Issue(s): Fear #20, Fear #21, Fear #22, Fear #23
Well, first of all, from the covers, you'd never know that any kind of differentiation was even being attempted. The first three covers (here, here, and here) make sure to tout the fright- or fear-fraught thrills in the tradition of Dracula, and the fourth cover has a very generic looking picture of Morbius having just feasted on a lady's neck without telling you that this all occurred on an alien planet (unless you count Marvel's favorite phrase, "a world he never made"). But behind the covers, there is a lot of zany stuff going on that has nothing to do with vampires. Friedrich's first issue starts off relatively in-theme, with Morbius encountering a guy who is involved with the occult, but when Gerber takes over we get into all sorts of crazy science-fiction stuff.
The other difference here is that Morbius is thrust into something vaguely like a hero role. Tomb of Dracula had Drake & Van Helsing's crew to be the good guys even if Dracula was the main character, but Morbius finds himself caught in the middle of a war between two factions with competing visions for the future of Earth, neither of which are very desirable. Now, as a "hero", Morbius still has vampiric bloodlust, resulting in incredibly cool contradictory scenes where he just drains the blood from some poor victim in the middle of his adventures, and then immediately regrets it.
It's worth remembering that up until now Morbius has been treated as a villain. Yes, he's a tragic villain like, say, the Lizard; an ordinary person who transforms into something evil. But he's definitely been a bad guy. And now he is nominally a hero.
Backing up, we start with Morbius succumbing to his urges and taking a victim. Nice art from Paul Gulacy on issue #20; i think his earliest at Marvel.
It's revealed that he escaped from the X-Men and they didn't have the capacity to go after him thanks to the Secret Empire abductions.
Morbius is then discovered by a Reverend Daemond and a Rabbi Krause.
Krause also happens to be a biochemist, and he knows of Michael Morbius and tries to help him. But Daemond actually turns out to be a Satanist ("Mine is not the lord of Heaven -- but of Hell!")...
...and he is able to take control of Morbius, forcing him to kill Krause. He then sends Morbius after one of his enemies, but Morbius hesitates when that enemy turns out to be Tara, a young girl.
Steve Gerber picks up the series from Mike Friedrich with issue #21 and says in the lettercol that he was working without any plans from Friedrich. So things take an immediate turn for the weird when Tara turns out to have the ability to mentally project a future version of herself.
Morbius tried to resist draining blood from young Tara, but it's easier to justify attacking the 20-something warrior...
...although he finds that biting her causes fang marks to appear on the young version. He drains enough blood to keep him going for now, and then tries to drive young Tara to a hospital. But a mysterious robed figure on the road instead directs him to a nearby house, where he meets the Caretakers, who have psychic powers...
...and are engaging in genetic engineering.
The Caretakers reveal that they are ancient aliens, having arrived on Earth "when your young race was only beginning to climb down from the trees". They claim to have trained humanity, teaching them how to use tools and make fire. They are now dying, but they are breeding a race of super-men that will "join with man and carry on our work". They call it Project: Second Genesis. They are in battle with Daemond because "he believes that man's future lies with the dark forces of the supernatural". Morbius doesn't really agree with the Caretakers' goals and tries to abandon them, but they offer to locate Morbius' girlfriend Martine if he'll kill Daemond (the Caretakers themselves are said to have been bred to be pacifists), and he agrees. But it turns out that Martine has actually joined Daemond's cult...
...and Daemond summons a cat-demon to fight Morbius.
Daemond also tries to use sunlight against Morbius, as if he were a real vampire, but while sunlight annoys Morbius it doesn't really affect him. Morbius doesn't believe that real vampires exist at this point so he thinks
We're not done with the weird twists, though. Because, next issue, in the middle of the fight, the cat creature, Balkatar, suddenly gets a message from another party, and decides to end the fight...
...and teleports Morbius away.
The cat creature turns out to not be a demon at all. Instead his race were originally cats on Earth, but a wizard experimented with them, turning them into cat people.
And then grew in number and revolted against the wizards, so the wizards banished them to an enclosed city called the Land Within (the city also happens to have an artificial sun, which doesn't affect Morbius the way the real sun does).
But the wizards built in a clause saying that they would have the ability to bring the cat people back when needed, and that's how Daemond was able to summon Balkatar.
However, despite having an advanced society, the cat people continued to breed out of control...
...so their king told Balkatar to bring Morbius back to their planet, so he could trim the population for them. But even though he was obeying his king's command, Balkatar is still scheduled for execution, because he broke with Daemond.
Morbius refuses to help with the plan to thin the herd (pride?), but that lasts only until he sees his first sexy cat lady.
Most of the regular cat people citizens are also not keen on the idea of having Morbius kill them, so Morbius is forced to flee cat city in the resulting riot.
Not crazy enough? Cat city turns out to be on Arcturus, the planet that the Caretakers came from (actually, as Michael notes in the comments, it'll later be revealed to be a different planet linked by teleportation warps). Morbius first comes across a pair of lovers, and he attacks the male, but he turns out to be an android.
Is the female an android too? Only one way to find out.
It turns out that after the Caretakers left, the remaining population on Arcturus (outside of the cat people) split into a group that favored genetic engineering and a group that didn't. So you had the regular humans (and androids, apparently), and then you had the mutants.
This is explained by Lord I...
...and you have to love the scientist side of Michael Morbius taking it all in stride.
The problem is that the mutants have developed with no sense of self-preservation, and Lord I doesn't want to see that happen again on Earth, so he wants to help Morbius get back to Earth to stop them. Morbius can't believe that they really won't defend themselves, so he tests it out by draining the blood of the cutest looking of the bunch.
But indeed, no one is all that interested.
Normally i would get annoyed by all these random-seeming twists and turns and complain about zaniness for zaniness' sake, but there's something about the writing that really grabs me with these and i really found myself enjoying them. Some nice art, too, even from Kane and Buckler, who are not normally favorites of mine; something about the weirdness of the story makes their individual tics work in this context. The best thing is when Morbius just goes ahead and murders someone out of nowhere, but all this craziness about genetic manipulation and cat people needing help with overpopulation and mutants and androids and the Caretakers' war with a Satanist and everything else is great too.
All of these issues are padded with Silver Age horror reprints, but they are particularly goofy ones (a guy who murders his wife for a gypsy that turns out to be hideous once he sees her with his glasses, and a guy whose truck keeps driving to the graveyard because the engine used to be in a hearse) so i'm not muddling up the entry here.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: Morbius was also appearing in the b&w Vampire tales around same time these issues were being published. Vampire Tales #1, written by Gerber, takes place before these issues and has Morbius searching for Martine. Morbius' more villainous appearance in Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1 also takes place prior to this series. Morbius is still on Arcturus at the end of this arc, so he shouldn't appear in any other books until after next issue. The X-Men flashback takes place prior to the Secret Empire arc in Captain America #175, but that doesn't affect my placement of these issues (although it does seem to indicate that the X-Men were holding Morbius for a long period of time).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
The Balkatar and a King of the Cat People appear later in West Coast Avengers.
Posted by: Michael | April 18, 2013 8:23 PM
Thanks for all this. I read that WCA issue years ago but wouldn't have made the connection until i got to it again. I'll add King Gerark. Do you know if the Balkatar that shows up in WCA is the same one that appears here? I should have mentioned that Balkatar is actually more of a title given to whatever cat person is on deck for summoning. The execution of the Balkatar here isn't actually shown, so it could have been the same one, though.
Posted by: fnord12 | April 18, 2013 9:08 PM
Here is a link to a scan of the Cat People in WCA. The guy on the throne is the king and the guy with his hand on Tigra is the Balkatar:
Posted by: Michael | April 18, 2013 9:59 PM
you make these sound interesting.
Posted by: Kveto from Prague | April 19, 2013 3:50 AM
Thanks Michael. From that description i'm still not 100% sure it's the same Balkatar (and MCP doesn't track these characters) but i've added him along with the King. I'll be getting to the WCA issues soon enough so i can revise if necessary.
@Kveto - Maybe when they release Not-Quite-Essential Marvel Weirdness vol. 1
Posted by: fnord12 | April 19, 2013 10:40 AM
Morbius could fill an Essential by himself; he also had a solo series in Vampire Tales(reportedly much better than this one).
Posted by: Mark Drummond | April 20, 2013 3:11 PM
The first issue appears to be really dashed off fast. Professor X couldn't stop Morbius with his telepathy? How many kids has Morbius seen if he declares that one "the most innocent he's seen"?
That is indeed Paul Gulacy's first comics art. At the time it was declared incredibly bad.
I with his eye closed looks too much like a leaking male body part.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | April 20, 2013 6:53 PM
Gulacy was panned in the lettercols for his Fear work and then people felt he was "much improved" with his early MOKF art. I personally don't see a ton of difference and think it was more people coming around to his style.
Posted by: fnord12 | April 20, 2013 8:59 PM
haha, Adventure Into Fear #21 was a tattered, browning comic book my Dad found in the floorboard of the musty '56 Chevy his Dad turned over to him when I was seven. It scared me SO bad!!! I guess being the age of the child in the story, roughly, added to the sickening terror, but I'd never seen anything like bodies being grown in huge test tubes, either. Dad was just thinking I loved comic books and had very few...but I slept with the covers pulled up and my throat unexposed for a couple of years to come! Fun Facts: the issue came out the week I was born, I believe, and featured Steve Gerber, a writer I admire in a unique and brotherly fashion. He and my father died at almost the same age, both of pulmonary fibrosis.
Posted by: Cecil Disharoon | June 17, 2014 3:14 AM
To correct my earlier post: Gulacy stated in Amazing Heroes #159 that his first story was a Shang-Chi story for DHOKFu. The Morbius one was his 2nd story but the first one printed.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | January 31, 2015 10:57 AM
"That is indeed Paul Gulacy's first comics art. At the time it was declared incredibly bad."
That's because it's hideous. That might be the single worst drawing of Cyclops in his 52 year existence. And I'm including kids drawings.
Posted by: Erik Beck | March 3, 2015 12:29 PM
I never would have believed the crazy shit Morbius got up to on his own.
Posted by: Mortificator | March 11, 2017 5:09 PM
Comments have been disabled for the summer while i'm not around to moderate.
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