After spending a month talking about stories that featured the exploits of Batman more than the heroes of the Marvel Universe, I felt like it was time to get things back to normal here on Marvel Madness. And what better way to get back into the groove of things than by regaling you with the story of when Peter Parker accidentally grew four extra arms and fought a vampire! Did you know all of that happened? Comics are crazy, everyone. And, to make things even odder, this all spun out of the Amazing Spider-Man #100. That’s right, because what better way is there to celebrate a hundred issues of Spider-Man comics than with some good old-fashioned David Cronenberg-esque body horror? Apparently no other way, because that’s what they did! And, to sweeten the pot, we also get to talk about Morbius, a character whose biggest cultural impact may be the fact that when they brought him to the 90’s animated series they turned him into a weird plasma-sucking monster with leech fingers, all to comply with network standards, and in the process making him somehow more upsetting than a normal vampire. Travelling through the weird and wild world of Silver Age Marvel stories is guaranteed to find some strange things, and this story is practically peak Silver Age Marvel. So, buckle up folks, because there are going to be some crazy swerves in this story.
The story technically starts in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #100, even though that comic isn’t really much of a narrative. For whatever reason most anniversary issues from this period weren’t exactly stories, and instead recaps of the character’s history. And this issue is no different. It’s mainly just an extended dream sequence where Peter Parker reminiscences about various events in his life, but it all builds to a crazy reveal. And things start with Peter swinging around the streets of New York as Spider-Man, doing his best to think about the recent death of Captain George Stacy, and all the drama that that has unfolded. And, after an evening of swinging around and stopping crime, Peter decides that he isn’t feeling satisfied with this life anymore. He wants to give up being Spider-Man and devote himself to a normal life with Gwen Stacy. But, to do so, he’s going to have to find a permanent solution to his powers. Because Peter’s reached this conclusion before, and always gotten drawn back into the world of costumed heroism. So, he heads home and spends the rest of the night devising a special serum that will eradicate his spider-powers, leaving him a normal person. And, after a long night of work, he finishes his serum and drinks it. Which is when things immediately start going wrong.
Peter start tripping out as soon as he drinks the serum, and lays down in his bed, hoping that the strange reaction is only temporary. He tries to tell himself that everything is going to be okay, and that he’s going through this for love, so that he can be a normal person. Which is when the dreams/hallucinations begin. Peter spends some time thinking about his failed human relationships, like with Betty Brant, and the tumultuous relationship with Gwen Stacy he’s currently in, while also remembering Uncle Ben’s death. Then memories of Captain Stacy’s death start popping up, and things get much more stressful.
Because Peter is then treated to a cavalcade of battles with his various foes. He does seem fully aware that this is all a dream, but he’s convinced himself that if he beats everyone he’ll wake up and everything will be fine. So, one at a time, Spider-Man does battle with the Vulture, the Lizard, the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and finally the Kingpin. The battles are very violent, and Spider-Man doesn’t really pull any punches, just beating the hell out of his randomly appearing adversaries. And, after running that particular gauntlet, Peter is rewarded by getting to speak with the glowing head of George Stacy, who starts to insult him. Captain Stacy says that Peter doesn’t even really know himself, and says that he needs to figure out who he really is before he can become something else. Peter then wakes up, drenched in sweat and racked with pain. He hopes that this is a good sign that the serum worked. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Instead, it did this.
Whoops! That’s a hell of a side-effect, Petey! And, to add insult to injury, he still has all of his spider powers. His serum kept the powers, and added some deformities as well. Great work, Pete! And, as you might imagine, Peter is not too pleased with this development. He initially assumes that he’s just having another bad dream, but slowly starts to realize that this is actually happening, and he’s really just screwed his little science experiment up this badly. Which causes Peter to briefly completely freak out, deciding that he’s now a carnival freak who no one can ever love, and who will never be fixed. He even calls Gwen Stacy and starts a big fight, figuring that she’ll break up with him and won’t have to deal with him becoming a weird monster. He even assumes that he’ll eventually crack and turn into a super villain, which I guess is pretty understandable.
But, while wallowing in pity and the shattered remains of his life, Peter finally has an idea of something productive to do. He’s obviously failed at creating an antidote to his powers, so he’s going to need to enlist the help of someone with far more experience in genetic engineering than him. And, luckily, he’s close personal friends with Dr. Curt Connors. So, he gives Connors a call to his laboratory in the Everglades, and asks for help. Dr. Connors is unable to come help Peter directly, but he allows him access to a laboratory in South Hampton which should have everything Peter would need to fix his predicament. So, after some disastrous first attempts to web-sling with his new appendages, Peter heads out to South Hampton and finds Dr. Curt Connor’s terrifying looking beach house.
Peter then heads into the house, and gets to work familiarizing himself with Connors’ auxiliary laboratory. And, as this is going on, we shift out focus out to sea, where a fishing trawler is just floating around, anchored. The sailors on the ship are waiting to reach land before they figure out what’s been going on on the ship, because several sailors have shown up dead. But, they have a good guess of what’s causing the deaths. Because apparently the other day they found a man floating in the ocean, and they pulled him aboard. Oh, and the man one hundred per cent looks like a vampire.
So, the men decide to march below deck to beat up and probably kill the man. They storm into the room where he’s lurking, and jump at him, ready to beat him to death. The man, who starts calling himself Morbius, tries to talk them down, but it doesn’t seem to work. The men attack him, and he starts to fight back. Which is a problem. Because Morbius ends up getting so worked up that he starts killing the men, feasting on their blood. Because he’s actually a vampire. And, he ends up working himself into a frenzy, eventually draining every single member of the crew. He slaughters them all, and then decides he needs a new place to rest. Morbius does have the ability to fly, so now that he’s all full he takes off from the ship and flies to land. And, as luck would have it, he finds an empty beach house to hide in and get some sleep. And I’m sure you can guess which beach house this is.
So, yeah. Morbius has just so happened to pick Dr. Curt Connors’ beach house as his temporary dwelling. So, while he’s sleeping away the day, Peter Parker is downstairs in Connors’ laboratory, working on a cure. He’s apparently already been here for two days already, and he hasn’t gotten very far. No matter what he does he can’t crack a way to cure his strange condition, and he’s starting to crack. Peter throws some test tubes around, causing a bit of a ruckus, which ends up waking Morbius up. He comes to investigate the sound, and ends up finding Spider-Man hunched over some laboratory equipment, four extra arms hanging there. And, even though he’s a vampire, this weirds Morbius out. But, he’s able to put that uncomfortability aside, and decides to just surprise Spider-Man and drink his blood.
Spider-Man must have been pretty distracted by his failures though, because his spider-sense doesn’t give him a warning, letting Morbius just tackle him to the ground. Spider-Man leaps away from Morbius, taking quick stock of what’s going on. And it’s not good. He’s looking at a hideous man with chalk white skin, a weird costume, super-strength, and who can apparently fly. He immediately assumes that Morbius is a vampire, but decides that that’s too weird, and just figures that he’s a new supervillain who is using a vampire gimmick. Which, actually tracks. The two start beating the hell out of each other, and things get pretty intense. But, as the two are grappling, something unexpected happens. Curt Connors comes strolling into the house, figuring that he’d come to the house to help. And he certainly wasn’t expecting an eight-limbed superhero fighting a vampire. Which is a shame, because the stress of this sight causes him to start panicking, which triggers a transformation into the Lizard, giving Spider-Man two supervillains to deal with. That good old Parker luck!
However, he does have a slight stroke of luck. Because when the Lizard arrives he doesn’t quite remember what happened before his transformation, so all he knows is that he sees his greatest nemesis being beaten up. And, instead of feeling some sort of camaraderie with the vampire beating the bajesus out of Spider-Man, he gets insanely jealous, and decides to attack Morbius instead. Which does give Spider-Man a brief respite. He’s able to slip away from the brawl, and catch his breath while the Lizard and Morbius rip into each other. They have a massive fight, throwing each other all around the small beach house, until Morbius lands a lucky shot and kicks the Lizard right into some sort of scientific instrument, which ends up electrocuting him.
The Lizard then collapses on the ground, giving Morbius the chance to feed. He leaps onto the Lizard’s prone body, and digs his fangs into his scaly neck. Which is when Spider-Man decides to intervene. He leaps at Morbius, knocking the succubus off of the Lizard, and gets ready for a fight. But Morbius apparently doesn’t have any interest in having a third-round of this battle, and decides to fly out of the beach house in search of an easier meal. And, as he flies away, Spider-Man flicks one of his spider-tracers onto Morbius so they can keep track of him. Because Spider-Man has a bigger problem. The Lizard. However, when the Lizard ends up waking up there’s a bit of a surprise in store of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Yep, for some reason Doctor Connors has regained control of his mind, but not his body, making for a very awkward experience for Spider-Man. Connors has no idea why his mind is back, but the Lizard’s body is still there, but he agrees to help Spider-Man out in whatever form he can. And, as they start planning a way to fix Spider-Man’s issues, a strange transformation occurs for Connors, causing him to revert back to a more or less human form, just with scaly skin. Both Connors and Spider-Man are baffled by this, but they think that it had something to do with the bite from Morbius. And yet, after just a few sentences, he turns back into the Lizard, but still with Connors’ mind.
It’s a bizarre experience, but they figure that whatever Morbius did to the Lizard ould be the key to both curing Connors’ Lizard disorder and Spider-Man’s extra arms. They run a few experiments, but with no success. Until Connors realizes what the key factor was. It wasn’t something that Morbius removed from his blood, it was something he put in. They’re able to find an enzyme in the Lizard’s blood that appears to have come from Morbius’ bite, and they realize that this must be what negated the Lizard’s transformation. They then get to work on the cure again, wondering what Morbius’ deal is.
The issue then takes a brief break to fill us in on the back story of Morbius. Because after he left the Connors beach house he flew to New York, and fed off some hapless citizens. He then found a place to nest for the day, and starts to reminisce about his past. His name is actually Michael Morbius, and he is a gifted genetic engineer who has been focusing all of his research on curing his own genetic disorder, which has apparently given him his weird face. And, for whatever reason, he’s decided that the way to cure himself is to experiment with radiation and vampire bats.
So, Morbius, his girlfriend, and his assistant piled all of their machinery onto a private yacht, and started sailing towards America while attempting to get the experiment up and running. And, once onto the open ocean, Morbius and his assistant slip into their laboratory, and get things going. Morbius puts on what is unmistakably a vampire costume, and then gets into a giant diving suit, which will contain the radiation he’s about to be bombarded with. The machine turns on, and after being pelted with some mysterious energy, he comes out of the suit and finds that he’s now given himself vampire powers. He can drink blood, fly, and has super strength. Oh, and he’s also incredibly short-tempered, flying into unwieldy rages at a moments notice. Which he learns after freaking out and killing his assistant. He then realizes he’s become a monster, and decides to throw himself off of the boat rather than let his girlfriend see whats become of him. Which is how the sailors earlier found him adrift.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man and the Lizard have realized that they’re going to be unable to make their serum without Morbius. The amount of enzyme they got from the Lizard’s blood was enough to prove their hypothesis, but not enough to permanently cure them. So, they use Spider-Man’s spider-tracer, and swing together to hunt him down to beat him up and take the enzyme from the vampire. And, after a brief incident where the Lizard reverts to his barbaric state and Spider-Man has to subdue him, the two are able to track down Morbius.
Spider-Man and the Lizard jump the vampire, and try to explain that they need his help to cure themselves. And, not surprisingly, Morbius doesn’t really trust them. He tries to fly away, but Spider-Man is able to snag him with a web, keeping him close by. Spider-Man knocks Morbius out so that the Lizard can draw some blood from the vampire, adding it to their concoction. And, it works. Lizard takes a little of the serum, and instantly reverts back to the form of Curt Connors, in theory forever. Unfortunately, right as Spider-Man is about to drink his share of the serum Morbius wakes up, punches the webhead, and takes the serum for himself. Morbius wants to turn himself back to a human, and doesn’t want to take any chances sharing it with Spider-Man, so he flies off with the vial, ready to drink it all. Spider-Man chases after the vampire, and ends up firing a line of webbing onto him, gliding after him. But, Spider-Man’s added weight throws Morbius off balance, and he ends up smashing into a bridge. Morbius falls, unconscious, into the sea, and Spider-Man manages to land in a trash barge. But, he has the vial. He drinks his share, and his extra arms vanish. So, things are back to normal, and Morbius appears to have drowned in the bay.
Like I said up top, this story is kind of a distillation of everything I love about the Marvel Universe. Because it’s just one big, crazy world where any manner of character can just run into each other, and something insane can happen. The idea of Spider-Man attempting to remove his powers, and then growing four extra arms is insane enough. That’s something that could happen nowadays and manage to be its own several issue storyline. But, six arms isn’t enough for this story. No, they had to toss in a goddamn vampire. And, not just a regular vampire. The Marvel Universe has enough of those. No, this is a vampire who got his powers in basically the same way Peter Parker did, but by irradiating a vampire bat. Because science in the Marvel Universe is pretty fast and loose. And then, as an added spice on top, we get the Lizard thrown in. This story is only three issues long. Really like two and a half. And yet, all of that insanity is packed in. It ramps up, stays at a hundred, and then ends as abruptly as it began. I mean, Spider-Man’s extra arms just kind of vanish, and then he’ll presumably never speak of this event again. Things happen quickly here, and they don’t often make much sense. But that’s kind of the reason I love these Silver Age stories. We get our heroes, our villains, a bunch of nonsense made-up science (their main clue that the serum would work was that it turned blue!), and plenty of over-the-top action. It’s stories like these that remind me why I love superhero comics in the first place.
The Amazing Spider-Man #100-102 were written by Stand Lee and Roy Thomas, penciled by Gil Kane, inked by Frank Giacoia, and lettered by Art Simek, 1971.
Categories: Marvel Madness