How Marvel Comics Fooled Comic Book Censors Into Turning Vampires Into Dinosaurs

The post-credits scene from Venom: Let There Be Carnage opens up some exciting possibilities for the future of the adjacent Sony Pictures Budding Spider-Man film universe, which then expands with Morbius from January 28, 2022, based on the infamous Marvel vampire.

The previously released trailer for the film shows strong horror film elements involved in the transformation of scientist Michael Morbius into a so-called “Living Vampire” – as well as possible connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which may or may not be. not exist in the same continuity as the Sony films at this point.

image of Sauron

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

While he’s more of a cult favorite than a household name, Morbius the Living Vampire holds a special place in Marvel history.

Although Marvel Comics featured vampire characters in its early days under the name Timely Comics and its subsequent Atlas Comics era, the 1954 implementation of the Comics Code Authority banned the depiction of the living dead in comics, including zombies and vampires.

Morbius is the first character to be presented directly as a vampire in the Marvel Universe 17 years after the implementation of the CCA (hence Morbius’ warning to be a “living” vampire). But Morbius isn’t Marvel’s first attempt to sidestep the censorship rules of the day.

In fact, Marvel’s first big bad vampire was technically not a vampire at all, but a dinosaur.

How and why did Marvel decide that a hybrid dinosaur-human monster was the right choice to represent a non-vampiric vampire? And why is a vampire dinosaur so awesome?

We can answer the first question – but it should already be obvious.

So don your Alan Grant-style hat and khaki Ellie Sattler shorts and get ready to play paleontologist as we dig into the bones of Marvel’s vampire dinosaur, Sauron, and the circumstances that led to its creation.

Vampiresaurus rex

image of Sauron

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Right off the bat (you get it?), You might be wondering why Marvel couldn’t just use a vampire in their comics, especially if they already had.

In the 1950s, mainstream comics underwent a period of scrutiny in which popular psychologists began to analyze and blame comics for a perceived increase in societal evils and immorality ( at least according to the ideals of the time). Similar to what modern fans have seen with alarmism about violent video games or certain genres of music, comics have started to be blamed for changing cultural attitudes.

The result was the 1954 implementation of the Comics Code Authority, a governing body similar to the rating committee of the Motion Picture Association of America, which analyzed and censored comics of all genres, and ultimately gave its seal of approval to those who adhered to its strict content. standards.

CCA regulations included a ban on portraying explicit violence, sexuality, and drug use in comics, but the limits didn’t end there. Along with these controversial topics, the CCA went so far as to ban the portrayal of many fantasy and sci-fi elements it deemed inappropriate, including a direct ban on portraying common horror monsters such as vampires. and werewolves.

Maybe they thought kids would go from tying napkins around their necks playing Superman to literally drinking blood and screaming under a full moon? Some of the real moral panic-provoked claims about comics aren’t far removed from these fantastic fears.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

But in the late ’60s, Marvel Comics – still the innovators – found a way to dig into some of these forbidden ideas without losing the security of the CCA stamp that code-approved comics wore on their covers for decades: they would use. dinosaurs.

When writer Roy Thomas and artist Neal Adams took over the title Uncanny X-Men in the late ’60s, Thomas set out to rearrange the team’s adventures and add new antagonists so that the X- Men are fighting. Drawing inspiration from his interest in vampires, Thomas introduced the concept of Karl Lykos, aka Sauron – a villain with the vampiric power to drain his victims’ life force to sustain himself (pay no attention to CCA, no consumption blood here!).

But despite efforts to separate the concept of a vampire from aspects of vampire mythology that were then in violation of the Comic Book Code, Adams’ mutated bat-like design for the character was deemed too close to a real vampire for CCA comfort, requiring design changes to make Sauron acceptable.

Thomas and Adams took their bat creature’s main feature – its massive, leathery wings – and tweaked the rest of the design to resemble a pteranodon, a crested winged dinosaur from the large pterosaur family of reptiles (for the paleontologists among us, we will take this moment to recognize that pterosaurs are not technically dinosaurs, despite their cultural associations).

Removing the design from a bat-inspired direction also allowed Thomas and Adams to give Sauron even more vampire powers, establishing that the villain transforms into his dinosaur form after absorbing life force and adding a hypnotic gaze at his arsenal.

And with that, Thomas and Adams had found a way to play the Comics Code Authority guidelines against the horror characters – by going in a totally unexpected direction and turning their bat monster into a dastardly dinosaur (we know, we know – pterosaur).

Sauron (whose name is taken from The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – Sauron himself even says so on the page) made his debut in the 1969s Uncanny X-Men # 60, becoming a recurring villain for the X-Men with appearances in cartoons and video games, and even a place of honor as one of the first characters to be released in the beloved line of action figures Toy Biz X-Men from the 90s.

Oddly enough, Adams and Thomas’ vampire-centric storytelling wouldn’t stop there, even after the creative team split, with Adams leaving Marvel entirely to work in DC.

Blood relationship

bat man image

(Image credit: DC)

By 1970, just a year after co-creating Sauron, Adams had become massively popular as the artist in several of DC’s Batman titles. In the landmark Detective Comics # 400, Adams, writer Frank Robbins and publisher Julius Schwarz introduced Man-Bat, the alter ego of scientist Kirk Langstrom, who becomes a giant humanoid bat when he takes a special serum of his own making.

It’s probably not a coincidence that soon after his hybrid man-bat design was rejected at Marvel, Neal Adams introduced a similar character to DC – note that Kirk Langstrom and Karl Lykos even have the same initials. . And while he apparently got around the comic book code authorities’ rules against portraying vampires (and, in a way, werewolves, too), Man-Bat has made it to the page.

Man-Bat’s introduction to the DC Universe was indicative of upcoming changes to the CCA’s rules regarding horror characters – changes that brought Roy Thomas back to the vampire spirit when he took over the game. writing of Amazing Spider-Man for longtime writer (and co-creator) Stan Lee.

Lee’s departure from the title once again took Peter Parker in a crazy scientific direction, with Lee’s final plotline for Amazing Spider-Man # 100 involving Peter taking a special serum meant to remove his spider powers and allow him to live a normal life.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

But instead of the desired effects, Peter somehow becomes even more spider-like, squeezing four more arms out of his torso – undergoing his own spider transformation thanks to a special serum. Is it the Man-Bat influence returning to Marvel? It’s hard to say – but years later, Spider-Man: The Animated Series adapted the story even further with Peter’s serum turning him into a full Spider-Man (yes, name included).

On behalf of Thomas, he and artist Gil Kane picked up the story in Amazing Spider-Man # 101 asking Peter Parker to visit geneticist Dr Michael Morbius, whose research into his own rare blood disease has turned him into a vampire-like creature that feeds on this pseudo-scientific ‘life force’ tote rather than blood. And in this way, Morbius the Living Vampire, as he was quickly called, followed Thomas’ initial idea of ​​a vampire-like character whose powers come from science rather than the mysticism that first been adapted to Sauron.

Shortly after the introduction of Morbius, Marvel Comics leaned into horror again, thanks to the continued relaxation of CCA restrictions on horror characters, introducing their own version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula whose title, House of Dracula, derivative characters such as Blade, Night Werewolf, and more.

And, at one appropriate point, Dracula even fought the X-Men in a fan favorite story (appropriately titled X-Men versus. Dracula), in which he temporarily transformed Storm into a vampire.

And as for Roy Thomas, he retained his penchant for horror in superhero comics by turning J. Jonah Jameson’s son John Jameson into the Man-Wolf – another version of a movie monster. classic horror with a twist.

Marvel’s Dracula remains a presence in the Marvel Universe, with the Vampire Lord having recently argued with X-Force and the Avengers in separate stories. And of course, Morbius is set to get his own Sony movie – with Blade the Vampire Hunter coming to the MCU in a reboot movie, and Werewolf By Night spinoff character Moon Knight getting his own MCU show. And there are even reports that a version of Werewolf By Night is coming to the MCU in a 2022 Disney Plus Halloween special.

And to think of it, Marvel’s horror legacy all started with vampire dinosaurs.

Do you like the intersection of comics and horror? Check best horror comics of all time as we head into a scary season.

Lisa M. Horner