I loved the 90’s for comic books. EVERY character had a book. It was amazing. And by god, when it came to Marvel, I bought almost all of them.
Darkhawk. Sleepwalker. Speedball. Nightwatch. Thunderstrike. Wasn’t there… didn’t FOOLKILLER have his own book for a sneeze? And Deathlok?
I don’t care what anyone says, Darkhawk and Thunderstrike were both pretty awesome.
Then there was the Midnight Sons crossover that gave a bunch of vaguely mystic and creepy characters their own titles just so they could have events together. Human Johnny Blaze and his fire shotgun! Blade! The friggin’ Darkhold!
I didn’t buy any of those.
But what I did buy… what the Midnight Sons run gave me that I actually enjoyed at the time was…
TITLE: Morbius The Living Vampire
Writer and Artist: Len Kaminski, Ron Wagner, and Ron Garney
Protagonists: Morbius, who is both a vampire and also alive
Antagonists: Dr. Paine, The Basilisk, Lilith.
Morbius receiving his own title in 1992 was the direct result of both the Midnight Sons crossover where Ghost Rider and his spooky pals all teamed up to battle Lilith and her evil army, and the comic boom of that era where comics were going to make us all rich… ESPECIALLY polybagged first issues! So, as noted above, Marvel began throwing books at everyone. Until this point, Michael Morbius was a somewhat tragic C-list Spider-Man villain, though according to the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia, he had some runs as a minor star in titles called Vampire Tales and Adventure Into Fear. And now it is kind of my mission to dig those books up!
Anyway, in this run, Dr. Morbius ditches his dated, silly leotard he had worn since his debut in exchange for a dated, silly leather daddy get-up, which… is at least practical? I guess. And of the two, the 90’s outfit may be more nondescript, but it’s better than the leotard. Though, for whatever nostalgic reason, Marvel has long-since decided to put him back in the leotard. In addition to this aesthetic change, he left random murder behind as well by promising Ghost Rider he would henceforth only feast on the guilty. Ta-da! Leather and killing bad dudes! A 90’s hero is born.
From there, the series meanders around and tries to establish some villains for Morby in the form of Dr. Paine (a deranged physician with surgical tools replacing his fingers, which is admittedly a pretty neat idea I ripped off for a character when I was a kid) and The Basilisk (a big monster!). He also gets a science buddy named Jacob to help him try to keep his hunger at bay. It’s honestly pretty typical establishment stuff for a new book.
This book holds up about as well as you would figure. It tries to be relatively dark and edgy, but at the same time is a basic superhero book from the era of rushing books on everything into the market. There’s a vampire trying to do good and only feed on the scum of society, but there’s also, you know, a giant lizard monster and an evil medical professional. This series maybe could have worked if it held off on the super hero battles a bit, but it might not have sold as well in the time in which it was coming out if it did. So what can be done?
It quickly fills up with a supporting cast and rogues gallery to round out Morbius’ corner of the Marvel Universe, and it of course has the obligatory Spider-Man guest shot early on to draw in new readers. There are two interesting wrinkles early on where Morbius is suddenly able to hypnotize prey and Spidey’s blood works as a kind of serum to sate the living vampire’s bloodlust for extended periods of time. After hypnotizing Spidey during the Dr. Paine story, Morbius is able to draw some blood to work with that will enable him to stay on the straight-and-narrow for longer periods of time.
The art in this is fine, and it certainly fits the mood of the book. It’s scratchy and brooding, but without stepping too far out of the realm of “super hero comic book” art. It doesn’t actively hurt the book, but it also isn’t remarkable, either.
Last note! I went as Morbius for Halloween 1992! That’s… that’s some pretentious nonsense. A c-List comic book character from a solid two decades before comics were mainstream. I’ve never even personally seen a Morbius cosplay at any con I have been to! Thankfully, no pictures exist of this, but I definitely recall being really happy about it as a child.
Talking Point: This is going to be a tough one! Who is your favorite Marvel or DC character who NEVER had his or her own title (not even a mini-series!). I mean, jeez, are there even any?
It’s necessarily a “bad” book, but it is very much of the era from whence it came. It doesn’t feel like a lot of thought was put into it other than “Hurry up and get another first issue on the market to tie with with this big crossover with a bunch of polybagged comics!”. Still, Kaminski and Wagner tried to create a world around the vamp and make it as worthwhile as it could be.