Sony Pictures’ latest antibody antihero movie, Morbius, which stars Jared Leto as the Living Vampire, has drawn first blood. Following in the footsteps of the split-personality, villain movie Venom, Morbius is an origin story with a nemesis at the waiting, and the promise of bloody battles to come. Yet the self-made vampire should have made his entrance years ago. Indeed, Morbius was initially set up to be the main villain in Blade II, after Blade (1998) starring Wesley Snipes opened the wound to modern superhero films.
Writer David S. Goyer planned to feature Morbius as the main antagonist in the not-yet-produced sequel, according to the Blade DVD commentary. Blade director Stephen Norrington even shot a teaser scene, which was eventually cut, promising dark deeds to come from Dr. Michael Morbius in a sequel that never materialized.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is renowned today for promoting yet-to-be-made-films via surprise cameos that appear like last-minute product placement spots. Marvel Studios began including these post-credits scenes with Samuel L. Jackson’s introduction as Nick Fury at the end of Iron Man. But Blade was at the creative forefront of the tradition well before the MCU.
The Original Morbius Cameo in Blade
When Blade was released in 1998, the character was a relatively obscure figure in the Marvel Comics stable. Even after the movie opened, many did not know it was based on a comic book character. So the film was a big gamble, one that gave life to a new generation of comic book adaptations. Its success would lead to two sequels, Blade II and Blade: Trinity, and help put Marvel Comics on the map as a resource for Hollywood to exploit.
Blade is also an origin story for Eric Brooks, a.k.a. Blade, who is on the hunt for Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), the undead fiend that’s on his way to becoming a vampire god at the temple of La Magra. The film ends after Blade thwarts that transformational ritual and reunites with Dr. Karen Jenson (N’Bushe Wright).
Wright’s hematologist cured herself of the blood infection which afflicts Blade and offers him the same cure. He instead asks for a stronger serum so he can retain his abilities to fight Russian vampires in his eternal war against the damned.
In the original alternate ending, after Blade rejects the cure, the camera pans across the rooftops to show a shadowy figure with long, black hair, the identifying mark of “the Living Vampire,” played in a brief cameo by Norrington.
On the page, Dr. Michael Morbius debuted as a biochemist whiz, born with a rare blood disease, whose experimental self-treatment turns him into an almost-vampire. He develops enhanced abilities but needs to drink blood in an ever-increasing timely manner. He has an on-again, off-again relationship with Spider-Man after making his first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #101 (October 1971). It’s complicated.
Morbius, who struggles to keep his bloodlust under control, has a lot in common with Blade. Most of their shared comic book encounters have been as members of the “Midnight Sons,” a loose group of superpowered antiheroes who were served “a taste of damnation.” The team first appeared in Ghost Rider #31 (November 1992). Development of a Morbius movie dates back to 2000 when Artisan Entertainment partnered with Marvel to option 15 properties for adaptations.
Why Morbius was Cut from Blade II
Goyer confirms, in the Blade commentary, that Morbius was always his plan for the second installment. When Norrington backed out of the sequel, the plan was to have incoming director Guillermo del Toro use the character. The first Spider-Man film had yet to begin production when Blade was released. Rumors circulated that Marvel was unwilling to share its characters with other studios when Sony began developing its Spider-Man trilogy, and told New Line they were reserving the Morbius character for future use. Morbius, after all, was a Spider-Man original.
However, on the DVD commentary, Goyer said del Toro decided to change the villain for the follow up film and created the Reapers as a replacement. Blade II focused on an accelerated strain of the vampire virus, the Reaper Strain. The original carrier for the virus was Jared Nomak, a genetically modified vampire who was created by the Overlord of the Vampire Nation, Eli Damaskinos, a pureblood vampire.
Blade and Morbius’ Comic Book History
Blade and Morbius had a similar relationship at one point in comic lore, even as it’s been heavily redacted and is no longer accepted canon.
Blade was created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, and first appeared in 1973’s Tomb of Dracula #10. Initially, he was a human whose only power was being resistant to vampire bites. In the film, Blade is a dhampir, or “daywalker,” which gives him all the powers of vampires with none of their weaknesses. To bridge the differences between pulp and screen, Marvel augmented his gifts on the page. In 1999’s Peter Parker: Spider-Man #8, Blade is bitten by Morbius. Not much is made of it until Blade: Vampire Hunter #1. Coming out a few months later, it revealed the bite mutated Blade, giving him the same powers seen in the film.
Because of the Blade franchise’s success, Marvel dropped the Morbius explanation, removed the concept from continuity, and kept with the idea that Blade always had these powers. This is fairly common as comic book lore often accommodates popular movie and television adaptations. Canon now holds that Eric Cross was born prematurely in a brothel in the Soho neighborhood of London. His mother Tara experienced severe labor complications, and the staff called in a doctor. The attending physician was Deacon Frost, who drank all of Tara’s blood as she was giving birth, passing along his vampire enzymes. This allows both the comic book and film character Blade to be born with the abilities.
Morbius may have made his debut as a Spider-Man villain but he has a long history of rivalry with Blade. Blade II could have seen them teaming up to take on the Russian vampires together. They, after all, became teammates in Spider-Man: The Animated Series before the first Snipes film was even released. Sadly, the teased version of the Blade sequel never made it to a script stage.
Blade is also getting a reboot now, with Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali now rocking the leather. Blade is part of the MCU, while Morbius is in the Sony-Marvel universe, making it unlikely to see a crossover, but not impossible. Sony retained the rights to the big screen meeting between Morbius and Spider-Man, but with Michael Keaton’s appearance in the Morbius post-credits, it appears Spider-Man characters can go where they please. As Blade likes to say, “There are worse things out tonight than vampires.”
Morbius is playing out in theaters now.