and what he is and what he does at night. However, when night falls, he has no qualms with killing people for sustenance. Meanwhile, as previously mentioned, the two sides to Peter Parker are starkly contrasted in the same issue. He had been trying to deny one part of him, and it took over. Then Dr. Connors arrives, and he of course has been fighting his other side for a long time as well. This kind of thematic story telling was much more common in this era of the character than it is now, and it’s interesting to see underlying themes like that used so well. Morbius’s one comment does make the character more interesting and mysterious, but damn is that one goofy looking vampire. Honestly, not a lot about his pig nose makes me too scared. Morbius has seen a somewhat substantial amount of success, cropping up every few years, appearing alongside other supernatural characters (though his powers turn out to be science based) and Spider-man several more time.
Is Morbius scary at all? Was he as a kid? Who’s your favorite Marvel Monster? Sound off here!