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Morbius Always Had Lead Potential. Look no Further than 90’s Spider-Man Cartoon

Morbius the Living Vampire

When Sony first announced plans for their Morbius, the Living Vampire movie, the reaction from comics fans was mostly “…but why?”. When Sony announced Jared Leto’s casting as Morbius, the overall consensus shifted to “so they’re gonna bank on star power, huh?”. 

Which, at that point, wasn’t all that better than the initial lukewarm reaction, because Leto had already dipped his toes into comic-book movies – and the fans most emphatically did NOT enjoy the way he did it. To be fair we still haven’t seen him actually do… anything worthwhile as Joker, but 5 years into the stint, we’ve given WB more than enough time, I think.

Then came the first trailer and… it really didn’t do much. Add the pandemic hell and it seemed like that movie disappeared from the map altogether, with only a few announcements in-between reminding us that it was still happening.

Finally, this much-suffered saga seems to have come to an end. Only a few months before the movie drops, we got another trailer. And it seemed to have shifted the discussion around the project.

See, if before the majority consensus usually came down to “so Sony’s really milking Spidey baddies, cuz they’ve got no one else”, now the consensus seems to be “holy crap, this might just work”.

And, to be fair, it really was a dope trailer. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. While Morbius is undoubtedly a more risky project than Venom due to lesser brand recognition, its potential was always worth banking on.

You’d know that if you watched the 90’s Spider-Man cartoon.

How 90’s Spider-Man Comes into this Conversation

Source: Spider-Man TAS (1994-1998)

94’s animated Spider-Man is, to this day, one of the most iconic and beloved animated Marvel adaptations. Where DC had Batman TAS and Superman TAS, Marvel had X-Men and Spidey.

The series also share a somewhat similar fate. If Batman and X-Men are considered cult classics and are watched and rewatched by fans to this day, Superman and Spidey have been somewhat forgotten.

Which is a shame, since Spider-Man 94 did a spectacular job adapting classic comics. It basically did what MCU did before MCU. It took the original characters, kept their most interesting characteristics, and iconic features – and changed the rest of their story in a way to make them organically connected to Spider-Man.

Michael Morbius, for example, isn’t even a doctor. He’s a fellow aspiring scientist, who makes his first appearance competing with Peter Parker in a science fair.

Michael, for a short while, acts as an anti-thesis to Peter. He’s supposed to be a cool, suave bad guy who’s a rival for Peter’s lady love’s heart. Namely, Felicia Hardy, who in the series partially takes on Gwen Stacy’s role. 

Not that long though (because pacing in this cartoon is pretty insane). Soon enough, he messes up with his science projects involving vampire bats – and voila, Morbius, the Living Vampire is born.

A Surprisingly Deep Character Arc for Tertiary Villain

Source: Spider-Man TAS (1994-1998)

Here’s how this cartoon wins big. Instead of a straight descent into villainy, it gives the viewers a surprisingly compelling arc.

Michael Morbius while, technically speaking, a Spider-Man villain, isn’t anywhere the most popular among them. You’re not even likely to remember him when thinking about Spidey’s Rogue pantheon.

He’s not part of the mythos the way Scorpion, Doc Ock, Rhino, or Green Goblin are part of the mythos.

If you know a thing or two about Spider-Man, you don’t expect Michael Morbius to be a mainstay in his story.

See, we have all the indications from the beginning that Michael is supposed to be a bad guy. After all, he’s in direct competition with Peter. He’s into really shifty experiments. He’s a jerk.

And he acts like a real villain after transformation too. Censorship in this cartoon is really wild, down to Michael sucking plasma (because mentioning sucking blood was, apparently, a big no-no) with suckers on his palms (even though he very clearly has a pair of impressive fangs). But there are still pretty heavy indications that he has no qualms about killing. Spider-Man is supposed to stop him in the next episode, we’re supposed to cheer while he does it. And that should be it.

After all, he’s not going to be taking down a random villain here. He’s going to be taking down his rival. We’re already supposed to be invested in seeing Peter kick Michael Morbius’s ass.

But we don’t. A couple of episodes after Michael’s transformation we’re really rooting for Spidey to save him because he’s suffering. Caught between his urges and what remains of his personhood, Michael gets surprising flashes of humanity, where it’s clear he understands he’s become a monster and wishes to stop.

Only there’s a problem – his transformation is progressing. And with each passing moment, there’s less chance that our hero will somehow save him.

How 90’s Spider-Man Upgraded Morbius to a Worthy Lead

Source: Spider-Man TAS (1994-1998)

Well, I might be giving the cartoon a bit too much of a credit. Morbius has had several comic series where he was either a lead or a co-lead. 

But if you’re a 90’s kid, chances are this version of Michael Morbius is the one that pops up in your head whenever you come across the name.

I know this because I have several friends around me who’re the same. I’m the same, as well.

For a character who appeared in the entire show a grand total of… less than dozen episodes, Morbius leaves a surprisingly strong impression.

I’d even take a risk to say his arc might be one of the most interesting in the overall series.

Vampires have long been popular among readers. Tortured vampires who are trying to make up for their past mistakes doubly so. From Buffy, the Vampire Slayer to Twilight, a “good vampire against his evil brethren” has been a foundation for some pretty iconic characters.

Hell, even Dracula, the most iconic evil vampire of all time, has gotten multiple reimaginings from straight-up villain to a (tragic) anti-hero we should root for. By the way, my personal favorite among these ones is Kouta Hirano’s Hellsing.

Morbius, in the 90’s cartoon, gets a tragic heroes story.

He starts out as… less than stellar person. He transforms into a monster. And just when he’s supposed to prove to the audience that he was always destined to be a baddie, he shows depth and humanity we never expected.

And he gets rewarded for it. The most famous vampire hunter in the Marvel universe – Blade – swoops in and… saves him, together with Spider-Man, instead of slaying him.

The twist? The serum that will suppress vampiric urges can only work if the patient wishes to fight against them. Morbius is saved, in the end, because despite all his flaws, he was always a decent human. Very deep down, but still.

Would Morbius Work in MCU?

Source: Morbius (2022) Official Trailer

Morbius has a long history with Blade. So it’s unsurprising when his cartoon arc ends with them joining forces, and Michael lending his powers to Blade’s fight against vampires.

In the comics, they’ve been not only adversaries (during Michael’s initial run as a villain) but brothers in arms through Midnight Sons many a time.

So, an x-over between the two would be the next logical step. One problem? We still don’t know, even after the Venom 2 post-credit scene, if Sony-verse is set in MCU or not.

Now that Mahershala Ali has finally made his first cameo appearance as Eric Brooks after being cast in the role all the way back in 2019, it’s only natural for us to wonder about character prospects.

The problem isn’t so much the characters working well together. The problem is reconciling Sony Universe – a pretty dark, if somewhat humorous, character-driven place – with MCU. 

MCU, after all, has stuck to the same formula that shares little with Sonyverse. Especially now, when Eternals taking a step away from that formula to less-than-stellar results, it seems doubtful that Fiege would take more risks anywhere in the near future.

But if there’s a character that would benefit from formula change-up, it’s likely Blade. All that’s needed is sufficient incentive.

And, in the end, most studio decisions are driven by financial returns. If Morbius is anywhere near as successful in the box office, as Venom has been for two movies now, it’s hard to imagine Fiege being ardently against incorporating him in the MCU.

The ball is in Sony’s court now. Leto, at the very least, seems to be as good a casting as Michael Morbius, as Tom Hardy was for Eddie Brock. Let’s see if most people enjoy the movie the way they seemed to have enjoyed this recent trailer.

Written by Tamara Elle

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