Superhero Academy 101: Vampirism—Science, Magic, and Psychology

Updated on March 21, 2020
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Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.

From the cover of Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1 -  Spider-man versus Morbius, the Living Vampire and the Man-Wolf
From the cover of Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1 - Spider-man versus Morbius, the Living Vampire and the Man-Wolf

Today’s lesson is about vampires in the Marvel Universe.

There are a few types ranging from the traditional blood-sucking ones as well as the energy vampires that essentially live off a victim’s life force without all the bloody mess. We’re going to concentrate on two types: Supernatural Vampires and Science-born.

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to define “vampire” as a person or thing that requires life or energy from a healthy being and feeds on them to survive like an advanced parasite.

Let us begin with why we all fear things like vampires. Certainly, there are plenty of reasons to run and hide at even the sight of one of these bloodsuckers. The fact that most of them can break a human being like a twig or outrun even the fastest human is cause for alarm.

The real reason why we fear vampires is that they want what we have—life energy. With vampires, it’s in the form of blood.

The cover of Giant-Size Spider-man and Dracula
The cover of Giant-Size Spider-man and Dracula

In this definition, we can include vampires, succubi, incubi, and humans that feed off of life energy—such as some mutants or mutates. All of these things feed off of us mere mortals like peel and eat shrimp at an “all you can eat” buffet. The end result is that energy eater is strengthened while the mortal (or better put “food”) is weakened, drained, or killed.

As knowledge is power for those of us who are most likely to be considered prey, the more you know, the better you’ll be at not being a hot lunch.

The Marvel Universe has much to say about these creatures, and there are many characters who fit the bill for vampirism.

The Origin of Vampires in the Marvel Universe

The history of vampires goes all the way back 15,000 years ago to pre-cataclysmic Atlantis. Evil sorcerers playing around with the Darkhold (the definitive source of black magic within the Marvel Universe—equivalent to HP Lovecraft’s Necronomicon) were trying to return victims from the dead and stumbled upon a spell within it that would do the job.

Unfortunately, that spell, as any moron who knew what chaos could be unleashed while working with arcane knowledge scribed by the demon, Chthon, went completely awry. The vampires they produced were more powerful than the sorcerers that cast the spell. This is similar to the great Yosemite Sam strategy of “Those Endearing Young Charms” played on the exploding piano. Oh sure, it sounded like a good idea on paper, but that dumb bunny kept screwing up the song.

Ka-boom.

The vampires easily overpowered the magicians and slew them. As fate would have it, they abandoned Atlantis before the Celestials decided to sink it. Ironically, the first vampire lord was one of the sorcerers, Varnae. Varnae ruled over all of Earth’s vampires until, in 1459, he ceded his power to Dracula and then committed suicide by going out into the sun.

The Darkhold - Marvel's version of HP Lovecraft's Necronomicon. Just holding it is dangerous.
The Darkhold - Marvel's version of HP Lovecraft's Necronomicon. Just holding it is dangerous.

Vlad Dracula (aka “Vlad the Impaler”) fell victim to the Turkish warlord Turac, who fatally wounded him and took him to a gypsy, Lianda. Lianda was a vampire and turned Dracula into one.

Varnae’s original successor, Nimrod, attempted to slay Dracula for the right to rule all vampires. Nimrod planned to slay Dracula (who had gotten a fresh infusion of blood from Varnae personally). When they dueled it out with wooden stakes, it was Dracula who emerged victoriously.

He has ruled over all vampires ever since.

Supernatural Vampires

Here is what a traditional vampire is—an undead immortal quasi-mystical energy eater that has died and has been resurrected by supernatural means with many meta-abilities and limitations. While many people scoff at the image of a modern-day Bela Lugosi-like character complete with cape and Transylvanian accent, let me assure you that the “blah, blah, blah” is only the beginning of it getting to your “blood, blood, blood.”

I apologize if I’m creating a gory image. The image of a feasting vampire for people who have seen vampires on the silver screen, as well as those who have watched older vampire movies from the sixties, seventies, and the eighties, is a well-dressed foreign nobleman sucking a scantily clad Victorian themed woman leaving two neatly-made puncture wounds on her neck. The reality is that the vampire is more likely to sink his fangs into a jugular vein and feed with the free abandon of a dieting chocolate lover attached to a firehose full of high-pressured melted Godiva premium mix into their mouth while tearing out a huge chunk of neck meat.

The Marvel Universe has opted for the more traditional comic code approved version of the former rather than the latter. That said, we should talk about a vampire’s diet.

Blood.

Captain America in the clutches of the Nazi-Vampire, Baron Blood
Captain America in the clutches of the Nazi-Vampire, Baron Blood

A Marvel Universe vampire requires a quart of blood once every two days or every other day. This has to do with the chemical make-up of the stuff that flows through its veins. A vampire does not have blood; rather, it has a greenish liquid ichor that is a substitute for all of the things blood does. This ichor also has a unique enzyme that acts like a virus to vampire victims. The enzyme is chiefly found in the vampire’s saliva. Should the vampire drain enough blood to kill the victim, the enzyme will bring about a complete metabolic change within three days of the victim’s death as ichor replaces the blood. This causes a pseudo-resurrection as the victim becomes a new vampire.

The ichor within a vampire’s body requires fresh blood infusions to replace the ichor—hence the vampire’s need to feed.

There is little hope of escaping a hungry vampire
There is little hope of escaping a hungry vampire

Should the unfortunate victim survive a vampire attack and not die, they will be susceptible to a range of vulnerabilities such as near-relentless psychic attacks (from the attacking vampire), hypnotic vulnerability and subservience to that vampire, as well as an erotic attraction to that vampire. All of these side effects are from the building ichor within the victim’s blood.

While it is true that a vampire needs blood every other day, such bloodlust can be curbed by a sufficiently strong-willed vampire for up to a week. However, should a vampire go that long without feeding, the bloodlust will be unbearable, and the vampire will succumb to a near-feral state and feed on the first available food source—human or otherwise.

The alternatives to live human blood can be substituted by blood bank donations as well as animal blood—although most vampires will only drain the blood of an animal in an emergency measure as they find the taste too bitter.

Vampire Strengths and Abilities

Vampires would love to think of themselves as a zombie’s sexy cousin. This is because utter mindlessness and rotting body parts don’t play well in the art of seduction. Vampires have many advantages. First of all, they can pass themselves off as still being alive. For the most part, depending on a new vampire's strength of will, he or she may retain most (if not all) of their personality. A particular weak-willed individual might find themselves constantly asking old friends for their blood with such dialogue as, “Have you shaved today? How about now?” or “Your knives look pretty dirty—how about handwashing them?”

Stronger vampires stick to topics like the weather.

Speaking of strength, vampires are incredibly strong. Even the weakest vampire would give a decathlon winner a run for his money. Vampires have great strength and speed that no human could possibly compete with. Such physical attributes make them superior hunters. A vampire intent on trapping an average victim will most likely succeed in getting them.

The strongest vampire in the Marvel Universe is Dracula, Lord of the Vampires. He can lift just over one ton.

Vampires are strong and it's hard to break their grip
Vampires are strong and it's hard to break their grip

In addition to a vampire’s physical abilities, they have the natural ability to transmogrify themselves into bats or wolves while retaining human intelligence. In addition to this, they can also control their “children of the night” with mental commands. Sufficiently practiced vampires have been known to transform all or part of their bodies into mist. While they are in this state, they are immune to most conventional physical weapons such as wooden stakes or silver talisman.

A vampire has a supernatural talent of hypnosis. Practiced vampires like Dracula can hypnotize a victim provided he can catch their gaze for at least three seconds—unless the victim possesses a significant strength of will to resist such attempts. Once under a vampire’s control, it is difficult for a victim to break such control.

Some especially powerful vampires (like Dracula) can summon thunderstorms and control the weather. They can summon storms and fog (to block direct sunlight). While this is an ability, even strong vampires seldom use it as it leaves them especially drained and weakened.

As mentioned before, a vampire has great control over any of his surviving victims. Not only do they become their slaves, but a vampire can mentally manipulate their victims over great distances.

A vampire cannot control the will of another vampire.

Weaknesses and Limitations

It is refreshing to know that such alpha predators like vampires have such an insane number of weaknesses and limitations.

Their biggest weakness is the sun. Sunlight will cause an immediate and violent metabolic reaction to ichor in the vampire’s system. Simply put, sunlight will burn a vampire until he is ash. That being the case, vampires must keep themselves out of the sun during the daylight hours.

But it’s not that simple.

In addition to staying out of the sun, they must sleep in a box lined with at least one pound of their native soil. This is not a biological requirement rather it is a supernatural one. A vampire cannot travel more than a hundred miles away from the place of his birth unless they take some of their natural soil with them. Without this soil, the vampire cannot rest safely from the sun. When they can sleep within a coffin, they are in a coma-like state until nightfall.

There is no better rest than getting back to your box of dirt.
There is no better rest than getting back to your box of dirt.

For some reason, vampires have an incredible aversion to garlic. This is probably why there are so few Italian vampires or why none hunt in Italy. A vampire will not only be repulsed by just one clove of garlic around a potential victim’s neck but will not be able to shape change within twenty feet of it.

Hermits and shut-ins have nothing to fear from vampires. Why? Vampires must be invited into a home in order to enter it. They must have a personal invitation, or they won’t come in. Once invited, they can come and go as they please.

Vampires also have this thing about crossing a running river or running water. It has been theorized that much like holy water (which vampires also hate), the constantly running water of a river makes it pure and “naturally” holy. Another theory is that it is much like crossing the river Styx into the land of the dead. Regardless of the origin, it has worked even when the stream of water had come from a faucet and crossed a floor. The vampire hunter, Blade, kept Dracula from crossing it as a natural boundary.

A thing that will make a vampire look like twelve miles of bad road is lack of fresh blood. While it is true that a vampire requires fresh blood to keep his bloodlust at bay, it is also true that a vampire will continue to exist even if he doesn’t get blood for a prolonged period of time. A vampire will be mad with the desire to feed—a side effect of this is that in many cases, they’ll start to show signs of aging. Their hair may go from black to grey. This condition will almost immediately go away upon a new injection of fresh blood.

Until they get a fresh drink of blood, Vampires can age.
Until they get a fresh drink of blood, Vampires can age.

Another weakness, which seems to be supernaturally linked to vampirism, is an aversion to some religious talisman such as crosses and the Star of David. Some have theorized that crucifixes which represent the resurrection repel vampire as a natural form of blasphemy. Ironically, it is not the size of the cross but the faith of the person wielding it. A devout holy-man wielding a small silver cross can sear the flesh of a vampire should it contact his skin.

Speaking about silver, vampires don’t like that either. It will hurt them badly. In addition to this, vampires do not cast reflections within a mirror. There are two theories on this. The first theory is that due to the silver in mirrors, their images won’t appear. The other theory has to do with the corruption of their soul to not only cast an image within a mirror but also not to show up in film. Both theories have some credence, and in some accounts, a vampire’s image has been caught on digital cameras.

To some degree, wood will also injure a vampire—especially wood to its heart.

As with almost all vampire mythology, a wooden stake to the heart will kill a vampire instantly—but not permanently. Should a vampire be slain with either a silver blade or a wooden stake to the heart, he will die. HOWEVER, should the wooden stake be removed from the vampire’s heart, no matter the length of time since the slaying, a vampire will return to “life.”

Wooden bullets can really hurt a vampire
Wooden bullets can really hurt a vampire

Incidentally, vampires cannot procreate through mating. They can create new vampires by biting new victims, but they can’t create baby vampires the “traditional” way.

Another way to slay a vampire is through decapitation. I must also mention that a stake to the heart or decapitation will pretty much kill anyone or anything.

With all of this in mind, the surest way to kill a vampire is to stake it in the heart with a wooden stake or silver blade, decapitate it, stuff the head and body with garlic, burn both in two separate pyres in the sun and then scatter the ashes to the wind.

While I’m on the subject of killing vampires in the Marvel Universe, I should mention the existence of what was known as the Montesi formula—named after the monk who discovered it. The Montesi formula is a spell within the mystic book of the Darkhold. The spell could not be cast without the wielder forfeiting his soul in the process unless it was performed by a master magician like Doctor Strange. This spell seemed to destroy all vampires who had taken blood directly from human victims. Only the vampire private investigator, Hannibal King, who never fed from a human being directly survived the spell.

It was once thought to be the final word in the destruction of all vampires on earth. This was not the case.

The Montesi Formula, while quite effective at initially destroying vampires, was also quite temporary. Once the spell was broken, it rejuvenated all of the vampires it had destroyed.

No job is ever that certain.
No job is ever that certain.

Succubi and Incubi

Succubi (singular succubus) and Incubi (singular incubus) are counterparts to each other.

A succubus is a female demon that feeds off of the life energy of men foolish enough to sleep with them. They are vampires without all the gore. Succubi present themselves to unsuspecting sexual partners as beautiful young women and emit pheromones to attract them as well. Once they’re together, they will reveal themselves in their true form and feed.

Satana Hellstrom, a succubus
Satana Hellstrom, a succubus

An incubus is a male demon that lies with women as they dream. The incubus will appear to the sleeping woman and engage in sexual activity. Repeated encounters with incubi will result much like succubi and rob the victim of her life energy.

Both the incubi and succubi may appear as male or female to intended victims.

Succubi in the Marvel Universe are Lilith, Queen of the Succubi, and Satana, sister to Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan.

Psychic Vampires

Somewhere between science and sorcery is a special type of vampire called a “psychic vampire.” Outside of comic book reading fans, spiritualists and occultists, as well as believers of the supernatural, know psychic vampires to be a real thing. There you are sitting at your desk when a seemingly depressed co-worker visits you and unloads all of their mundane crap of daily living into your world. At the end of the experience, they feel great, and you feel noticeably drained and tired.

That’s what psychic vampires do. If you watch What We Do in the Shadows, Colin Robinson is an energy vampire who uses boredom and annoying tactics to feast on other people’s energy.

Marvel’s psychic vampires are much, much worse.

Much like succubi and incubi, the psychic vampire steals life energy quickly and cleanly without drinking blood. This breed of mutant and magician simply finds a way to lay their hands on you and suck those annoying bits of youth, vitality, and special powers out of your body and into their own.

Selene, the Black Queen, is really old and really mean
Selene, the Black Queen, is really old and really mean

The best example of a psychic vampire in the MU is Selene of the Hellfire Club—also known as The Black Queen.

Selene is over 17,000 years old and predates traditional vampires as she’s lived through the Hyborian age (back when Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja were fighting and looting things), she was still an old enemy of the sorcerer Kulan Gath (one of the most powerful sorcerers of that age). She is both a magician and a mutant. Her life energy stealing powers have allowed her to live in youth and vitality for thousands of years.

When properly fed and feeling strong, she has superhuman strength, speed, agility, durability, and stamina. Her other abilities (outside of sorcery) include telekinesis and the ability to animate inorganic matter. She is also a fair telepath—whether this is an attribute to her mutant powers or her magical ones is unknown. This can also be said about her ability to change her appearance to imitate others and to appear and disappear at will.

The take away with this is that heroes should be wary of strangers who just want to touch them.

Daywalkers

Daywalkers are a special class of vampires without actually being vampires. Their biggest talent is their ability to exist in direct sunlight. There are two prime examples of daywalkers in the Marvel Universe: Blade (the vampire hunter) and Lilith (Dracula’s daughter)

Blade (Eric Stokes Brooks) was born different.

He was born in a brothel (mom’s career was in the service industry). It was during his mother's labor that Deacon Frost (vampire posing as the doctor) bit his mother and transferred the enzymes that make people into vampires. Blade’s mom was killed.

Fortunately, he got a lot of the cool stuff that vampires have without really any of the downsides. As a part of his heritage, he’s immune to vampire bites, and he has a slow aging rate. He’s also immune to a vampire’s hypnotic powers.

Blade, unlike full-fledged vampires, can walk in the daylight and enjoy the sun. This makes him the perfect vampire hunter.

Blade - Name, weapon, and occupation
Blade - Name, weapon, and occupation

Blade’s natural enzymes reacted differently after being bit by Michael Morbius, the Living Vampire. He gained superhuman speed, strength, agility, stamina, and heightened senses—along with the ability to sense supernatural creatures.

Another daywalker is Dracula’s biological daughter Lilith. In what can be the worst case of parental neglect, Dracula (while still mortal) fathered Lilith through his first wife, Zofia. His marriage to Zofia was an arranged one by his father. When his father died, he “nullified” the marriage. Casting out his wife and newborn daughter from his castle, Dracula then married his true love, Maria.

Meanwhile, Zofia committed suicide, leaving Lilith to be raised by gypsies. Dracula managed to offend the gypsies, and one of them made Lilith a vampire. Only the vampire made Lilith with none of the conventional weaknesses that ordinary vampires had—no bloodlust, no need to use dirt to sleep in a coffin, and no vulnerability to holy symbols or sunlight. Her mission would be to haunt her father forever.

Lilith, Dracula's Daughter
Lilith, Dracula's Daughter

Morbius, the Living Vampire

Where most vampires in the Marvel Universe are products of magic and the lingering effects of the Darkhold, Doctor Michael Morbius is one born of science and disease.

Michael Morbius, one of the foremost experts in blood diseases, suffered from a rare blood condition. He was also cursed with photosensitivity (this is a real condition) where it would keep him out of direct sunlight. Morbius became what is known as a pseudo-vampire—where his condition would mimic many of the attributes of a traditional vampire with none of the vulnerabilities to religious symbols, garlic, and silver. This happened when he tried to cure his own blood condition with an infusion of vampire bat DNA and electroshock therapy.

The experiment backfired in a bad way.

The really bad news is that Morbius’s appearance (already freakishly ugly) became chalk white, and his eyes became blood red, along with extended canine fangs. Plus, much like the way a vampire has to replenish its blood supply to fight the ichor in its system, Morbius requires fresh infusions of blood to fight against his own natural blood decay. In addition to his bloodlust, Morbius produces an enzyme which occasionally will create other pseudo-vampires. The good news is that Morbius can cure them with an antitoxin he developed. Unless his victims turn into pseudo-vampires, it is more likely they will get sick or just die.

Michael Morbius, the Living Vampire
Michael Morbius, the Living Vampire

As Morbius’s condition is not magical, he cannot transform himself into a bat or wolf or mist. He can see very well in the dark and he can also locate things through echolocation (like a vampire bat). His other abilities include superhuman strength, speed, and a form of flight (through wind transvection). The infusion with bat DNA has also granted him the ability to control the minds of certain animals (much like vampires can).

Final Words

Whether they are magically born or scientifically born, vampires are just bad news.

As I mentioned before, the things that make them truly frightening are 1) their ability to suck that precious life energy out of you and 2) make whatever is left over a horrible parasitic mockery of your former self.

I’ve made this point more than once about vampires in other articles. There are too many young women who buy a vampire’s line of crap. You will hear these horrible immortal bloodsuckers lament about their eternal loneliness, and only these young nubile women who are barely into their twenties have that “unique soul” they’ve been searching for for thousands of years.

People who have actually read Bram Stoker’s Dracula know how Lucy Westerner was doomed to become one of Dracula’s “bloofer ladies.” These pathetic vampires who are so feral and wander the streets dressed in their funeral clothes feeding off of transients. The vampirism that hits those communities is akin to a viral epidemic of Nosferatu.

A "Bloofer Lady" - When Dracula forgets to finish the job
A "Bloofer Lady" - When Dracula forgets to finish the job

Those of us who are familiar with Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and with her protagonist, the vampire, Lestat, understand how heterosexuality and homosexuality are somewhat irrelevant as any kind of partnership with a vampire is defined by the taking and receiving of blood. It is blood taking that is the true addiction, and it is wanted rather than needed that makes the vampire a virtual addict. When you understand that, you understand that the motivation of bloodlust is more a sin of gluttony than one of desperation.

The vampires who ingeniously made their hunting ground Alaska in the graphic novel series, 30 Days of Night, found a great prolonged period of the paradise of darkness as their prey had to avoid these predators as well as their former friends who had been turned. Much like a war against zombies, human forces lose their number while their enemies’ number grows with each “fatality.” It is only through the sun’s return that it saves the survivors.

30 Days of Night is a nightmare for anyone who have visited Alaska
30 Days of Night is a nightmare for anyone who have visited Alaska

I’ve always been a fan of Kolchak the Nightstalker. He’s had more than one encounter with a vampire feeding on an unsuspecting population. Imagine being the only person who is smart enough and open-minded enough to suss out that there’s a vampire loose in Las Vegas, but also know the legitimate authorities won’t listen to you even when you have all the facts. The only solution is for him to destroy the vampire himself.

Terry Pratchett, in his book, Carpe Jugulum, as well as others in his Discworld series, found a way for his vampires to transcend many of the traditional weaknesses that most vampires are vulnerable to. Much like gradual desensitization to toxins that humans can grow immune to, vampires slowly acclimated to garlic and found ways to cross running rivers. The downside to all of that was when they had fed on Pratchett’s witch protagonist, Granny Weatherwax. Upon feeding on her once, they had an uncontrollable desire to have tea and biscuits.

Lifeforce theft can be a two-way street.

What we see with the vampires in the Marvel Universe is a return to the traditional supernatural. Vampires are monsters. There are definite rules when you face them. They can be trapped. They can be destroyed. However, if you’re on an equal playing field against them and you’re in their domain, you could be screwed.

Kolchak the Nightstalker
Kolchak the Nightstalker

At the same time, Marvel has made a character like Dracula into a fantastic anti-hero. Fans of Marvel’s Dracula can go back to his title, The Tomb of Dracula, and read how issue after issue our favorite Transylvanian bloodsucker avoids a new generation of vampire hunters armed with new devices specifically designed to destroy him and his kind.

Meanwhile, Roy Thomas and his team found science versions of these horrible monsters with Morbius, the Living Vampire, and characters like John Jameson (J. Jonah Jameson’s son), the Man-Wolf. Along with most of the themes that Thomas had created, he took old mythologies and tales and made science versions of them. Thomas had taken a character like the High Evolutionary and recreated the story of Genesis with the High Evolutionary’s creation of Counter-Earth and how he had sent Adam Warlock—his very own “space Jesus”—to save that world. The Man-Wolf’s story of the astronaut, John Jameson, and his trip to the moon to become the lupine Star God in an alternate dimension and his ultimate transformation into savagery due to interdimensional static with the phases of the moon is another myth to science transformation.

Dracula's new look
Dracula's new look

All of this had to come about after traditional monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Werewolf (by Night) squeaked through the rather stringent Comic Code Authority as well as the farce of Frederic Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, as characters of a classic bit of literature.

In the end, we have to thank not only Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, but also writers like Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley for their contribution to classic literature and their vision of what monsters were and what could be.

Vampires: Dracula or Morbius

Which do you like better in comic books: Dracula or Morbius

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    © 2020 Christopher Peruzzi

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