Greetings people! This post is going up later than I wanted, but it’s been one of those weeks. I’m sure you know what I mean.
This week, I want to talk about the first cinematic black superhero: Blade!
Join me under the cut!
Watch Your Mouth!
It’s the early Seventies and Blaxploitation has become the latest cinematic craze. So what do you do if you’re a hip comics company like Marvel?
Why, create your own set of Blaxploitation heroes of course!
One of these days, I’m going to do an analysis of Blaxploitation. Mostly because it’s a hugely important film genre both in terms of the history of film and civil rights history. But also because the genre is cheesy as hell.
The Marvel comics characters created to cash in on Blaxploitation were just as cheesy as their cinematic counterparts. Maybe even more so. Luke Cage, for example, is infamous for his open to the waist yellow shirt, tiara and giant afro. And his slang. Who can forget ‘Sweet Christmas?’
But that was okay because cheese was in in the Seventies. This was the age of polyester lounge suits and disco. Of bad sideburns and worse moustaches. It was the final decade of the influential Hammer Horror series and the decade that made Dracula a romantic icon. It was also the decade that saw the publication of a little known title by the name of Interview With A Vampire. You might have heard of it.
Tomb of Dracula
All of this lead to The Tomb of Dracula, one of the first horror comics printed after the establishment of the Comics Code and the collapse of EC comics. I say ‘horror comic’ but don’t expect anything like the classic EC comics or modern versions like Afterlife With Archie. This was a monster comic, plain and simple.
Blade was the breakout character of the series. He was British, strangely enough, but spoke with American slang. Probably because the writers were too lazy to research proper British slang.
Unfortunately for Blade, Tomb folded at the end of the Seventies and Blade got lost in the shuffle with other black heroes. Other horror and supernatural themed comics would host the vampire killer from time to time, but Blade never seemed able to hold his own.
But he would come back in a big way in the nineties.
Spider-Man, Spider-Man! Does Whatever A Spider Can!
Wrong theme song, I know. But the lyrics to the Nineties theme are obscure and hard to understand.
At any rate, Blade had a popular appearance in the animated series, helping Spider-Man face off against his foe Michael Morbius the Living Vampire and generally kicking ass. His popularity on the show helped launch the Blade Trilogy, the three movies that kickstarted the current superhero craze. If you love Black Panther, or really any superhero movie made after 1998, you have those three movies to thank.
But why, you may ask? Why did Blade suddenly come back with such a vengeance after more than a decade of struggling titles?
Starring Brad Pitt! Tom Cruise! And Kirsten Dunst In Her Breakout Role!
Remember how I said the Seventies were cheesy? Well, they weren’t the only cheesy decade. The Nineties was also stuffed full of fromage.
And nothing encapsulates that more than the big screen production of Interview With A Vampire. Good grief, but this movie was cheesy.
But it was also a part of a movement. Vampires were cool again after the Eighties and their terrible slasher films. Cool, three-dimensional and complex, capable of serving as both villains and heroes. Sometimes both at the same time.
Blade, being a part vampire (Blade’s exact nature varies from medium to medium and continuity to continuity), was perfectly poised to take advantage of the changing nature of fictional vampires. So, in 1998 David S. Goyer and Wesley Snipes reinvented Blade for the late Nineties, foreshadowing much of what the Wachowski’s would do with the Matrix funnily enough.
Blade became all American. He gained a black duster and body armour, cool-but-stupid guns and a silver sword that was kind of like a straight katana. This, by and large, has remained Blade’s look ever since.
And here’s the thing: the Blade Trilogy was huge. Not so much in terms of box office pull, but because it basically reinvented the superhero movie, much as Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner had invented it back in the late Seventies.
From Blade flows Spider-Man, X-Men, the MCU and the DCEU. Contemporary cinema basically owes its existence to a movie most people wouldn’t know was a comic book movie in the first place. It also helped spawn another franchise near and dear to my heart, the Underworld movies, but that’s a different topic.
There you go! A brief history of Blade, the Vampire Killer! I hope you all enjoyed that, I’ll see you next time.