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There are Worse Things Than Vampires?

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Blade the Vampire Hunter is an interesting character, if for no other reason that he may well be the best known “B” protagonist in all of comics. Created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan in 1973, during the dawn of the blaxploitation era, Blade was driven by a thirst to see all vampires eradicated. First appearing in the July 1973 issue of The Tomb of Dracula (#10), Blade combined 70s street slang (or at least a comic book approximation of it) with a dark anti-hero attitude. Blade became a recurring character in the eclectic horror series (which was placed, albeit at arms length, in the Marvel Universe). Over the next 2 years, primarily in Tomb of Dracula and the black-and-white magazine Marvel Preview (#3), Blade’s origin and motivations were established. 

Blade’s tale began in a British whorehouse, where his mother gave birth to him. Experiencing complications in labour, a “doctor” named Deacon Frost arrived to aid. In reality a vampire, Frost instead fed on the woman as she gave birth. Realizing that they had been duped, the prostitutes drove off the vampire, too late to save the mother, but saving the newborn. The boy that would become Blade was raised in the whorehouse where he would discover several side effects of Frost’s attack including being inoculated against vampirism, a sensitivity to light, the ability to track the supernatural and a prolonged lifespan. By the time he was a young man, Blade was an expert vampire hunter, training his body to the peak of human perfection. 

At the time he joined the supporting cast of Tomb of Dracula, Blade was a mortal enemy of the Lord of the Vampires (who had slaughtered all of Blade’s friends), leading our protagonist to team with Quincy Harker and his “Drac Pack” (a group of vampire hunters, primarily descended from the characters of Bram Stoker’s story). Over the years, Blade campaigned against both Dracula and Deacon Frost – sometimes teamed with the Drac Pack or the vampiric private detective, Hannibal King. Following the cancellation of Tomb of Dracula, Blade floated around the fringes of the Marvel Universe, before surfacing in Doctor Strange in 1983. Appearing in an arc that climaxed in Doctor Strange #62, Blade aided Strange in locating and casting the Montesi Formula, a spell that destroyed Dracula and all vampires on Earth.

Without his raison-d’etre, Blade virtually disappeared until the comic book publishing boom of the early 1990s. As part of the short-lived Midnight Sons horror imprint at Marvel, Blade teamed up with former allies Frank Drake and Hannibal King as the Nightstalkers. Under the manipulations of Doctor Strange, the trio stared in an 18-issue series, lasting from1992 until cancellation in 1994. With the Montesi Formula weakening and the inevitable return of vampires, the Nightstalkers’ series climaxed with a savage showdown with a former Lord of the Vampires, Varnae – a battle which only Blade survived. 

Blade returned now and again, with a number of short series and one-shots including Blade: The Vampire Hunter #1-10 (1994-1995), Blade: Sins of the Father (1998), Blade #1-4 (1998-1999), Blade: Vampire Hunter #1-6 (1999), Marvel Max: Blade #1-6 (2002), Tomb of Dracula #1-4 (2004-2005), as well as the occasional guest appearance and cameo in the Marvel Universe proper. Most significantly, Blade teamed with Spider-Man in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #7-8 (July-August 1999) during which the vampire hunter’s powers were significantly altered. After being bitten by Morbius, the Living Vampire, Blade became a Daywalker – imbued with all the powers of a vampire, but with none of the weaknesses. 

The reason for the shift in Blade’s abilities can be entirely derived from the 1998 motion picture. Prior to this point, Blade’s only multimedia appearances had come from a handful of guest spots in the 1996 Spider-Man animated series. The movie, pitched by writer David S. Goyer, updated Blade for the 21st century (including the introduction of his half-human, half-vampiric nature) while retaining the spirit of the original character. The film, which stared Wesley Snipes (Blade), Stephen Dorff (Deacon Frost) and Kris Kristofferson (Whistler, a mentor to Blade that was introduced in the Spider-Man animated series), initially got off to a rocky start, as the results of the test screening led to a 6 month delay for more editing and re-shoots. The final cut of the movie drew mixed reviews, but proved to be a financial success, spanning two sequels (2002’s Blade II and 2004’s Blade: Trinity, which teamed the lead with a film version of the Nightstalkers). 

Spinning out of the movies, Spike TV recently debuted Blade: The Series as a summer program. With rapper Kirk Jones taking on the title role, the 13 episode first season made a strong premiere although, the future of a second season is still being debated. While Blade’s live action future may be in question, he has return to comics vigorously – this past week Marvel launched a new ongoing series staring the vampire hunter, written by Marc Guggenheim and drawn by Howard Chaykin. The first issue pits Blade against a vampiric Spider-Man, Dracula and hordes of vampire S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Set very soundly in the heart of the Marvel Universe, Guggenheim has promised that his series will be a very different comic book version of Blade.

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