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20 Years Ago, Blade Gave Birth to the Modern Era of Comic Book Movies

The state of superhero movies in 1998 was in disarray. Fans who had felt the massive highs Tim Burton’s Batman films were now suffering from the painful one-two punch of Batman Forever (a film so bad its only redeeming quality is its soundtrack) and the laughably terrible Batman & Robin (a film so bad it’s only redeeming quality is its short runtime). But Batman movies weren’t the only franchise floundering on the big screen.

In the same year that Batman & Robin was released into the wild, a live action adaptation of Spawn came to cinemas. While the mere existence of the film could be seen as a win for independent comic book publishers, Spawn left much to be desired despite an entertaining, whacko performance by John Leguizamo and (again) a pretty good soundtrack.

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The pain didn’t stop there, however. In the same year, soul-crushed fans were kicked in the ribs once again with the release of the Shaquille O'Neal vehicle Steel, a movie so bad it almost ruined a fantastic comic book character and probably urged Shaq to stay in his lane with regards to his acting chops (only cameos from now on, good sir!).

Thankfully, in the summer 1998, a movie would set in motion a wave of big screen comic book adaptions that would swell into a tsunami, a wave that continues to rise without any signs of receding today. That film is director Stephen Norrington’s phantasmagoria of hyper-kinetic action horror, Blade.

A Bit of Backstory

Prior to 1998, Blade was not exactly a top-tier hero in the Marvel Comics hierarchy. Sure he had a following, but he wasn’t exactly the most eye-pleasing character for quite some time (c'mon, look at that outfit). Blade did, however fit nicely in the niche of horror-centric characters Marvel had in its pantheon. He was right at home with characters like Morbius the Living Vampire, Werewolf by Night, Man-Thing and, of course, Dracula.

Blade made his first appearance in Tomb of Dracula #10 in 1973. Eric Brooks was the son of an English prostitute, who during his childbirth was attacked by vampire Deacon Frost. Before Frost could kill Eric, the vampire fled. The silver lining to this horrific moment was the fact Eric was given certain abilities that were transferred from his mother after she was bitten. He had a prolonged life span, was invulnerable to vampire bites, and had a hyper-aware sense of the supernatural. Basically, Eric Brooks was literally born to be a vampire hunter.

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So hunt, he did. After training in hand-to-hand combat during his youth, Eric Brooks became Blade, and made it his mission to hunt down the creatures who took everything away from him. Blade’s backstory and early exploits are quite good and still hold up today. There’s a sense of maturity to them that a lot of superhero comics at the time were just starting to get the hang of displaying.

During the time between his first appearance on page and his debut in film, Blade went through a few different iterations, becoming grimmer and more extreme as the passage of time called for it (hey, by the time the ’90s rolled around, everyone has spiked shoulder pads). But once actor Wesley Snipes stepped into the role, Blade would become truly defined, and the superhero movie genre became a legit enterprise.

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