Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

01 May 2009

Blade, v. 1: Undead Again

Collects: Blade (v. 4) #1-6 (2006-7)

Released: (Marvel)

Format: 144 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785123644

What is this?: Blade gets his own series (again!)! Bet you can’t contain yourself, huh?

The culprits: Writer Marc Guggenheim and artist Howard Chaykin

Of all the characters there could have been to break the Marvel movie jinx, you wouldn’t expect it to have been Blade. He was a supporting character in Tomb of Dracula and had never been that popular. When the first Blade movie came out in 1998, Blade had managed to support one solo series, which ran ten issues in 1994-5. After the movie, Marvel tried two miniseries, one of three issues and the other with six. Neither did well enough to inspire an ongoing series. After the second movie in 2002, they tried again, and another ongoing lasted another six issues.

Whatever appeal a half-vampire vampire hunter has on the big screen, it wasn’t translating onto the page. Perhaps it’s just that people wanted to see Wesley Snipes in a black trenchcoat and fangs. Stranger things have happened. But Marvel was banking on being able to capture that movie audience when it started (yet another) series starring Blade in 2006. Perhaps the fourth time’s the charm, they might have thought.

 coverWell, no, it wasn’t, but we’re left with the results, Blade, v. 1: Undead Again. Marvel tapped television and comics writer Marc Guggenheim to draw in the untapped market. And he tries very hard.

Too hard, in fact. In the first two issues, Blade fights Dracula, a vampiric Spider-Man, a helicarrier full of vampiric SHIELD agents, and Doombots aplenty. He seems to have very little trouble taking them out — even Buffy would be ashamed of how easily those vampires are going down. Dracula, in fact, seems like an afterthought, whereas in Tomb of Dracula all those years ago, he was at the end of a long quest(s). Guggenheim seems to be desperately trying to convince us Blade is awesome, when in fact, he’s convinced us he’s cheating. I mean, Doombots? The man should not be fighting Doombots! Especially not multiple ones! They can’t be staked, and they should be bulletproof and fistproof.

Blade also gets caught up in Secret Invasion, drafted into working for SHIELD; the less said of that, the better. Fortunately, it only takes up part of one issue.

Anyway. Guggenheim also decides we need to see Blade’s past. On one hand, that’s an interesting idea; I’ve never really wondered about what his past must be like, but there’s certainly some unexplored ground there. But there’s no reason for shocking revelations, especially when those revelations come across as ... well, unnecessary. His father being a (white) Latverian noble, who was turned into a vampire, seems weird and uncomfortable rather than intriguing. Why do such a thing? It’s surprising, yes; it’s not really interesting.

Yellow Kid as vampireExploring Blade’s past does lead to some interesting stories — a meeting with Wolverine, learning of how he became a vampire hunter, his training. (If you’re long-lived in the Marvel Universe, you probably met Wolverine before he became a hero. It’s just the law of averages, really.) In fact, after the first two issues, what with their rampant destruction and Latveria and Doombots, the story settles into an interesting groove.

Blade goes on a date, and his cover is blown after he’s arrested for murdering a vampire. He fights a demon who can jump from person to person. He fights Wolverine — that’s someone who is in his league. Half the stories in the book are interesting, combining vampire-fighting stories of a type I haven’t seen before with flashbacks to what made Blade Blade.

I’m not a fan of Howard Chaykin’s art, but I can’t deny he’s an excellent storyteller. There is little doubt about what happens in Undead Again, the characters are clearly delineated, and the action scenes are clear. (I also like using a monstrous “Yellow Kid” as a vampire during Blade’s youth.) However, I really wish he’d realize most heads are not thumb shaped.

There is a core of good stories here, and if it had stuck with them, the series might have been very good. But it tried for bigger things — bigger villains, bigger stories, bigger surprises without setting them up. So it failed.

Rating: Stake symbol Stake symbol (2 of 5)

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