He may have been around for more than 45 years and boasts his own solo movie trilogy, but Blade is never the first name that comes to mind when one talks about our #1 vampire slayer (that would be Buffy).
This is really a surprise, considering we would much prefer having Sarah Michelle Gellar around to save us from vampires rather than Wesley Snipes. Besides, Buffy’s comics are a lot more exciting than Blade’s too.
So, how exactly did Blade manage to survive 45 years in comics? Well, Blade’s longevity is primarily boosted by the success of his movies, which grossed a combined USD$400 million world-wide, eclipsing the profits from all his comic books quite significantly, and ensuring that he has enough cult followers to maybe guarantee him another 45 years.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has been keeping Blade, er, sharp these 45 years.
Giving life to the undead
Blade was initially introduced as a supporting character in Marvel Comics’ The Tomb Of Dracula #10 (July 1973). Co-created by Marv Wolfman (Teen Titans, Crisis On Infinite Earths) and pencilled by Gene Colan (Daredevil), Blade was meant to be Marvel’s solution to handling its “vampire-problems” as well as Dracula’s arch nemesis.
In an interview published in Comic Book Artist #13 in 2003, Colan explained: “Marv told me Blade was a black man, and we talked about how he should dress, and how he should look – very heroic looking. That was my input. The bandolier of blades – that was Marv’s idea. But I dressed him up. I put the leather jacket on him and so on”.
Blade’s image was modelled after “a composite of black actors” including NFL football star-turned-actor Jim Brown (obviously, neither Wesley Snipes nor Samuel L. Jackson weren’t famous enough back then).
Loath at first bite
Born Eric Brooks, Blade’s greatest redeeming factor is his hatred for vampires.
Eric’s mother, a prostitute named Tara, was feasted upon by a vampire named Deacon Frost during his birth. This infused vampire-enzymes into his blood, granting him quasi-vampiric abilities, notably immunity to all vampires (even Dracula!), immortality and the ability to sense supernatural creatures.
Unfortunately a brothel wasn’t exactly an ideal training ground for a hero. It wasn’t until a nine-year-old Eric had a chance encounter with Jamal Afari (a jazz trumpeter who was also a vampire hunter!) that he went down that path.
Seeing Jamal being attacked by three vampires, Eric bravely joined in the fray and together they succeeded in fending off the attack. Jamal then took Blade under his wing and groomed him in the ways of vampire-slaying… until Jamal was bitten by a vampire, forcing Blade to slay his master. Sadly, this killing-a-loved-one is a “recurring tragedy” in Blade’s life, which made his early adventures rather predictable.
Obviously no sane parent would name their kid “Blade”. Eric earned the name thanks to his expertise in handling knives and daggers.
Out of the tomb
After more than a dozen appearances in the pages of Tomb Of Dracula (#10-21,24 and #28), Blade eventually ventured out into other comics, namely Adventure Into Fear #24 (facing off with Morbius the Living Vampire), before having his first solo story in Marvel’s black-and-white horror-comics magazine Vampire Tales #8.
The colourless approach suited Blade’s moody modus operandi and this was followed up by (arguably) the best stand-alone Blade tale – a 56-page solo story in Marvel Preview #3 by Chris Claremont (X-Men) and illustrated by Colan, DeZuniga and Rico Rival.
The Midnight Son rises
Sadly, little was done to capitalise on Blade’s semi-successful first four years, and the poor Daywalker was shut away in a coffin until the 1990s, when he was reintroduced in Ghost Rider #28 (1992) through the Midnight Sons.
With the Midnight Sons, Blade became a team player alongside the likes of Ghost Rider, Hellstorm and Morbius, but his appearances were limited, with the exception of two solo stories (Midnight Sons Unlimited #2 and #7).
Still, that four year stint from 1992 to 1994 served to reintroduce Blade to comics fans, and he was rewarded with his first solo series, Blade: The Vampire Hunter, which lasted 10 issues (1994–1995), before being granted several one-shots in Marvel: Shadows And Light #1, Blade: Crescent City Blues and Blade: Sins Of The Father.
Looking at Blade’s mediocre comics career, it was a surprise that his movie turned out to be such a hit that it spawned two sequels – 2002’s excellent Blade II, directed by none other than Guillermo del Toro, and 2004’s Blade: Trinity, which is probably best forgotten.
The success of the movies overshadowed the fact that his comics were still not doing very well. No one cared that 1998’s Strange Tales: Blade was initially planned for six issues but ended with #3, and subsequent releases such as Blade: Vampire Hunter (1999–2000), another regular series under the Marvel MAX imprint (2002) and a 12-parter by Marc Guggenheim and Howard Chaykin both failed to capitalise on the films’ success.
To make things worse, Wolfman sued Marvel for ownership of Blade, saying that he never signed a “work for hire” contract, which meant the character technically belonged to him. However, the court decided otherwise, on the grounds that the film version differed vastly from Wolfman’s vision.
In recent years, Blade has managed to still maintain his presence in the Marvel universe without really making a splash. He has made cameo and semi-regular appearances in books like 2014’s Mighty Avengers and The Unbelievable Gwenpool (the less said about that book the better), and a 2015 plan to revamp the character and have his daughter replace him never came to be.
In last year’s Secret Empire event, Blade was one of the heroes trapped in Manhattan under the Darkforce dome. What’s a vampire slayer to do under such circumstances? Kill every vampire he sees, of course.
In the recent Doctor Strange-centric Damnation storyline, Blade was recruited by Wong to form a new Midnight Sons team alongside Doctor Voodoo, Elsa Bloodstone, Ghost Rider, Moon Knight, Iron Fist, and Man-Thing.
Together, they infiltrated the Hell-occupied city of Las Vegas to rescue Strange and fight Mephisto.
That story pretty much sums up Blade’s current role in the Marvel comics universe – iconic and memorable enough to make an impact in cameos and guest appearances or in a team, but never strong enough to stand on his own. And for a character that has been around for more than 45 years, that really, well, sucks.