Sony will be ringing in the new year with Morbius, an origin story film for the comic book character Doctor Michael Morbius, an on-purpose scientist and accidental vampire played by Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto. This movie has been a long-time coming, as it was originally supposed to be released in July of 2020 (but, you know, Covid). The trailers for Morbius tease a darker, more sinister world than comic book fans might be used to, with the titular anti-hero being torn between helping others and satisfying his newfound bloodlust. His conflictions are summed up perfectly when he says, “I’d do anything to save a life, but I don’t know what I’m capable of.” The trailer’s not-so-subtle anti-Spidey sentiment, such as the Spider-Man graffiti that reads “murderer” and an appearance by Spider-Man: Homecoming’s villain Vulture (Michael Keaton) suggests that the film will explore exactly why and how Morbius gets tangled in Spider-Man’s webs.
It’s about time this vampire saw the light of day. (Okay, maybe “light” was a poor choice of words here.) So let’s dig deep into the bloody backstory of this brilliant biochemist. Who is Dr. Michael Morbius in the comics and what can we expect from Morbius? And how the heck did a scientific vampire get involved with S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Who Is Morbius, The Living Vampire?
Ever since he swung into our lives (and hearts) in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962, Spider-Man has faced dozens of villains of all sorts of shapes, sizes, and abilities. Created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in 1971, Morbius, the Living Vampire (and quite the mouthful) made his debut in The Amazing Spider-Man #101 and is no exception. It’s important that we don’t take Morbius for granted, because the blood-sucker almost didn’t exist. Up until the early 1970s, classic monsters, like werewolves and vampires, were forbidden from comic books. German-American psychologist Fredric Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent blamed comic books for the rise in and encouragement of “severe juvenile delinquency.”
Wertham acted as witness in the comic books and juvenile delinquency hearings in 1954, which scared publishers into self-censoring before intense legal action could take place. As a result, the Comics Code Authority got out in front of any more criticism, and thus banned creatures from the pages (unless used for comedic purposes only.) Since Morbius is no laughing matter, he wouldn’t fly into Marvel comics until 1971, when the Comics Code Authority took a chill pill and eased up on monsters. Initially, there were talks for Dracula to enter Spider-Man’s orbit, but Spidey’s creator Stan Lee encouraged Kane and Thomas to create an original vampire character, which would become Morbius. Now let’s dive into the fictional backstory of this fanged fella.
Growing up in Greece with a single mother and absent artistic father, Michael Morbius was plagued with a rare, enervating blood disease. Worried for his safety and health, his mother kept him inside most of the time, which alienated him from the real world and his peers. He would occasionally manage to play with his one friend, Emil Nikos, but after an accident that hurt the already-weak Michael, Emil becomes extra protective of his compromised friend. They dedicate their college careers to finding a cure for Michael’s rare blood disease. Their research with vampire bat blood was successful and won them a Nobel Peace Prize, but as for a cure, still no dice. In a last-ditch effort to save himself from his worsening physical condition, Michael undergoes an intense experiment involving vampire bats and electroshocks. (Here’s where the whole “living vampire” thing comes in.)
The result of the experiment was a bit of a mixed bag, with the chemical alterations turning Michael into a pseudo-vampire. This means that his vampiric origins were purely scientific (unlike Dracula, who would also enter Marvel comics a year later in 1972). Adding to Michael’s already-superior intelligence was superhuman strength and speed, heightened senses and reflexes, and self-healing similar to—but not as strong as—Wolverine. When transformed into his vampiric state, he develops claws, fangs, a bat-like appearance and bat radar, and hollow bones that enable him to glide through the air. Because he isn’t a “supernatural” or “mystical” vampire, he’s not affected by garlic or religious relics, but does weaken slightly when exposed to the sun. And oh right, one other thing: The Living Vampire now has an intense appetite for blood, which he would have to ingest regularly in order to maintain his newfound powers.
As mentioned earlier, Morbius debuted in The Amazing Spider-Man #101, where he was introduced during “The Six Arms Saga” story arc as one of the many foes of Spider-Man. It was quite the memorable storyline for everyone involved. Fresh off of his experiment that gave him powers, Morbius now had an overwhelming desire for blood. To slake his thirst, he killed all the crewmen aboard the ship he was traveling on to the United States from Greece, including his best friend Emil. Morbius was immediately filled with guilt and fear that he would also kill his fiancée Martine Bancroft, and dove into the water to remove himself from temptation. Martine later finds a dead Emil and letters Michael left behind, and brings them to the Baxter building to show Reed Richards and the rest of The Fantastic Four. Morbius reaches the shore and makes himself comfortable at a nearby beach house, which happens to belong to Dr. Curt Connors, a scientist also known as the Lizard.
Oddly enough, Spider-Man is also chilling at Connors’ beach house, and to make things even stranger, he has four additional arms (hence the name of the story arc). While Spidey is busy using Connors’ lab to make a serum that will eliminate his extra limbs, he unknowingly wakes up Morbius and the two begin to fight (of course). Things get really messy once Connors gets involved and morphs into the Lizard. During the chaos, Morbius bites the reptilian foe, which turns the Lizard (somewhat) back to normal. After Morbius escapes, the arachnid and reptile team up, find Morbius, and get their hands on his blood, which they hope will heal Peter as it did Curt. Luckily, Peter’s arm count returns to two, but Morbius manages to escape, destined to return once again (and again).
Morbius continuously struggles with his new abilities, often feeling guilty for his irrational behavior that takes over when on the quest for blood. Over the years, he’s interacted with several famous characters, including The Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, Doctor Strange, and a Frankenstein-Punisher. He has a love-hate relationship with Blade and the Werewolf, even working with S.H.I.E.L.D. at one point to capture Blade.
What Can We Expect From Morbius?
The Morbius trailers have given us a lot to get excited about and further cement the fact that Morbius is an anti-hero. Michael’s deadly blood disease in the movie doesn’t seem as rare as it is in the comic books, considering he says that, “people all over the world,” have it. That being said, there still isn’t a cure, which is where he and his biochemical excellence comes in handy. The film features three key characters: Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), Loxias Crown (Matt Smith), and Simon Stroud (Tyrese Gibson). Martine, as referenced above, is his fiancée and was aboard the ship when he slaughtered his crew. Loxias is poised to be the film’s antagonist, just as he was for Morbius in the comics. There, The Living Vampire bit and transformed Loxias, a Hydra agent, into the character later known as Hunger, who would fight everyone from Spider-Man and Blade to Kingpin. Simon Stroud is a CIA agent who has it out for Morbius, too. The closest character to Morbius’ best friend Emil seems to be that of his mentor played by Jared Harris. He asks a conflicted Morbius the question that the pseudo-vampire is also trying to find the answer to: “Are you here to heal the world, or to destroy it?”
We’ll find out when Morbius gets sucked into theaters on January 28th.