Fear (#21 – 25) – Steve Gerber, Doug Moench

3 out of 5

Hi everyone – Steve Gerber fan here, and willful defender of much of Steve’s randomness in his comic book runs. Having done my tours through a good, hefty chunk of his work, I feel prepared to sift through some of his halfer-baked ideas to figure out what he might’ve been going for, knowing that the writer – as he openly plotted as he went along – may not have known himself much of the time.

But with his scattering of Morbius issues, at the tail end of his Fear run, I have no idea what he was after. Every time I revisit these books, the first couple of issues set me up to think that, this time, it’s going to see more linear, and I’ll find the connecting thread on which Steve was pulling… only for unease to set in on the third issue, when things start to make less and less sense. There are telltale signs that things are awry, besides the story’s inherent awryness: the entire creative team, writer aside, shifts on almost every issue, with artist P. Craig Russell remaining for a hot flash of two issues before being juggled out as other artists / inkers / colorists before and after him had been – I mean, even the goddamned letterer, generally a bit more of a mainstay in the Silver Age Marvel circus of creators, changes four times – the letters page, once transitioned to Morbius, has responders constantly trying to remind / tell letter-writers about what kind of character Morbius is (i.e. “He’s both science and supernatural!”), suggesting they were encouraging themselves, as well; and Steve starts doing full page walls of text to recap the plot in every single book. Setting aside that this only highlights how little the story makes sense, I don’t think this was necessarily a required practice, even in a bi-monthly book, and thus comes across as a kind of struggle from editorial to make sure we’re all nodding at one another and accepting what’s going on.

What… is going on? At a very high level, I think it was Steve inheriting a plotline from Mike Friedrich that bored him – Morbius is mind-controlled by a sorcerer to do some blood-sucking – and then while his monthly books were heating up, he’d return to the every-60-days Fear and spend whatever remaining brain cells he had left, trying to shape it into something that worked more with his social commentating style. Transporting Morbius to a world-within that’s ruled by cat people, who want to task Morby as their own personal dealer of justice seems very Gerber-y (and also maybe some vague poke at cats), which is where I start to get on board with these issues… but then he starts contradicting himself left and right, with Morbius escaping from the “inescapable” world-within by, like, jumping in a river (letters column suggests: this works because cats hate water), then showing up in some other other world-within that’s ruled by a mutant eyeball which wants Morbius to kill him because he’s so smart he has no will to live, and then Morbius takes a, uh, rocketship to Earth and fights Blade (vampires!) and then there are these other, secret rulers of our planet who Morbius has beef with as well…

I don’t like to claim entertainment value just because something is a mess, but that’s very much the case here. There are surely Steve ideas poking out of this thing at all angles, however, it seems like he couldn’t settle on the way to break his story and so practically kept rewriting it, then dropping walls of text to explain how we got from A to X, and then, hilariously, just as he was dropped in the shit mid-story, he’s out before he can complete his tale, leaving the next writer to pick up the pieces as he goes plot only in issue #25 to Doug Moench’s scripts. (To his credit, Moench’s summary page of Gerber’s preceding mess actually shapes up the themes pretty well!)