Everyone knows that becoming a vampire gives one a penchant for cheesy Edwardian formalwear and an unfortunate sense of wordplay, as if membership in the undead included a Chess King gift card and a dusty copy of B. Willis’ Wit and Witticism. ”So much for the frying pan…welcome to the fire!” hisses our hero (admittedly more sleekly outfitted than his cohorts) in a distinctively Die Hard-ian line. Thankfully, these worn-out tropes are the exception in Blade: The Series, Spike TV’s inventive, eerie take on the Marvel Comics series and movie franchise.
Developed by David S. Goyer, who wrote and directed the refreshing Blade: Trinity, the series stars Kirk ”Sticky” Jones as Blade, a motorcycle-riding, half-vampire vigilante. Injecting himself with serum to avoid blood cravings and armed with lovely weaponry, Detroit-based Blade is determined to destroy the world’s vampires. Ah, but there are wrinkles: His badass helper, Krista (Jill Wagner), a heroine who is surprisingly infected in the pilot episode, is suffering bloodsucker hormonal issues; the latest drug craze is ash, made from the remains of slain nightwalkers; and worst of all, Blade’s enemy Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson), a blond, befanged Eurobabe, is developing a drug that will make vampires practically indestructible.
Busy, busy, busy! Blade’s intricate plotlines are seamless, but the primary thrill here is the callouts to other genres: The assembly-line workers expertly cutting product in an ”ash lab” could have been plucked straight from New Jack City; another scene, set in a brothel of sorts where vamps can menu-order the type of human (blond, corn-fed) they’re craving, has a devilish New Old West feel. Heck, the series even veers into Breakfast Club land: Bad cop Boone, now a rogue vampire on the loose, is played by Bill Mondy, who channels the broken bluster of the late Paul ”Don’t mess with the bull” Gleason.
Next week introduces another creepy character, Charlotte (Emily Hirst), a severely coiffed tween vampire leader who’s a cross between Eddie Munster and Tony Soprano. She’s a languid little thing, as are most of Blade‘s vampires (it’d be nice to see one act as hopped-up as they claim to feel), but she’s got nothing on our antihero, who barely raises an eyebrow. Jones actually does less acting than in his previous TV forays — as a charismatic rapper/drug dealer in FX’s The Shield, a pissed-off soldier in that network’s Over There, and a hip-hop mogul in UPN’s Platinum. Sure, the stunningly muscled rapper-actor looks good in a slo-mo action sequence — but there are too many of those, and none are as jazzy as the plot itself. Of course, that’s a compliment. When gunplay, kickboxing, and throat slitting actually feel like breaks in the action, you’ve got a series with brains as well as teeth.