Before Spider-Man, before the X-Men, there was one Marvel character that held a presence in the cinema landscape. Batman was becoming something of a running joke thanks to Joel Schmacher, so audiences were ready for a hero that wasn’t so campy. Enter Wesley Snipes as Blade, the Vampire Hunter in the fantastic 1998 film Blade.
Blade, as a character, is not one of Marvel’s biggest names. D-list would be a generous qualifier. Created as a side character by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan in Tomb of Dracula #10 in 1973, he’s a character that Marvel has published intermittently since. While it may seem strange that Blade got a movie before say, the X-Men, it makes sense when you factor in that characters like Captain America, The Hulk and even Dr.Strange, had various low budget live-action adaptations that struggled with depicting the Marvelous nature of the characters. By comparison, Blade is a half-vampire who uses marital arts and guns to kill other vampires. This must have been appealing, in addition to the character’s lack of immediate recognition, in being chosen as the next superhero to star in his own movie.
1998’s Blade is an unusual comic book film. Blade’s origin is shown in the first minutes in the opening of the movie, before jumping to the present as Blade crashes a Vampire blood rave and kills dozens of them before leaving when the police arrive. When Blade was still in his mother’s womb, she was bitten by a vampire which passed on certain traits to Blade when he was born. The first villain he faces, who is actually the vampire that bit his mother, Deacon Frost, an ambitious man who seeks to have the human race subjugated to vampire’s rule. The film describes Blade as having “all of their strengths and none of their weaknesses” although he still ages like a human. Living on the street and feeding on homeless to survive, since he also inherited a vampire’s thirst for blood, he was found by Abraham Whistler, a vampire hunter in his own right. Seeing Blade’s potential, he took him on as an apprentice and taught him how to hunt vampires. Blade has no actual love interest in the film, or in either of the sequels past some fleeting moments. His prime motivation in every movie is to kill as many vampires as he can. He describes it as revenge for taking away his humanity and in killing them he regains part of it. Out of principal, and for the safety of others, Blade uses a serum to suppress his blood thirst which periodically has to be upgraded.
Played by Wesley Snipes, Blade is shown to be a quiet and intense man. Deadly skilled at fighting and tracking, Blade is almost always accomplishing his tasks with a cool, detached demeanor. Contrary to his earlier appearances, and most Marvel characters today, Blade isn’t one for jokes. At best, he makes dry observations. His supporting cast’s reactions to Blade range from weary, cautious, to exasperation. Which is one of the strengths of the films and TV show, Blade’s presence provokes a reaction to his environment. Blade is so skilled at hunting vampires that they live in fear of him, sometimes going to extreme lengths in order to destroy him. Even most of his allies tread lightly around him, either out of fear or respect. While there are always more vampires for him to kill, it’s clear that Blade isn’t just going through a moebius loop in his actions.
After the third movie, which is appropriately the weakest one, Spike TV continued the story of the character in a season long show with Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones replacing Wesley Snipes as the title character. After the events of Blade Trinity, an airborne virus called Daystar was released to kill off the vampire population without harming humans, however due to its slow nature Blade must continue killing vampires the old fashioned way. He gains a technical assistant named Shen and teams up with a newly turned vampire named Krista who goes undercover inside a prominent Vampire house at Blade’s behest. The plot mostly involves Krista trying to maintain her cover while most of the action comes from Blade killing vampires in side-plots. Oddly enough, Geoff Johns was an executive producer on the show along with his eventual collaborator David Goyer (who wrote all three films and directed the last one), and its unlike most of Johns’ acclaimed comic stories. The series was canceled after the Season Finale due to high production costs. It’s legacy would be to fuel speculation for years after that a Moon Knight show would come about by name dropping Marc Spector in the pilot, which is funny in a tragic sense as neither Blade nor Moon Knight are anywhere near close to appearing in live-action at the moment.
Blade ends up being the most prominent Black superhero in comic book movies (until Black Panther takes the stage), reinvigorating the vampire genre until 30 Days of Night and The Strain came along a few years later, and Wesley Snipes’ most famous role until he took a long hiatus from acting due to tax problems. His impact is pretty nil, even in Marvel comics today. The closest we’ve come to a return for the character is a new series where he’s replaced by his daughter. If Blade wasn’t appealing enough as a character, surely making him a teenage girl would up the ante, right? It’s so strange that a character could rise so high and then almost as quickly fade back into limbo, Hollywood reboots movies by the dozen and yet Marvel sits on this property along with several others. Granted, it’s something with a short half-life, how long can we as an audience watch a vampire hunter kill vampires? Then again, The Walking Dead has hit seven Seasons which equals a lot of people killing zombies and that’s plenty entertaining.
I think Blade would fit right in with Marvel’s Netflix Universe of heroes, hopefully alongside other characters like Moon Knight and Ghost Rider who also walk a line between “dark” and “magical”. Perhaps after The Defenders, Marvel could next create a series of shows for the Midnight Sons, with Blade as a member of that team.
In retrospect, Blade’s time in the sun (pun intended) was probably always destined to end. There’s so many other characters to compete with, he’s been quickly outshined by The Avengers, Iron Man, and even Spider-Man.
He may be gone for now, but we owe it to ourselves to never forget how far a side character in a mid-level horror title came onto our screens and kicked vampire ass.