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Staking a Claim for Success

Marvel's own Vampire Slayer, Blade, has found popularity in film thanks to a solid comic book foundation

By Arnold T. Blumberg     January 12, 2002


Cover art to BLADE #1, the ongoing series for Marvel's MAX line
© 2002 Marvel Comics
He's a bad-ass Vampire Slayer with a take-no-prisoners attitude and the kind of skills that would make even a blonde ex-cheerleader from Sunnydale blush. He has a lineage that ties him inextricably to the very creatures he hunts, which is perhaps his greatness advantage as much as it is a curse in its own right. He is haunted by the loss of his mother but spurred on to vengeance, and he may be Mankind's only hope against the encroaching hordes of the undead. Step back when the sun sets and the shadows roll in ? Blade is cutting through.

It's an undeniable tragedy when your mother dies giving birth to you, but imagine how much more magnified that grief would be if her death were due to a well-timed vampire bite! Such was the case when the man who would be Blade entered the world, and vampire hunting would never be the same again?at least until that aforementioned blonde showed up. But enough about her.

Blade finally caught up with Deacon Frost in TOMB OF DRACULA #53.

Blade first appeared in the now legendary TOMB OF DRACULA series from Marvel Comics (still regarded as one of the company's finest achievements during its '70s horror boom). In issue #10 in July 1973, as scripted by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by Gene Colan, the origin of Blade was told in atmospheric style.
A doctor named Deacon Frost attended a pregnant woman named Brookes, but Frost turned out to be a vampire. Frost feasted on the woman's blood and left her to die. Her baby, however, survived the incident, and acquired strange powers due to the bizarre circumstances of his birth. He was left with a vampire's strength, but immunity to their powers and deadly bite. He was now Blade, the Vampire Slayer (or Hunter or whatever?we won't quibble).

Over the years, Blade acquired some of his most valuable training and skills from vampire hunter/musician Jamal Afari, who was later killed by Dracula. The Prince of Darkness became Blade's second greatest nemesis after Frost, who was finally dispatched by Blade with the help of vampire detective and partner Hannibal King in TOMB OF DRACULA #53. In DOCTOR STRANGE #62, Blade participated in a plan to rid the Marvel Universe of Dracula and all of his vampire minions through the use of an ancient rite known as the Montesi Formula. It worked too?for a while.

TOMB OF DRACULA #13 introduced Blade to the world courtesy of Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan.

Blade went on to appear in titles like MARVEL PREVIEW, MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS, VAMPIRE TALES, GHOST RIDER, and even PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN. True fame as a headlining superhero, however, always seemed to elude him?even though he can also play a pretty mean horn. So what made this all but forgotten supporting player such a popular film hero when the Wesley Snipes-headlined movie adaptation rolled into theaters in 1998? How did an erstwhile ally of Van Helsing's inner circle of Dracula hunters become one of the most eagerly awaited action stars of 2002? Executive Producer Avi Arad thinks he knows the answer.

"What made BLADE successful was the story," says Arad, and he believes that the medium dictates the differences in that story when it is adapted from one to the other.

"It's kind of an interesting creature. A comic book is one medium, a movie is another. [In] a BLADE television show, there will be a different slant, but it's very important to be true to the character's origin."

Wesley Snipes stars as the lead character in BLADE

In this case, the power largely derives from an origin that has its basis in pure emotion and the bond between Blade and the mother he never knew, a theme that transcends the obvious fantasy trappings of the ongoing plot. Now that the first film adaptation has introduced Blade to a wider audience, his comic book prospects have also improved. Besides starring (and we do mean starring) in several titles of his very own ? with a character design that closely approximates the look of Wesley Snipes' live-action Blade incarnation, the Vampire Hunter will also travel back into comics thanks to a print adaptation of the upcoming sequel film. How's that for a multimedia paradox? The BLADE 2 adaptation will be scripted by fan favorite Steve Gerber, who has also returned to Marvel to relaunch his '70s cult hit, HOWARD THE DUCK.

"[There's] not much of a backstage story here," admits Gerber. "Marvel asked if I'd be interested in writing [the adaptation], and I said 'yes.'" Of course, there is a bit more to it. The same dedication to continuity that Arad felt was important to the success of the film is also a key element in Gerber's script for the comic book adaptation as well.

Wesley Snipes as Blade

"I'm trying to remain as faithful as possible to David [Goyer]'s screenplay," says Gerber. "He's reading and commenting on each segment of the plot as I complete it, and the art by Alberto Ponticelli looks very, very nice."

While Blade may have languished for years on the outskirts of the Marvel Universe, he just may be about to hit the big-time in all media. Besides comics and film, Arad expects the franchise to reach television screens also. For a character whose feet are firmly planted in the horrific world of dark fantasy, Arad thinks the real secret to Blade's success is his grounding in of all things?reality?

"[The movie] BLADE could have been harsher...not based in reality," says Arad. "That was the stroke of genius in this movie. We brought it into our own world in a way that is believable and interesting, rather than create another '50s gothic...we've been there."

When BLADE 2 arrives in theaters, fans will doubtless be there too?and then they'll be heading right back to the local comic book shop. Blade will be waiting.

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