Morbius, lead character of Morbius, is an odd supervillain from the jump: a tortured scientist who gave himself vampire-like abilities — and vampire-like hungers — and often needs a Marvel superhero to keep him in check. But there was one story that Morbius director Daniel Espinosa (Child 44) used to show executives why his movie Morbius was more than just Spider-Man’s weirdo frenemy:
That time Morbius nearly killed Doctor Strange.
“I love the moment where he sucks out the life energy of Doctor Strange,” Espinosa told Polygon over Zoom. He didn’t mention an issue number, but we think he was probably talking about 1993’s Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #53, in which the villain Nightmare pits Dr. Michael Morbius and Dr. Stephen Strange against each other, and not in an operating theater.
“I just kept pounding that to all the executives, like, You don’t get it. This guy has been on the verge of beating Doctor Strange! This is not a nobody. And we don’t really know the ends of his powers. I wanted to express the thing of — in comic books, 15 years ago, it was introduced, the idea of the Spider Totem.”
In the early ’00s J. Michael Straczynski introduced a class of god-like characters to Spider-Man comics — the Spider Totems — who chose mortals throughout the multiverse to carry their essence. In short, they are the reason so many universes in the Marvel multiverse have some kind of Spider-Man (Or woman, or pig). In 2015, Dan Slott would pick up that idea and use it for the foundation of the multiverse-hopping Spider-Person team up event Spider-Verse, which eventually became the inspiration for 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
But the comics also implied that there might be other animal-themed Totem cabals, and Espinosa chooses to believe that, like Spider-Man, Morbius is a mortal avatar for god-like forces.
“I always felt that the reason he beat Doctor Strange was because he in reality is the Bat, like the Totem. So in the same way as the Spider, they have an eternal amount of cosmic power to draw from.”
If that sounds far-fetched, well, it’s the same kind of spitballing creativity that drove comics at the time Morbius was created. In 1971, the Marvel comics universe was closing its first decade in a very different national mood than 1961. A new generation of creators was driving the bullpen, and the loosening of American comics’ self-imposed content restrictions meant that both new and old stories were more available to tell.
“Comic books didn’t quite know where to go,” Espinosa mused over Zoom. “Were they going to go into blaxploitation? Or maybe an older way of telling things? Would they retreat back to the ’60s instead, which were much more representative. […] When Morbius came [to be invented] you didn’t quite know if it was [a return to] the Twilight Zone kind of Marvel, which was way more the way it started, with stories about monsters.”
The idea of making a Marvel monster movie clearly appealed to the Life director.
“That’s why if you begin to listen to the score, it’s a horror score,” he said. “If you go to Spotify, and just listen to just the score, it’s,” he imitated dramatic and ominous orchestral stomps. “That’s what I liked, to play with those things.”
Another thing the long-time Marvel fan enjoyed? Elevating the Daily Bugle from the New York Post to the New York Times.
“I was a kid during the ’80s, OK? So for me, the Daily Bugle is a good newspaper. Ben Urich, for me, is the best journalist in the world, and he doesn’t work on some trashy — and Robbie Robertson is the proudest chief editor in the world, and he’s a good guy, and he tries to do good journalism. So that’s why I changed I changed the design of the Daily Bugle, so it looked more like a proper newspaper.”
And while I might miss the opportunity for a “MORBIUS? THREAT OR MENACE?” headline, well, I can respect that. Ben Urich is a good journalist.