Why Marvel’s Classic ’70s Comics Should Inspire the MCU BLADE

In Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con in 2019, the crowd went wild, and the internet blew up when Kevin Feige announced a Marvel Studios Blade film starring two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali as the titular vampire hunter. Well, after one delay after another, Blade still hasn’t hit theaters. And its production is rumored to be fraught with issues. We’re not going to comment on the validity of any rumors, but clearly, something is up behind the scenes. It seems to be a script they just can’t crack. In this instance, we believe the filmmakers should just go back to the original comics for inspiration. And by “the original comics,” we mean Marvel’s ’70s horror masterpiece, Tomb of Dracula, where Blade first originated.

The 1970s issues of Tomb of Dracula were Blade first appeared.
Marvel Comics

Marvel Studios has gone through multiple scripts and more than one director for Blade, and it seems that no one can decide which direction to go in. Is it PG-13 and family-friendly? Is it going to be a hard-R horror/action hybrid like the original Wesley Snipes films? It’s all unclear. And while the Snipes movies are the very reason why the character of Blade is an international icon today, the best thing a Blade MCU reboot should not be is too much like that version. Simply put, we’ve seen that. In fact, we think they should go back to the original Marvel Comics source material for inspiration.

Marvel's Dracula, as drawn by the legendary Gene Colan.
Marvel Comics

One of Marvel Comics’ biggest villains in the 1970s was none other than the Lord of the Vampires himself. He starred in his own ongoing series Tomb of Dracula, which lasted 70 issues, from 1972 to 1979. Most of these issues were crafted by writer Marv Wolfman and artist Gene Colan. The stories were heavily inspired by the old Universal horror films, as well as the Hammer horror from the U.K., told with a Marvel flair. Despite the series having the name Dracula in it, the Transylvanian Count was not the protagonist. He was a straight-up villain, without any of the internal conflict we’d see later in more modern vampires.

Dracula wakes up before being staked in his 1970s Marvel series.
Marvel Comics

The true lead characters of Tomb of Dracula were a group of vampire hunters with a personal vendetta against the undead Transylvanian Count. They were Frank Drake, Dracula’s human descendent; Rachel Van Helsing, granddaughter of Dracula’s sworn enemy; Quincy Harker, son of the protagonists in Bram Stoker’s novel; and a brand new, non-legacy character—Blade, the Vampire Slayer. Blade was a Black hero in the tradition of action stars of the time. Like Shaft star Richard Roundtree, only with wooden stakes and crosses instead of guns. Debuting in Tomb of Dracula #10 in 1973, Blade had another secret weapon—a vampire’s bite would not affect him due to the circumstances surrounding his birth..

Blade introduces himself, and not long after, is attacked by Dracula. Art by Gene Colan.
Marvel Comics

In the comics, Blade isn’t American like he is in the Wesley Snipes films, he’s British. Like his Hollywood counterpart, Eric Brooks became a hybrid being when his pregnant mother was bitten by a vampire during labor. That vampire was Deacon Frost. This allowed Blade to grow up immune to vampire bites, and gave him a prolonged lifespan (but not immortality). But the other vampire abilities were not his. In the comics, those wouldn’t arrive until after the 1998 film, once Morbius, the Living Vampire bit him. He then acquired the thirst for blood, but took the blood via injection. Aside from the part about Deacon Frost and his mother, the comic book Blade and the movie Blade differ significantly.

In the comics, Blade was born in London in 1922, and grew up in the brothel his mother worked at. In 1929, he came upon a man being attacked by vampires in the street. That older gentleman, jazz musician Jamal Afari, was actually a vampire hunter himself from the United States. He took Eric Brooks in, and as his mentor, taught him everything he knew about the undead. After Dracula turns Afari into a vampire, it forces Blade to kill the only father figure he ever knew. Now dedicated to a life of vampire hunting, he met Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, and Quincy Harker (the son of Jonathan and Mina Harker from Bram Stoker’s novel) and the group of vampire hunters would have many adventures together.

Blade thinks he killed the Lord of the Vampires, in a 1970s issue of Tomb of Dracula. Art by Gene Colan.
Marvel Comics

The Blade who debuted in comics was a very different character than the one we met in the 1998 film starring Wesley Snipes. The first film kept the broad strokes of his origin story, but lost a lot of the classic horror flavor of the comics. This made sense for the time. Comic book movies were practically dead after a series of campy efforts like Batman & Robin. Some of the more fantastical elements of the comics might not have hit with audiences back then. But this is a post-MCU world. So Blade in the 21st century needs to adjust. We think it should still be gritty and harder-edged, yes. But as Werewolf by Night showed us, something closer to classic horror, with a gothic atmosphere and lots of monsters, absolutely can work in the MCU.

Cover from various '70s Marvel Magazines starring Blade, the Vampire Hunter.
Marvel Comics

In 1991, Blade would get a revamp to fit the new decade, and appear in a solo series and in Nightstalkers. He’d get his black leather jacket, lose the goggles, and cut his hair short. A very “edited for children” appearance on Spider-Man: The Animated Series would introduce his mentor Whistler, who would later appear in the film. All of these things would inform the Wesley Snipes iteration of Blade in some form. However, we still think Blade’s best stories came from those old Tomb of Dracula comics, and the issues of Vampire Tales starring Blade that spun off from them.

Blade faces off against Morbius in an early Marvel Comics appearance.
Marvel Comics

We also think making the film a period piece would give it extra flavor. If they set the film in the era the comics were published, we could get some of that ‘70s flair in the character. We’d love to see Blade wearing that green or even orange trenchcoat, those wild goggles, and the bandolier with wooden stakes. No one would confuse MCU Blade with Snipes’ version after that. This is a Blade that lives in a world of Asgardian gods and Moon Knights after all. Don’t be afraid to go big Kevin Feige, and go weird. Otherwise, the MCU Blade film will just be a pale imitation of the Wesley Snipes version from years ago. And no one wants that.

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