Sep 23, 2019

First Appearance Flashback: Blade

It’s always interesting to look at a character’s first appearance and see what aspects of that character were in place from the very beginning.  Batman was famously machine-gunning vampires and executing criminals in his early appearances, while Spider-Man debuted basically as the same character we know and love today.

With that in mind, this ongoing series will be taking a look at the first appearances of notable comic book characters, to see how they hold up with the modern day depictions.  Next is arguably the most obscure Marvel character to star in a movie, Blade.

First Appearance Flashback: Blade
Ben Smith

Once upon a time, horror comics were considered too violent for kids, and they were banned.  Thankfully, in the ‘70s comic companies learned that arbitrary bans on content were stupid and horror comics returned.  We’ve already looked at the debut of Moon Knight in Werewolf by Night, now comes a similar first appearance by Blade in the pages of The Tomb of Dracula, which was published in 1973, written by Marv Wolfman with art by the legendary Gene Colan.

The story begins when two teenagers are about to be attacked on the docks by three vampires.  Fortunately, a mysterious figure named Blade arrives, and kills all three vampires fairly easily.

Harker, noted enemy of Dracula, arrives immediately after to chastise Blade for killing them.  He had been hoping to use the vampires to track down Dracula.  Blade doesn’t care.

Dracula is causing mayhem aboard a cruise ship filled with the wealthy and famous.  He had been their invited guest, them not knowing that he truly is a vampire.

Somehow Blade caught wind of this, and uses a small boat to get close enough to swim the rest of the way toward the larger vessel.

Dracula has given the crowd an ultimatum, join him as a vampire or die.  Blade interrupts before anyone has to make that rough decision, and he and Dracula begin to fight.

Blade gives Dracula good battle, until Dracula gets the jump on him and moves in for the deadly neck bite.  Before he can finish the job, he is distracted by the aforementioned women he had attacked earlier.

Blade gets free, and Dracula decides to retreat, but not before boasting about the explosives he had planted inside the ship. Blade manages to get the innocent passengers overboard before the explosives ignite, saving them.  Blade vows to kill Dracula some day.

What aged the best?

Beyond the beautiful Colan art, not much.  His outfit is quite hideous, yet Colan is so good that he makes it work.  Blade is one of the earliest black superheroes on Marvel’s roster, but didn’t rise to prominence until much later.  I had never even heard of him by the time he was featured in his own movie, played by Wesley Snipes.

The first Blade movie was actually Marvel’s test case to prove that movies based on Marvel heroes could work.  It was successful, giving them the confidence to make X-Men.  It’s reasonable to say we don’t get Avengers: Endgame without Blade paving the way.

What’s aged the worst?

There is nothing in the story that leads us to believe Blade has any powers.  His backstory as a half-vampire with all of the powers, and none of the weaknesses (except a thirst for blood) was not established, which is his most compelling feature.  No back story, no obvious powers, and no all black leather outfit.  They pretty much only had the name and his mission.

The character was so generic, that when Marv Wolfman tried to sue Marvel over his rights in 1997, the jury ruled that the character had become sufficiently different enough in the years since Wolfman created him, that his claim of copyright ownership was denied.

Thus, that was the humble beginning of the character that would star in three major motion pictures, with a fourth on the way.  One of the most unlikely Marvel movie stars ever, but also one of the best.

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