A “Morbius, the Living Vampire” ongoing seems like an odd choice and a longshot for big sales, even with recent pop culture gone vampire-crazy. But Joe Keatinge is breaking into the world of mainstream comics one way or another and this issue might be proof enough that the man can get a lot out of a rickety premise.
Written by Joe Keatinge
Illustrated by Rich Elson
Somewhere inside Doctor Michael Morbius is a good man who just needs a second chance. After escaping from The Raft in Amazing Spider-Man 699.1, Morbius is scraping desperately through each day trying to carve out a life in a world that has turned its back on him. However his redemption…may be worse than his sin.
NOW Morbius returns in this long-awaited ongoing series, where the line between hero and villain becomes brutally and bloodily blurred.
Keatinge drops the reader into a subway chase battle between Morbius and a bunch of street gang goon types. Morbius’ abilities and weaknesses are very deftly highlighted along the way, showing him to be strong but raw and inexperienced in a fight. Keatinge injects character into the action scenes, making sure that we learn plenty about Morbius as we go. There’s an explosive climactic scene before circling back to Morbius’ past. We then follow Morbius through his adventures in exile in the crime-filled city of Brownsville. This sort of non-chronological storytelling serves to drop the reader into the action early on. Unfortunately, the payoff in the climax isn’t strong enough to make this sort of looping narrative as worthwhile as a straightforward telling might have been. Regardless, the content of the storytelling is strong enough to overcome the odd choice of framing.
With “Hell Yeah” and “Glory”, Keatinge has given us enough proof that he can turn genre conventions on their head and avoid cliches with ease. That said, the above solicitation for “Morbius” practically screams angst. And truth be told, the character of Michael Morbius and his origin has been steeped in tragedy and angst since his first appearance in the early 1970’s. Instead, what we actually get in Keatinge’s first issue is a smart injection of humor, confidence, and downright pleasantness into Morbius’ demeanor. His narration is written in an overly casual and contemporary tone, making Morbius seem much younger and more modern than we’d expect. He’s polite to those that he comes across and feels compelled to do the right thing. Oh, there’s a little bit of angst in there, but Keatinge writes him as introspective and tragic without having him wandering around moping for the entire issue. It may not seem like the Morbius that we’ve seen in “Amazing Spider-Man” throughout the years, but rather a Morbius that is giving himself a fresh start. It takes a little getting used to, because it’s certainly a redefinition. However, it’s a fine compromise that goes toward making a character that is much more appealing to follow in a solo series.
Rich Elson does solid work on pencils, designing a cast of diverse-looking characters with terrific attention paid to body language, facial acting, and clothing. His scenery is most impressive, however, as he is asked to craft an authentic looking inner city full of crime and filth. The backgrounds and building designs are detailed and match our expectations for what a dank, crime-riddled city should look like. Nothing is worse than when a setting is described by the narrative, but the art doesn’t match. The way that Elson, colorist Antonio Fabela, and letterer Clayton Cowles handle the signage in the city scenes was especially pleasing. Often, the digital fonts for building signage in comics stands out from the art and look artificial. In “Morbius”, the art team did a fantastic job of blending this work into the scenery with muted coloring and realistic fonts. Elson is not asked to pull off any really spectacular set-pieces or to go above and beyond traditional superhero penciling, but what he does in “Morbius”, he does very well.
All of the very well-exectued aspects of “Morbius” #1 add up to a comic book that does everything right, but doesn’t bowl the reader over. Ideally, your first issue would grab the reader, not let go, and drop an ending that leaves them absolutely clamoring for next month’s issue. “Morbius” doesn’t really do that, instead preferring to establish a strong lead character first and ask the reader to trust that they are headed to some place worth going. Keatinge and Elson attack a relatively thin premise with so much professionalism that they have earned that trust from the first issue.
Final Verdict: 7.5 – Try it. “Morbius” #1 is a solid start.