Blade wasn’t supposed to be the big comic book movie of 1998. A little over a year before, all eyes were on Superman Lives, the Tim Burton adaptation of the Man of Steel starring Nicolas Cage as Superman/Clark Kent. But then they closed up shop in the wake of overwhelming fan criticism.
It was more or less the end times for comic book movies. Very few projects were getting off the ground, and the ones that did – Batman & Robin, Steel – were failures. When Superman Lives was quietly abandoned in the summer of ‘97, it seemed like there was no money in superheroes, and less will to do something that did those comic book movies justice. That all changed one year later, however, with a little known C-list character from Marvel Comics who started life as a small supporting character in a 1973 issue of Tomb of Dracula.
In the beginning – at the dawn of the Marvel Age of Movies – there was Blade, and New Line Cinema thought it would be the perfect vehicle for a vampire movie spoof. Enter David S. Goyer, who in the nearly 20 years since has become a screenwriter synonymous with comic book movies. He convinced New Line that doing a much more straight-faced Blade would be the better option.
Goyer’s intent was to capture the spirit of the comic book, and the main character from it. Now that didn’t mean translating the comic chapter and verse to the screen, but what it meant was treating the material with respect, and not as a template through which millions of dollars of merchandise was translated through.
Let’s wind back the clock, though. In 1996, Marvel Comics and its parent Toy Biz filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy; slumping sales, the bust of the comic book bubble in the early 90s, and poor company management in general put Marvel on the brink. By 1997, Marvel had emerged from Chapter 11 as a new business entity, Marvel Enterprises. A key figure here is Avi Arad, who decided a direct hand from Marvel was needed in the process to adapt their works to the big screen.
At this time, Blade was in development at New Line, and Arad’s goals with the character aligned with Goyer’s: do a serious, straight-forward comic book movie featuring Blade. However, the character would be changed in subtle ways from his comic book origins, where Blade was long-lived and more simply superhuman than the ultimate vampire. Goyer tweaked the character though and Bade was now born a “Daywalker,” which is basically a vampire immune to sunlight and silver, but with the aging of a human. And, oh yes, he got thirsty, too.
There were further changes to Blade’s comic book-based lore as well. A new character named Abraham Whistler, played by Kris Kristofferson, was established as Blade’s mentor, a senior vampire hunter who found and trained Blade, and invented many of the weapons that Blade uses against the so-called “suck heads.” Furthermore, Stephen Dorff was cast as Blade’s arch-nemesis Deacon Frost, who in the movies is an upstart vampire looking to make his mark on the world, but in the comics appears as a middle-aged man who’s more than 100 years old. The one thing both versions of Frost have in common though is that they’re both inadvertently responsible for Blade’s creation.