"It Takes One to Kill One" is an awful tag line and I hope it goes away soon.

Blade #1


By the time we reach the obligatory flashback to Blade’s birth in an English cathouse in the early days of the 20th century, one in which all the ladies strut around in their undergarments even while someone is giving birth on a nearby bed, I became simultaneously impressed by artist Howard Chaykin’s aptitude for latching onto projects that would demand of him drawings of intimate apparel and awash with thoughts like ‘oh Chaykin, what have you gotten me into this time?’

It was not so much the content of the sequence, which is pre-established canon, but the abridged, lurching feel of those two pages - here’s Blade’s mom and here’s baby Blade and oh god the umbilical cord is wrapped around his neck and here’s a doctor and whoops the doctor is a vampire and now Blade’s mom is dead and lil’ Blade tumbled to the floor and is watching her and I guess the cord got unwrapped somehow and later on Wikipedia told me that the umbilical cord was responsible for passing on vampire enzymes or something, though that’s impossible to tell from the sequence as it plays out if you didn’t know that already, which sort of shoots to hell the appeal to new readers that this thing is supposed to manage. Only confusion is evoked, as well as a vague sense that the creative team is maybe trying to rush through Blade continuity so we can’t quite see how silly it is, though that makes it seem all the sillier.

Blade, the new Marvel ongoing series for that character who’s popular in movies and television and not terribly adept at holding down a comic, does not have a very good first issue on the whole. Beyond being confusing, it’s also poorly paced, and weighed down by an ill-conceived narrative approach that strives to give the reader not only a single done-in-one story every issue, but two stories: one set in the present, and one a tale of our Blade when he was a boy. Neither story is terribly complete in this issue; in the present Blade bounces around from odd event to odd event while possibly discovering some sort of conspiracy or whatnot, while in the past he discovers that he’s kind of a vampire and that killing vampires is totally rad when Howard Chaykin is drawing everyone in bowler hats and pinstripe suits. It feels that the two ends of the narrative are fighting for space, culminating in an unhappy result for both.

Oh, I think I understand what writer Marc Guggenheim (of a bunch of television shows and the Civil War issues of Wolverine) wants to do with this thing - at times, you can sense an echo of a freewheeling, serious-but-not-really action book, one thing meant to follow another in dizzy style. This issue does open, after all, with Blade shooting the right kneecap off a vampire-infected Spider-Man (the actual Spider-Man, it seems, which places this series firmly outside of current Marvel continuity), before confronting no less than Dracula, whom Chaykin costumes in a classic red and black evening dress ‘n cloak ensemble despite the story taking place in the modern day. Blade then kills hordes of vampire schoolchildren off-panel (“So do you want to tell me what happened?” “To what?” “To those kids. There were about a hundred who didn’t make it out.” “Well, there you go. They didn’t make it out.”), then discovers that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been infiltrated by vampires and kills a helicarrier full of them on-panel, and then we learn that Blade’s white dad is a prominent Washington power-player and probably immortal and/or a vampire and oh the corruption runs deep, folks.

Unfortunately, any wit that’s discernible in the material comes exclusively from Chaykin’s art, which itself occasionally stumbles in terms of clarity when handling big action scenes, despite remaining simple in layout as these latter-day Chaykin supercomics tend to; the sepia-toned 'past' sequences do look nice, though, all leather and lace and clothing textures and glowy bits of red spot color. Guggenheim’s script manages mostly action-movie exclamations and purplish vampire pronouncements (“Long have I watched this one, coveted her, waiting for just the right moment… the perfect moment for the feast…”), hoping that by merely throwing clipped sequences of stuff at the reader it’ll all seem like fun. It doesn’t, and the constant alternating between past and present only serves to deflate whatever momentum is managed.

I guess if we were talking ‘latter-day Howard Chaykin art for other writers,’ I’d say this is probably more likely to please more readers than Hawkgirl, if only because the script isn’t nearly as mad and visuals quite as garish (of course, you all know how I like mad and garish things); if Guggenheim can smooth out the narrative, it’ll probably wind up a passable, mediocre superhero-flavored action book. But lord help me, I find myself waiting for that Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage miniseries, to see if Chaykin does any better in control of both the writing and art of a modern superhero franchise book.