Thursday, October 30, 2008

There's a Mountain on Sunset Boulevard! (Marvel)
Where: Marvel Premiere #28 When: February 1976
Why: Bill Mantlo How: Frank Robbins

The Tape...
Strength: Werewolf 4 (Enhanced)
Intelligence: Morbius 5 (Professor)
Speed: Werewolf 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Werewolf 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Werewolf 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Werewolf 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Draw 1 (None)

Math: Werewolf by Night Ranking: Morbius (#60)

The Fix...
It's a little late, but it would've felt wrong to pass over an Infinite Wars Halloween October without taking a moment to look at one of Marvel's most interesting horror icons -- the living vampire: Morbius!

Cover dated, October 1971; Amazing Spider-man #101 had far greater significance than that of a mere a post-milestone issue. The debut of Morbius - a non-traditional "living" vampire borne of science - proved vital to relaxing the standards of comics' self-imposed regulator, the Comics Code Authority.

It was the suppositions made by Dr. Frederic Wertham in his 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, that led to the mass sanitization of a medium that once shared the criminal macabre and horror veins popularized in their pulp magazine precursors. The resulting regulation of comics saw the deconstruction of an artform, and the death of major publishing houses, like EC Comics.
The thematic effects of the Code remain widely recognised through mainstream references, such as the 1960's Batman television series, and Silver Age comics that ran alongside it. The once grim adventures of the Dark Knight became adventures in parody and the colourfully absurd as horror and psychological drama buckled beneath approved subjects. [More; C2C: Halloween Monsters]

As editorial shifts moved with the times, a 'bronze' age of comics was ushered in. The introduction of characters that straddled the lines of acceptibility; like Morbius and Man-Thing; pushed the Code to be revised for a modern era, relaxing in particular it's harsh denouncement of horror themes.

The horror revolution continued thereafter, followed by the debut and revival of characters like: Werewolf by Night (1972), Frank Drake (1972), The Demon (1972), Ghost Rider (1972), Blade (1973), Son of Satan (1973), and even Bram Stoker's 1890s literary titular figure, Count Dracula (1972)!

Unfortunately, despite his significance, Morbius' popularity has dwindled since it's height in the seventies. As an oddity in the Spider-man gallery of rogues, the tragic story of the living vampire continued in titles reserved for Marvel's legion of monster superheroes. It was here much of the character's unique mythology was defined, and later picked up once more, as Morbius became one of the key components in Marvel's mid-nineties Midnight Sons revival of the horror sub-genre. Some of you will know the character from Maximum Carnage, a Spidey event occurring at much the same time.

Morbius is back in Marvel Zombies 3, where his recruitment into the Initiative has brought him to the frontlines of the zombie invasion of the core Marvel universe. His expertise as a biologist remains one of the most interesting legacys of his debut as a loophole to the frowned upon conventions of horror. An aspect that also could've played very interestingly had the character successfully found it's way to the big screen as was once intended for each edition of the Blade film franchise.

The seventies is where we pick up with Morbius in an issue that actually brings together four of Marvel's key horror icons: Ghost Rider, Werewolf by Night, and Man-Thing - collectively dubbed, the Legion of Monsters!

Before the gang gather on Sunset Boulevard, Morbius finds himself surfing the night sky in search of fresh prey. Spying a silhouetted figure on the rooftops below, Morbius swoops to knock the figure down, completely unaware that his target is a creature he'd tussled with once before -- the Werewolf!

As Morbius clutches as Jack Russel's ruffled fur, he becomes all too aware of his choice, suffering the ravenous rake of taloned werewolf claws!

The sudden rumble of an Earthquake topples both creatures, but when Dr. Michael Morbius spies a rising mountain in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, the curiosity of the scientist deep within momentarily overcomes his vampiric urges.
Alas, the animalistic Werewolf's rages are not so easily tempered. Gliding eerily, Morbius is able to evade his continued attacks, but when he spies an overturned motorcycle, the plot thickens further!

Man-Thing and Ghost Rider join the ghoulish pair at the foot of the mountain, where the quartet are approached by a gleaming golden horseman called The Starseed! The alien man proves sufficient to end the quarrel held by the Werewolf and living vampire, but the hostilities are sure to end only briefly.

Curiously enough, despite holding a keen fascination for Morbius as a character, I've never been the biggest horror fan. To that end, I don't really like much of anything to do with the seventies, but I suppose comics do manage to provide the exception to that rule. So many great concepts and issues came from the decade that burst free of the absurdist oppression of the Comics Code.

The Code, of course, is rarely used in today's market.
Marvel famously ceased submission in 2001, to instead establish their own rating system. DC followed suit loosely, continuing only to selectively submit issues aimed at younger audiences. DC's leanings toward the Code echo a past that once saw the company critical of Marvel's decision to print unapproved issues of Amazing Spider-man that dealt with the negative effects of drugs. Interestingly enough, these issues preceeded Morbius' debut, numbering in the late #90's.

At some point we might return to Marvel Premiere #28 to look further at the combative struggles of the Legion of Monsters, and how their interactions with The Starseed provide a dark mirror of their own condition. In the mean time, we watch on with interest to see how Marvel make use of their living vampire!

Winner: Draw
The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 4

Want to know how it all ends? Need more Marvel horror for your Halloween? Morbius and the Werewolf's encounter is collected in Essential Werewolf By Night vol. 2! You can get that, as well as many other issues, via the Amazonian Gift Shoppe here on the Infinite Wars! By using purchase links provided, you help sponsor future entries, which is might spooktacular of you!

No comments: