Ranking very highly on the “Big, Mean, and Tough” scale, Blade first appeared on the pages of “The Tomb of Dracula” in 1973 as a supporting character. He would later work his way into supporting roles in the stories of many of Marvel’s more famous characters, my first glimpse of him being in one of my Spider-Man comics while he was hot on the trail of the vampiric Dr. Morbius. Eventually he worked his way onto the big screen, played by actor Wesley Snipes in a movie trilogy named after the character.
To me, Blade’s most defining characteristic was not his weapon of choice (a blade); it was his unrelenting and unapologetic hatred of vampires. It’s rare that a real hero is defined by his hatred, but Blade pulled it off nicely. Born Eric Brooks in a European brothel, his mother was attacked and bitten by a vampire while she was pregnant with him, and those circumstances produced a very angry kid with all the advantages of being a vampire (strength, speed) and none of the disadvantages–except for the need to drink human blood. The “Daywalker” grew up without parents, or answers. By the time he reached adulthood, he had learned to hate himself thoroughly. He greatly resented the fact that he had to drink blood, and instead relied on a synthesized serum that was designed to suppress the urge to feed (in one iteration of his history). He spent his entire life training, and on an unending crusade to eradicate anything that even resembled a vampire from the face of the Earth. His was an existence filled with loneliness, resentment, and rage, all of which he channelled into his amazingly sharp killer instinct as he ran down sucker after sucker, hoping all the while to someday find the one among them who had bitten his mother and turned him into a freak (his words, not mine). There are a lot of differences between the comics and the movies where Blade is concerned, but the fundamental things don’t change that much.
I don’t think people realize just how far ahead of the curve Blade was. We can all, right at this moment, name half a dozen fictional vampires we’d like to see Blade skewer with the business end of that sleek-looking sword of his, I’d wager. It’s ironic, in a real world sense, that the success of the Blade movie franchise was instrumental in ushering in this obnoxious age of vampire fiction that pop culture is currently mired in. It’s a real tragedy for the character, I think, that he had such a big part in filling our world with vampires, and the public lost interest in him just in time to keep him from cleaning up the mess he helped make. If you watch that trilogy (which I love, Ryan Reynolds be damned) from start to finish, though, you can see that we were already starting to forget the inherent villainy of vampires. Until Blade, a vampire was a very old, very ominous concept that deserved fear. The word “vampire” used to conjure images of a murderous, merciless monster, not some 120-year-old teenager who decided for some reason to never graduate from high school just so he could win the affections of a completely insufferable bitch who feels so entitled to her mood swings that Dr. Jeckyl himself is telling her to take it down a notch. The word “vampire” used to be synonymous with fear, but Blade was the first person I’m aware of that was completely unintimidated by any of them, and maybe that’s where it all started to go wrong. Maybe that’s when pop culture started losing its respect for vampires. Just a theory–I think Blade’s fearless badassery might have been the jumpoff point that the rest of you (not me) used to declaw, and subsequently fall in love with, vampires.
That wasn’t the only trend that Blade was ahead of, either. Most people, I think, would trace the current comic book movie boom back to X-Men with Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, but they would be wrong. Blade was the first main stream comic book movie that figured out how to adapt a comic book to the big screen without being laughably ridiculous (I’m not counting 1994’s The Crow, one of my favorite movies ever, because that wasn’t a well known comic and it didn’t have the aspirations that some of the other predecessors–Captain America, The Punisher–had adaptation-wise). If I’m not mistaken, it had even already churned out a sequel by the time X-Men arrived on the scene that incorporated the caliber of CGI you see with regularity these days. It was the first movie that really succeeded in bringing a comic book to life, if you ask me.
When I first saw Blade, I thought he was the coolest thing since Venom. I’ve always appreciated guys with that mean kind of fearlessness, that properly-channeled aggression that makes them more dangerous than anything that might threaten them. One of Blade’s lines from the first movie comes to mind: “There are worse things out tonight than vampires…like me.” And make no mistake, the vampires all knew it. They didn’t have his drive, usually preferring to bask in the hedonistic agelessness of being undead. I think that’s what made me love the guy so much, in retrospect. He was one of the first heroes I was aware of that was willing to out-work the evil around him. So many superheroes are just born with it, you know? Blade was born with it, too, but he didn’t let that fact settle him into complacency when there was so much to get done. His work ethic, combined with his unwavering affection for, and protection of, humanity, is what makes Blade number four on my list of ten favorite superheroes. Stay tuned gang, we’re on the backside of this thing and number 3 is coming up!