There was a time when Blade was a big deal, Wesley Snipes was hacking up vampires on the big screen and people loved it. However, that time is long since past and while Snipes’ time in prison probably had a lot to do with the failure of the movie franchise, it doesn’t really explain what happened to the comic books from which Blade sprang.
Or did it?
The original Blade appeared in The Tomb of Dracula #10, dated July 1973 and he showed up over most of the next 20 issues. He fought Morbius in Adventure into Fear #24 and had his first solo adventure in Vampire Tales #8-9. Blade then hit the big time with a 56-page story that appeared in issue #3 of the black-and-white showcase comic, Marvel Preview in late 1975. But after that, Blade largely faded away until the early 1990s when he made a new appearance in Ghost Rider #28. When the 18-issue Nightstalkers series premiered, Blade co-starred and as soon as Nightstalkers folded, he got his first named comic, Blade: The Vampire Hunter in 1994. He had a couple of one-shots and backup stories until, in 1998, his first theatrical movie, the second film from Marvel, hit the big screens. Much of the rest is, as they say, history.
But the fact is, what we got on-screen is not all that close to the original comic book source material, the movies were really a re-imagining of a vague idea that didn’t really ever have a place in the comic books. It was as if someone looked at the comics, said “I can do something with that!” and borrowed selected elements and names and ignored the meat of the storyline.
In the original Marvel comics, Blade wasn’t a half-vampire, he was just a guy who hated vampires. He had nowhere near the special powers of the movies, he wasn’t super-strong or super-fast, he wasn’t from the Bronx, he was from England, born in 1929 in a Soho whore house. His powers consisted of a long lifespan, the ability to detect the undead and an immunity to being turned into a vampire. That’s it. Of course, that’s not enough for a theatrical audience so they changed a lot of his backstory. They moved his birthplace to Detroit and described him as having all of a vampire’s strengths and none of their weaknesses except the desire to drink blood. Blade’s serum was a complete invention for the movies and the look and feel from the comics was largely abandoned.
Marvel, in a move to capitalize on their new theatrical hero, largely tossed out what had come before and created a new Blade, virtually identical to what was in the movies. No longer was he the British-born human who liked to stab the undead, he was a super-powered hero with a huge arsenal and an attitude to match. When they moved him to television for a short-lived series (which, to be fair, wasn’t all that well done, they cast Blade into a secondary role for most of it), he became even more weapon-happy than in the movies.
So what does all this mean? What killed the franchise? Maybe nothing. The fact is, most movie series only go 3 films anyhow because Hollywood has a very typical path they take that almost guarantees it. The first movie, it’s an intro story and a single villain. The second, they have to have 2 villains to make it more interesting and fill more screen time. The third, they bring in more friends, family and co-heroes and usually, this drags the movie down and no one is interested in making a new film thereafter. It happened with X-Men. It happened with Spider-Man. It happened with Blade. As I said, Wesley Snipes went to prison for 3 years on tax evasion charges, not long after the release of Blade: Trinity, which pretty much guaranteed that there would not be a fourth movie, had anyone been interested in making one.
In the comics, Blade has had a number of short-lived series, none of which lasted more than a year or two, mostly because I don’t think Marvel knows what to do with Blade. He’s a very one-dimensional character. He fights vampires. That’s his schtick. However, while there was a time when vampires were pretty universally disliked, there are segments of society now where vampires are seen as the heroes and it’s hard to make a comic where the only thing the hero does is kill things that a lot of people actually like.
I think that Blade can be made into a good character again but it takes the interest in moving beyond his stereotypical prey. He has been shown to hunt other supernatural baddies from time to time, but he’s really pretty stuck as a street-level, supernatural hunter and if that’s not hot today, he’ll never get any real traction with fans. It’s too bad because I’d like to see him get a successful ongoing comic again. He fills a niche in the comic market, a character that’s not very strong, compared to the heavy hitters in Marvel’s arsenal, like Punisher and Black Widow, but he’s also focused almost entirely on an even narrower niche, the supernatural.
So you know what I’d like to see happen with Blade? I’d like to see him join a team like the Defenders, which have traditionally had non-team and even more magical-based heroes like Doctor Strange involved. I think that if we can establish the character in a wider context, beyond just “Me Blade, you vampire, me kill”, it would go a long way toward revitalizing the character and maybe putting it back on the path.
Who knows, they might even want to make a new movie!