This new collection from Marvel comics compiles the first adventures of the vampiric villain-turned-antihero, Michael Morbius!
It’s always fascinating to see the evolution of a character like this, especially when he was changing hands do often in the early days. For his first several storylines, Morbius was written by a rotating list of comics greats, including Roy Thomas and Steve Gerber. With each writer putting their own stamp on the character, his “deal” varies wildly in each appearance.
As such, it seems like many of the early Morbius tales also change up how they portray his abilities. Some stories have him capable of creating others like him (who can then be killed like normal humans?), while some depict hypnotic powers of varying degrees. This process of figuring out the character may end up being a little annoying for some readers, but I personally thought it was a lot of fun to see how Morbius evolved.
Right from the get-go, Morbius is a ludicrous character who feels trapped somewhere between a traditional Dracula type and a classic swaggering Spider-Man villain. He’s brooding and tragic, and occasionally feral, but he’ll also shout his own name and make bold proclamations at the drop of a hat. The number of times the character says something to the effect of “so says the man called Morbius” or speaks in otherwise overwrought purple prose is almost comical, but there’s something incredibly enjoyable about it. He’s so full of contradictions in both his behavior and his power set that it’s a blast to see him come crashing into the 70s-era Spidey books like he owns the place.
Also of note are the Vampire Tales selections, which have been reproduced in their original black-and-white. These stories are clearly pushing for an edgier vibe than the mainline Marvel books, and were therefore published without the Marvel banner on them. It’s particularly interesting to see story beats from these issues referenced in the more colorful Morbius adventures, as the sensibilities of Vampire Tales seems so much more lurid and “underground” when compared to comics that have Man-Wolf and the Human Torch running around. The Vampire Tales installments illustrated by Tom Sutton may be the highlight of the collection, with the heavy linework and shading recalling Sutton’s work on classic Vampirella stories.
That’s not to say that this collection is all good. There are definitely some parts of these stories that have not aged all that well. Spider-Man’s casual misogyny toward Jean Grey in an early chapter is a real “yikes” moment, as are a few awkward attempts at writing dialogue for Black characters. These were issues that kind of permeated comic books as a whole during that time, so it’s not a huge surprise to see. Still, it’s only fair to warn readers that there are some very dated moments that may make you wince.
These stories also have a tendency to evolve into beat-em-up brawls. This makes a certain amount of sense for the first few issues that heavily feature Spider-Man. After all, the friendly neighborhood wall crawler has four extra arms to tackle the vamp with (it’s a long story). But even the first issue of Vampire Tales, which ostensibly is meant to be more focused on horror than action, culminates in a wrasslin’ match between Morbius and a monosyllabic demon.
Overall, however, this collection is a blast. It acts not only as a fun and over the top introduction to the classic comics vampire, but it also acts as a guide to the kinds of radical risks Marvel was taking in the 1970s. Vampires in mainstream comics were pretty much unheard of, thanks to the Comics Code Authority. Heck, the introduction page of Vampire Tales #1 — which has been reproduced here, weird reproduction of Count Orlok and all — literally goes through the trouble of explaining to possible uninitiated readers what a vampire even is. And again, Spider-Man had six arms for a little bit. Marvel was truly throwing everything at the wall to see what would stick.
With Morbius’ early stories, you can tell that the writers were enjoying being able to bring this darker side to the Spidey mythos. It’s especially clear when you see how often he was brought back within just the first year of the character’s existence. It seems as though the gang over at Marvel knew they had an enduring character on their hands. 50 years later, they’ve been proven right.
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