Doctor Michael Morbius has always wanted to use his aptitude for science and medicine to improve the lives of his fellow man. Unfortunately, those desires often go awry because Morbius is also one of the Marvel Universe’s most unique monsters, a living vampire with a lust for blood. That uncontrollable addiction led to his recent incarceration in the Raft, a New York penitentiary for super powered criminals.
In last month’s “Amazing Spider-Man” #699.1 by writer Joe Keatinge and artists Marco Chechetto and Valentine Delandro readers saw what led to Morbius’ imprisonment and how he escaped. In last week’s debut issue of the new “Morbius: The Living Vampire” ongoing series, Keatinge and artist Richard Elson showed the aftermath of that escape, which saw the fugitive title character hiding out and getting into trouble in the crime-ridden Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville. Comic Book Resources spoke with Keatinge about the fallout from those events and his plans for the Marvel NOW! series.
CBR News: Joe, last time we spoke you mentioned “Morbius” would have a street level vibe to it, but issue #1 felt like a gritty crime book in a lot of ways. Was that your intention? And will that Frank Miller feel be a regular part of the series?
Joe Keatinge: The Frank Miller feel wasn’t conscious, but he’s been a massive influence on me in a lot of different ways so it’s interesting to hear you say that. As far as the crime content goes we’ve seen a lot of Morbius books where the first thing he does is fight a werewolf or battle Blade. I like those comics a lot. I think Rick Remender and company did an amazing job on the “FrankenCastle” stuff in “Punisher” and Dennis Hopeless and his collaborators did some awesome work on “Legion of Monsters.”
So I wanted to do a different take on what it means to be a monster in the Marvel Universe, and some of the worst monsters are human. The things that people do can be much more frightening and awful than anything done by vampire or any sort of supernatural monster. So I wanted to get to that in our first arc which is titled “A Man called Morbius.” Plus, I wanted to show that there’s a lot going on in the Marvel Universe that doesn’t really have anything to do with Avengers fighting X-Men or other super hero style phenomenon. So at least initially we’re going to take a much more street level approach.
I’m also a big crime fiction fan and this is an opportunity to do something quite different from what I’ve done before.
Part of that crime fiction feel came from the setting of Brownsville. A quick internet search shows that Brownsville is a real neighborhood in Brooklyn with a high rate of violent crime, but are things there as bad as they seem in “Morbius” #1?
It’s interesting because a lot of people thought we made up that area for the book. Certain things were embellished for sure. We filtered reality through fiction, but it’s a real place that has some severe issues. And it’s been largely forgotten and abandoned by those it needs most. Yet the people who live there continually strive to do better and improve the situation, which is reflective of the way Morbius starts off in this series.
He’s been in some horrible situations and most of them are all his fault, but he is striving to do better. And now there’s a chance for him to do that in Brownsville.
Part of the reason Morbius gets into trouble in Brownsville is his curiosity about what he sees going on around him. That curiosity causes him to ask questions, a behavior which seems to contradict his earlier statement in issue #1 that he just wants to be left alone. So does Morbius truly want to be left alone, or does he want to do something about what he sees in Brownsville?
His plan is to lay low and until he can get over to Horizon Labs, but people often do things subconsciously that’s detrimental to their larger goal. They then ask, “Why did I do that?” or “Why didn’t I do that?”
So Morbius does want to be left alone, but there is good in him. His whole situation as a living vampire came about because he was struggling to do better. Part of it was that he wanted to cure his own condition, but the idea was that if he could cure himself he could cure anyone. So ultimately the idea was to do good and cure this disease. He has this this bloodlust though that keeps going wrong. He seems to be the one guy in the Marvel Universe that’s got worse luck than Peter Parker.
That bloodlust has caused Morbius to violate the Hippocratic Oath on multiple occasions, but I imagine as a doctor that oath is still important to him. Is that part of the reason he’s conflicted about getting involved in Brownsville the fact he doesn’t want to do any harm?
That actually comes into play in issues #2 and #3. He has a big struggle with that. If you took away the Vampirism aspect he’d still be a doctor and a scientist. Those are core elements of who he is. Of course he has this condition too that causes him to suck blood and he keeps giving into it. So that’s continuously causing him trouble.
Right now what’s causing the most trouble for Morbius in Brownsville is a local crime boss named Noah St. Germain. Is he a new character? And if so what inspired his creation?
He is a new character. I wanted to throw Morbius against the criminal element in Brownsville. There’s stuff in issue #3 that would help me directly answer your second question, but I don’t want to spoil that reveal. So unfortunately I can’t say any more than that.
In some of the critical reviews people have caught on to the fact that there’s something strange about the guy, but they can’t figure out what. That’s good because we set that up for later. So yes, Noah is not exactly who he appears to be.
You might not be able to answer these questions, but is Noah just a normal crime boss? And does he have a boss himself?
I can’t answer those, but those are great questions.
“Morbius” #1 ended with the cliffhanger of St Germain’s thugs appearing to kill the title character. What can you tell us about the remaining chapters of this initial arc? In terms of plot and themes what is this initial story about?
One of our missions going forward on this book is giving Morbius purpose in this new Marvel NOW! post-“Amazing Spider-Man” #700 universe. So one of the things we’ll be looking at in our first big arc is who Morbius is now and what his purpose is.
When he was working at Horizon Labs in “Amazing Spider-Man” Morbius had this huge chance. He had all the resources he needed and a big opportunity to put the monster behind him and go back to being the scientist he was in his past life. That all went to hell though. So we’re going to be giving him a new purpose that I don’t want to say too much about yet, but it will kind of solidify his own corner of the Marvel Universe and differentiate these stories from what’s gone on before.
I’ve loved what’s gone on before. There are some amazing Morbius comics out there. I read them and loved them, but I’d like to do something else for now. That doesn’t mean that elements from his past appearances won’t show up later like Blade or the Legion of Monsters. That’s not where we’re going to be starting things off though.
I noticed the only fantastic element in issue #1 was Morbius himself. Was that deliberate?
Absolutely. I really wanted to show what was special about him. Some people might perceive Morbius as a B-List character, but I think he’s awesome. If you start surrounding him with all these supernatural characters like Werewolf By Night, Ghost Rider, Vengeance, or all the Midnight Sons that takes some of the focus off who he is and what he could do.
So I really wanted to show that and I wanted to show that he’s more than just a vampire. One of my biggest inspirations for this comic is Osamu Tezuka’s “Black Jack.” It’s a series that Tezuka, the Godfather of Manga, did years ago and it’s my favorite thing he’s ever done, which is saying a lot because he’s done a lot of amazing work including “Astro Boy.” It’s about this doctor and licensed surgeon who goes around solving medical mysteries and is kind of a huge jerk.
Morbius as a scientist and doctor interests me. Plus he’s got this vampiric condition that he’s struggling with. That’s how I want to use vampirism. He’s not skulking around some village dodging people with pitchforks. He’s wrestling with an addiction and I think that’s something people can relate to.
I hate describing projects in terms of “X meets Y,” but initially what we’re dealing with here is a Doctor House meets “Dexter” kind of feel.
Will we see more fantastic elements in future issues of “Morbius: The Living Vampire?”
I’m not going to say just what exactly, but yes, there’s a pretty good chance of that moving forward. [Laughs]
We’ve talked about story, let’s start to wrap things up by talking about art. One of the things I really enjoyed about Richard’s work in this first issue is how much detail he put into the environments and backgrounds of Brownsville. How much of that was your script directions and reference? And how much of that did he do on his own?
I like to leave him references when we’re dealing with specific things, but Rich is really awesome about researching things on his own as well. A lot of the locations in the issue are real places you could go to. Is the geography sound? Probably not[Laughs]. A lot of those corners and buildings though are real locations in Brownsville, which is a major player in the book. So I think it was really important to establish that as well and I think Rich did an amazing job doing that.
Let’s end with some hints about what’s coming up in the book. If you had to put together a sort of “This season on ‘Morbius: The Living Vampire'” clip reel what sorts of things would show up in it?
It would start off with the things people have already seen: Morbius escaping from the raft, heading to Brownsville, and struggling with his addiction. Then we see Morbius screw up and catch the eye of some people he shouldn’t have. Then there would be all these quick clips of everything going to hell because of the things Morbius does.
There’s a specific moment in issue #2 that’s a major catalyst for where things are going, and Morbius is going to be doing some things he believes are for the greater good, which are going to go horribly wrong. So he’s going to try and repair the damage he causes. Plus there will be a lot of horrible people doing horrible things to him.
So a lot of that will be going on as he tries to develop a purpose for himself and protect people. Characters like Peter Parker protect Mary Jane and Aunt May because those are people that he loves and cares for. The supporting characters Morbius wants to protect are in this situation because of him. So will he be able to help them? Or just make things so much worse?
In other words, a lot of metaphorical brick laying for a road to hell?
The overall reception to the book has been pretty positive. And I’m really appreciative of people taking a chance on a character who is not as well known as some of the other characters in Marvel Universe. A lot of what was set up and seems apparent in issue #1 is not how it appears to be. I think once people see issue #2 they’ll have a good idea of where we’re going.
I have a great editorial team in Sana Amanat and Steve Wacker. Rich Elson and Antonio Fabela are the ideal art team. And Clayton Cowles is killing it on letters. So it’s a great bunch of people to be working with on a book about a lot of awful stuff happening to people. [Laughs]
“Morbius: The Living Vampire” #1 is on sale now. “Morbius” #2 goes on sale February 20.