After getting a taste of comic book-styled storytelling in 2016’s Suicide Squad, it seems that acclaimed Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto is ready to take on a decidedly different kind of comics character. He’s making the somewhat curious choice of moving away from, arguably, comics’ greatest villain, and toward a supernatural character that inhabits an entirely different shared universe.
As we’ve detailed for you already, Jared Leto will be starring in an upcoming Sony Pictures adaptation centered on Spider-Man adversary Morbius, the Living Vampire. The second major, independent step that the studio seems to be taking with the characters they have the rights to after this year’s Venom — and independent of the character that leads their side of the Marvel U — a Morbius movie could be trying to go for a similar kind of “indie” vibe that Venom also appears to be aiming for, since Leto and his reputation will likely be far more immediately resonant with audiences than Morbius himself.
Still, this news begs two major questions, right up front: who is Morbius? And, what will this mean for Warner Bros., which, by all accounts, is planning on doubling down on the Joker?
Morbius, the Living Vampire
Originally appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 1) #101 from 1971, Morbius’ arrival actually almost directly coincides with the comics industry’s censorship authority of the era — the infamous “Comics Code Authority” — lifting a ban on supernatural characters in the stories from mainstream comics, which included vampires.
Morbius’ debut issue was also a notable moment in wider Spider-Man history, since the issue in which he appeared accounted for the first time that the Amazing Spider-Man ongoing series was written by someone other than the character’s co-creator, Stan Lee. While Lee was working on another project, he handed the reins of Amazing off to trusted editor Roy Thomas. With superstar artist Gil Kaine on board, Morbius’ outward physical appearance was based on that of actor Jack Palance, and the character’s origin story was pretty characteristic of a lot of Marvel stories of the era: it was rooted in the idea of “science gone wrong.”
Brilliant biologist Michael Morbius suffered from a rare blood condition, afflicting him since childhood. After trying to cure himself of his condition using an experiment involving the DNA of a vampire bat combined with electric shocks, Morbius was transformed into a creature resembling the vampires of myth, and escaped his country where he eventually clashed with Spider-Man. An early story even featured a team-up between the Webhead and his enemy the Lizard, where Morbius’ blood actually served as a cure for some abhorrent additional mutations the hero and villain had gone through.
Morbius as a character has had varying popularity over the course of his entire existence. As quickly as Marvel seems to try and orient a whole new monthly title around him, it seems to get pulled off the racks almost as quickly. He received a new degree of prominence (as well as some additional hypnotic powers) in the early 1990’s in Marvel’s superhero/horror mash-up crossover “Rise of the Midnight Sons,” and the character received a whole new level of generation of fans after solid appearances in Spider-Man: The Animated Series and a few Marvel-based video games, like Lego Marvel Super Heroes.
He may have even been more prominent had Blade screenwriter David S. Goyer had his way, since Goyer originally intended Morbius to serve as the primary villain in a sequel to the original film. There’s even a deleted scene showing a mysterious, obscured figure looking on in an alternate ending, which was intended to be Morbius. However, Blade II ultimately went in a different direction.
All in all, Sony seems like they’re ready to bring Morbius further into the spotlight, and perhaps to take the idea of a scary superhero film further than even Venom may attempt. Still, a couple of questions linger concerning the film’s reported star.
Is Jared Leto Done With the Joker?
As this column has indicated quite a bit in the past, the Batman film series at Warner Bros. is in a kind of flux that it hasn’t really been in since before Christopher Nolan took up the franchise to first develop what would become Batman Begins. The mediocre reception to both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, coupled with the box office stumble of Justice League, seems to have put the Dark Knight on something of a back foot for the first time in about 20 years.
It certainly doesn’t help matters that we’ve heard very little news concerning the development of director Matt Reeves’ solo Batman film (which isn’t surprising), and as it relates to the Joker specifically, it seems that Suicide Squad ended up leaving a fair amount of Leto’s first performance as the Harlequin of Hate on the cutting room floor.
As we detailed for you recently, there have been some indications that WB was actively preparing at least two films based on Batman’s ultimate enemy. One of those projects was said to be an extension of the DC Extended Universe, featuring the version of the Joker that Leto first played in Suicide Squad. As we await the December release of Aquaman, the DCEU seems to be in a state of disarray.
While that doesn’t necessarily mean that Leto is done with the Joker, it’s quite possible that he won’t return if he’s given a clearer, alternative plan over how to use him, character prestige aside. What do you think, though? Are you looking forward to a Morbius movie? What do you want to see Leto do in terms of reprising his role as the Joker? Sound off below!
Chris Clow is a comics expert/former retailer, and pop culture critic/commentator. He hosts two podcasts: Discovery Debrief: A Star Trek Podcast and Comics on Consoles. Find his column “Comics on Film” weekly at Movies.com, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.