Saturday, October 19, 2019

Return to Terror! (Marvel)
Fear #24 When: October 1974
Why: Steve Gerber How: Craig Russell

The Story So Far...
After adventuring to a realm called The Land Within; Morbius the Living Vampire finds himself stranded on a distant planet called Arcturus IV.

Caught between warring factions of hideous mutants and barbarian androids, Morbius stages a daring escape with the help of a mutant named Lord I. Together, the escaping duo plot a course for Earth on board the last known starship of an ancient fleet. Their mission: to defeat the sinister alien cabal known as The Caretakers -- Lord I's ancient ancestors!

Weeks of interstellar travel brings the starship to a crash landing on Earth, but with his bloodlust driving him to feast on his ally, Morbius arrives alone under the watchful gaze of a deadly new opponent: The Vampire Slayer - Blade!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Morbius 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Blade 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Draw 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Blade 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Blade 3 (Explosives)
Total: Blade 26 (Champion)

It was the fight that had to happen! Blade debuted in Tomb of Dracula #10 and quickly earned a reputation for stalking Dracula and the walking undead. This begged the question: how would he do against The Living Vampire?!

Morbius made his mark a couple of years before Blade hit the scene, battling Spider-Man and The Lizard after journeying from Greece, to New York City.

The vampirism of Dr. Michael Morbius was a result of failed attempts to use science to cure himself of a rare genetic blood disease. Through his treatment he gained vampire traits such as super-human strength, speed, durability, and a blinding lust to consume blood by night!

Despite efforts to reform by feasting only on the blood of the guilty, Morbius has had many lapsed and accidental run-ins with other heroes. We saw him fight to a stalemate with The Werewolf in Marvel Premier #28. He traded blows with Doctor Strange during Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #10.

Blade's no stranger to battling heroes, either. Under the influence of a page from the Darkhold he fought Ghost Rider to a standstill in Ghost Rider #40, and succeeded in killing him in Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance #13! Blade also took on Wolverine years later during Civil War, but couldn't cut the self-healing mutant deep enough to keep him down in Blade #5.

Although he's exhibited signs of accelerated healing: Morbius will typically be susceptible to Blade's weaponry. In 1974, Blade favours wooden stakes more than silver, steel, and swords, but the weaker materials should still pose a threat in the hands of the far superior hand-to-hand fighter!

Thanks to his mother being bitten by a vampire during his birth, Blade possesses enhanced strength, reflexes, and immunity to vampire bites. He won't become the legendary Daywalker until years later, but can never the less still rely on sunlight to weaken Morbius, as it did in Venom: The Enemy Within #3.

Blade is the far more skilled fighter, but he isn't quite the kung fu bad ass he'll become in later decades. At peak, Morbius is arguably the stronger of the two and could use that to mitigate Blade's superior fighting abilities. Let's see...

The Tape: Blade Ranking: Morbius (#68)

What Went Down...

As another vampire perishes beneath his wooden knife -- the slayer, Blade, can hardly believe his eyes when a rocket ship plunges out of the sky!

Leaving the shadows of a nearby alley, Blade races to the wreckage to discover a lone inhabitant: the eerie mutant Lord I, whose neck reveals the telltale mark of a vampire's bite!

For a moment Blade entertains the possibility of an invasion of vampires from outer space. He deduces another occupant must have escaped the ship before it crashed -- that's when he notices Morbius perched on a nearby rooftop!

Morbius glides from one roof to the next, prompting Blade to leap for the nearest fire escape and make chase! Morbius senses the figure pursuing him, presuming it to be an agent of Daemond or The Caretakers. Meanwhile, Blade puzzles over The Living Vampire's nature, ruling out traditional bloodsuckers.

They dart between buildings and vault over rooftop walls -- until Morbius finds refuge in the shadows. Blade runs right past his prey, failing to notice until Morbius kicks a tin can on his way out of hiding.

A wooden knife hurtles at waist height, narrowly missing its target! Blade at last confronts what he presumes to be an extra-terrestrial vampire, but Morbius catches him by surprising -- lunging at what he believes to be a madman!

Morbius pins Blade to the ground with both hands and attempts to reason with him. The slayer notes his incredible strength, unimpressed by a vampire's claim to wish him no harm!

The superior fighter sends Morbius hurtling head over heels with an improvised kick of his legs! The Living Vampire slams into a nearby wall!

The turn in fortunes gives Blade a moment to realise his opponent speaks the language of Earth. The revelation turns him back to traditional methods: three daggers hurled at Morbius narrowly miss their target at devastating speed!

Unaware that vampires truly exist, Morbius once again attempts to take pity on his attacker, believing him a raving lunatic. He strikes Blade with a swift dive kick and promptly resumes fleeing to a nearby church roof.

Blade stubbornly refuses to give up his cause. Shaking off the fog of the head strike, he scrambles for the church roof and dive tackles Morbius' legs!

The slayer uses his full body weight to press Morbius to the roof and then tugs his hair to force him to gaze upon the holy crucifix!

Invoking the power of the cross, Blade threatens to hold him until dawn if that's what it takes. Supernatural method that might slay any ordinary vampire, but not one created by a mistake of science!

Unaffected, Morbius uses his enhanced strength to push himself up and toss Blade by the arm!

The throw sends Blade over the edge of the roof, but he manages to snatch the edge of the gutter. For a few painful seconds he dangles perilously, before the slayer pulls himself back up to find himself alone.

The Hammer...
It was the fight that had to happen, but what a strange way to get there!

We're all about the title match between Marvel's best known vampire heroes, but the whole episode really only eventuates by an act of happenstance. A trippy adventure in space has to abruptly end before the action can begin! Its got a little bit of that loose, seventies college vibe I noted in Captain Marvel #26, with slightly less intensity and a little bit more weirdness.

One of these days we'll have to find time to talk more about Lord I: a telepathic mutant from Arcturus IV whose entire head is an eyeball, and whose life was drained away much too soon! In the mean time, lets rewind a little further back to examine just how this compelling first-time battle really came to be:

Morbius first appeared in 1971's Amazing Spider-Man #101. A reasonably unusual adversary for Spider-Man at the time; he provided early precedent for loosening restrictions imposed by the Comics Code Authority since the fifties.

In 1972 Marvel followed the successful introduction of their Living Vampire with an all-out adaptation of the ultimate bloodsucker: Bram Stoker's Dracula.

As the star of a new series: the lord of vampires found early contemporary arch-rivals in Frank Drake and Quincy Harker. Both borrowed liberally from familiar iconography found in other popular appropriations of Stoker's work, most notably in Universal and Hammer films. By Tomb of Dracula #10 in mid 1973, the vampire king was ready to meet a more modern adversary: Blade!

Blade advanced the premise of Tomb of Dracula with Marvel's answer to other theatrical movements the year prior in Blacula and Dracula A.D. 1972.

Eric Brooks would be a tough-talking contemporary slayer who just wanted all vampires dead -- and had the skills to make it happen! He provided a natural foil for the stuffy, traditional protagonists already populating the series, and was an inevitable breakout star. Dracula was his ultimate prey, but his existence invariably demanded a showdown with Marvel's other notable vampire creation!

Morbius had a couple of run-ins with Spidey after his initial appearance, clashing with the Human Torch and X-Men in Marvel Team-Up appearances, before lying low. Things finally fell into place in 1974, when Morbius replaced Man-Thing as the lead attraction of "Adventure Into" Fear starting with issue #20.

The series was actually called Fear, but as noted, the initial story leaned into the "Adventure" that popularly precedes the title on the cover. There was a creepy undercurrent of occult conspiracy to the sci-fi escapade, but it took a few issues before we finally got the battle we're all here to talk about.

It's not quite the bloody, tooth & claw struggle you might see from later battles between the pair. The circumstances lean heavily into each character's natural function, positioning Blade as the pursuing hunter to Morbius' vampire.

The initial chase takes place in a rapid fire succession of narrow panels. There's a good sense of movement, and more atmosphere than the pictured panels may indicate. I particularly love the overhead shot of Morbius darting down a narrow strip while Blade's unrelenting shadow looms behind. Craig Russell's layouts are great and colours by George Roussos make the most of printing of the time with some nice shades of blue giving it all a gloomy quality.

When Blade finally catches up with Morbius it's pretty even-stevens. Blade gets to throw some wooden knives around, and they each take turns throwing the other around, but nobody really gets the better of any one. Morbius registers the last offensive by tossing Blade off a roof, but he's back up in seconds.

It's a nice first foray for Blade into the Marvel Universe, but these two will have far more memorable encounters once they're both deeply ingrained in the world of the supernatural. At this stage, Morbius doesn't even know vampires are real!

With any luck we'll get a chance to talk more about their battles in the future. Until then, be sure to follow links throughout this post to discover more occult wonders. Or simply dive into the Secret Archive to find a complete list of feature fights indexed by publisher, series, and issue number!

Get daily links to superhero smackdown inspired by the topics of the day by following Secret Wars on Infinite Earths on Twitter and Facebook! Be sure to like and share your favourite battles!

Winner: Draw
#66 (+2) Morbius
#106 (+3) Blade

No comments: