Michael Morbius, the title character of Marvel Comics‘ “Morbius: The Living Vampire” series, may have an insatiable thirst for blood, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. He’s actually a doctor who wants nothing more than to help people. Unfortunately, that desire often gets him into trouble. It led him to try an experimental cure for the rare blood disease he was afflicted with, which transformed him into a ravenous vampiric super-human monster. Although the transformation didn’t rob Morbius of his desire to help people, it did make the potential harm he could cause when his help went awry that much worse.
The latest people to fall victim to Morbius’ desire to help are the citizens of the Brownsville area of Brooklyn. In “Morbius: The Living Vampire” #4 by writer Joe Keatinge and artist Rich Elson, the titular character thought he was doing Brownsville a favor by taking down it’s top crime lord, Noah St. Germain. Unfortunately, Morbius’ actions may have turned the area into a war zone and played him straight into the hands of the mysterious criminal mastermind known as the Rose.
CBR News spoke with Keatinge about what comes next for the Living Vampire, what the Rose wants with Brownsville and Morbius and what the future holds for “Cure Everything,” the next arc of the series featuring the Superior Spider-Man.
CBR News: Joe, let’s start with some of the reveals in issue #4, the big reveal about the area of Brownsville and the hold that Noah St. Germain had over it. It seemed Noah falling was similar to what happened to some of the Eastern European countries when the Soviet Union fell, in that a strong influence was gone and now old hatreds, violence and a lust for power would erupt. Is that an apt comparison?
Joe Keatinge: The Eastern Bloc comparison is an apt one. Noah may have looked ridiculous, but he was the most powerful, directed force in a neighborhood weakened by chaotic, scattered infighting by a lot of weaker would-be crime syndicates. The strongest survived, keeping what remained at bay. With him out of the picture, it forces a reorganization to take place, one that’s likely to result in the bloodshed, which existed before. As we’re finding out, resetting the board is exactly what the power behind the power wants.
Moving on, the man that helped Noah gain all of that power is the enigmatic crime lord known as the Rose. Over the years, the Rose identity has been used by four different characters, three of which are still alive. Is The Rose that appears in “Morbius” an older character reclaiming the identity, or a new character staking their own claim to it?
I’ve always intended my run to be a limited one. Like on “Glory,” I have a very specific story to tell here and once it’s told, I’m out. And revealing The Rose’s identity is one of the major benchmarks of said ending. That being said, I’m not eager to give any indications as to his identity, other than answers are coming.
Fair enough. Why did you want to bring the character into “Morbius?”
I was a big fan of the comics the Rose appeared in back in the day, but I also thought that there was a lot of potential in this book for a character whose lack of identity is such a big part of who they are and the situation that they’re in.
Identity — who you are, and what you’re made into — are the big themes of the book, which will be a bit more evident as my arcs continue. And when I was developing the series I thought someone like the Rose, specifically this incarnation, would be a perfect counter to Morbius.
As Morbius’ identity redevelops he has to deal with this guy who he doesn’t know anything about. So, while he’s battling against who he is and his nature Morbius also has take on an opponent whose identity is similarly ambiguous by intent instead of circumstance.
From his dialogue in issue #4 it’s clear The Rose is interested in power and organized crime, but he also seems more interested in innovating things and going after territories that people don’t pursue as much.
Exactly. Planet Earth is a really big place, especially in the Marvel Universe, but there’s a lot of fighting over places like Shadowland and Madripoor. A lot of fighting. If you’re trying to establish a new foothold in the underworld, it makes more sense to go somewhere no one wants to go, but is extremely vulnerable, and build something new that no one would ever see coming.
Without revealing too much what The Rose does is go into areas of the world like Brownsville that are ignored, but and malleable to his realizing his ultimate desire. He’s not alone. We’ll find out more about that in issue #5.
So, he opens new markets for organized crime.
Exactly. [Laughs] He opens up new profit centers.
How dangerous is The Rose? He doesn’t seem to be the type that goes looking for fights, but if one erupts, it appears that the Rose and his organization are more than capable of defending themselves.
Our first arc, “A Man Called Morbius,” ends in issue #5 and its major thrust is answering your question — just how dangerous is The Rose?
I will say he’s not the type to go out and start street fights with Morbius or whoever. He prefers to move around chess pieces and have them destroy each other. He then moves in, cleans up and builds an empire in the scorched earth left behind.
The first few issues were purposely constructed to show something we’ve seen before, something familiar. How crime in the forgotten parts of the Marvel Universe has traditionally gone. Then, #4 and especially #5 pull back the curtain and show just how much said tradition and familiarly is now exploited by those who know how to manipulate the existing patterns. Both issues are truly the nexus of my run and set up what’s to come.
In issue #4 you hinted that The Rose’s base of operations is another fascinating real world New York locale, North Brother Island. What made the island an interesting setting for the Rose’s headquarters?
One of the things I always liked about Marvel Comics was their ability to and focus on using real world locations, and then focusing the fantastic through them. When I was researching “Morbius” and deciding where I wanted the book to take place, I decided I wanted a place like Brownsville for the reasons I went into earlier; it’s a largely ignored and underestimated area. That was a good fit for Morbius and where we’re taking him.
North Brother Island was sort of a companion piece, much like the Rose is to Morbius himself. It’s a place that actually exists. It’s on every map, but it’s totally ignored. And it’s a place where, in the Rose’s case, you can get away with doing something heinous right under everyone’s noses and not get noticed for it.
I know some readers think we made the place up, but it’s a very real. It even has a very real, very macabre history to it, far stranger than anything we’ve shown thus far, including the prison housing the original real world Typhoid Mary. The world as we know it is a far more fascinating and exciting place than we ever give it credit for to be able to reflect that through the super-fantasy of the Marvel Universe is something I feel will drive my Marvel work, in Morbius and beyond.
What’s Morbius’ state of mind going into issue #5? How does he feel knowing his presence and activities in Brownsville may have turned the place into a war zone?
In typical Morbius fashion, he’s wrought with guilt, but he doesn’t know how to make any form of repentance. Another thrust of the first arc has been showing he’s not a super hero or a super villain. He’s this tortured genius whose good intentions often make his life much worse. How does this work out when he has an responsibility to protect this town due to what he’s brought down upon it? The motto I’ve brought to this series is, “with great power comes dire consequences.” It’s not going to end all that pleasantly.
In issue #6 you move into your next arc titled, “Cure Everything,” and it looks like this is a story that guest stars the Superior Spider-Man.
You’re absolutely correct. It’s Morbius and the Superior Spider-Man having what I guess could be called a team up, but that’s stretching the term.
When I came onto “Morbius,” I had three major stories I wanted to tell and three themes I wanted to explore. In our first five issues I took a look at Morbius, his identity, his humanity and what he ultimately is. Part of the reason there’s not a lot of monsters in this first arc is because if I threw him into a situation where there was a lot of monsters it would most likely play like a repeat of Rick Remender’s brilliant “FrankenCastle” run, which isn’t something I want to do right now. Plus, it makes Morbius less special and takes away from some of the things I wanted to examine and get into.
So, in this second arc one of the themes I want to get into is who he is as a scientist and I thought using Spider-Man, who is essentially a super scientist especially now that Doctor Octopus is in control, would be an interesting way to look at that aspect of Morbius’ character. Plus I get to explore a new dynamic between the two characters. Peter Parker always had a kind of antagonistic relationship with Morbius. Not so much in the sense that Morbius is one of his classic rogues, but more so in that he’s the one guy in the Marvel Universe who’s so messed up and unlucky that even Peter Parker doesn’t have patience for him [Laughs].
Now I get to look at things from Doc Ock’s perspective. Even though the results are usually twisted and violent, Doc Ock is on a mission to better himself through the identity of Spider-Man, which begs the question how does Doctor Michael Morbius better himself while being a Living Vampire? The way Spider-Man and Morbius interact is going to be completely different from everything we’ve seen.
Can you talk any more about the plot about the arc? The solicits make it sound like it involves Morbius making a return to Horizon Labs.
Without giving too much away, one of the aspects of Morbius’ character, especially in the last couple of years has been his goal to cure himself. Max Modell brought him into Horizon Labs and he was close to finding a cure and becoming better. Obviously it all went horribly wrong, but in this story a situation arises at Horizon that requires Morbius’ assistance. They reach out to him and say, “If you help us we’ll give you another chance and try to help you.”
And Doc Ock in his arrogance is thinking that he might be able to cure Morbius because he’s not the big screw up that Morbius is. The story moves forward from there, introducing a brand new villain to the Marvel Universe. Plus, we’ll get a fuller view as to what the Rose’s deal is, and how this scientific aspect of Morbius will be exploited in the Rose’s unfolding plan.
Even though the action in the second arc moves to Horizon Labs and Manhattan, will the cast and what’s going on in Brownsville get set aside?
Not at all. While the events of issue #5 change Morbius’ position in Brownsville, the neighborhood is itself a major character of my run.
So, readers will see more of Morbius’ friend Becky, Henry and Henry’s mom. Will there be some new supporting players in Brownsville as well? We’ve met some of the criminal element in that area. Will we meet some of the cops?
The lack of police presence so far is on purpose. It shows you how bad off this neighborhood is. A lot of police don’t see the point in helping out a place that’s in such a hopeless situation, and issue #5 touches on that a little bit. You’ll get a little bit more on that in issues #8 and #9 as well.
What can you tell us about the look of the next few issues? It looks like Rich Elson is finishing up the initial arc of “Morbius: The Living Vampire” and then Valentine De Landro is coming on for the second.
Rich Elson is coming back to do issues #8 and #9, and Valentine, who I worked with on “Amazing Spider-Man” #699.1, our sort of prologue issue to this series, is coming in to do issues #6-7. He’s absolutely killing on it, too. The aspects he brings to the book are different from what Rich brings, but also very complimentary.
The story we’re telling in issues #6-7 is very different from what was going on in issues #1-5. I wrote this story specifically for Valentine and I’m really excited to see what he’s done with it.
What are your plans for “Morbius: The Living Vampire” a little further down the road? It feels like you’re setting things up for a long-term battle between the Rose and Morbius.
This antagonistic relationship is going to be a major focus of my run. It’s not going to unfold in a typical way either. Don’t expect Morbius to just head over to North Brother Island and start punching the Rose, save the day, and be hailed as a hero. That’s now how this book is going to work.
We’ll see how the Rose exploits Morbius and who he is. He’s going to do everything in his power to manipulate Morbius and possibly even tear him down.
It almost sounds like the classic Frank Miller Daredevil story “Born Again” in that the Rose, a foe that knows almost everything about Morbius, manipulates and assaults him.
It’s definitely closer to something like “Born Again” in terms of how the hero and villain relationship plays out. This isn’t a story that will end with your standard super hero versus super villain fight. Morbius isn’t a hero and the Rose is not your standard villain. How everything unfolds will be very atypical — no one quite makes it unscathed.