I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Morbius the Living Vampire #1

Doctor Michael Morbius is one of the more interesting characters to come out of the various Spider-man series over the years. He is not exactly a vampire in the sense that we understand, not like Jubilee or half of Blade. Morbius is, like many of his fellow villains, a science experiment gone wrong. But he's also one of the most beautiful and complicated minds in the Marvel Universe. It is easy to agree with the assertion that Michael Morbius always intends to do good but for some reason, be it his blood thirst or something else - and if this series is to develop into anything really important I believe it will have to explore the "something else" category - he fails, and does enough bad to be remembered as a member of Spider-man's rogue's gallery.

The 2013 ongoing series Morbius the Living Vampire is promising. In issue one, Keatinge quickly (and surprisingly thoroughly) catches us up with exactly who Michael Morbius is from the days of his crippling illness in Greece to his current state as a super-villain who has just escaped from The Raft in the aftermath of the fantastic final arc of Amazing Spider-man. If you picked up this volume knowing nothing about Michael Morbius, you would put it back down feeling fairly certain of who this person is. You might not have that personal understanding that a comic reader gets from reading about a character for years and watching the character progress, but you could probably wow all of your friends if any of your friends care about comic books.

While Keatinge is good at letting you know who Michael Morbius is, his methodology smells strongly of the introductory scenes of the 2009 film Zombieland where Jesse Eisenberg's character Columbus outlines how one is to deal with zombies. In fact, there is a decent amount of Morbius the Living Vampire that stinks of other stories. The premise feels a lot like that of the Hawkeye ongoing series which amazed many comic readers in 2012: a well-known character sets out on his own and deals with non-traditional superhero issues like everyday life, gangs, etc. Furthermore, it is hard not to feel like this series only exists because Marvel is trying to capitalize on the vampire and zombie pop culture revolutions, both of which are past their peak of excitement. (Witches are going to be the next big thing. Mark my word.)

Keatinge's writing is surprisingly good. The fact that Morbius's origin/catch-up story is framed by an event in which he is, for all intents and purposes, murdered doesn't sound particularly original or interesting, but it is delivered with enough craft that I want to keep reading. On the flip side, Morbius feels like a brand new character, which feels disrespectful to a character with over forty years of history. Keatinge's Morbius is really cool, really fresh. He is part of the badass trend in recent comic books that was championed by Mark Millar's Kick-Ass. But the real Michael Morbius is a sensitive genius whose Greek origin gives him a strangely antique older-than-his-years quality. It's clear that someone like Dan Slott or Jason Aaron (one of the few writers who remembers that Illyana Rasputin is Russian and not just blonde and evil) would be able to deliver this complexity and balance it with humor. It is not clear yet, however, that Keatinge has a grasp of this idea.

Time will tell. I know that I'm interested enough to pick up the second issue of Morbius the Living Vampire, but I'm not committed enough to follow the entire run. I'd suggest getting a cheap digital copy of this issue or borrowing your friend's copy.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there , or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

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