by Richard Newby
Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big screen. This week looks at Marvel's Morbius No. 1, so be warned of spoilers ahead.
We’re well past spooky season, but Marvel Comics still has its share of monsters. Wednesday sees the release of Morbius No. 1 by Vita Ayala and artist Marcelo Ferreira. The Living Vampire, spun out of the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, has been a Marvel mainstay since his debut in Amazing Spider-Man No. 101 in 1971. The character saw the height of his popularity in the '90s with his longest-running solo series (32 issues), and as a member of the horror-themed superhero team Midnight Sons. While he’s never been too far removed from the shadows, the character’s latest ongoing series and probable prominence over the course of the next year can be traced to the upcoming film starring Jared Leto as the titular vampire.
As part of Sony’s Marvel Universe, also referred to as the Spider-Verse, the expectation is that Morbius will eventually crossover with Venom, set for his own sequel with Tom Hardy. And, if the film turns out well, there’s a chance that we’ll see the character interact with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. Directed by Daniel Espinosa, who delivered the solid space-horror movie Life (2017), Morbius will center on the character’s origin and quest to cure himself of a rare blood disease, which results in his vampirism. Leto will be joined by Matt Smith, Jared Harris, Tyrese Gibson and Adria Arjona, all of whom could potentially play a larger role in the Spider-Verse. But Morbius, despite his ties to one of horror’s classic archetypes, is a harder sell and is a bigger unknown than Venom. And vampires don’t have quite the same pull on pop culture as they did a decade ago. But this latest series puts a fresh set of eyes on the character, and his mythos, and promises an exciting blend of superheroics and horror that bodes well for the character’s future and increased currency.
Morbius No. 1 is a great entry point for newcomers and Vita Ayala covers the bases in terms of providing brief insight into Morbius’ origin and past tragedies, without making longtime fans of the character feel like they’re stuck in reverse. But Ayala also employs a philosophical angle, one that sees Michael Morbius pondering the rational mind and ethics according to Aristotle during his search for a cure to his vampirism. Ayala, a relatively recent voice in comics and a welcome non-binary and Afro-Latinx presence in the industry, sets the stage for a character-driven examination of a character whose desire to retain the basic human needs for health and goodness have left him undergoing a personal crisis when it comes to achieving both. And the blend of science and the supernatural that drives the first issue, both in terms of Morbius’ vampirism, and his adversaries, The Melter and an unknown vampire hunter, who looks like she may be Morbius’ ex Martine Bancroft, blend the vampire lore of old with a 21st century consideration of technology’s impact on the body.
And I'd be remiss if we didn’t also give equal praise to Marcelo Ferreira, who emphasizes the horror of Morbius’ vampirism with no shortage of fangs and blood. Morbius, created by Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane, stands out as one of the most interesting-looking vampires in comics and Ferreira really hones in on that fact, marrying the monstrosity of his presence with the intellect of his narrative. There’s also an attention placed on the surroundings, an intimate and secluded view of Greenpoint, Brooklyn that’s distinct from Morbius’ previous escapades in Manhattan and on the top of skyscrapers. Together, Ayala and Ferreira create an emotional and visceral horror in their first issue that’s heavy on mood and the central character’s ability to brood.
While there’s yet to be any stills released from Espinosa’s film, which is due July 31, 2020, there’s a hope that Morbius doesn’t shy away from horror or covering up Leto’s comic accurate prosthetics. Despite how popular the blend of horror and superheroism has remained in comics, very few films have managed to strike that balance. If the latest comic series is any indication of what we can expect from the film, given the kind of symbiotic relationship that exists between comics and their filmic adaptations, then we’re in for a fascinating depiction of the character. While Morbius is often considered to be a C-list, cult character, Morbius No. 1 and the upcoming movie have the potential to allow the character to break out into the mainstream and have us all watching our necks.
Production Designer: Stefania Cella