Morbius: An Introduction to the Spider-Man Spinoff Movie Character

Morbius is the latest Spider-Man villain to line up a solo spin-off movie. Here are the basics about the character...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Long-time followers of the comic book movie news cycle will know that Spider-Man spinoff announcements are a fairly common occurrence. While The Amazing Spider-Man franchise was still going, fans were told to expect films focused on everything from the Sinister Six to Peter Parker’s Aunt May. There’s finally a Venom movie happening, after years of development, too.

However, until Sony made a deal with Marvel Studios to share the Spider-Man license, resulting in the iconic web-slinger’s indoctrination into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Sony’s spin-off ideas seemed to be just that: ideas, which never actually happened.

But now that Marvel is helping Sony with the Spidey character (Tom Holland’s web-head will next be seen in Avengers: Infinity War), Sony seems to have more time and confidence to invest in their spinoff movies. The Venom film (now with Tom Hardy in the title role) has finally started production, and Silver & Black (which will see the antiheroes Silver Sable and Black Cat branching out on their own) appears to be pressing ahead, too.

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And then, last week, another spin-off project was announced: Morbius, The Living Vampire is the latest peripheral Spidey character to get their own movie project. A pair of writers is attached, and apparently they’ve already delivered a script.

But who  is Morbius? 

Comic book origins

Let’s start with the basics. The character of Morbius was first introduced in the comics in October 1971’s The Amazing Spider-Man #101, the first issue of Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man series that wasn’t written by Stan Lee himself, instead written by the almost as legendary Roy Thomas.

The notoriously restrictive Comics Code Authority had just loosened their rules about supernatural characters, which presented an interesting opportunity to bring vampires back into the Marvel lore, so Thomas was interested in introducing a Dracula-like character, and Lee was keen to see a new costumed villain. In the end, they both got their way, with Morbius marrying traditional vampire elements with classic Spider-Man villain traits. Thomas worked with artist Gil Kane to create the character.

Dr. Michael Morbius is a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist that was born in Greece. Ticking the Spider-Man villain checklist box of “genius scientist who experimented on himself with nasty results,” Morbius tried to cure himself of a rare blood disease by using electroshock therapy and vampire bat blood. Of course, this went terribly wrong, and Morbius was endowed with that classic trait of vampirism: he has to consume human blood to survive.

Morbius also has super strength, the power of flight, an accelerated healing factor, night vision, echolocation and some hypnotic abilities. His powers are weakened by daylight, but unlike traditional vampires, he has no weakness to garlic, holy water, silver or crucifixes.

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In his first comic book appearance, Morbius travelled from Greece to America via boat. In his bloodlust, he killed the entire crew. It wasn’t long after landfall that he got into a scrape with Spidey, who, at the time, was going through a medical crisis of his own (he had six arms). The Lizard got involved in the fight, too. Morbius bit the Lizard, infecting him with his vampire blood disease, which appeared to turn the Lizard back into the scientist Curt Connors.

Spidey and the Lizard realized that Morbius’ blood could help both of them with their physical transformation issues. They worked together to capture the vampire, and they used his blood to remove Spidey’s extra arms and to keep Curt Connors from turning into a scaly beast – for a time. This was a fun introduction for Morbius, but you could argue that it relies too much on other characters to be the basis for a movie.

A lot of Morbius’ initial adventures followed a similar pattern: he would bite people, turn them into vampires, flee, get hunted, and wind up in a big fight. As well as Spidey, he also fought the Human Torch, the X-Men, and Blade. Over time, like a lot of the most popular Spider-Man villains, Morbius transitioned into something of an antihero. He helped a woman named Amanda Saint to locate her missing parents, battling demonic priests and travelling to strange dimensions in order to do so.

In another memorable storyline, some scientists killed Morbius’ fiancée, prompting him to go on a particularly brutal revenge rampage. He was ultimately confronted by Ghost Rider, who told him off for drinking innocent blood. After that, Morbius vowed to only kill and drink the blood of people that deserved to die.

After the comic book Civil War, which introduced the Superhuman Registration Act, Morbius registered his abilities and ended up doing some work with S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s easy to see the cinematic potential in the idea of a vampire doing covert ops for the government – attempting to do the right thing while also battling his condition.

Other adaptations

The R-rated Marvel MAX comic book run saw Morbius and Frankenstein’s Monster being experimented on by a team of dodgy scientists named the Babylon Group. In the inevitable scrap that followed, Frankenstein’s monster literally punched Morbius’ heart out.

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In the alternate universe of the Ultimate Marvel comics, Morbius is reimagined as a true vampire (rather than one created by ill-advised science). He is the son of Dracul and the brother of Vlad III Dracula. Battling against his instincts, he acts as a vampire hunter and tries to stop the condition from spreading.

The 1990s Spider-Man animated series rewrote Morbius’ origin story to make it more personal to Peter Parker. This version of Morbius was a rival to Peter: they battled in college science competitions and for Felicia Hardy’s affections. This Morbius got his powers when he stole a vial of Peter’s blood, which a bat then drank before biting him.

In the more recent Ultimate Spider-Man animated series, Morbius’ origin was rejigged once again. In this version of events, he was a scientist that worked for HYDRA. Alongside Arnim Zola and Doctor Octopus, he studied the Venom symbiote. In this continuity, Doc Ock injected Morbius with the vampire serum.

Morbius has also appeared in numerous videogames. Perhaps most memorably, he appeared in the game adaptation of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. A series of side missions saw Spidey attempting to find a cure for Morbius. This version of Morbius has a wife. Her blood is used in the eventual cure, as is a small chunk of the Venom symbiote.

And here’s a fun fact for you: before writer David S. Goyer changed his mind, Morbius was intended to be the villain in the movie Blade 2.

So what will the movie be about?

Clearly, there are lots of different ways to approach the Morbius character. At the moment, there is no information available about that the live-action movie based on Morbius is set to contain. And there aren’t really that many sacrosanct elements that the writers have to stick with.

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The fact that Morbius is a scientist that turned into a vampire is pretty much the only fact they can’t change. You have to have that, or your character isn’t really Morbius at all. But beyond that basic bottom line, anything is possible. The film adaptation could use Morbius as a bloodthirsty villain or a struggling antihero, or it could chart his transition from the former to the latter.

Taking inspiration from some of the darker comics, it could be a bloody R-rated affair. Or, delving into the more fantastical side of things, it could show Morbius battling even stranger characters across otherworldly plains. It could be gritty and grounded, or it could be weird and wacky, or it could try to mix a bit of both.

As it stands, we really don’t have much to go on. The only thing we know is that Sony has been developing this project in secret for a while, with some interesting writing talent…

Who’s making the movie?

Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama are writing the Morbius movie. In fact, they’ve been working on it in secret for a while now and have already delivered a draft to Sony. And while we don’t have a clue what their Morbius script contains, we do know what they’ve worked on before, which might hold a clue or two.

These two writers, who have always worked together, first provided the script for the Luke Evans-starring Dracula Untold movie. It was a vampire story with an epic scale, which marked one of Universal’s modern attempts to forge a shared universe out of iconic horror characters. The film didn’t earn the type of reviews or box office returns that the studio would have wanted, but it was nonetheless an ambitious undertaking with some interesting world-building ideas.

Next, Sharpless and Sazama turned in the script for The Last Witch Hunter, the Vin Diesel movie featuring Rose Leslie and Elijah Wood. Again, it was a male protagonist in an action-heavy world filled with monsters and special effects. The reviews, again, weren’t kind.

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The pattern continued with their next project, Gods Of Egypt, which also had some big stars (Gerard Butler, Chadwick Boseman), a lot of special effects, some monsters, and a pile of not-exactly-thrilled reviews.

Most recently, they provided the story for 2017’s Power Rangers movie. Once again, it featured character introductions, world-building, action sequences and some sizeable creatures among the baddies. The reviews still weren’t overwhelmingly positive, but they were better on the whole than the write-ups of their previous movies.

Sharpless and Sazama are also working right now on the Lost In Space TV reboot for Netflix. Not much is known about that yet, but special effects and character introductions seem like a given.

Of course, there’s every chance that Sharpless and Sazama will try something new with Morbius. But the fact that they have delivered monster-packed and CG-heavy scripts before, with lots of world-building and new characters, provides a bit of food for thought regarding their Morbius movie. Their CV is certainly geared more towards weird and wacky than grim and gritty.

It’ll be interesting to see who the director on the project ends up being, and whether it can garner better critical feedback than the writers’ previous projects.

Will it connect to anything else?

It’s hard to say at this stage whether the Morbius movie will have any ties to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which contains Tom Holland as Spider-Man) or the other Sony spin-offs (which house Tom Hardy as Venom, plus the as-yet-uncast roles of Black Cat and Silver Sable), but it seems unlikely right now. There has already been confusion over whether Venom takes place in the MCU, with the party line seeming to decide in the end that the Venom story is set in a separate universe, an ‘adjunct’ to the main Spidey story. That still isn’t 100% clear, but it seems wise not to expect Tom Holland’s Spidey to show up in Venom, Silver & Black, or Morbius.

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However, perhaps Sony is building to something bigger. Perhaps all the spin-off movies will take place in their own ‘adjunct’ universes, building up to a dimension-hopping crossover event a little ways down the road. After all, thanks to characters like Madame Web, the comic book version of Spider-Man has never had any trouble jumping between realities when the baddie of the week threatens the wider multiverse.

Maybe the end game with all of these movies is a Spider-Verse cinematic event, where Tom Holland’s Peter Parker – having been established to fan-pleasing effect in the MCU – gets to travel outside of the Marvel Studios sandbox to meet a new batch of characters that Sony has the rights to. That wild speculation could be way off the mark, of course, but frantic guesswork is all we have at the moment…