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Jared Leto’s Morbius is not a vampire — he’s a living vampire

Spider-Man’s vampire frenemy

Morbius, skin pale, eyes red, fangs bared, snarls at the viewer, on the cover of Morbius: The Living Vampire #1, Marvel Comics (2013). Image: Gabriele Dell’Otto/Marvel

Jared Leto has traded in his Suicide Squad Joker make-up for something a little different, as evidenced in the first trailer for Sony’s Morbius, centered around the Spider-Man antihero of the same name. The actor is seen climbing walls, echolocating, and thirsting for blood.

But there’s one important distinction between Morbius and vampires: He’s a living vampire. That is, he accidentally gave himself vampire-like powers through science rather than being bitten by a vampire. This might seem like a silly distinction — but without it, the character might never have been created.

Morbius the Living Vampire (aka Nobel Prize winner Michael Morbius, Ph.D. and M.D.) was introduced in 1971’s The Amazing Spider-Man #101. Morbius was born with a rare blood disease and it was his fervent desire for a cure that caused him to develop vampiric powers and tendencies, including superhuman strength and agility, enhanced healing, and a lust for human blood.

Morbius the Living Vampire, with pale skin, red eyes, long fangs, and wild hair, on the cover of Morbius #1, Marvel Comics (2020).
Morbius, on the cover of Marvel’s current Morbius series, standing in front of a cross, which has no effect on him. Because, you know, not a real vampire.
Image: Ryan Brown/Marvel Comics

He had to do it through science because of American comics’ restrictive content standards. The 1971 Comics Code only allowed for vampires (and other monsters of the like) that were “handled in the classic tradition such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and other high calibre literary works.” So instead of being bitten and turned, Morbius’s powers and bloodlust came from a failed biochemistry experiment, putting him on the list of “Spider-Man villains that were originally scientists whose experiments went wrong” along with Doctor Octopus and the Lizard.

Though Morbius started out as a villain, he shifted to more antihero tendencies in later comics. He’s since appeared in a few of the Spider-Man animated series and video games. This perfectly dark and edgy anti-hero seems like a natural choice for Leto, who in 2006 was awarded the Prince of Darkness award.

Whether or not Morbius will be a more compelling, character-driven performance than Leto’s Joker remains to be seen. But there was at least one big shocker from the new trailer — an appearance from Michael Keaton links the film directly to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. Morbius, however distantly, is a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Morbius was announced in November 2017, and was written by Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama (who are behind the Netflix remake of Lost in Space), directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), and produced by Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach with Lucas Foster. It hits theaters on July 31, 2020.