Marv Wolfman had only been writing Marvel Comics’ “Tomb of Dracula” for a few months when he created the most dynamic, dangerous character in the horror comic’s supporting cast – one who would help launch Marvel from the printed page to box-office success.
Welcome Blade – the vampire-slayer!
Or the vampire killer.
Your call. The comic flips between both.
One thing is obvious: Blade is nothing like the other hunters chasing Dracula.
Of course, his name just so happens to coincide with his weapon of choice.
Just be glad he’s not tossing nunchucks at the undead. Can you imagine?
“Hey, Nunchuck! You missed one!”
Oh, that would be bad.
With artist Gene Colan creating a signature yet simple look, Blade is damn cool.
In “His Name is … Blade!” in “Tomb of Dracula” No. 10, cover date July 1973, the baddest vampire slayer/killer takes on three bloodsuckers and stakes the trio.
Harker rolls up and drops an inexplicably pissy complaint: One of the vamps he killed was a teenager.
Teenage vampire, baby vampire, AARP vampire, what’s the difference? The thing is still going to try to suck you dry.
Blade isn’t having any of this foolishness. I like Blade.
Meanwhile, Dracula is on the Love Boat.
On a cruise ship of the rich and the damned, Vlad is pretending to be a hapless descendant with a blood disorder. He’s actually on this boat to bend the rich, influential passengers to his own agenda. But he doesn’t have the patience to keep up such a pretense, not when he’s surrounded by all these ridiculous juice boxes on legs.
Soon he’s tossing people overboard and feasting on those remaining.
But he hasn’t bargained for the likes of Blade, who has tracked him down and boarded the vessel.
Dracula and Blade face off against each other.
They trade blows, and even Dracula has to concede that Blade is a capable warrior.
The king of all vampires flees, content his foe will perish: He hypnotized the captain into planting explosives all over the ship. Blade manages to evacuate the vessel, and Dracula vows the next time they meet, he will destroy Blade.
While this issue marks the first appearance of the baddest vampire slayer in the whole darn town, it’s not an origin story. We learn precious little about Blade, other than he hates vamps, he really hates Dracula, and he’s marked up some serious slayer miles.
There’s no mention of Blade’s own supernatural roots. There’s nothing to suggest he isn’t just what he seems – an avenging force against the unrelenting darkness.
Maybe Wolfman was didn’t know himself yet what his origin would be, or just wanted to hold off on sharing that information with readers.
Either way, it’s a great way to build interest in the character. Too often these first appearance stories amount to info dumps. Here, we learn just what we need to as this story progresses. That’s lean, mean writing. And it leaves us eager for a rematch.
You can find this story in the “Tomb of Dracula Omnibus Vol. 1” and the Marvel Comics app.
Blade went on to star in several Marvel Comics’ series and miniseries. At a time when Marvel rules the box office with such franchises as “The Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it’s easy to overlook how instrumental Blade was in getting Hollywood to take the properties seriously.
Wesley Snipes starred in three films, “Blade” (1998), “Blade II” (2002) and “Blade: Trinity,” the latter with some guy named Ryan Reynolds. Huh. Wonder if that guy ever worked again. The films grossed around $415 million. Not too shabby, and welcome evidence that Marvel characters could headline successful films.
In 2006, the short-lived Spike TV show “Blade: The Series” starred Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones as the world’s favorite supernatural assassin. I watched most of it and I remember little of it.
Marvel has gained back the rights to Blade from studio New Line. Last summer at Comic Con, Snipes told reporters he was eager to slip into his familiar overcoat again.
In the comics, Blade was most recently seen in “Mighty Avengers,” first masquerading as “Spider Hero” (Oh, please don’t ask) and then as Ronin.
Marvel last week announced a new Blade comic will follow Blade’s grown daughter, following in daddy’s deadly footsteps. You can’t judge a book unseen, but it seems a shame to cast off the original.
If ever there was a hero who deserved a reboot – in comics and film – it’s Blade.