This is the first issue of Marvel Team-Up to directly reference and build on events that occurred in another Spidey title, in this case Amazing Spider-Man 100-102 (Sep-Nov, 1971). In an attempt to become normal, so he could live a normal life with Gwen, Peter dosed himself with a serum designed to remove his spider-powers forever. What happened instead was that Peter became even more spidery, growing himself four extra arms. He ended up having to go into hiding while he solved this little problem with the aid of Dr. Curt Connors (aka the Lizard). The cure they eventually arrived at was one incorporating an enzyme contained in the blood of Morbius, the Living Vampire, and the battle to obtain it ended with Morbius falling into the Hudson River.
Anyone interested in the full story can check out the original issues, which are reprinted in The Essential Spider-Man Volume 5, or read the great summaries by our own Al Sjoerdsma over in the Amazing Spider-Man section of this page.
Our Story opens in a flashback, what looks to be immediately after the events described above with Spidey swinging away from the scene of the battle. Under a footbridge along the Harlem River Drive two brothers, African-Americans named Jacob and Jefferson Bolt, are bitterly arguing. I mention their ethnicity because this dialogue gives us our first "cultural time capsule" of the issue. Jacob, whom we learn is attending college, is being chastised by Jefferson for being a "college boy" and "wanting to shine Mr. White Man's shoes". Although there is certainly racial tension in the world today, the whole tone of this conversation positively screams out "1972". For his part Jacob thinks Jefferson is wasting his life hanging around with a bad element, though Jefferson insists that "Tacker and the others are right dudes". Jefferson finally hauls off and punches his brother, and the pair part angrily. What they failed to notice was the pale hand breaking the surface of the river behind them.
As he turns to leave Jefferson does finally notice, and he leaps in to save what he assumes to be a drowning man. Dragging the ghostly pale and barely breathing Morbius to shore, Jefferson assumes him to be dead, but is proven wrong when Morbius springs to life and drains the blood from him. This concludes our flashback.
Cutting to the present time (about a month later, in comic book time) we join Spidey as he swings above the streets of Manhattan. Out of the blue, he's overcome by a spell of dizziness and falls from his webline. Only by trusting his spider-sense and reaching out to grab a ledge is he saved from becoming sidewalk pizza. Convinced he just has the flu, Spidey is determined to shake it off and be on his way, but he instead passes out on the roof.
The scene then shifts to the world-famous Baxter Building, and our second Cultural Time Capsule. Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm are arguing over what to watch on TV, and clearly illustrated on the screen behind them is Archie Bunker of the then-popular TV show "All in the Family". Johnny leaves in a huff, being "sick and tired of arguing with an Archie Bunker addict" like Ben, and flies out the window. Now, for myself I find it hard to believe that the FF can have a Fantasticar, a Pogoplane and a gateway to the Negative Zone, but they only have one TV...but it's a cute moment anyway. Alas, Ben won't be able to watch his show after all, for as soon as the Torch flies off, there's a woman buzzing to be admitted to the building. Ben lets her in, and she faints right away. Gender roles still being pretty cut and dried at this time, convention demands that Sue Richards attend to our guest, and she shoos Ben and Reed out of the room.
The woman's name is Martine (no last name that I can find) and she is the fiancée of Dr. Michael Morbius. She relates Morbius' origin in brief (for the full story see the Morbius entry in our villains section or check out the ASM 101 recap) and she's come to Reed for help because she found correspondence between him and Morbius in his papers. She also found letters between Morbius and Dr. Hans Jorgenson, who teaches at Empire State University in Queens (of course you all know that's where Peter and the gang matriculate, right?).
Upon hearing Jorgenson's name, the Human Torch makes a quick exit to fly to ESU and check on Jorgenson. He remembers Spidey relating the story of his extra arms, and is acting on a hunch that Morbius will head there. Now, if it was me, I would have shared this info with my teammates, rather than fly off alone. I suppose that's why the book is called Marvel Team-Up rather then Marvel Gang-Up.
Another scene shift, this time to an abandoned warehouse and we see Morbius chatting with the now vampiric Jefferson Bolt. One day the city will realize how many super villain hideouts there are in abandoned warehouses and bulldoze them all, but I digress. This scene is also interesting because we see that Morbius, like his supernatural counterparts, is able to convert a normal human into a vampire with his bite. Morbius has spent the weeks between the opening flashback and tonight recuperating, helped by Jefferson. The difference between the two vampires is that Morbius is still sickened and repulsed by what he's become and wants to be cured. Jefferson is thrilled by the new power and feels superior to the humans they feed on. As Morbius takes wing towards ESU to find Jorgenson, Jefferson makes plans to follow him, for less benevolent reasons.
Over at the ESU campus we see a conscious but very wobbly Spider-Man landing in an alley to change back into Peter Parker. Still feeling sick and feverish, he's determined to make it to class--that is, until he sees the Human Torch blazing towards the science building. He ducks back to the alley to put the red & blues back on and see what's up.
In that science building the very popular Dr. Hans Jorgenson is teaching a class on hematology, when the Torch comes flying through the window insisting on a discussion with the good doctor. It does nothing to diminish the disruption to Dr. Jorgenson's class when Spidey pops in the window and confronts them both. To his credit, and in a welcome display of realism, Dr. Jorgenson points out that having super powers doesn't give them the right to barge in and interrupt his class. He has our heroes wait in his office, and promises to talk all they want as soon as he's finished. Over a cup of tea the three compare notes, and Spidey breaks the news to Jorgenson that his colleague Morbius is in fact dead (while we know better, this is true as far as Spidey knows)
Proving Spidey wrong, Morbius lands on campus at that very moment, right behind a very unfortunate wino. The hunger being upon him, Morbius attacks the poor sod, whose screams echo throughout the campus and attract the attention of Spidey and the Torch. They sail out the window, leaving a disconcerted Dr. Jorgenson to wonder what the heck is going on.
Our heroes aren't the only ones attracted by the wino's screams. Jacob Bolt happens to be on campus at the time, and he also heads towards the commotion. Spidey arrives on the scene too late to save the wino, but he is able to blindside Morbius, knocking him aside and sitting on top of him. Outraged by the murder and with his brain clouded by fever, he starts to lay a severe beating on Morbius and is actually close to killing him before the Torch intervenes and pulls him off. Morbius recovers quickly and takes advantage of the distraction by heaving a garbage can at the heroes, knocking them aside.
The Torch recovers quickly and uses his flame to make a bright flare just in front of Morbius, which holds him at bay. Spidey tries to use his webbing to end the fight, but he can't shoot straight as the fever is really taking a toll on him. Finally, with his last ounce of strength, Spidey simply tackles Morbius and it looks like he'll be able to finally subdue him.
At least, it looks that way until Jacob Bolt, thinking he's doing the right thing, grabs Spidey and yanks him off Morbius. Morbius shows his gratitude by kicking Spidey in the head, just as the vampire Jefferson Bolt shows up. Still looking human at first glance, it's easy for Jefferson to stir up the crowd to "help" his brother Jacob, and they begin to pelt the Torch with garbage. Jefferson uses the confusion to pounce on Spidey and try beating him to death. Jacob, surprised at seeing his brother after his long disappearance, moves to intervene but is jumped from behind and bitten by Morbius.
Hearing his brother's pained cry, Jefferson turns and attacks Morbius. With barely an effort, Morbius lashes out and breaks his neck with a left chop, killing him. This attack, plus the sight of Morbius flying away, brings the crowd to their senses and they lay off the Torch. With Morbius escaped, we close the issue with Jacob mourning his dead brother and wondering where he went wrong. The blurb for next issue promises that this story is "to be continued!"
Thoughts on this issue : The first thing that hits me about this issue is the violence. Although it can't begin to compare to the content of a current issue of the Punisher (as I write this in late 2002), there are two on-page murders. That's a pretty big body count for 1972, especially when you toss in the implied murders that took place during Morbius' recuperation and Spidey beating Morbius half to death.
Elsewhere in Spidey's World: In the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #110, the Gibbon is being introduced as "Marvel's Newest Super-Star". Personally, I consider that description to be extremely generous.
And meanwhile, in the real world: On August 11 the last US ground forces are withdrawn from Viet Nam, even as B-52 bombers are making their largest strike of the war.
This is an average issue, and though I think three issues in a row is a little bit much to team up with the Torch I like the fact that Conway tied his story in with events in the main Spider-Man title. Three webs for this one.