How Does Vampirism Work in the Marvel Universe?

Vampires have been part of folklore for thousands of years, and most major fantasy properties have incorporated some form of the vampire myth into their fictional universe. And Marvel Comics is no different. But their take on the undead is a varied and complex one. And just how vampirism works in the Marvel universe might surprise you. Iconic vampires like Dracula are part of that cosmology, but of course, so are unique creations like Morbius and Blade. but did you know that there was once a war between mutants and vampires? It all gets pretty wild. Here’s the bloody rundown on the vampire nation in the Marvel Universe.

Marvel’s Origin for the Undead
Darkhold acolytes create the first vampires in the Marvel Universe.
Marvel Comics

Just like in our real-world mythology, vampires are the reanimated dead corpses, infected with a need for blood and eternal life. And they tend to be highly allergic to sunlight (with some exceptions, like the previously mentioned Blade and Morbius.) But the Marvel versions of the undead have a fascinating origin, tied into ancient Atlantis, home of their antihero Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

Varnae, the first vampire in Marvel's mythology.
Marvel Comics

In 18, 500 B.C., ancient worshippers of the Elder God Chthon used his scrolls collected in the tome known as the Darkhold, to create a being that would oppose the Atlantean Kull the Conqueror. That being was Varnae, a mortal transformed using dark magic into a bloodthirsty and powerful immortal being. (Marvel’s writers named Varnae named after Lord Varney, a popular 19th-century vampire from British penny dreadfuls). Varnae survived the sinking of Atlantis, and passed on his blood to create a race of vampires. As the progenitor, Varnae considered himself king of the vampire race.

The Vampire Nation
The vampiric nation, led by Dracula, in the Marvel Comics universe.
Marvel Comics

After the sinking of Atlantis, Varnae spread his vampirism around the world. This resulted in different lines of vampires. All had the basic powers and weaknesses, but there were some differences. There were warrior sects, like the Klaw Sect. The Sirens were all women, who could lure victims with their voices alone. The hideous Nosferati, who looked like the cinematic Count Orlok, often fed on other vampires. Purebloods were born into vampirism. There’s even a vampire cow in the Marvel universe named Bessie, made quite unintentionally by Dracula. These days, she goes by “ Hellcow,” and hangs out with Deadpool.

Unlike modern popular vampire lore, in the Marvel world, a vampire creates another vampire by spreading an enzyme in their blood. When a vampire bites a human, they can control how much of said enzyme enters their system. Thus, they can decide whether a victim they bite simply dies, or becomes another vampire. It’s a more simple than other vampiric mythologies in pop culture, which require a victim to drink the attacking vampire’s blood to transform. But it is in keeping with traditional folklore from Eastern Europe.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Marvel’s Creatures of the Night
Dracula wakes up before being staked in his 1970s Marvel series.
Marvel Comics

Marvel vampire’s weaknesses are pretty standard with most folklore and general pop culture. They have super strength, and the power to exert their will over others. Usually via hypnosis. They could transform into bats (or bat-like creatures), and some could even transform into wolves. Control over nocturnal animals to do their bidding is yet another power. They can also turn into mist, while still retaining their consciousness. Many can fly without turning into bats as well.

And Marvel vampires also have all the same weaknesses that folkloric ones do. Sunlight is lethal to them, as are wooden stakes through the heart, and silver. They must sleep with their native soil present. Crosses and other holy relics can weaken them, but only if the user is a believer. The same holds true for holy water. Garlic also makes them weak, although it’s more of an annoyance than an actual hindrance. And Marvel vamps can’t see their reflections in mirrors, and can’t be filmed. They must be invited into a dwelling to enter, Almost all of these track with folklore, as well as Bram Stoker.

Dracula, Lord of the Vampires
Marvel's Lord of the Vampires, as he appeared in Tomb of Dracula in the 1970s.
Marvel Comics

The strongest vampire in the Marvel universe was the original, Varnae. But when he tired of his centuries of living, he passed on his vast powers to and title of Lord of the Vampires to Prince Vlad Tepes of Transylvania, in the year 1459. Although not made a vampire by Varnae, the original vampire set his acolyte to assess this new vampire in battle. When Dracula defeated him, he drank of Varnae’s blood, and became the new Lord of the Vampires. With this new infusion of power, alongside his own innate instincts as a warlord, Dracula became the most powerful bloodsucker on Earth.

Lilith, Marvel's daughter of Dracula.
Marvel Comics

Marvel’s version of Dracula first appeared in Tomb of Dracula #1, in 1972. In the early 70s, the Comics Code restrictions loosened, allowing for vampires to appear in mainstream comics after two decades. He was presented much as Bram Stoker (and Hollywood) had envisioned him, only he fought modern adversaries like Blade the Vampire Hunter, and Hannibal King. Often with his daughter Lilith at his side. After his series ran its course in 1979, he became a major antagonist for the heroes of the Marvel Universe.

Doctor Strange and the Montessi Formula of Madness 
Dracula's biggest heroic adversary at Marvel is Doctor Strange.
Marvel Comics

Dracula had an infamously adversarial relationship with Moon Knight, Marvel’s nocturnal hero. But Doctor Strange was the Marvel hero who perhaps put the biggest dent into not only Dracula, but the entire vampire race. The Sorcerer Supreme used the Montesi Formula, a spell contained in the Darkhold, which destroys all vampires. Strange cast the spell, effectively rendering Dracula and all vampires wiped from the Earth. This lasted for years, at a time when Marvel wanted to focus away from horror comics in the ’80s. Years later, however, the spell lost its potency, and the incantation was undone. And all the undead were back. And quite thirsty.

Vlad vs. The X-Men and the Avengers
The Vampires vs. Mutants war.
Marvel Comics

Dracula has had major conflicts as well with two of Marvel’s biggest teams, the X-Men and the Avengers. In 2010, Dracula’s son Xarus fought the X-Men in a vampires vs. mutants war in San Francisco, in Curse of the Mutants. His prodigal son killed him to take his title as Lord of the Vampires, feeling dear old dad hadn’t done enough to protect the vampire race from mutants. In order to defeat the vampire nation, the X-Men resurrected Dracula to help stop him. In the resulting conflict, longtime X-Man Jubilee is transformed into a vampire. (Years earlier, Dracula turned Storm into one). Most recently, Dracula has fought the Avengers as well. In fact, one of Captain America’s oldest foes is the Nazi vampire, Baron Blood. So Cap has fought vamps since World War II.

Morbius the Living Vampire
Morbius the Living Vampire, in his '90s Midnight Sons incarnation.
Marvel Comics

Marvel’s two other most famous vampires are a bit off the beaten path. Neither follows the traditional rules of vampirism. Morbius the Living Vampire arrived first, in 1971. Suffering from a rare blood condition, Dr. Michael Morbius performed an experiment using electricity and vampire bat DNA to cure himself. Instead, he became a unique kind of vampire, as he did not gain his abilities via supernatural means, and wasn’t exactly “undead.” Thus, his title of “ the Living Vampire.” While he could walk in daylight, other vampiric powers like animal transformation and the like were foreign to him.

The Daywalker
Blade, Marvel's premier vampire killer.
Marvel Comics

And then there’s Blade, real name Eric Brooks. He received his powers when his mother was bitten by a vampire when he was still in her womb. He was born with an immunity to vampire bites, meaning they could not turn him into one of the undead. However, years later, Morbius bit him, and combined with the enzymes that rendered him immune, he now had all the strengths of vampires, but none of their weaknesses. This is when he earned the title of “Daywalker” from other vampires. His weapons of choice were wooden bullets, and of course, his titanium steel sword. Although his vampirism was unique, his bite could make others into vampires. But as far as anyone knows, he can’t create other Daywalkers like himself.

Cinematic Future of Marvel’s Vamps
Marvel's most famous vampires: Dracula, Blade, and Morbius.
Marvel Comics

So what do all these wildly different vampires and vampire rules mean for the MCU and Sony’s Marvel Universe? Right now, we can just guess. From the look of the trailers, it appears that the Morbius movie will stick close to the character’s “science over magic” origins. And over in the MCU, we’ve only heard Blade’s voice. We still don’t know if his origin keeps to the comics, or is more like the 1998 film. But his presence assures us the undead are on the way to the MCU. Another avenue for vampires in the MCU is their upcoming Halloween special on Disney+. Featuring Werewolf by Night, they may introduce his niece Nina, a hybrid vampire/werewolf. One thing is certain. Marvel Comics’ undead army is finally getting their moment in the moonlight. And we can’t wait to see it.

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