Morbius - Sucks To Be Him

Between "Annihilation" and "Civil War," comic fans have kept themselves busy with every superhero and alien in Marvel's Universe. Readers are either getting smacked in the head with the Superhuman Registration Act, or are getting their butts kicked by Krees and Skrulls. It's an exciting time; however, one still wonders - what about the monsters?

That's right - where are those creepy characters that make fans want to check their door locks while they're reading? Well, Marvel is happy to provide an answer to this question: they can be found in the four-issue "Legion of Monsters." Each issue in this limited series features one of Marvel's most well-known bogeymen (and bogey-women). CBR News spoke with writer Brandon Cahill ("Sable and Fortune") about his contribution to the series - "Legion of Monsters: Morbius."

Cahill began by giving us some details on the entire miniseries and its contents. He said, "This is a limited series with two stories per issue, where in each issue there is one story with a 'brand-name' Marvel monster, and one with a 'generic' monster. Greg Land is doing the covers on all of them. "

The publication details are as follows:

February (already in stores) - "Legion of Monsters: Werewolf by Night" by Mike Carey and Greg Land, and Monster of Frankenstein by Skottie Young

March - "Legion of Monsters: Man-Thing" by Charlie Huston and Klaus Janson, and Zombie by Ted McKeever

April - "Legion of Monsters: Morbius" by Brendan Cahill and Michael Gaydos, and Dracula by C.B. Cebulski and David Finch

May - "Legion of Monsters: Satanna" (creative team and back-up story forthcoming)

As you can see from the line-up, there is some terrific talent working on these books. When asked how he became involved, Cahill offered a simple explanation, "[Editor] John Barber called and asked me if I wanted to do a monster story and I said 'yes.' It wasn't a competitive pitch situation.

"My understanding is that, since there were two stories in each issue, he was able to give one story to a 'name' writer, and the other to a lesser known writer like myself, which was very nice of him. When he told me he was thinking about me for Morbius, I was even more excited, because I thought it would be a lot of fun to do a vampire story, but it's not the sort of thing I would do on my own."

For readers who aren't familiar with Morbius, it would help to explain that the character isn't a "typical" vampire. Before his transformation, Morbius was actually a Nobel prize-winning biochemist. He attempted to cure himself of a rare blood disease with an experimental treatment involving vampire bats and electroshock therapy. To say the treatment didn't go as planned would be an understatement. Instead of being cured, Morbius found himself afflicted with a condition that mimicked the powers and bloodlust of vampires.

Needless to say, Morbius isn't happy about his condition and spends much of his life battling the urges his "cure" bestowed on him. And according to Cahill, Morbius' newest adventure follows along these lines. The writer explained, "Suicidal again, Morbius disappears to San Francisco and moves into a junkie crash pad to waste away quietly. But the junkies adopt him, and he finds himself entangled in their troubles - and tries desperately not to eat any of them."

Since this story has Morbius living with junkies, we asked Cahill about comparisons between the main character and the junkies he'll be living with. After all, Morbius didn't get his powers from a vampire bite, he got them from taking experimental drugs. Is there an analogy that can be drawn between Morbius' past and the addicts' current situation?

"Definitely," replied Cahill. "Morbius was a scientist and I wrote him as still approaching everything from a scientific viewpoint. And the story parallels vampirism and addiction, which I suppose is a more 'scientific' metaphor than, say, vampirism as sexuality. The vampirism-as-addiction angle is not necessarily a new one, but I think writing it for Morbius gives it a different resonance.

"Since Morbius' powers aren't spiritual in nature, his humanity hasn't been magically erased; in other words, he's just as hungry for blood as a typical vampire (maybe more so in some ways, since it's a physiological issue with him), but he still has a conscience. Constant desire for the forbidden, along with the knowledge that giving in to the desire will cause everything to go to hell - that's addiction."

Considering that Morbius is a member of the Marvel Universe and recently appeared in the "Blade" series as someone who signed the superhuman registration act, some fans may hope to see other Marvel superheroes or monsters in this tale. Cahill suggests readers looking for that kind of interaction should check elsewhere.

"This is a pretty insular story, and since each story in 'Legion of Monsters' is only 14 pages, I took it as a good opportunity to go very small-scale, very character-centric - so no Wolverine or anything."

Writing horror for comics is a difficult proposition. After all, you can't have monsters "jump out" and startle the audience in a comic. Fortunately, Cahill had some ideas of his own on what makes a comic book a creepy read.

"That's something I was thinking about a lot as I started working on this," Cahill said. "I'm not really a horror guy - I like some stuff here and there, but it's not my all-time favorite genre. So I looked at this as an opportunity to learn something new. I basically started by thinking about what in real life is actually scary, and I thought that one of the scariest things out there is having to face the consequences of your own actions when they result in pain or death or despair for others. Since, as you mentioned, you can't have spooky music or a 'jump' moment in a comic, I think the best way to scare the reader is to create unease by prodding their brain to consider their own choices, their own actions, and their own dark places."

And speaking of dark places, the writer found himself very intrigued by Morbius' situation for several reasons. "Well, aside from his being all blood-sucky, which is cool in itself, he's a great tragic hero (or an anti-hero…or both). With a guy like Morbius, you really never know what path he'll take. He's probably going to make more mistakes than most because he has this massive debilitating dependency/addiction/psychosis, but since he still has some sort of moral compass, he's going to take his failures hard. So he constantly has to find reasons to stay alive, to keep going, when it may be better for everyone, including him, if he just went away. I also really like playing with questions of redemption: Do the good and evil deeds you do tally up and outweigh each other? Can you be irredeemably damned by a bad enough action, or forever saved by a good enough action?"

In addition to the aforementioned difficulties of writing a horror tale for comics, Cahill found himself tackling other challenges as he worked on this tale. "On a purely technical level, squeezing a story in 14 pages is no picnic! I tend to be a fairly wordy writer, and I tend to like to follow something approaching a traditional narrative arc. So I was looking at doing a story with a proper beginning, middle, and end, and cramming all my ridiculously clever dialogue into a very few pages of storytelling. But I'm happy with how it came out!"

While the writer enjoyed writing Morbius, he was also happy to share with us some of his favorite monsters in both comics and film. "I'm a giant fan of Joss Whedon in general and the 'Buffyverse' in particular, and if there's any sort of monster stuff I connect with, that's probably it. When I was a kid, I went through a phase where I collected a bunch of '70s 'Werewolf by Night' comics, but I haven't kept up with any of that."

And if you enjoyed Cahill's "Sable and Fortune" and like this Morbius tale, there are a few other places - both in and out of the Marvel Universe - where you can find this writer's handiwork. "I've been doing a few custom comics for Marvel, which is what they call the out-of-Marvel-Universe-continuity stuff they do on a contract basis. For instance, I just finished a 'Fantastic Four' story that will come with an upcoming video game, and I co-wrote the 'Patriot Factor' thing they're doing with Jeep. And, as always, I have a few ideas of my own that are in various stages of creation, but nothing concrete to report on any of them. Believe me when I say if anything gets off the ground, I'll be very vocal about it!"

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