Tomb of Dracula #10 (July, 1973)

Back in April, 1973, I don’t expect anyone who saw and appreciated artists Gil Kane and Tom Palmer’s fine cover for the tenth issue of Marvel Comics’ Tomb of Dracula anticipated how historically significant this image — the first sight ever provided the general public of a new character named Blade — would eventually become; probably not even that character’s creator, writer Marv Wolfman.  In retrospect, it seems more than fitting that the figure of Blade dominates Kane’s composition, taking up more space than (and pulling focus from) the comic’s titular star; after all, the wooden-knife-wielding vampire hunter would ultimately come to overshadow the very series that gave him four-color life, at least in terms of mass public awareness… and the financial rewards reaped by Marvel. 

But Blade almost wasn’t a Marvel character at all.  According to a 2004 interview with Wolfman (published in Back Issue #8 [Jan., 2005]), Blade might well have appeared in one of the black-and-white horror magazines then offered by Warren Publishing, where the young writer had been working prior to relocating to Marvel Comics.  As Wolfman told interviewer Michael Eury at the time:

I came up with him while at Warren. I was the editor there and trying to do something with the books that were different. The Warrens always had 5-7 nonrelated short stories in every issue and I decided to do a couple of theme issues.  So I had planned and commissioned the history of vampires for one issue of Eerie and assigned stories to my writers from the first vampire to the last.  Had I used him at Warren, Blade would have been in my “current”-day story, the only one I would write.

But before Wolfman’s planned “vampire theme” issue of Eerie got much (if at all) past the idea stage, he was newly ensconced at his new employer, where he started writing Tomb of Dracula beginning with its 7th issue.  Having the Blade character already in hand, it hardly made sense to let him go to waste — and there was obviously no better place to use him at Marvel than in one of the company’s Dracula comics.  And so, Warren’s loss became Marvel’s gain, as of Wolfman’s fourth story for ToD

Something has gone wrong with the five narrative captions on this page which, past the third, don’t follow in a logical sequence.  My guess is that the caption on the far right (“– three of those who had already died…”) was added relatively late in the production process, probably to try to clarify the meaning of the others in some fashion, although it ended up just making things worse.

Marv Wolfman may have come up with the idea for Blade all on his own, but, naturally, he had some help in visualizing him.  In a 2001 interview for Comic Book Artist, penciller Gene Colan recalled his contribution to defining the new character’s appearance:

Marv told me Blade was a black man, and we talked about how he should dress, and how he should look (very heroic looking).  That was my input.  Marv might’ve said “Put boots on him,” I don’t know.  The bandolier of blades — that was Marv’s idea.  But, I dressed him up.  I put the leather jacket on him, and so on.

Jim Brown in The Split (1968).

When subsequently asked if Blade was visually based on anyone, Colan responded: “A composite of black actors.  (Ex-NFL running back) Jim Brown was one of them.”

As to why Wolfman created Blade as Black in the first place — according to an interview with the author that was published in the same issue of Comic Book Artist as Colan’s (#13 [May, 2001]), his decision was inspired in part by frustrations he and his then-writing partner, Len Wein, had encountered at DC Comics in 1968 while attempting to create a Black superhero:

Well, the first thoughts of doing another black character
came after the [rejected] Teen Titans Joshua story that Len Wein and I wrote… That black character never made it, and I was determined to do one.

Asked by CBA if his original conception of Blade was inspired by the “Blaxploitation” trend in American film, Wolfman answered:

It would have been impossible for it not to have been.  I don’t remember all the different things that were influencing it.  I wanted to do a black character when Len and I tried to do it with Joshua.  I wanted to do something more streetwise at a time when comics didn’t do that.

Gene Colan’s distinctive style, which somehow manages to simultaneously suggest both photorealism and impressionism –“painting with a pencil”, as it’s frequently been called — would be a challenge for inkers throughout his long career.  To my eye, Jack Abel is one of Colan’s less effective embellishers, and the second panel may offer a good example why; an image that probably evoked swift, sudden movement in its original pencilled form comes off here looking rushed, or even unfinished.

Regarding Blade’s weapon of choice, in his 2001 Comic Book Artist interview Marv Wolfman recalled that the wooden knives developed out of the premise that Blade was a “streetwise” character:

It was a logical extrapolation.  What does a character on the street use?  Knives.  What kills a vampire?  Stakes.  What’s a stake?  Wood!  They sort of look like knives, you follow it through.  [laughs]  It sounds logical when you put it that way, but the thinking process at the time took a little bit longer… but not much longer, because I knew that character pretty well like in a second, he’s one of those that just came.

Nice image of Blade wiping the blood off his, um, blade.  But didn’t Tomb of Dracula #1 establish that if you pull the wooden pointy bit out of the vampire, they come back to life?  Oh, well.

Quincy Harker’s callback above to ToD #9 — more specifically, to a brief scene therein where Quincy Harker takes a mysterious phone call, then melodramatically announces to his companions that he and Edith must leave immediately “on a matter of — life and death!” — is the only real connective tissue between the current story and anything that’s been going on in the previous nine installments; otherwise, “His Name Is… Blade!” stands pretty much on its own.

I don’t know if Garbiel Trulaine, or any of his well-heeled guests, are supposed to be based on anyone in particular — but the name of “Garby”‘s ship, the Michele, is almost certainly derived from that of Marv Wolfman’s first wife, Michele Wolfman, who worked as a colorist for both Marvel and DC for many years.

You remember Clifton Graves, right?  The treacherous “friend” of Count Dracula’s descendant, Frank Drake, not to mention the very dummy who pulled the stake out of Drac’s rib cage in the first place back in ToD #1, thereby setting the whole series into motion?  Apparently his present gig as Dracula’s slave leaves him with some downtime, as he’s recently taken to dying his hair.  (Every other time we’ve seen the guy, his hair has been brown, rather than black.)

Hahahahahahaha!  What a kidder that Dracula is.  But seriously, folks… when our Count says vampirism is a “curse”, what he really means is that it’s “a disease — much the same as your blood poisoning –”  A disease!  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Claiming fatigue, Dracula excuses himself for the evening.  “Ah, but before I leave — I must thank my host –”

Dracula drinks enough of the young woman’s blood to knock her out, but not to kill her, deciding to keep her available in case he feels peckish later.  Leaving her unconscious under Graves’ guard, he departs the cabin to put the next piece of his plan into play.  It begins with subduing the ship’s captain…

One of the braver of the “spineless worms” actually pulls a gun and fires a bullet into Dracula’s face — but it’s to no avail, of course, and the guy simply gets tossed overboard for his troubles…

“– scratch one big daddy vampire.”  Wolfman became self-conscious about the dialogue he was writing for Blade fairly early on.  As he told Back Issue in 2004:

I really loved the character and as I developed him and realized how good he was, I actually pulled him out of Dracula to rethink him a bit.  I was getting antsy about the Marvel clichéd black dialogue I was using and wanted to fix him up.  My own writing was getting better and I wanted Blade’s dialogue to reflect my improvement.

Meanwhile, back in Dracula’s cabin, Clifton Graves hears the commotion, and frets over how to respond.  His master may need his help; on the other hand, he’s been directly commanded to stand guard over Drac’s still-slumbering victim from earlier…

Wolfman takes an opportunity here to plug his “origin of Dracula” story in Dracula Lives #2, and why not?  The second issue of Tomb of Dracula‘s new black-and-white companion title would be coming out not just the same month as ToD #10, but the same day (April 17, 1973, if you’re wondering).  And seeing as how that story — a collaboration with artist Neal Adams — would ultimately prove to be one of the highlights of Marvel’s whole multi-year excursion into black-and-white comics magazine publishing, your humble blogger is more than happy to take this opportunity to here plug his own examination of that same tale (as well as the rest of the contents of DL #2), which will be coming your way in just four short days.

Blade’s evasive maneuver sends Dracula toppling overboard — but the vampire quickly and reflexively transforms into a bat, which simply flies back onto the deck, then transforms a second time…

How, exactly, the mesmerized young woman’s arrival on desk can be held responsible for “ruining everything” is beyond my feeble mental powers to grasp.  Also, if the point of this whole undertaking was for the Lord of Vampires to suborn a bunch of rich and powerful people to his sinister will, I’m not sure why he bothered to have Graves pack explosives for the voyage.  What purpose could possibly be served by blowing everyone up?  Besides the general cause of doing evil for the sake of evil, that is.  (Though if I’m to be honest, I must admit that my sixteen-year-old self is unlikely to have quibbled about either of these points back in 1973.)

Um, I’m pretty sure that that’s not how it works, Blade.  But maybe you and/or some of the other passengers are strong enough swimmers to keep this guy from drowning before help arrives.

(Though I’m afraid we’ll have to write off poor ol’ Charlie, the ship’s captain, whom it’s hard to imagine could have escaped the blast he set off while under Dracula’s thrall.  But I guess it wouldn’t be Tomb of Dracula unless at least one innocent person perished within the course of the issue.)

Despite appearances, this isn’t quite the end of Clifton Graves, whom Wolfman will bring back some ten issues from now — though so briefly that you might wonder why he bothers.  But that, naturally, is a topic for another post, another day.

In any event, we’ve come to the end of “His Name Is… Blade!” — which, if not for the introduction of the titular character, would probably have to rank as the weakest of Wolfman’s stories for this series to date.  But because it does give us Blade, Tomb of Dracula #10 ultimately has to be counted as one of the most consequential issues of the title’s whole seven-plus year run.

Wesley Snipes as Blade.

Of course, it’s a Blade who’s rather different from the one familiar to most audiences today.  The Blade we’ve met in Tomb of Dracula #10 — an apparently “normal” Black guy who kills vampires with wooden knives — is one cool dude, no doubt about it; but he’s not yet the “Daywalker” — the human-vampire hybrid known to the millions of people who’ve seen one or more of the Blade trilogy of films starring Wesley Snipes, or have encountered the character in other ancillary media since the release of the first of those movies in 1998 — or, for that matter, have read any of his Marvel Comics appearances from the last quarter-century or so.

We’ll note here that certain aspects of the Blade character not seen in his debut appearance — the most significant for his later development being the fact of his mother having been fatally bitten by a vampire before giving birth to him — would be forthcoming as early as Tomb of Dracula #13, and were very likely part of Marv Wolfman’s concept from the very beginning.  That said, there’s enough daylight (if you’ll pardon the expression) between the Blade introduced by Marvel in 1973 and the Blade whom New Line Cinema would bring to the big screen 25 years later that it appears to have factored into the decision of the judge in the subsequent lawsuit brought by Wolfman against Marvel over the rights to the character.  As reported in November, 2000 by The Comics Journal:

The court ruled… that Marvel’s later use of the characters [i.e., Blade and Deacon Frost, the vampire who killed his mom] was sufficiently different from Wolfman’s initial creations to protect it from Wolfman’s claim of copyright ownership.


Wolfman’s attorney Michael Diliberto told the Journal, “We don’t think the judge understood the nuances of character development in comics, the way characters change their powers and relationships over time.”

From what little else I’ve read on this topic, Wolfman accepted the judge’s decision in relatively good grace back in ’00, figuring he’d taken his best shot, had his day in court, and that was that; as far as I know, he still feels that way.  On the other hand, the heirs of the late Gene Colan have been embroiled in legal proceedings with Marvel since 2021 or thereabout regarding the rights to several characters they claim the artist co-created — Blade among them.  And while there doesn’t seem to have been much progress on this case in the last year or so (or at least not much written about it, outside of court filings), I suspect that, mindful of the potential profits of the new Blade movie Marvel Studios plans to release in 2024 — just a little more than a half-century following the character’s first comics appearance, and a quarter-century since his motion picture debut — the IP attorneys on both sides are keeping their metaphorical wooden knives sharp, at the very least.


  1. frednotfaith2 · April 15

    This just happened to be the 1st issue of ToD that I got new off the racks. Despite a few lapses in story logic, still a memorable entrance to Blade. Colan had a knack for drawing some dramatic intros, and that of Blade qualifies, IMO. As to Blade retrieving his wooden knives from the vampires without bringing them back to life, as with Dracula at the beginning of this very series, I don’t know if it was established if that capacity is particular to Dracula due to his having more recuperative powers than the run-of-the mill vampire or if it was a genuine mistake rectified in later issues or never dealt with at all. My ToD collection is not entirely complete and of those I have I don’t recall the issue being addressed.

    Admittedly, 50 years ago, my younger self didn’t pay much mind to that contradictory element of the story, although I did get the issue of just a few months later in which a seemingly demised Dracula is brought back to life yet again by someone pulling a stake out of the wicked count! Naturally, as a top-ranking bad guy, Drac gets the sort of immortality or never-stays-dead power denied to most of the lower-tier usually unnamed mooks.

    Within the next year or so after this, I’d also get the comics that introduced the Punisher and Wolverine. All three were intriguing characters, but at the time I for one couldn’t have imagined how important any of them would eventually become to the Marvel mythos, both in the comics themselves and in movies and tv shows. Well, the Punisher wouldn’t be so hot in the flicks but had a pretty good tv show, while Blade & Wolvie did very well on the big screens.

    Funny to think that if Wolfman had used Blade in a one-off story for Warren, or even if he had used him in some indie comic and retained full rights to the character, very likely Blade would never have come to the attention of any movie producer and given new life in cinema. Not an impossibility, but less likely without Blade having been even just a bit player within the Marvel universe but somehow still becoming Marvel’s first full-fledged successful movie star. I doubt anyone considered that a possibility 50 years ago. Not one of their long-running colorfully garbed superheroes and not even a star of a self-titled comic, but a supporting character in one of their horror comics! Alas that under the system as things worked throughout most of the history of mainstream comics, neither Wolfman nor Colan could claim any legal ownership of a character they brought to fictional life.

    Another fun romp in our memories of “funnybooks” of decades past, Alan!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · April 15

    To me, the most amazing part of this story is that, in the first few pages, Blade is wearing jodhpurs! I have no idea what thought went into his initial look, but jodhpurs don’t seem very “street” to me. Also, I’m glad Gene tells us that Blade is wearing a leather jacket in those opening pages, because I’m pretty sure the colorist thought it was a greenish-khaki trench coat. Regardless, this introduction of Blade is a long way away from the version of the character we came to know later in comics and later still, in movies and on TV.

    Speaking of those opening pages, what happened to that couple Blade saved? They aren’t acknowledged or mentioned ever again. I guess they got out while the gettin’ was good.

    While those first three or so pages aren’t too bad, everything on the boat does sort of collapse in a jumble of illogic and cliche’. I agree, Alan, that without Blade, this story wouldn’t have much going to recommend it, but Blade was a dynamic character from the very first and I’d watch he and Dracula go at it in whatever nonsensical brawls you want, just to see the two of them interact. I appreciate what Wolfman had to say as well, about his problems writing “street talk” for Blade and am glad he stepped back to work on that a bit before the character got too popular.

    All that aside, I was quite happy to see what Blade had evolved into by the time that first Wesley Snipes movie hit the silver screen and look forward to see what Marvel does with him in his new incarnation. Thanks, Alan!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Steve McBeezlebub · April 15

    I really liked the Blade that recurred in ToD. He’s gotten so many writers adding things he’s a caricature of that character. Even before he was Jason Aaroned it was bad but he’s reached peak ridiculous now. Just a tip: Avoid the mini with his daughter. It’s so bad it reads as intentionally awful.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. frasersherman · April 16

    Having him merely bite-proof is more interesting to me than having him a half-vampire (even though it makes little logical sense).
    One thing I like about the ending of TOD is that Blade and the other vampire hunters have realized endless killing makes for a lousy life and turned towards retirement. Didn’t take but it gave them all some character growth and resolution.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. B Smith · April 18

    Premature, but this was my final issue of TOD – Jack Abel’s inks just weren’t to my taste, especially on Colan’s pencils (in fact the only artist whose work I liked Abel’s inks on was P. Craig Russell), so like everyone else in this issue, I jumped ship.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Marco Firminger · April 18

    To the Jack Abel detractors: check out the Iron Man feature in Tales of Suspense #73-81. Agreed the inks here (and the colours) are an eye-sore. Colan’s best inkers? Palmer, Sinnott (on Cap!), Everett, with honourable mention to Adkins, Janson and Leialoha. Romita did a great job on Dr Strange#7.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · April 18

      Marco, I’d forgotten that Abel worked on those early Colan Iron Man stories. I probably need to take a better look at those. 🙂


      • neill · April 18

        Do, Alan! Romita, Sr. remarked that those Abel-inked IM stories were a good guide for inking Colan. But, I’ll admit, that was in the mid-60’s. In the ’70’s and ’80’s, I think Jack (and he wasn’t alone) was just cranking out the work.

        Liked by 1 person

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