In this second Epic Collection from Marvel, Morbius strikes out on his own, free of any pesky wallcrawlers. Unfortunately for him, basically every monster in the Marvel Universe, human or otherwise, still wants a piece of him and his true love, Martine Bancroft! This collection features a huge roster of talent, including stories by Doug Moench, Sonny Trinidad, Bill Mantlo, Frank Robbins, Sal Buscema, Don Heck, and many more!
One thing that this collection makes abundantly clear is that Morbius is one of the most bizarrely fun characters to ever be produced by Marvel. While clearly designed to be a tragic figure, there’s something oddly hilarious about his behavior throughout many of these stories. This is particularly noticeable in the full-color tales, which still have a distinctly Marvel vibe about them.
Morbius is full of foreboding monologues and dramatic proclamations of how cursed and miserable he is, but these are typically delivered in front of some other larger than life characters — and the resulting juxtaposition makes for a bit of unexpected humor. For instance, Simon Stroud acts as a foil through a few story arcs, and it’s a blast to see this swaggering Dirty Harry wannabe act totally nonplussed when faced with Morbius’ whole “woe is me” schtick. In many ways, Morbius works best as a character when he’s playing off of characters that have absolutely no patience for him.
Of course, it’s not all fun and games and making fun of the resident mopey vampire. There’s plenty of occult madness and bloodshed throughout this tome. Much like in the first collection (which I reviewed a few months back), the most interesting and offbeat stories occur in the black and white pages of Vampire Tales, which tend to portray Morbius in a more urbane and realistic environment. Sure, he’s still fighting bonkers demonic forces and what have you, but there’s never a feeling that the Fantastic Four could pop into one of these grittier installments to save the day, and that lends them an even more sinister air.
When it comes to Morbius’ adventures through the four-color world, however, the results can be a bit of a mixed bag. It’s clear that the various creators working on these stories were relishing the opportunity to inject some more spooky elements in the Marvel Universe, but the execution occasionally borders on self-parody. Never is this more evident than in the opening story arc, in which Morbius fights a lord of hell that is covered with eyes. Its name? Helleyes. No, seriously.
As I noted in the previous collection, there’s still a bit of confusion amongst the various writers concerning what Morbius’ actual abilities are. Some stories depict him as more of a brawler with a taste for blood, while others depict him using more of his hypnotic abilities and clever diversions to win the day. There also seems to be a continued debate surrounding whether or not Morbius can turn other people into vampires. It’s fun to see the writers figuring out his deal over time, but when reading these stories all together, it can occasionally be off-putting to see one issue outright contradict something a mere thirty pages back.
Even so, this collection of stories also transcends some of the other awkward growing pains of the issues in the first volume. In particular, there appears to be less call for characters to recount Morbius’ origin. At this point, it feels like Marvel is confident that most readers have a working knowledge of Morbius and his plight. The stories here are much more concerned with seeing just how wild Morbius’ adventures can get, with the thrills and the stakes constantly escalating.
A majority of the stories in this collection have a fun Hammer Horror vibe to them, which should prove enticing to fans of the creepier side of Marvel. Some of the biggest highlights include the fateful “End of a Vampire” by Bill Mantlo & Frank Robbins, the globe-trotting “Death Kiss” by Doug Moench and Sonny Trinidad, and the hilariously over the top team-up of “The Legion of Monsters” by Bill Mantlo & Frank Robbins. Also included is a fascinating essay by Ralph Macchio called “Monster Unleashed — Again!” This essay digs into the history of Marvel horror and how Tomb of Dracula paved the way for some of the House of Ideas’ greatest creatures.
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