A Retrospective on The Amazing Spider-Man #101 (1971)
Updated: Nov 27, 2019
Previously, in my analysis of Saga of the Swamp Thing (1982), I referenced the Comics Code Authority's censorship procedures that were instilled in most comic books at the time. This censorship resulted in a ban of the depiction of supernatural creatures across the board.
In 1971 though, the ban was lifted. With this, it was only a few months after the lift that Morbius the Living Vampire, would make his grand, comic book debut.
The Amazing Spider-Man #101, written by Roy Thomas with art by Gil Kane and Frank Giacola, introduces Morbius into comic book continuity. Upon his debut, Morbius plays the role of the villain, opposing our righteous webhead.
Since this debut though, Morbius has been featured in a variety of interpretations, with many challenging Morbius' complicated, moral nature.
So, yes, objectively Morbius may be the villain of The Amazing Spider-Man #101. However, there is more than meets the eye, and sometimes the choice to pursue a path towards wickedness is not a choice that belongs to the individual themselves.
A Six-Legged Problem
The Amazing Spider-Man #101 begins with our friendly neighborhood Peter Parker conducting an experiment. Peter is attempting to develop a serum that would cure him of his spider-like abilities. Interestingly though, Peter's eagerness in creating this serum results in him making a grave, elementary mistake.
Peter fails to test the serum before taking it.
So, unsurprisingly, the serum displays some unexpected ramifications, ramifications displayed in the four additional arms Peter suddenly grows!
Of course, and as any person would, Peter panics. He worries that he is literally turning into the monster much of the public perceives Spider-Man to be (Thanks Daily Bugle!).
As a result, Peter decides to make some quick yet serious decisions.
He actively isolates himself from his loved ones, particularly Aunt May and Gwen Stacy, as his fears regarding his own monstrosities escalate.
With this though, it is worth noting that Peter is not a completely rash person. Sure, he takes an untested serum and abruptly isolates himself from his loved ones without much thought. However, in the midst of his chaotic consciousness, Peter does manage to contemplate a potential solution to his predicament.
Ultimately, Peter has flaws as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Though, his ability to recognize these flaws and reassess his decision-making is just one of the qualities that makes him a reliable hero.
A Weekend in The Hamptons
Peter decides to call Dr. Curt Conners, also known as The Lizard. Peter deduces that Conners' own experience with involuntary, monstrous transformations could give him insight into his own condition.
Thankfully, Conners allows Peter to use his home in South Hampton, a home with a decked-out lab. Immediately, Peter heads out of the city to Conners' home to begin researching a cure.
Upon his arrival to the home, Peter's spider-sense goes crazy. He deduces that something marked by death and decay lurks around the home, which so happens to be situated by the ocean.
Further into the sea, not too distant from Conners' home, a ship floats adrift and doomed. The captain of the ship has been found dead, and the crew collectively blame one man for this.
So, they decide to corner their suspect and beat him.
Interestingly, their ambush does not leave a scratch nor a bruise on the man, and the crew's number one suspect manages to escape from them.
Ultimately, he decides to wait until dark to make his move, upon which the man declares himself to be Morbius.
The Living Vampire
When the sun sets, Morbius makes his move and proceeds to go on a feeding frenzy, proving himself to be the killer the rest of the crew believed him to be. Immediately after feasting on the blood if his crewmembers, Morbius feels enlivened.
Yet, he envies those he has killed as he is unable to achieve death and must resort to this savage lifestyle.
It is undoubtedly ironic for Morbius to express this sentiment, a predator envying his prey. Though his condition, in which he must quench his thirst through the consumption of blood, requires him to kill.
Consequently, Morbius expresses a degree of self-loathing. He did not wish to become this monster, but this is the state of being he has been prescribed too. Therefore, he lives through his survival instincts, even if that means taking another person's life for his own.
Following his feast, Morbius dives into the ocean and ends up on the shore by Dr. Conners' South Hampton home. He enters the house and decides to take his rest.
Meanwhile, Peter has been working on developing an antidote to no avail. Soon enough though, Morbius awakes and comes face-to-face with Spider-Man, whom Morbius decides to drain of his blood.
Taken by surprise, Spider-Man initially underestimates Morbius as just another costumed thug. He is quickly proven wrong when Morbius pummels Spider-Man to near-unconsciousness.
Though, right before Morbius can sink his teeth into our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Dr. Conners appears and morphs into The Lizard.
The two monstrosities prepare to battle, with Spider-Man literally in the middle of it all as the issue comes to a close.
Of course, The Amazing Spider-Man #101 is noted for the fact that its the first comic book issue to feature Morbius. With this though, the issue also presents varying perspectives of the concept of the monster.
My favorite novel of all time is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. One of the motifs I find to parallel those of The Amazing Spider-Man #101 is the varying perceptions a monster can have of itself.
In the context of Morbius, we find the bloodthirsty character resigning himself to his vampiric persona. This may cause someone to believe that Morbius does in fact enjoy being a predator. Though, we know that is not exactly the case as Morbius has expressed a desire to die in place of being a predator.
Now, on the other hand, Spider-Man and The Lizard have turned to scientific experiments to ensure that they do not succumb to monstrous personas and, consequently, a lack of humanity.
Though, it is worth pondering that Morbius may not have a choice when it comes to his nature. In the context of The Amazing Spider-Man #101, we do not know the efforts Morbius has taken to retrieve his humanity. Thus, he may have very well exhausted all of his options and is leagues ahead of Spider-Man and Lizard's own transformations.
Consequently, one cannot help but wonder, what other choice does Morbius have than to survive?
Of course, in the context of The Amazing Spider-Man #101, Morbius is presented as the villain of the story.
However, later iterations of the character will exemplify more nuanced portrayals that challenge our perceptions of Morbius himself.
Stay tuned for my next dive into the iconic, vampiric character as I analyze one of the more recent takes on the character, depicted in writer Gail Simone's Domino #8!