I wanted to take a break from blogging about comic books...and talk about a film that owes it's roots to it's comic book origins! (Ha! fooled you!)
It occurred to me lately, that another aspect of The Maroon's character owes his brand of whoop-ass to the film that really lit a fire for me: Blade.
Blade is often overlooked as the true initiator of the modern comic film renaissance, with that accolade going to 2000's Bryan Singer's X-Men. Blade preceded that film by two years, and while he's not technically a super hero, he's from Marvel's pantheon and has interacted/teamed-up with enough of his fellow costumed-crime-fighters for me to give him a pass. I find it weird that Blade isn't considered a super hero film (or character by some) but if you were to do a Punisher film, he'd more than likely be billed under a super hero banner to some degree.
I remember that my brother Dave (Him, again!) had a few comics that Blade guest-starred in, one being a Howard the Duck issue, so I was aware that he was a vampire hunter who happened to be black. That was the extent of his character. Fast-forward to the mid-90's and I remember seeing a clip from Entertainment Tonight that showcased Wesley Snipes being interviewed about his upcoming movie. My initial reaction wasn't optimistic. First, it was a Marvel film, so at that point, Marvel films were basically George Lucas' film Howard the Duck (That tanked at the box-office), Captain America (That took almost 5 years to show up straight to video release), Dolph Lundgren's The Punisher (Probably the best of the bunch) and the low budget Constantine Film's Fantastic Four (That never saw release). Yeah, so when I saw Snipes in his get-up at first, I wasn't thrilled.
Also take note, that black cinema at that point, didn't produce super hero films, especially ones that took themselves seriously. If there was a film, the closest we'd get is Meteor Man or Blank Man. The only other "notable" entry, Shaquille O'Neil's abysmal Steel, a movie that didn't trust itself enough with any confidence or budget. So again, Super-hero film + African American lead=Don't get hyped.
That, however changed when my cousin Kobie came to visit my family in 1998, and wanted to go see Blade with Dave and myself. I had already seen the impressive trailer at that point, but I had no idea what I was about to encounter.
When the film started and we are taken to the underground rave. The music, blaring Confusion by New Order, already indicates that this movie was going to be something unexpected. The blood bath happens and everyone vamps out, which leads to a great introduction of the title character. The slow-mo entrance, with Snipes decked out in black facing legions of blood-thirsty vampires establishes that he's not there to fuck around. He sweeps back his duster and gives a cocky sneer before the action jumps off into a frenetic mix of martial arts, gun fights and tons of vampire ashings. That opening sequence leading all the way to the hospital roof-top, cements Snipe's character as a brutal, no-nonsense beast. He literally is the idea behind I Am Legend: the one thing vampires fear in the night.
The movie as a whole is fantastic. You have great performances by Snipes, Kris Kristofferson as Whistler, Stephen Doriff as the enigmatic Deacon Frost, and N'Bushe Wright as Karen Johnson, who serves as the eyes of the audience thrown into the seedy underworld of vampires. It's concepts are smartly written, and it's a re-imagining of the character from the books. More modernized and eschewing any Blaxploitive elements, this new take on the Day-Walker was integrated into the comics, changing out the originals get-up of brown leather coat, green trousers and ridiculous goggles for a black trench duster, a stylized haircut, tattoos and body armor.
Blade was a box-office success, and Marvel's first respected film adaption. The serious tone appealed to us comic fans who clamored for something that respected our expectations, and it was a BIG win for myself, who I thought the notion of a cool black comic character in film would ever be realized. It spawned 2 more sequels, one very good, one very bad, and a TV series (one very forgotten). Since then the heavy influence of Wesley Snipes' portrayal has permeated the character so much, that it was recently announced that Mahershala Ali will take on the mantle for the MCU version of the character. A week before it was announced, I had sat down to watch Alita Battle Angel and I saw this shot:
I thought to myself "He looks like Blade! HA!"
My point to this semi-retrospective is that Blade validated my desire for a comic book character of color to exhibit the same confidence and strength as his fellow fictional heroes. Yes, I know Luke Cage, Black Panther and John Stewart are bad-asses, but there was always something wrong with most of the characters of color when I read them. Often times, they weren't allowed to showcase great iconic moments or were relegated to sidekicks or supporting characters. Sometimes it was the design of their fighting gear that alienated me. i like the character of Luke Cage, but his 'costume' did nothing for the moniker of "Power Man". Falcon was like the Aquaman of the skies; he could fly and communicate with birds. Black Panther looked cool, but when you originally think of the Avengers, he was always a secondary tier. Cyborg always looked ridiculous to me. Steel looked cool, but was essentially a variation of Superman, as is War Machine, a personal favorite (mostly because I love the suit), who is just a heavily armed Iron Man. These days, all of those characters have moved out of the shadow of those issues, and have become far more prominent thanks to the MCU and DC's CW series. A saving grace, the Milestone Universe, gave us an amazing pantheon of characters, but inconsistent appearances. Black comic characters are now being written by those they represent and giving them realistic personas.
As I had mentioned, The Maroon too, owes his defiance and unapologetic actions to the efforts of Stephen Norrington, David Goyer and especially Wesley Snipes. But Most importantly, I want to give credit to the man who brought this interesting concept to page:
Never would I have imagined that Eric Brooks would become the most prominent characters of color to grace the screen, recently eclipsed by the late Chadwick Boseman's take on T'Challa. Blade still holds up as a good action film. I can't wait to see what the future holds!