The untold truth of Blade

When it comes to the blockbuster success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a lot of credit is often rightly paid to Robert Downey Jr.'s excellent acting in Iron Man, producer Kevin Feige's sure control over the slow threading of the various movies, and the creative genius of comic creators Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, John Romita Sr., and Stan Lee in dreaming up the publisher's characters in the first place. While all of these were factors, it was the 1998 release of Blade, a gory action movie packed with leather coats and thrilling set pieces, that first broke the comic movie mold in the '90s and showed longtime readers and mainstream audiences alike that Marvel Comics could be cool.

But the 1998 release of Blade isn't the whole story; in fact, there's a lot you might not know about your favorite bloodsucker-busting hero. Here's the untold truth of Blade.

Tomb of Dracula

Blade was created by Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman in 1973 during their run on the Tomb of Dracula series, which followed a group of characters tasked with killing the eponymous Lord of Vampires. It wasn't just a horror comic, however; the series brought Dracula directly into the Marvel Universe with crossovers and superpowered guest stars. Blade originally appeared in Tomb of Dracula #10, and continued to appear intermittently throughout the book's lengthy run as a supporting character. Among the cast, Blade was a clear standout with a distinct look and a powerful hatred for vampires.

Readers eventually learned that Blade received both his strength and his hatred from his mother, who was bitten by a vampire while she was giving birth to him; the event gave him quasi-immunity to vampirism, as well as enhanced strength and fangs (he also had a normal name, Eric Brooks, although it was rarely ever used). Like most Marvel heroes, Blade was a superhero that battled against more primal urges — the circumstances of his birth led to occasional bloodlust, but he remained committed to his war against vampires. After Tomb of Dracula's final issue, Blade popped up now and again in the Marvel Universe whenever a title needed a dose of horror — one notable example featured Morbius, The Living Vampire accidentally boosting Blade's own vampiric superpowers in a Spider-Man comic.

Blade: The Movie

It was the release of Blade in 1998 that catapulted the character to new creative heights. Played by Wesley Snipes, Blade (both the character and the movie) was finally cool. The movie reinvigorated the concept of a vampire-esque vampire hunter, showcasing a character that lived in the shadows, killing sleazy Euro-trash-esque vampires in outlandish action sequences; the fact that the movie's R rating let it lean into gore-filled violence and profanity-laced dialogue didn't hurt either. Blade proved that a comic book movie could be a genuine success, even without the added boost of using a well-known character like Batman or Superman.

Although the movie was technically directed by Steve Norrington, producer and star Wesley Snipes deserves a massive amount of credit for the character's stature in pop culture history. According to the cast and crew on the DVD commentary track, Snipes would constantly adjust shots and ad-lib certain lines of dialogue or scenes that, while costly, were always beneficial to the final cut. Snipes even ad-libbed "Some motherf***ers always trying to ice skate uphill," a line beloved by fans of the movie. Hilariously, the ad-libbing didn't come from the set; rather, it came as Snipes discussed the motivation of the film's villain, Deacon Frost, with credited writer David S. Goyer, who was so stunned by the line that he insisted it be written into the movie.

Terror on the set

While the set of Blade had plenty of fake blood, some ghoulishly real events also occurred. Donal Logue, who played perpetual Blade victim Quinn, dislocated his jaw while filming a scene in which a horrifically burned Quinn bites Karen (N'Bushe Wright). He had to be rushed to the nearest emergency room, which terrified the nurses on call when they saw what appeared to be a man covered in third-degree burns howling in pain.

Another scene proved to be just as terrifying (although less painful) for Snipes. When Blade is placed into a fitted coffin in the climax of the film, Snipes himself was actually placed within a coffin prop with no way to personally verify that his body would fit once the lid shut. "[When] the leather straps were cutting into my neck … it's really cutting into my neck and wrists," he revealed "I can't really look down to see if there's any part of my body that is sticking outside of the [coffin] frame."  Had the actor put on a couple of pounds since the crew measured him, this would be a decidedly different article.

Blade 2

Blade was a smash success with an incredible idea for a planned sequel — Goyer and Norrington proposed ending the first film with a cliffhanger in which La Magra covers the earth in blood, turning the majority of the population into vampires for "a kind of Mad Max film where the vampires won." Despite that, Norrington turned down the opportunity to direct the sequel, leaving the chair open for Guillermo del Toro to step in for Blade II in 2002. The film followed Blade as he was forced to team up with a group of specially trained vampires to hunt a powerful mutant aberration of vampires called "Reapers."

The film turned out to be a success in its own right, but it's arguably most notable for featuring a murderer's row of character actors who would go on to major acclaim in later years, including Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead), Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), and Ron Perlman (Hellboy). Critics were lukewarm, but the fans turned out in force, turning Blade from a one-off hit into a genuine franchise.

Blade: Trinity

Blade II moved the franchise forward, but Blade: Trinity saw things quickly go off the rails. Directed by series writer David Goyer, it was intended to bring in more of the classic elements from the comics, like vampire detective Hannibal King and Dracula. Unfortunately, by all accounts, the set was a disaster for everyone involved. 

Patton Oswalt recalled his time on the set with a series of stranger-than-fiction anecdotes, saying Snipes was "just f***ing crazy in a hilarious way. He wouldn't come out of his trailer, and he would smoke weed all day … he tried to strangle the director … he would only communicate with the director through Post-It notes. And he would sign each Post-It note 'From Blade.'"

For his part, Snipes found the situation so unpleasant that he filed a lawsuit against Goyer, producer Toby Emmerich, and New Line Cinema. According to Variety, "Snipes had concerns about him directing the third film in the trilogy and was not informed until six weeks before filming began that Goyer would direct. Similarly, he was not given an opportunity to object to the 'juvenile level of humor' in the screenplay and the change in focus from the Blade character to two sidekicks."

In fairness to Snipes, Blade: Trinity was the worst reviewed movie of the trilogy, and put a stake through the heart of the franchise. But as with any good vampire, Blade wouldn't stay dead for long.

Blade TV

In 2006, Blade would return on the small screen as the star of Spike TV's Blade: The Series. Snipes was replaced by rapper Kirk "Sticky Fingaz" Jones for the show, which also widened the scope of vampire politics to include arguments between "purebloods" (vampires who were born that way) and "turnbloods" (vampires that began life as humans). While the show's expanding mythology seemed intriguing, Blade: The Series slowly hemorrhaged viewers until the season finale — a slow bleed that seemed oddly fitting for the vampire show.

In fact, the show's most notable impact on popular culture was the early experience it offered Geoff Johns, then a little-known writer brought on by David Goyer to help script the pilot and finale of the series. As DC readers are no doubt aware, Johns would go on to write comics and the occasional television show before becoming the President of DC Entertainment.

Blade in the Marvel Universe

While the Blade television show spelled the end of the character's cinematic adaptations, a new comic book was released less than a week after the show's final episode aired. Written by Marc Guggenheim and drawn by Howard Chaykin, the series synthesized Blade's original comic book origin with his vastly more popular movie personality. More importantly, the comic also re-integrated Blade firmly into the Marvel Universe. This retconned version of Blade was almost 100 years old, owed Wolverine a blood debt for saving his life from a vampire years ago, occasionally did odd jobs for S.H.I.E.L.D., and kneecapped Spider-Man in his first issue (it's fine, Spider-Man was a vampire at the time and got better).

While the comic only lasted twelve issues, it did have one of the oddest team-ups in Marvel history. Dr. Doom kidnapped Blade to assist him in saving an innocent life from vampires. The catch? The victim was Dr. Doom's mother, a Romani sorceress who will be/was attacked by vampires decades ago but was/will be saved by Blade going back in time to save her. Most importantly, the reasons Doom knew that it was specifically Blade who saved/will save his mother was that he had perfect recall, even as a fetus. Gross.

Blade in Britain

Wesley Snipes' portrayal was so successful that it's easy to forget Blade was born and raised in London in the original comics. After the cancellation of the rebooted Blade comic, Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk brought Blade in to appear in the ensemble cast of Captain Britain and MI13 which followed a group of British superheroes battling magical threats. While on the team, Blade started a romantic relationship with fellow team member Spitfire — a vampire with superhuman speed who'd been fighting her bloodlust since World War II.

Having two vampires on the team turned out to be a problem, though, when Dracula launched an attack on Britain from his secret castle on the moon in an attempt to create an independent vampire state built over the ashes of Great Britain. (While it might bother Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the justification for why Dracula and his vampiric army didn't burn from the sun's light was that the castle was located on the dark side of the moon.)

Blade and the rest of MI13 were able to repel Dracula's attack thanks to a captured Duke of Hell, a mystical skull that kept vampires from ever invading Great Britain, and the mystical sword of Excalibur. No one ever said this stuff was easy.

Blade the Avenger

While Blade is most well known for fighting vampires, he's often found himself at odds with a wide variety of immortal beasts and demons. In The Mighty Avengers by Al Ewing, this involved secretly rallying a team of heroes to fight the Deathwalkers, four immortal rulers who each had dominion over one of the elements (earth, wind, fire, and water), and their were-beasts. Intriguingly, this required Blade to adopt disguises so as not to alert the Deathwalkers — first as Spider-Hero (the non copyright-infringing spider-themed hero of New York) and then as Ronin, a catch-all ninja costume for superheroes who need to go incognito. It turned out the reason he needed to disguise himself was that he'd already fought the Deathwalkers as part of a superhero team in the '70s — a team that included science Superman Blue Marvel, Luke Cage's dad, occasional Dr. Strange supervillain Kaluu, and The Bear.

Thankfully, the Deathwalkers were stopped once Blade combined his spiritual form with the other Avengers to form a Captain Planet-esque projection that destroyed the baddies' combined form.

Daughter of Blade

While Blade has appeared in a number of comic books over the years, his comic book appearances haven't been nearly as popular as his film exploits. Marvel's solution was elegant: a new Blade, his daughter, would take up the mantle of the vampire slayer while dealing with high school problems in Blade The Hunter. The series tapped Tim Seeley and Logan Faeber, and promotional materials were released. Unfortunately, the company quietly pulled the plug on the project and never released the series to stores. There were doubtless multiple reasons for Marvel's change of heart, but Seeley would later admit that he felt uncomfortable writing a comic with a black female lead when black women were so unlikely to get writing opportunities at Marvel. "After a while, I felt like it was me screwing this up. I couldn't help but feel like a black woman might write this stuff better than me and saved them from me."

Return to television?

While Blade might not currently have a comic series, that doesn't mean Marvel's forgotten about him. In fact, there's a chance he might return sooner than later — specifically, in an upcoming season of the ABC series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. A spokesperson for Marvel tweeted out about the 2018 season with the hashtag #Blade, leading fans to speculate that the show would incorporate everyone's favorite bloodsucker-buster. Snipes even responded to tweets asking whether he would be willing to reprise his role for Marvel, saying [sic] "When anyone asks 'Who could be the next Blade?' you already know there's only one Blade fam! Balls in Marvel's court…" 

It's admittedly been a while since Snipes suited up to slaughter vampires, but he's still the one and only Blade in many fans' hearts. And considering the track record of franchise properties that didn't bring Snipes in to play the character, getting him on board seems like a good idea. Here's hoping Marvel at least consults with him if they end up adding Blade to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.