Shiny Shelf


Vampire Hunters (D-list)

By Mark Clapham on 22 September 2006

Both ‘Blade’ and ‘Union Jack’ kick off their respectives relaunches this week with a bit of vampire-staking action. This may seem overkill, and an exceptionally unfortunate bit of scheduling even by Marvel standards, but in fact it underlines the difference between the two titles – while Blade having a run in with a vampirised Spidey and super-clichéd Dracula sets the tone for the series as a whole, Union Jack offing the last vampires in London represents a clearing of the decks before a change of direction. Both show a confidence and certainty in the direction their stories are going in, but the success of those directions are less certain.

‘Blade’ is the more successful of the two, and with a pedigree like this one – coming off a popular trilogy of movies, scripted by the current writer of ‘Wolverine’, drawn by comics legend Howard Chaykin – it damn well should be. Writer Marc Guggenheim’s agenda is clear from page one – to bring the comic book Blade (at best a cult character, and with a string of failed series to his name) closer to his more popular movie version, complete with cinematic action, and to add more colourful, super-heroic spectacle for the Marvel fanboys. It’s a smart move – straight horror is rarely a comfortable fit for Marvel, and if you’re going to relaunch a character with his own movie trilogy and TV show it would be dumb not to make him visibly the same guy. Guggenheim is another TV writer who has shifted media, and he employs a few cinematic touches that work well, along with a flashback structure familiar from a lot of serial television. Chaykin is a perfect fit for this kind of material – not only is he naturally comfortable with the bevy of time-shifts, cutaways and fragmented action scenes that Guggenheim writes for him, but his comics have always been sexy, bright and lurid – perfect for a brutal vampire superhero book.

‘Blade’ isn’t big or clever, but it is overblown and exciting. It packs a lot of punch into its twenty-two pages, and Guggenheim’s intention to write stand-alone issues suggests this isn’t going to let up. Rooting Blade more obviously into the Marvel universe, rather than in some continuity back alley where the other horror characters live, works brilliantly, and comes across as an inventive blend of genres rather than am opportunistic tie-in to more popular books. We get the aforementioned Spidey cameo here (amusingly, he’s sidelined after the first few pages, and never even speaks), along with a major role for SHIELD, and next issue has the delightful prospect of Blade going to Latveria to kick Doctor Doom’s face in. Awesome.

‘Union Jack’ teams another up and coming writer with a TV background with a rock solid artist, but with less successful results. Writer Christos N Gage bumps off the vampires in the first few pages, before taking Jack in a more topical, espionage-based direction. While having Union Jack fight vampires was always a woefully unimaginative direction for a British-based hero (old country = supernatural menaces), replacing them with a supervillain terrorist plot isn’t exactly interesting or distinctive. The art by Mike Perkins, latterly of Ed Brubaker’s run on ‘Captain America’, is very impressive and handles the locations well, but only adds to the feeling of reading an inferior re-run of the recent Cap story ‘21st Century Blitz’, in which Cap and Jack teamed up to deal with a similar plot in London. Its topical elements (a superhero team with members from both sides of the Middle East conflict) are never as crass as one would worry they might be, but neither are they particularly well executed. Brit Perkins apparently advised US writer Gage on the dialogue, and the book doesn’t feel like it’s set in a Hollywood backlot version of the UK, but neither does it have any local colour that the recent ‘Captain America’ story didn’t do just as well.

While ‘Blade’ is an ongoing that packs a whole arc’s worth of story into its first issue, ‘Union Jack’ is a four-issue mini-series which already feels over-stretched. While ‘Blade’ feels like it could be a runaway hit that re-establishes its lead as a big player like the Huston/Finch ‘Moon Knight’, ‘Union Jack’ has the feel of another ill-feted Marvel mini-series, doomed to a substantial sales drop-off across its four issues. This is a bit unkind, really, as ‘Blade’ isn’t a brilliant book by any means, and ‘Union Jack’ is far from being an actively bad one. However, the former is well conceived, well executed, and generally fun, while the latter is clunky and a bit uninspired. In a highly competitive marketplace where new titles, especially those featuring less than stellar characters, fail all the time, that difference could mean everything.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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