In “Morbius: The Living Vampire” #1, Joe Keatinge and Richard Elson re-introduce and relocate Michael Morbius, the “Vampire-ish” misunderstood antihero hailing from the Spiderman corner of the Marvel Universe. In many ways, it’s a “setting up shop” story of a young hero in a new town that will become his own. Although Morbius is technically a grown man, “Morbius: The Living Vampire” #1 has a strong coming-of-age vibe to it, because the heart of the story is that Morbius is trying to find his place in the world.
Keatinge chooses a first-person point of view, and the text boxes with Morbius’ casual internal voice seem to directly address the reader. It’s a good way to bring new readers up to speed about who and what Morbius is, and Keatinge gets across a lot of information gracefully.
However, it’s a drawback that all of “Morbius: The Living Vampire” #1 is introductions and exposition. It opens mid-tussle with Morbius’ first antagonist in the new town, and it also ends there, in a circular narrative of one long flashback. At the of “Morbius: The Living Vampire” #1, the reader may like Morbius as a character, but the conflict between Morbius and Noah St. Germain is too new to have serious tension or suspense. Similarly, the cliffhanger ending lacks impact because it’s too early for the stakes to matter to the reader.
“Morbius: The Living Vampire” is billed as offbeat horror, but so far, it doesn’t have any of the elements of the horror genre other than a main character that is “vampire-ish.” There is nothing eerie, creepy, disturbing or frightening. At most, Morbius’ situation, mirrored by his inner city setting, is a depressing real-world problem of neglect and people falling through the cracks, more along the lines of events in “The Wire” than “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” It’s an interesting choice by Keatinge to minimize the supernatural. The decision makes Morbius easier for a reader to identify with, but it’ll be interesting to see how Keatinge tackles the horror genre in a setup in which his sympathetic protagonist is technically the monster. So far, the closest analogue is “Frankenstein,” in which the true monsters are the humans.
The outlines and tone of “Morbius: The Living Vampire” are much closer to a traditional superhero template than a horror story. Every superhero’s city is both domain and an alter ego for the hero himself, and the Brownsville that Keatinge chooses for Morbius will be no exception. It’s run-down, lost and overlooked by authorities and communities who are more sorted-out, making it “perfect” for Morbius.
Morbius’ voice is the heart of the story, and it’s the primary strength of “Morbius: The Living Vampire” #1. Morbius has been dealt a continuously bad hand and he seems to be without many resources or social contacts, but he’s humble and resigned rather than self-pitying. A wry, understated humor pervades the story and the dialogue. For instance, Morbius commandeers a passerby’s coat, but tacks on a meek and polite “please” onto to the end of his hypnotic suggestion. He also confides to the reader that he finds garlic delicious.
Elson’s character design also emphasizes Morbius’ humanity, getting rid of the original red and black look that screamed “vampire!” and clothing Morbius in “regular dude” hoodie and boots. It’s true that Morbius’ face sets him apart enough, and it’ll be interesting if Elson will make changes to the costume as Morbius comes into his own more. Elson’s storytelling is clear and his action sequences are energetic. Elson’s body language is excellent, but at times I wanted to see more emotion in Morbius’ face, but the lack of pupils is probably a limiting factor in facial expressiveness.
Keatinge has created an original take on and voice for Morbius, and in “Morbius The Living Vampire” #1, characterization takes precedence over plot. Despite the slow build, it’s still a promising beginning if Keatinge and Elson can deliver on suspense and horror themes in further issues.