FAN EXPO: Keatinge & Elson Go for the Jugular with "Morbius: The Living Vampire"

When you're one of the Marvel Universe's most brilliant minds, science is a useful tool for solving problems -- but if a science experiment goes awry, it can create a problem worse than the one you're trying to solve. That's exactly what happened to Nobel Prize winning biochemist Doctor Michael Morbius when he tried to cure himself of a rare blood disease and found himself transformed into a monstrous and bloodthirsty living vampire.

Ever since his transformation, Morbius has struggled to control his insatiable blood lust and cure his vampiric condition. Over the years those struggles have made him both an ally and enemy of a number of Marvel heroes. Spider-Man is his most frequent friend and adversary. The two recently crossed paths in the "No Turning Back" arc of "Amazing Spider-Man" where Morbius tried to develop a serum to restore the humanity of Spider-Man's foe, The Lizard. Morbius' hope was that if he could cure The Lizard, he could cure himself. Unfortunately, things went wrong and the arc ended with Morbius in prison after a violent and bloodthirsty rampage.

This January, Morbius leaves prison behind and take a redemptive journey of self discovery into some of the Marvel U's weird and mysterious places in writer Joe Keatinge ("Hell Yeah," "Glory") and artist Rich Elson's ("Journey Into Mystery") new ongoing series "Morbius: The Living Vampire." The series was announced yesterday at Marvel's "Amazing Spider-Man" panel at Fan Expo in Toronto and CBR News spoke with Keatinge and Elson about their plans for the book.

CBR News: Joe and Rich, you were going to work together on the recently shelved "Thanos: Son of Titan," but instead you're working on another Marvel character with an interesting relationship to death and dying in "Morbius: The Living Vampire." How did this project come about and what made it an assignment you wanted to tackle?

Joe Keatinge: Once Thanos was off the table, I started talking to Marvel -- specifically "Thanos" Editor Stephen Wacker and Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso -- about what I could do instead. Wacker was the one to mention the idea of Morbius and I jumped on it. Certainly, the death and dying relationship is similar to Thanos, but the similarity I dig even more is the complexity of each character. Neither one of them is a cut and dry villain, who twists his mustache and plots to take over the world because it's the thing to do. Thanos and Morbius have certainly acted villainous -- Thanos especially -- but there's a lot of meat into why they do what they do. Intentions remain noble, however twisted.

That last bit is where Morbius veers away. He's a tragic figure. He's a guy who relentlessly tried to do right -- even won a Nobel Peace Prize -- but everything continues to go horribly wrong. In a way, Michael Morbius is a darker version of Peter Parker, a guy who just can't catch a break. The demon within him is something he fights against more than any Marvel superhero.

That intrigues me. There's a lot there to play with. So, I was in from the get go. When Wacker mentioned Rich was on board, it sealed the deal. One of the biggest reasons I was so thrilled to work on "Thanos: Son of Titan" was to work with Rich. The guy's absolutely brilliant. While this story is loads different than what we planned to do on Thanos, working together makes it absolutely perfect.

Rich Elson: Firstly, Gil Kane. As you will know, Kane designed the character and I absolutely love Kane's work (his Spidey is second only to Ditko, for me). As I understand the story -- Roy Thomas was asked to take over the writing of "Amazing Spider-Man" from Stan after issue #100 and wanted to introduce a Dracula-like Hammer Horror vampire character. Stan suggested that he give the character a Marvel-style superhero twist and Gil Kane came up with the classic design.

The first job I did for Marvel US was a "Marvel Zombies" Hulk story with SethGrahame-Smith; I made sure to get a Gil Kane tribute into that issue just in case I never got to draw for Marvel again [Laughs]. I made it as obvious as I could, but (so far as I know) nobody spotted it. When Steve phoned to tell me that the Thanos project had been shelved he offered me an issue of "Amazing Spider-Man" written by Dan Slott. As far as I am concerned, that is the best job in comics. A few days later (as I was planning my early retirement having now reached the pinnacle of my career) Steve asked if I'd be interested in "Morbius." The chance to get to work on a great Kane character and a Marvel horror comic were too much to resist.

Joe, which of Michael Morbius' personality traits are you interested in exploring in these initial issues? Rich, which aspects of Morbius' character do you really want to capture and highlight in your work?

Keatinge: There are three personality traits that everything is springing from: Morbius' relentless addiction to curing his disease despite the repercussions, his extreme guilt which only comes after the fact and his inability to control those inner demons I mentioned earlier. Everything -- his current situation, where we go from there and all the horrible things that happen as a result stem from those three things.

Elson: Helmuth Von Moltke's aphorism: No plan survives first contact with the enemy is equally applicable to collaborative creative endeavors as it is to battle strategy. Whatever Joe, or I, are interested in about the character of Morbius will almost inevitably change as soon as we start to work on the series. The process of working together with other people on characters that are new to you tends to mean that aspects of the character and story emerge as interesting and worth pursuing from the creative process itself that nobody could have foreseen. That's what is interesting about collaborative creativity to me.

Having said that, I want to draw some really scary stuff. From what Joe wrote in the "Thanos" script I know he's up for a bit of visceral horror, so, hopefully, I'll get to work on some memorable craziness. As this is my first regular series for Marvel where I'm coming in at the development stage, I want to do the best work I've ever done and hopefully Joe and I can add something significant to the legacy of a great Marvel character.

December's "Amazing Spider-Man" #699.1 sets the stage for "Morbius: The Living Vampire." Are the two of you working on that issue, and if so what can you tell us about it?

Keatinge: I'm writing it, but Rich is diving right into #1. I'm still pretty blown away that we get to add to the "Amazing Spider-Man" legacy, especially in an era that's so damn good. Dan Slott is absolutely killing it right now. The guy absolutely gets every single aspect about the Spider-Man world. It's Spider-Man at its purist while still moving forward. Nothing seems contradictory, even when it's a far removal from what's happened before. So, yeah, it's pretty damn awesome to be involved.

This is our #0 issue. If you've never read a Morbius comic book in your life, everything you will need to know is in this comic: who he is, why he's a Living Vampire, just what his role in Spider-Man's world is. It's a Morbius primer in every way.

Elson: In between a couple of non-comics jobs that I'm wrapping up before "Morbius" starts, I'm working on "Amazing Spider-Man" #698 at the moment and it is just a wonderful experience. Dan's story is riveting and the way he writes is pretty much guaranteed to fill any artist with enthusiasm. He leaves a lot of breathing space for the artist to get the characters to act and it really makes you feel like you are invested in the series and not just there to fill pages. The man is a master comics writer.

When we last saw Morbius at the end of "No Turning Back," he was in prison. What can you tell us about the Living Vampire's status quo in your series? What's driving Morbius when this series begins?

Keatinge: He's not in jail anymore. I'm not going to say why that is, but I will say it puts him in a place where he has to reevaluate his place in the Marvel Universe. He's tired of messing up with such horrific repercussions. He has a lot to atone for. He wants nothing more than redemption.

He descends into a part of the Marvel Universe we have never seen before; a weirder part. It seems like it's a haven for people like him -- freaks and outcasts too weird for even the X-Men -- but it gets far more disturbing and dangerous than he could ever have predicted.

In terms of plot and themes what is your initial arc of "Morbius: The Living Vampire" about?

Keatinge: Finding solace in a world that is constantly fighting against you. Discovering your place and role when everything has bottomed out for you.

Things have gotten really, really messed up for Michael Morbius and it just gets worse from there. He's got a lot to suffer through, a lot of sins that catch up with him. It's not pretty.

What kind of adversaries are you interested in pitting Morbius against? Which characters make the best foils for the character?

Elson: I've thrown a few character designs/ideas into the mix; they are pretty much all horror based, as are most of my ideas. It may be that these will not fit into Joe's plans, but I would definitely love to be involved in creating some new antagonists for Morbius. My personal area of interest for the character is definitely more towards the horror side of things, so I'd love to come up with a new classic Marvel monster or two to pit against Michael.

Keatinge: We're definitely going to work in Rich's guys. He's exploding with a million ideas and a writer is foolish to not collaborate with their artists on developing a series together that excites both of them.

Morbius' adversaries in general are definitely going to be akin to him in that there's not going to be anyone who's a just purely evil for evil's sake antagonist. That doesn't interest me. Everyone is going to have conflicting motivations. Some overt, some will be seemingly trusted allies aiming to stab him in the back.

There's a very weird, very odd side of the Marvel Universe that's been ignored by everyone else in there for too long. It's coming to a boil and the results are going to explode with Morbius in the center of everything.

You mentioned allies. So let's talk about the supporting players in "Morbius: The Living Vampire." Does Michael have any friends or associates left that can assist him in his exploits?

Keatinge: He does, but I'd rather people read the book for now and see how it plays out. I like the idea of having not everything spelled out before the readers dive into the book.

Rich, how would you describe the overall look of this book? How does it compare to your recent work on titles like "Journey Into Mystery?"

Elson: Well, going in on the ground floor with this book I'm hoping that I'll be able to add far more of my own visual stamp to it; the sort of thing that I've been able to do on "Kingdom," "A.H.A.B.", "Atavar" and other series that I've worked on at 2000AD.

Working with Kieron Gillen on "Journey Into Mystery" was a great experience. The scripts had me laughing out loud and wiping away tears and the character writing was sublime. Visually though it was Dougie Braithwaite (an amazing artist) who laid the template for the series with his spectacular early issues.

Being onboard with Morbius from day one, I want to concentrate on playing with perception, perspective, atmosphere and timing; I believe these to be key ingredients to telling a horror story in any medium. I realize that there will always be non-horror elements in a Morbius book, so I also want to stay aware of the acrobatic anatomical suppleness that Gil Kane gave the character in his original incarnation. He's not just a creep-about-in-the-shadows monster; he's a dynamic, and sometimes even graceful, mover.

Finally, Morbius has traditionally walked in two worlds, the techno horror and super heroics of Spider-Man's world, and the supernatural and dark magic world of the characters like the Midnight Sons and the Legion of Monsters. Will he have feet in both worlds in "Morbius: The Living Vampire?" Will his adventures primarily involve the super heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe, the supernatural and horror characters of the Marvel U or both?

Keatinge: Yes. To everything, but it's done a way that hasn't been attempted before.

Elson: Don't want to give too much away, but from what Joe's said, I know there's a good chance we'll be seeing an appearance from some of the other classic Marvel monsters along the way and I can't wait for that. I think the Bronze Age monster books, in particular, were a very fertile time at Marvel and I'm seriously looking forward to getting the chance to work on some of those great characters

Sana Amanat ["Morbius: The Living Vampire" Editor]: There will be monsters and horrific elements in this book, but it's not exactly a horror title. It's about what it means to be an outsider in the Marvel U. And since this is coming out of the NY/Spidey office, there's a ground-level feel to it as well.

Keatinge: I am so damn excited about this project. Rich is an ideal collaborator. Stephen and Sana are ideal editors. Marvel's an ideal publisher. Everything lined up here very well. I'm a happy dude, despite this being a book where its characters are going to be put through some truly disturbing situations.

Elson: I can't wait to get started. It was such a disappointment when the Thanos series didn't get off the ground and it's great to be able to get the chance to work with Joe again so soon on a project involving an equally fascinating character and one created by three of the giants of the Silver Age. I just want to draw loads of monsters and scary stuff. I love horror; who doesn't love horror?

As you mention, his first appearance being in the pages of "Amazing Spider-Man," Morbius was a character that stood balanced between horror and super-heroics. From that position he has a massive range of possibilities (both in terms of story and location) before him and I am hoping that we can create some compelling and classic Morbius stories that will creep and claw their way into the consciousness and memories of those who read them and create a bunch of new and exciting Marvel characters to confront him. As long as we can sneak the Glob ("Hulk" #121 and 129) in there somewhere, I'm sure everybody will be more than happy. I know I will [Laughs].

My favorite Marvel characters have always been the ones that bordered on the horrific and monstrous: The Hulk, The Thing, Spider-Man. There is something genuinely unsettling and creepy about those early Ditko stories to me; DocOck, the Vulture, the Tinkerer were more like nightmare horror characters than regular bright colored comic characters to me when I first read those stories in the UK reprints. I was always more attracted to and fascinated by the weirdness and monstrous aspects of the characters in Marvel Comics than the heroics. But, with Morbius, we have the best of both worlds.

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