Morbius, Michael

Introduction

Dr. Michael Morbius is one of the few "sympathetic" foes that Spider-Man has faced. Not at all interested in money, world domination or mass slaughter, his only goal is to end the grotesque condition that he brought upon himself.

Michael was a sick young man growing up in Nafplio, Greece. An only child, he was doted on by his over protective mother who insisted that he stay safe inside and read instead of going outside to play. Young Michael never knew his father, an artist, author and film maker named Makarioa Morbius. His only friend was a boy named Emil Nikos. Emil and Michael went to university together with the focus of trying to cure Michael of his unnamed blood disease. The duo won a Nobel Prize in medicine for their work with vampire bats, but Morbius' condition continued to worsen. He had become so weak that even trying to lift a tea cup was enough to break the bones in his wrist. (Amazing Spider-Man #699.1)

Emil and Micheal continued their research on-board a ship they had purchased with the Nobel Prize money. This was done to ensure that no one could steal the progress that they had made with the cure. They also brought along Micheal's girlfriend, Martine Bancroft. Michael fell asleep after one of the treatments and when he awoke, he killed Emil without thinking. Immediately grief stricken over what he had done, Morbius went to Martine's cabin for comfort until he realized that he wanted to feed on her. Desperate to save her, Michael threw himself overboard in an attempt to drown himself. His sense of self preservation prevailed and he was eventually picked up by a fishing vessel. This was unfortunate for the crew, as he eventually fed on them all.

Morbius arrived in Long Island and found shelter in the summer home of Dr. Curtis Connors, aka The Lizard. The house was occupied at the time by Spider-Man, who was researching a cure for his own six armed mutation. A battle broke out between Morbius, Spider-Man and the Lizard when Connors arrived to check on Spider-Man. Morbius was soon defeated. (Amazing Spider-Man #102)

Morbius and Spider-Man has fought many times since that first encounter, with a chance encounter leading Michael to believe that a cure might be possible in Spider-Man's blood. The doctor even managed to briefly cure himself of his physical transformation after taking some of the wall crawler's blood and a dose of lightening. (Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #38) His blood lust remained however and he eventually regressed back to his Living Vampire status.

Sickened by the harm that he has caused others, Michael left the planet with a device that took him to a lifeless world. He was eventually forced to return by the Empathoid, a creature that fed on emotion. (Spectacular Spider-Man #7 & #8)

Accepting the fact that he would forever be a vampire, Morbius decided to use his curse to do some small amount of good, becoming a vigilante. He joined with other anti heroes such as the Ghost Rider, Werewolf by Night and Moon Knight to fight supernatural forces. He also teamed with Spider-Man to take on Carnage and his gang of mass murderers during the Maximum Carnage riot in Manhattan.

His relationship with Spider-Man is still an uneasy one at best. Michael joined the research facility known as Horizon Labs as a secret member, always locked away in his lab room. His scientific expertise helped to find a cure for the infestation caused by the Jackal and the Queen during the Spider-Island event. (Amazing Spider-Man #671) However, he lost the respect he gained after he attacked a fellow scientist in one of his fits of blood lust. He was eventually beaten and sent back to prison by Spider-Man. (Amazing Spider-Man #691)

Medical Condition: Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria

Little about Micheal's original blood disease is known and it was never given a proper name. There were several clues, however. The illness featured the death of blood cells, was chronic, an uncommon disease and left Morbius physically weak.

It is possible that the blood disease that he suffered from was Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH), a rare illness that affects between 1 and 5 million people worldwide. The disease can occur at any age but most often is diagnosed in early adulthood. Those that suffer from PNH tend to have sudden episodes brought on by stress, illness and physical exertion. The red blood cells die during these episodes. The death of the red blood cells leads to weakness, fatigue, pale skin, increased heart rate and shortness of breath. Thrombosis (blood clots) can occur if these dead blood cells accumulate.

PNH is caused by mutations in the PIGA gene. It usually occurs with no family history of the disease.

Unique medical Condition: Feeding on Human Blood

The scientific term for "drinking blood" is Hematophagy and is usually applied to animals that consume blood for nourishment.

While psychiatric cases featuring human consumption of another human being's blood are extremely rare, it has been given a (tongue in cheek) name of "Renfield's Syndrome." Clinical vampirism is a more serious name for a disease that features blood used in eroticism.

Research into Dr. Morbius's condition has been limited and frustrating. The few researchers that have tried to work on a cure tend to end up dead. It is the tentative opinion of this researcher that the blood of Morbius's victims replaces the dying blood cells caused by the PNH.

Psychopathology: Posttraumatic stress disorder

On board the ship where his fateful experiment took place, Morbius suffered a triple shock: his physical change, his unintended murder of his best friend and his compulsion to murder his girlfriend. These traumatic events caused him to attempt suicide, throwing himself overboard to drown. Even though he survived the failed suicide and made it to dry land, his torment continued. While sleeping after escaping the Lizard and Spider-Man, he had a nightmare about his transformation. Before drifting off, he hoped to have a dreamless rest, to avoid the repeating nightmare he had been experiencing. The dream started immediately after he fell asleep. (Amazing Spider-Man #102)

Dreams that stem from PTSD often feature the same elements of the trauma that triggered the disorder. For example, the survivor of a robbery may have dreams about being robbed or about the thief. There is a difference between dreams after a "normal" trauma and PTSD dreams. Half of the time, dreams after a "normal" are exact replays of the event. PTSD dreams are more likely to be exact replays of the traumatic event. Also, dreams after a trauma tend to happen sooner after falling asleep. In Morbius's case, his nightmare happened as soon as he fell asleep.

Suicidal Ideation and Depression

Micheal has shown himself to be suicidal several times over the course of years. He first attempted to take his life immediately after the transformation, which failed. The second attempt took place when he tried to leave Earth to live out his life alone. This was more than a metaphorical suicide (being dead to the world) but he faced a real possibility of dying alone on a distant planet. Third, after contacting a hematologist named Dr. Janson, he swore to end his life if her cure failed. (Peter Parker: Spider-Man #78)

Suicidal ideation is a medical term for thoughts about or an unusual preoccupation with suicide. Thoughts of suicide can be reflected by changes in activities and actions, such as talking about death and dying. Those with suicidal thoughts may feel trapped or hopeless about a situation, or begin taking drugs or alcohol.

Conclusion

While the major concern for Dr. Morbius's health (and the health of the people around him) is obviously the vampirism, there are underlying psychological issues that need to be addressed. His behavior is erratic and unpredictable, making him a danger to others. It is difficult to say to what extent his violent behavior is caused by his need for blood and how much is by his PTSD, but the emotional stress he has suffered is likely a factor. His depression is an aggravating factor to the PTSD, as is his lack of a social support group. Physical containment and psychotherapy are essential to reduce Michael Morbius's symptoms, making finding a cure for his vampirism a safer and more likely endeavor.

Diagnosis

  • Axis I: Post traumatic stress disorder; Bereavement; Depression.
  • Axis II: No diagnosis.
  • Axis III: Unique medical condition: Vampirism caused by experiments with vampire bats; Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria.
  • Axis IV: Dangerous living conditions.
  • Axis V: 50--Serious symptoms. Suicidal ideation, frequent bouts of violence, unable to keep a job.