Daredevil Epic Collection: The Man Without Fear


By Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Bob Powell, John Romita Sr., Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9548-1

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who illustrate the strip.

DD battled thugs, gangsters, a plethora of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.

As the remnants of Atlas Comics grew in popularity in the early 1960s it gradually supplanted its broad variety of genre titles with more and more super-heroes. The recovering powerhouse that was to become Marvel was still hampered by a crippling distribution deal that limited the company to 16 titles (which would curtail their output until 1968), so each new untried book would have to fill the revenue-generating slot (however small) of an existing title.

Moreover as the costumed characters were selling, each new similarly-themed title would limit the breadth of the monster, western, war, humour or girls’ comics that had been the outfit’s recent bread and butter. It was putting a lot of eggs in one basket, and superheroes had failed twice before for Marvel.

So in retrospect the visual variety of the first few issues of Daredevil, the Man Without Fear might have seemed a risky venture. Yes, the artists were all seasoned, talented veterans, but not to the young kids who were the audience. Most importantly, they just weren’t Kirby or Ditko, and new features need consistency and continuity…

Still, Lee and his rotating line-up of artists plugged on, concocting some extremely engaging tales until the latest Marvel Sensation found his feet with the hugely under-appreciated Gene Colan and the fascinating transition of moody masked avenger to wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler can be enjoyed in this collection gathering the first 21 issues (spanning April 1964 to October 1966) into one effervescent package of thrills and spills which begins with ‘The Origin of Daredevil’

This much-retold tale recounts how young Matthew Murdock grew up in the slums, raised by his father Battling Jack Murdock, a second-rate prize-fighter. Determined that the boy will be something, the father extracts a solemn promise from his son that he will never fight. Mocked by other kids who sarcastically dub him “Daredevil”, Matt abides by his vow, but secretly trains his body to physical perfection.

One day he saves a blind man from being hit by a speeding truck, only to be struck in the face by its radioactive cargo. His sight is burned away forever but his other senses are super-humanly enhanced and he gains a sixth, “radar-sense”. He tells no-one, not even his dad.

The senior Murdock is in dire straits. As his career declined he signed with The Fixer, knowing full well what the corrupt promoter expected from his fighters. Yet Jack’s star started to shine again and his downward spiral reversed itself. Unaware that he was being set up, Murdock got a shot at the Big Time, but when ordered to take a dive he refused. Winning was the proudest moment of his life. When his bullet-riddled corpse was found, the cops had suspicions but no proof…

Heartbroken Matt graduated college with a law degree and set up in business with his room-mate Franklin “Foggy” Nelson. They hired a lovely young secretary named Karen Page and, with his life on track, young Matt now had time to solve his father’s murder… His promise stopped him from fighting but what if he became “somebody else”?

Scripted by Lee and moodily illustrated by the legendary Bill Everett (with assistance from Ditko) this is a rather nonsensical yet visually compelling yarn that just goes through the motions, barely hinting at the magic yet to come.

Plot-wise, the second issue fares little better as Joe Orlando & Vince Colletta take over the art: ‘The Evil Menace of Electro!’ guest-stars the Fantastic Four and features a second-hand Spider-Man villain.

The FF call in lawyer Matt Murdock just as the electrical outlaw tries to break into their building and before long Daredevil deals with Electro by the numbers. Issue #3 finally offers the sightless crusader a super-foe of his own when he meets and trounces former Wall Street financier ‘The Owl, Ominous Overlord of Crime!’

Daredevil #4 was a turning point, and just in time. ‘Killgrave, the Unbelievable Purple Man!’ finally gave some character to the big, blind stiff as he strove to overcome a villain who could exert total control over anyone who saw him. Although Orlando & Colletta’s uncomfortable, over-busy art remained for one last episode Lee finally seemed to get a handle on the hero; just in time for a magician-in-waiting to elevate the series to spectacular heights.

With #5 Wally Wood assumed the art chores where his lush, lavish work brought power, grace and beauty to the series. At last this costumed acrobat seemed to spring and dance across the rooftops and pages. Wood’s contribution to the plotting didn’t hurt either. He actually got a cover plug on his first issue.

In ‘The Mysterious Masked Matador!’ a cool, no-nonsense hero who looked commanding and could handle anything started fighting hard and fast. The series began advancing the moribund romantic sub-plot (Foggy adores Karen, who only has eyes for Matt, who loves her, but won’t let her waste her life on a blind man) and actually started making sense and progress. Most importantly, the action scenes were intoxicating…

Although a bullfighter who used his skills for crime is frankly daft, the drawing makes it utterly convincing, and the following issue’s ‘Trapped by the Fellowship of Fear!’ is a minor classic as the Man Without Fear has to defeat not only the super-powered Ox and Eel (yet more recycled villains) but his own threat-specific foe Mr. Fear who instils terror and panic in victims, courtesy of his deadly fear-gas gun.

Daredevil #7 is a true landmark: to my mind one of the Top Ten Marvel Tales of all Time. Lee & Wood concocted a true masterpiece with ‘In Mortal Combat with… Sub-Mariner!’

Prince Namor of Atlantis travels to the surface world to have his day in court and sue all Mankind, but discovers too late that his warlord, Krang, has usurped the throne in his absence. The fiery monarch cannot sit languishing in a cell when the kingdom is threatened, so he fights his way to freedom and the sea.

This cataclysmic classic shows Murdock the lawyer to be a brilliant orator, whilst the hopelessly one-sided battle with one of the strongest beings on the planet proves the dauntless courage of DD and nobility of the Sub-Mariner. Most notably, with no fanfare at all, Wood replaced the original yellow-&-black costume with the iconic and beautiful all-red outfit we know today. As one pithy commentator stated “the original costume looked as if it had been designed by a blind man”.

Another villain debuted in #8’s gripping industrial espionage thriller ‘The Stiltman Cometh!’ pitting the acrobat against a villain who towered above the skyscrapers after which Golden Age Great Bob Powell came aboard as penciller to Wood’s layouts and inks with #9’s ‘That He May See!’

Relentlessly badgered by Karen, Matt finally agrees to see an eye-specialist who might be able to cure his blindness, only to become embroiled in a plot to conquer humanity by a Ruritanian maniac with a knights-in-armour fixation…

Wood was clearly chafing after a year on the book. He scripted Daredevil’s first continued story ‘While the City Sleeps!’: a political thriller which first saw Foggy run for District Attorney of New York even as mysterious mastermind The Organizer and his animal-powered gang, Bird-Man, Frog-Man, Cat-Man and Ape-Man terrorise the city.

With Powell now on full pencils and Wood just inking, Lee was left to write the concluding ‘A Time to Unmask!’ as Daredevil pulled out all the stops to confound a devious power-grab scheme which saw the villains defeated, but only at great personal cost to Nelson & Murdock…

With issue #12 Wood was gone, replaced by of an artist who was to eventually become Marvel’s top – and most loyal – star.

‘Sightless, in a Savage Land!’ was laid out by Jack Kirby and illustrated by John Romita, who had worked for Timely/Atlas in the 1950s before moving to relatively steady work on DC’s romance comics as well as freelance advertising.

He returned to take DD on an epic quest, guest-starring Tarzan-analogue Ka-Zar, that ranged from the dinosaur-haunted Savage Land via an extend battle with high-tech pirates led by The Plunderer to Jolly Olde England-land (#13’s ‘The Secret of Ka-Zar’s Origin!’) to a US Early Warning Base (#14, ‘If This be Justice…’, with what I’m sure is some un-credited assistance from George Tuska).

With this multi-part epic, Daredevil began to cement a persona as a wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler which would carry him all the way to the grim ‘n’ gritty Frank Miller days, far, far in the future.

Romita’s graceful, flamboyant style and expressiveness imparted new energy into the character (especially since Frank Ray Née Giacoia had been inking the series since # 14) and #15’s ‘…And Men Shall Call Him… Ox!’ showed his facility for explosive action superhero action as the dim strongman of issue #6 resurfaced, albeit in a new and sinister fashion as the lummox is made the subject of a brain-swapping experiment…

When a certain webslinger guest-starred in #16 little did anyone suspect how soon Romita would be leaving.

‘Enter… Spider-Man!’ introduced criminal mastermind, the Masked Marauder, who had big plans, the first of which was to get DD and the wallcrawler to kill each other.

With the next issue ‘None are so Blind…’ a sub-plot began that would lead to some of the highest and lowest moments of the early Daredevil after Spider-Man accuses Foggy of being the Man Without Fear!

Although the Wall-Crawler quickly realizes his mistake, others present don’t…

Issue #18’s ‘There Shall Come a Gladiator!’ introduced the manic armoured villain in a tale two-thirds scripted by legend-in-waiting Denny O’Neil, with Foggy trying to impress Karen by fostering the idea that he is Daredevil and almost perishing for the deception. Issue #19 saw the Masked Marauder ally with Gladiator in the action-packed big fight tale ‘Alone… Against the Underworld!’; a fitting farewell for Romita who was moving over to Amazing Spider-Man after Steve Ditko’s controversial departure.

Originally tipped for a fill-in issue, Gene Colan came aboard as penciller with #20’s ‘The Verdict is: Death!’, inked by Mike Esposito as Mickey DeMeo. Colan’s superbly humanistic drawing and facility with expressions was a little jarring at first since he drew Daredevil in a passable Romita imitation and everything else in his own manner, but he soon settled in and this two-part revenge thriller featuring the Owl (concluding with ‘The Trap is Sprung!’ inked by Giacoia, Dick Ayers & Bill Everett) is a fine beginning to his long, impressive run on the series, incorporating the Swashbuckler’s battle against his ferocious arch-foe, an army of thugs, deadly flying robots and even an exploding volcano to keep the readers on their toes….

Interspersed with glorious pin-ups by Wood, this bombastic full-colour compendium also offers a glimpse of original art pages by Everett and Romita & Giacoia; in-house ads; T-Shirt art and designs, layouts and sketches from Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Romita and Wood plus painted iterations by Dean White of Everett and Kirby art used for Marvel Masterworks covers.

Despite a few bumpy false starts Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. If you’ve not read these tales before I strongly urge you to rectify that error as soon as superhumanly possible.
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Bob Powell & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785145639

As the remnants of Atlas Comics grew in popularity in the early 1960s it gradually supplanted its broad variety of genre titles with more and more super-heroes. The recovering powerhouse that was to become Marvel was still hampered by a crippling distribution deal that limited the company to 16 titles (which would curtail their output until 1968), so each new untried book would have to fill the revenue-generating slot (however small) of an existing title.

Moreover as the costumed characters were selling, each new similarly-themed title would limit the breadth of the monster, western, war, humour or girls’ comics that had been the outfit’s recent bread and butter. It was putting a lot of eggs in one basket, and superheroes had failed twice before for Marvel.

So in retrospect the visual variety of the first few issues of Daredevil, the Man Without Fear seemed a risky venture indeed. Yes, the artists were all seasoned, talented veterans, but not to the young kids who were the audience. Most importantly, they just weren’t Kirby or Ditko, and new features need consistency and continuity…

Still, Lee and his rotating line-up of artists plugged on, concocting some extremely engaging tales until the latest Marvel Sensation found his feet, and the fascinating transition of moody masked avenger to wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler can be enjoyed in this collection gathering the first 11 issues (spanning April 1964 to December 1965) into one effervescent package of thrills and spills which begins with ‘The Origin of Daredevil’

This much-retold tale recounts how young Matthew Murdock grew up in the slums, raised by his father Battling Jack Murdock, a second-rate prize-fighter. Determined that the boy will be something, the father extracts a solemn promise from his son that he will never fight. Mocked by other kids who sarcastically dub him “Daredevil”, Matt abides by his vow, but secretly trains his body to physical perfection.

One day he saves a blind man from being hit by a speeding truck, only to be struck in the face by its radioactive cargo. His sight is burned away forever but his other senses are super-humanly enhanced and he gains a sixth, “radar-sense”. He tells no-one, not even his dad.

The senior Murdock is in dire straits. As his career declined he signed with The Fixer, knowing full well what the corrupt promoter expected from his fighters. Yet Jack’s star started to shine again and his downward spiral reversed itself. Unaware that he was being set up, Murdock got a shot at the Big Time, but when ordered to take a dive he refused. Winning was the proudest moment of his life. When his bullet-riddled corpse was found, the cops had suspicions but no proof…

Heartbroken Matt graduated college with a law degree and set up in business with his room-mate FranklinFoggyNelson. They hired a lovely young secretary named Karen Page and, with his life on track, young Matt now had time to solve his father’s murder… His promise stopped him from fighting but what if he became “somebody else”?

Scripted by Lee and moodily illustrated by the legendary Bill Everett (with assistance from Ditko) this is a rather nonsensical yet visually engaging yarn that just goes through the motions, barely hinting at the magic yet to come.

Plot-wise the second issue fares little better as Joe Orlando & Vince Colletta take over the art: ‘The Evil Menace of Electro!’ guest-stars the Fantastic Four and features a second-hand Spider-Man villain.

The FF call in lawyer Matt Murdock just as the electrical outlaw tries to break into their building and before long Daredevil deals with Electro by the numbers. Issue #3 finally offers the sightless crusader a super-foe of his own when he meets and trounces ‘The Owl, Ominous Overlord of Crime!’

Daredevil #4 was a turning point, and just in time. ‘Killgrave, the Unbelievable Purple Man!’ finally gave some character to the big, blind stiff as he strove to overcome a villain who could exert total control over anyone who saw him. Although Orlando & Colletta’s uncomfortable, over-busy art remained for one last episode Lee finally seemed to get a handle on the hero; just in time for a magician-in-waiting to elevate the series to spectacular heights.

With #5 Wally Wood assumed the art chores where his lush, lavish work brought power, grace and beauty to the series. At last this costumed acrobat seemed to spring and dance across the rooftops and pages. Wood’s contribution to the plotting didn’t hurt either. He actually got a cover plug on his first issue.

In ‘The Mysterious Masked Matador!’ a cool, no-nonsense hero who looked commanding and could handle anything started fighting hard and fast. The series began advancing the moribund romantic sub-plot (Foggy adores Karen, who only has eyes for Matt, who loves her, but won’t let her waste her life on a blind man) and actually started making sense and progress. Most importantly, the action scenes were intoxicating…

Although a bullfighter who used his skills for crime is frankly daft, the drawing makes it utterly convincing, and the following issue’s ‘Trapped by the Fellowship of Fear!’ is a minor classic as the Man Without Fear had to defeat not only the super-powered Ox and Eel (yet more recycled villains) but his own threat-specific foe Mr. Fear who could instil terror and panic in victims, courtesy of his deadly fear-gas gun.

Daredevil #7 is a true landmark: to my mind one of the Top Ten Marvel Tales of all Time. Lee & Wood concocted a true masterpiece with ‘In Mortal Combat with… Sub-Mariner!’

Prince Namor of Atlantis travels to the surface world to have his day in court and sue all Mankind, but discovers too late that his warlord, Krang, has usurped the throne in his absence. The fiery monarch cannot sit languishing in a cell when the kingdom is threatened, so he fights his way to freedom and the sea.

This story shows Murdock the lawyer to be a brilliant orator, whilst the hopelessly one-sided battle with one of the strongest beings on the planet shows the dauntless courage of DD and nobility of the Sub-Mariner whilst most notably, with no fanfare at all, Wood replaced the original yellow-&-black costume with the iconic and beautiful all-red outfit we know today. As one pithy commentator stated “the original costume looked as if it had been designed by a blind man”.

Another all-new villain debuted in #8’s gripping industrial espionage thriller ‘The Stiltman Cometh!’ pitting the acrobat against a villain who towered above the skyscrapers after which Golden Age Great Bob Powell came aboard as penciller to Wood’s layouts and inks with #9’s ‘That He May See!’

Relentlessly badgered by Karen, Matt finally agrees to see an eye-specialist who might be able to cure his blindness, only to become embroiled in a plot to conquer the World by a Ruritanian maniac with a knights-in-armour fixation…

Wood was clearly chafing after a year on the book. The series’ first continued story ‘While the City Sleeps!’ was also scripted by him: a political thriller which first saw Foggy run for District Attorney of New York even as mysterious mastermind known as The Organizer and his animal-powered gang, Bird-Man, Frog-Man, Cat-Man and Ape-Man terrorised the city.

With Powell now on full pencils and Wood just inking, Lee was left to write the concluding ‘A Time to Unmask!’ as Daredevil pulled out all the stops to confound a devious power-grab scheme which saw the villains defeated, but only at great personal cost to Nelson & Murdock…

With a brace of glorious pin-ups by Wood, this sleek compendium offers a few bumpy false starts before blossoming into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration.

If you’ve not read these tales before I strongly urge you to rectify that error as soon as superhumanly possible.
© 1964, 1965, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Daredevil: Born Again


By Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3481-7

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan.

He battled thugs, gangsters, a plethora of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.

However in the late 1970s, under the auspices of Jim Shooter, Roger McKenzie and finally Frank Miller, the character transformed into a dark, moody avenger and latterly grim, quasi-religious metaphor of justice and retribution…

Miller’s tenure on the series was groundbreaking, transformative, commercially successful and critically acclaimed, but – as is the nature of comicbooks – brief. After thoroughly shaking things up, the auteur moved on to other landmark projects, but was occasionally enticed over the years to return for short stints and special events to the troubled advocate of both legal and vigilante justice.

Miller’s initial run was measured by a number of powerful relationships he wove for the sightless swashbuckler: primarily his doomed first love Elektra Natchios and his ultimate enemy Wilson Fisk, the undisputed Kingpin of Crime.

In 1988 Miller returned for a short run where, with artist-of-the-moment David Mazzucchelli, he wrote what is still considered by most fans as the definitive Daredevil tale, as well as one of the most memorable contests of Good against Evil ever seen in comics.

Born Again collects Daredevil volume 1, #226-233 (January-August 1985) and changed the way superhero comics were perceived by fans and by the vast world of casual readers beyond the confines of our art form.

Fisk has been untouchable for years. He has bribed, terrorised and colluded his way to a position of legal invulnerability and is, to all intents and purposes, beyond the reach of justice. This has resulted in an uncomfortable status quo and grudging détente with costumed vigilantes such as Spider-Man, The Punisher and Daredevil, but that is about to change forever…

Before all that however, a taste of things to come can be seen in ‘Warriors’ by Denny O’Neil, Miller, Mazzucchelli & Dennis Janke as former costumed villain and recovering mental patient Melvin Potter is blackmailed into committing crimes by crooks who have kidnapped his girlfriend.

In the past Daredevil had been a largely sympathetic opponent, but recent personal events have pushed the Man Without Fear to a dark, angry, unforgiving place, and when he confronts Potter in his Gladiator alter ego, the fight is brutal and without pity until the barely-resisting super-villain can explain the situation. Then, all that anger is supplemented by guilt as the Devil in Red deals with the real bad guys…

The main event begins as Miller & Mazzucchelli reveal the fate of a long-missed early cast-member. Karen Page had been Matt Murdock’s true love before eventually leaving him for an acting career in Hollywood. Now she resurfaces as a fading porn star and junkie, stuck in Mexico, who sells the secret of Daredevil’s identity for one more fix…

The revelation is toxic. As it inevitably makes its way into the hands of Fisk, the arrogant crimelord ensures everyone who passed the knowledge up the line to him is eradicated. He plans an epic vengeance against his foe and wants to share the joy with no one…

The mounting pressure of impending ‘Apocalypse’ first surfaces as an IRS audit and missed mortgage payments Matt knows he already paid…

He’s not even suspicious when his own accountant won’t talk to him and honest cop pal Nick Manolis formally accuses Murdock of bribing witnesses and committing perjury…

With his friends attacked and legal career destroyed, Daredevil goes on a rampage, trying to beat information out of underworld small-timers in a frantic search for the mastermind behind Murdock’s woes. Everything falls into place when his house blows up. Matt knows whose hand is behind the impossible procession of bad fortune…

In the heart of a New York winter, Matt Murdock vanishes. Penniless, homeless and pushed beyond all rational limits, his mind shuts down. ‘Purgatory’ sees the brilliant lawyer in the black depths of a breakdown, with Fisk’s spies dogging his heels. The Kingpin revels in each report of comatose depressive bouts or incidence of petty violence perpetrated on innocent bystanders. However, as Fisk revels in sending his enemy into a living hell, a woman already there breaks out…

Between moments of drugged oblivion, Karen Page is tortured by guilt. Finally, unable to contact Matt, she throws in with a most dangerous man who promises to bring her to New York for a few small considerations…

She won’t make it in time. Insanely galvanised to seek retribution, Murdock confronts Fisk in his palatial Manhattan skyscraper and is beaten almost to death. The brutalised Daredevil regains consciousness in a car rapidly filling with water at the bottom of the East River…

Kingpin’s euphoria turns to paranoia as the vehicle is recovered but no body is found…

Utterly beyond rationality, the thing that was once Matt Murdock roams the back alleys in ‘Pariah!’ His friends, however, have not forgotten him, and Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich has been quietly digging. When he discovers why Manolis fabricated charges against Matt, Ben is forced to witness the cop’s fate as a warning…

Lost on the streets as Christmas dawns, Matt endures another brutal beating from petty thugs and crawls off to die. Is it destiny or something else that leads him to a church and a woman he thinks he knows?

…And time passes and Wilson Fisk knows no peace of mind. There is still no corpse…

‘Born Again’ finds the strands coalescing. In a church hospital ward, Matt Murdock emerges from the recuperating husk of his broken mind. The nun called Maggie is infuriatingly familiar but fierce in her determination to make him whole in both body and soul. Elsewhere, although the Kingpin’s ubiquitous tentacles keep Urich quiet and Matt’s friends fully occupied, the big man is not content.

His victory is incomplete and perhaps the vanished foe will return. Thus, Wilson Fisk makes an ill-judged decision and begins calling in carefully-hoarded favours from the high and mighty of the establishment…

As Matt slowly recovers, he has no idea Karen Page is about to re-enter his life, nor that Urich, fed up with being terrorised, is speaking both to the police and on record in the Bugle…

‘Saved’ begins with Murdock battling his way back to fighting fitness in time to save Ben Urich from Fisk’s grotesque assassin. He then reaches out to Melvin Potter. Soon, the resurrected Man Without Fear is ready to make his first move against Fisk…

All subtlety abandoned and gripped by mania, the Kingpin co-opts a military top secret to strike back. Through his illicit connections Fisk forces an Army General to unleash the military’s latest super-soldier in the heart of Murdock’s beloved Hell’s Kitchen, even as his usually impeccable attempts to ensure silence go spectacularly awry when a hit team fails to kill Urich and a vital witness…

Nuke is a Vietnam-obsessed, drug-fuelled, black ops killing machine spouting deranged mantras of ‘God and Country’ and his savage assault on the district certainly draws out Daredevil. Sadly, he also comes to the attention of the nation’s first patriotic guardian and ‘Armageddon’ finds the out-of-control human weapon also confronting his idol Captain America as well as the rest of the mighty Avengers.

From that point on, Fisk’s fate is sealed…

Epic, devious and still shocking, this is a blockbusting tour de force which ranks amongst the very best Fights ‘n’ Tights clashes ever crafted and remains one of the most accessible and entertaining.
© 1985, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Season One


By Antony Johnson, Wellinton Alves, Nelson Pereira & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5643-7

Much as I’d love to believe otherwise, I accept that the Cold War era, transistor-powered, pre-cellphone masterpieces of my youth are often impenetrable to younger fans – even when illustrated by graphic gods like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, Joe Orlando or Wally Wood.

Perpetual renewal – or at least the constant tweaking of the background ephemera which passes for it in our business – is the irresistible force driving modern comics. There must be a constant changing of the guard, a shifting of scene and milieu and, in latter times, a regular diet of death, resurrection and rebirth – all grounded in relatively contemporary terms and situations.

Even for minor or secondary stars the process is inescapable, with increasing supra-comicbook media adjuncts (films, TV, movies, games, Films and FILMS) dictating that subjects be constantly updated because the powers-that-be believe goldfish-minded consumers of today apparently can’t understand or remember anything that’s more than one week or three cinematic releases old.

Alternatively, one could argue that for popular characters or concepts with a fifty-year pedigree, all that dogmatic back-history can be a creative deadweight and readership-daunting deterrence, so radical reboots are a painful but vital periodic necessity like a conceptual thinning of the herd…

Publishing ain’t no democracy, however, so it’s comforting to realise that many of these retrofits are exceptionally good comics tales in their own right and anyway, the editors can call always claim that it was an “alternate Earth” story the next time the debut saga is modernised…

Released in 2012, Daredevil: Season One was part of an all-new hardback graphic series intended to renovate, modify and update classic origin epics (accompanying Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Spider-Man): all clearly intended as background story-bibles for newer, movie-oriented fans and readers.

Written by Anthony Johnson (Dead Space, Wasteland, the Alex Rider graphic novels) with competent, workmanlike art from Wellinton Alves & Nelson Periera (Nova, Incredible Hulks, Red She-Hulk) it was far more of an in-filling exercise than radical restoration or reconstruction, leaving most of the canon untouched, and using signature battles against super-foes as background to tell a more contemporary story of City Hall corruption, as young lawyers Matt Murdock and Franklin “Foggy” Nelson fought to save a place of worship from civil malfeasance and racketeering depredations.

Young Matt grew up in the slums, raised by his father Battlin’ Jack Murdock; a second-rate prize-fighter. Determined that the boy would amount to something, Jack extracted a solemn promise from his boy never to fight. Mocked by other kids, who called him “Daredevil”, Matt stuck to his vow, but secretly trained his body to physical perfection.

One day he saved a blind man from a speeding truck, only to be struck in the face by its radioactive cargo. His sight was burned away but his other senses were super-humanly enhanced and he gained a sixth, “radar-sense”.

He told no-one, not even his dad…

Key events are all visited in swift, economic manner before jumping to Daredevil’s first night when the adult Matt donned a distinctive mask and costume to hunt down his father’s killers…

Battlin’ Jack was a boxer in dire financial straits. As his career declined he signed with The Fixer, knowing full well what the corrupt promoter expected from his fighters. Yet somehow his career blossomed. Never aware that he was being set up, Murdock got a shot at the Big Time, but when ordered to take a dive, he adamantly refused. Winning was the proudest moment of his life and when his bullet-riddled corpse was found, the cops had suspicions but no proof…

Heartbroken Matt graduated college with a law degree and set up in business with his room-mate Foggy. They hired a lovely young secretary named Karen Page and opened an office in Murdock’s childhood-home district of Hell’s Kitchen. With his life on track Matt now had time to resolve his father’s murder.

A old promise and his new limits as an officer of the Court stopped him from acting as Murdock…but what if he became “somebody else”…?

In the climactic clash the Fixer perished and the fresh revelations begin here as Daredevil lights a candle in St. Finnian of Clonard Catholic Church. Now that his mission of vengeance has concluded, serious doubts begin to bedevil him, but unbeknownst to the neophyte Man Without Fear, his accidental midnight meeting with the new priest are the start of a critical new relationship.

Just how much so he doesn’t realise it until after meeting the Fantastic Four and defeating high-voltage villain Electro. The next day Father Mullen hires Nelson and Murdock to save St. Finnian’s from being closed down by the City’s corrupt Land Board…

A further distraction occurs when Karen is kidnapped by Leland Owsley – the infamous Owl – and the city almost succumbs to the pheromone-fuelled mental-domination of Killgrave, the Purple Man

Daredevil still feels he hasn’t got to grips with his superhero persona and is oblivious as diligent Foggy proceeds with the case, uncovering an odd connection between Mullen, the Land Board and golden boy Mayoral candidate Councilman William Doyle. Whilst Daredevil and the media are distracted by the Mysterious Masked Matador, a hitman starts making Doyle’s problems go away, and, finally forced to use his brains instead of his fists, Matt finally starts connecting the dots of a criminal tragedy that goes back decades and spans the continent…

Despite pressure mounting from all directions to drop the St. Finnian’s case, Matt and Foggy persist, until Daredevil is again diverted, this time by the mighty-muscled Ox and electrified bandit the Eel, working for mad menace Zoltan Drago in a Fellowship of Fear…

After that climactic battle Matt finally realises his true place in the city’s superhero pantheon and makes some drastic changes to his modus operandi, but it might be too late as Foggy, Karen and Mullen have vanished. With no time to spare Matt swings into action, ready to give the Devil his Due…

Also included in this enticing, compelling hardback is the lead story from the then-latest reboot of the Man Without Fear: (Daredevil #1, 2011, by Mark Waid, Paulo Rivera & Marcos Martin), returning the grim Avenger to his swashbuckling roots in a bombastic battle against teleporting terror The Spot plus ‘A Bonus Tale’ by Waid & Martin, charmingly detailing how his super-senses work.

Fast-paced and action-packed, this entire package rips along like a TV show recap, spartan, on-point and tantalising, and despite poor response from comics aficionados remains a solid primer for newcomers looking for a little brief background to the history and the characters.
© 2011 and 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil: Guardian Devil


By Kevin Smith, Joe Quesada & Jimmy Palmiotti (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4143-3

Up until that moment merely an upstart wünderkind film-maker who’d also written Pop Culture essays and a few Indy comics (Jay and Silent Bob, Clerks, Chasing Dogma, Bluntman and Chronic), Kevin Smith generated a lot of excitement when he was announced as writer of the Daredevil relaunch in 1998.

That translated into big sales when the comics finally appeared.

Unlike Frank Miller’s legendary tenures, Smith wasn’t about tearing down and rebuilding as much as shining light on dusty forgotten corners; reminding jaded fans just why they liked the character whilst presenting him afresh to new readers.

This edition of Guardian Devil comes from 2010; an anniversary re-release of Daredevil volume 2 #1-8 (November 1998-June 1999) and celebrating a key moment in one of Marvel’s most malleable stars as well as the launching of the prestigious Marvel Knights mature reader imprint.

‘And a Child Shall Lead Them All’ sets the game in play as the sightless swashbuckler reels from the news that long-time lover Karen Page has left him for a broadcasting job on the West Coast.

Six months later Matt Murdock is still coming to terms with being abandoned. Daredevil is marking time dealing with the criminal scum of Hell’s Kitchen when he takes Gwyneth under his wing. The fifteen year old has just given birth and gone on the run.

It’s not so much the fact that she’s being inexplicably, relentlessly pursued by the thugs who murdered her parents which make her so fascinating. It’s not even that she completely believes she’s undergone an immaculate conception and delivered the new Messiah. The truly hard to rationalise bit is that angels told Gwyneth to trust complete stranger Matt because he’s secretly Daredevil…

Gwyneth soon vanishes, leaving Matt in possession of the putatively holy infant. World-weary and flabbergasted he consults former partner the Black Widow in ‘The Unexamined Life’. At least she’s a woman and knows how to care for kids…

Things take a sinister turn when incomprehensibly sinister Nicholas Macabes comes to the office with an astounding proposition. He also knows of Matt’s other life and, on behalf of an ancient benevolent organisation, politely requests the lawyer hand over the child. According to him, it is the Antichrist and as long as it’s alive evil and misfortune will grow in the world. He even gives the bewildered hero a crucifix to ward off harm…

Confused and bewildered, with his super-senses telling him nothing whilst his innate faith and logical advocate’s training war over the issue, Matt’s disorientation grows when Karen unexpectedly returns. She’s just been diagnosed with AIDS…

Tensions grow in ‘Dystopia’ when best friend Foggy Nelson is charged with murder. He’d been cheating on his fiancée with a client when she turned into a demon and he was only defending himself and…

As a frustration-wracked Man without Fear hits the rooftops and falls into a cunning trap, Karen receives a visitor. Macabe explains how the baby is responsible for all Earth’s increasing evils – including Karen’s condition – and her only hope of salvation is to kill it…

Daredevil meanwhile awakens in a white room, confronted by a demon named Baal who also has good and sound reasons to want the baby. Matt barely escapes with his life…

Pushed to breaking point, he deliriously reclaims the child from the Widow. Savagely brushing aside her probing questions and reminders that not all his enemies wear spandex or wave guns, Matt blunders through the night away from ‘The Devil’s Distaff’. Cripplingly unsure whether he should kill or shield the infant in his arms, Daredevil rages on and collapses on holy ground. A nun who is also his mother is there…

And across town, cunning men realise their schemes are not progressing satisfactorily. Nicholas Macabes makes a decision and contracts the infallible assassin Bullseye…

Restored to rationality by his brush with true faith, Daredevil leaves the child at the Clinton Mission Shelter to consult an expert in ‘Devil’s Despair’.

Sorcerer Supreme Stephen Strange learns a few pertinent facts after an interview with satanic overlord Mephisto and confirms that although the baby is clean of all evil taint, Matt himself is drugged to the non-functioning eyeballs…

Dashing back to the Mission, Daredevil finds nuns and volunteers alike have been brutalised by his most twisted enemy. In the horrific battle that follows Bullseye takes the infant and leaves the hero mourning the woman he loved most in the world…

Emotionally shattered and tormented by memories of the good times, Matt stews, frets and finally fights back in ‘The Devil Divested’ as the sadistic mastermind behind a most malign endeavour gloatingly reveals himself, his convoluted plan and the Machiavellian hidden ally in ‘The Devil’s Demon’ before launching one last all-out assault on the hero’s mind, body and conscience…

When the dust settles and the bodies are all accounted for, nothing remains but recriminations, apologies and slow, painful attempts to regain the trust of betrayed friends during the ‘The Devil’s Deliverance’

Packed with guest-stars and illustrated with florid excess and potent appeal by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti, Smith’s tale combines stunning scenes of trademark action with a powerful emotional and ethical undercurrent. Tasking responsibility-obsessed Matt Murdock with the fate of all humanity whilst simultaneously conflicting him over the apparently utterly necessary destruction of an innocent was a truly diabolical idea which paid off with stunning effect.

Despite living day-to-day among monsters and magicians, the Man Without Fear was always the most rational of champions but these events cut straight to his primal core, affecting his deeply held Catholic beliefs, whilst challenging him – and us – to look at evil in another way…

Guardian Devil is a perfect example of an inspired idea properly executed. Smith chooses to embrace all Daredevil’s long and quixotic history rather than re-tailor the hero to fit his vision, and the highly design-oriented art is garish but oddly appropriate to this moody tale.

And it’s still a devilishly great read.
© 2001, 2005, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Daredevil volume 5


By Steve Gerber, Tony Isabella, Bob Brown, Don Heck, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2762-3

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for much of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. He fought gangsters, a variety of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wisecracking his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody, quasi-religious metaphor he’s been seen as in latter years.

After spending years in a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page Murdock took up with former client and Russian émigré Natasha Romanoff, the infamous and notorious spy dubbed The Black Widow.

She was railroaded and framed for murder and prosecuted by Matt’s best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson before the blind legal eagle cleared her. Subsequently leaving New York with her for the wild wacky and West Coast, Matt joined the prestigious San Francisco law firm of Broderick & Sloan but adventure, disaster and intrigue seemed capable of finding the Sightless Swashbuckler anywhere…

This fifth Essential collection re-presents Daredevil #102-125, covering August 1973 to September 1975, and also includes Marvel Two-in-One #3 wherein twin storylines converged, and the action opens with DD searching for recently escaped psychedelic assassin Angar the Screamer.

However Hornhead’s diligent quest instead brought him into conflict with a merciless and similarly displaced old foe when ‘Stilt-Man Stalks the City’ (by Chris Claremont, Syd Shores & Frank Giacoia). The skyscraping scoundrel had first kidnapped the daughter of an inventor in order to extort enhanced weaponry out of the traumatised tinkerer but wasn’t expecting interference from his oldest adversary or his new utterly ruthless paramour….

No sooner had DD and the Widow ended the miscreant’s rampage than #103 saw a team-up with Spider-Man as a merciless cyborg attacked the odd couple whilst they posed for roving photojournalist Peter Parker in ‘…Then Came Ramrod!’ by Steve Gerber, Don Heck & Sal Trapani.

The barely-human brute was after files in Murdock’s safe and hinted of a hidden master, but ultimately his blockbusting strength was of little real use against the far faster veteran heroes…

Even whilst the distracted Murdock was realising that his own boss was sabotaging the attorney’s cases, the mystery manipulator was hiring warped mercenary Sergei Kravinoff to make Daredevil ‘Prey of the Hunter!’ Matt’s priorities changed when Kraven abducted Natasha, and even after the hero had rescued her, explosively returned to defeat them both, throwing the hero to his death over a cliff…

Daredevil #105 saw Natasha brutally avenge her man’s murder, but Murdock was far from dead, having being teleported from the jaws of doom by a ‘Menace from the Moons of Saturn!’ (inked by Don Perlin). In a short sequence pencilled by Jim Starlin, the earthborn Priestess of Titan Moondragon was introduced, and revealed how she had been dispatched to Earth to counter the schemes of death-worshipping proto-god Thanos. She also inadvertently disclosed how she had allied with a respected man of power and authority, providing him with a variety of augmented agents such as Dark Messiah, Ramrod and Angar…

Gerber, Heck & Trapani then brought the expansive extended epic closer to culmination as the manipulator was unmasked in ‘Life Be Not Proud!’ but not before the wily plotter had redeployed all his past minions,  shot his misguided ally Moondragon, usurped a Titanian ultimate weapon and unleashed a life-leeching horror dubbed Terrex upon the world.

With all Earth endangered, DD, the Widow and guest-star Captain Marvel were forced to pull out all the stops to defeat the threat, and only then after a last-minute defection by the worst of their enemies and a desperate ‘Blind Man’s Life!’ courtesy of Gerber, Bob Brown & Sal Buscema.

A new direction began in #108 when DD noticed Natasha using increasingly excessive force on the thugs they stalked. Their heated arguments were forcibly curtailed when Matt’s oldest friend – and current New York DA Foggy Nelson – was shot and she refused to rush to his side with Murdock…

Back in the Big Apple, Matt meets Foggy’s radical student sister Candace and learns of a plot by a mysterious organisation called Black Spectre to steal government printing plates. En route to stop the raid the Scarlet Swashbuckler is intercepted by a larcenous third party whose brutal interference allows the sinister plotters to abscond with the money making plates in ‘Cry… Beetle!’ illustrated by Brown & Paul Gulacy.

Even the arrival of the cops can’t slow the bludgeoning battle against the Beetle in ‘Dying for Dollar$!’ (Brown & Heck), but even as the exo-skeletoned skell breaks away in NYC, in San Francisco Natasha is attacked by a terrifying albino mutant called Nekra Priestess of Darkness, who wants to recruit her into Black Spectre.

After tracking down and defeating the Beetle, Daredevil meets Africa-based adventuress Shanna the She-Devil, unaware that the fiery American ex-pat is back seeking bloody vengeance against the same enemies who have attacked Foggy, Natasha and the entire US economy…

The next chapter appeared in Marvel Two-in-One #3 (May 1974, by Gerber, Sal Buscema & Joe Sinnott) and offered a peek ‘Inside Black Spectre!’ as destabilising attacks on US prosperity and culture fomented riot in the streets of the beleaguered nation.

Following separate clue trails the Thing linked up with the Man Without Fear to invade the cabal’s flying HQ but they were impossibly overcome soon after discovering that the Black Widow had defected to the rebels…

Issue #110 saw the return of Gene Colan – inked by Frank Chiaramonte – as the plot further developed in ‘Birthright!’ revealing that Black Spectre was an exclusively female and minorities staffed organisation, led by a pheromone-fuelled male mutant called Mandrill.

One of the first “Children of the Atom”, the ape-like creature had suffered appalling abuse and rejection until he found the equally ostracised Nekra, but once they met and realised their combined power, they swore to make America pay…

‘Sword of the Samurai!’ (Brown & Jim Mooney) in Daredevil #111 opened with DD and Shanna attacked by a monstrous Japanese warrior even as the She-Devil at last disclosed her own tragic reasons for hunting Nekra and Mandrill. When she too is taken by Black Spectre – who want to dissect her to discover how she can resist Mandrill’s influence – DD is again attacked by the outrageously powerful Silver Samurai…

Triumphing over impossible odds DD then infiltrates the flying fortress in #112 before the spectacular conclusion ‘Death of a Nation?’ (with art by Colan & Giacoia) finds the mutant duo seemingly achieving their ultimate goal by desecrating the White House and temporarily taking symbolic control of America.

…But only until Shanna, the freshly-liberated Natasha and the fighting mad Man without Fear marshal their utmost resources…

Even with the epic over Gerber still kept popping away at contemporary issues as with #113 ‘When Strikes the Gladiator!’ – illustrated by Brown & Vince Colletta – which began with the Black Widow calling it a day, continued with Candace Nelson being arrested by for treason, teased with the girl being kidnapped by one of DD’s most bloodthirsty foes and culminated with the creation of a new major villain and an attack by Marvel’s most controversial monster heroes…

Ted Sallis was a government scientist hired to recreate the Super-Soldier serum that turned a puny volunteer into Captain America. Due to corporate interference and what we today call “mission creep”, the project metamorphosed into a fall-back plan to turn humans into monstrous beings that could thrive in the most polluted of toxic environments.

When Sallis was subsequently captured by spies and consumed his serum to stop them from stealing it, he was transformed into a horrific mindless Man-Thing and lost in the swamps of Florida…

Candace, an idealistic journalism student, had later uncovered illicit links between Big Business, her own university and the Military’s misuse of public funds in regard to the Sallis Project but when she attempted to blow the whistle the government decided to shut her up. More worryingly, scientific mastermind Death-Stalker could think of far more profitable uses for a solution that made unkillable monsters…

Trailing Candy’s abductors to Citrusville, Florida, Daredevil was ambushed by Gladiator and his macabre senior partner, but saved after a furious fracas by the mysterious Man-Thing in #114’s ironically entitled ‘A Quiet Night in the Swamp!’ (Brown & Colletta). The mastermind managed to escape however and returned to New York where he tried to kill Foggy and track down the clandestine, still operating continuation of the Sallis Project. Even though DD arrived in time to foil the maniac in #115’s ‘Death Stalks the City!’ the staggering duel ended inconclusively and the potential mass-murderer’s body could not be found.

Colan & Colletta reunited for ‘Two Flew Over the Owl’s Nest!’ as Daredevil returned to San Francisco in search of reconciliation with Natasha only to blunder into the latest criminal enterprise of one of his oldest enemies.

This time however The Owl isn’t waiting to be found and launches an all-out attack on the unsuspecting DD and the Widow.

Claremont scripted the conclusion over Gerber’s plot, with Brown & Colletta back on the art as Natasha and Shanna desperately hunt for the missing Man without Fear before the avian arch-criminal can add him to the pile of purloined personalities trapped in the diabolical ‘Mind Tap!’

With Gerber moving on, a little messy creative shuffling resulted in ‘Circus Spelled Sideways is Death!’ (#118 by Gerry Conway, Heck & Colletta) as Daredevil left Natasha, resettled in New York and promptly battled the infamous Circus of Crime and their latest star turn – a bat-controlling masked nut called Blackwing – after which Tony Isabella took the authorial reins with a clever piece of sentimental back-writing in ‘They’re Tearing Down Fogwell’s Gym!’ rendered by Brown & Heck.

As Murdock negotiates a plea deal for Candace, the man who trained his boxer father comes by with a little problem. It seems a crazy crooked doctor is offering an impossible muscle and density boosting treatment that can turn ordinary pugilists into unstoppable monsters…

Daredevil #120 then began an extended story-arc which focussed on the re-emergence of the world’s most powerful secret society.

‘…And a Hydra New Year!’ (Isabella, Brown & Colletta) saw the Black Widow hit New York for one last attempt to make the relationship work only to find herself – with Matt and Foggy – knee-deep in Hydra soldiers at a Christmas party.

The resurgent terrorist tribe has learned that America’s greatest security agency needs to recruit a legal expert as one of their Board of Directors and, determined to prevent the accession of ‘Foggy Nelson, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D’ at all costs, have dispatched the formidable El Jaguar and an army of thugs to stop him before he can start.

Thankfully Nick Fury and his crack commandos arrive in time to drive off the attackers but the rumour is true and Foggy is now a marked man…

Both issues #120 and 121 were supplemented by text pages outlining the convoluted history of Hydra and they’re reprinted here too to keep us all in the arcane espionage loop…

The new organisation has scoured the ranks of the criminal classes – and Marvel’s back catalogue – for its return and the likes of Dreadnought, Commander Kraken, Man-Killer, Mentallo, The Fixer, Blackwing and many other golden oldies happily toil for the enigmatic new Supreme Hydra as he continually strives to take out the increasingly harried Foggy. Eventually they succeed in capturing the portly DA and Natasha goes off the deep end in #122’s ‘Hydra-and-Seek’, turning New York into an active war-zone as she hunts for clues, culminating in a brutal showdown and ‘Holocaust in the Halls of Hydra!’

The times and mood were changing however and the last two issues comprise a turn to darker, more gothic dramas beginning with #124 and the advent of a vigilante killer patterned on an old pulp fiction hero.

‘In the Coils of the Copperhead!’ by Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Colan & Klaus Janson courted the controversial gritty realism then remaking Batman over at DC Comics as the Widow finally really and truly walked out on DD, leaving the frustrated hero to bury himself in the mystery of a murdering madman overreacting to petty crime and leaving a trail of bodies behind him…

Foggy meanwhile was up for re-election and losing on all counts to the too-good-to-be true Blake Tower but Matt couldn’t offer any help as he had tracked down the secret of the vigilante. The resultant clash didn’t go the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s way, however, and he started issue #125 with the terrifying realisation that ‘Vengeance is the Copperhead!’ (Wolfman, Brown & Janson) before achieving a last-minute skin-of-the-teeth hollow victory…

The marvellous monochrome tome also includes unseen preliminary covers to issues #104, 107 & 115 by Gil Kane and Jim Starlin plus Marvel Universe Handbook pages giving the low-down on the Man without Fear, technical specs on his handy Billy-Club and the convoluted official intelligence on the Black Widow.

As the social upheaval of the 1960sand early 1970s receded, the impressively earnest material was gradually being replaced by fabulous fantasy tales which strongly suggested the true potential of Daredevil was in reach. These beautifully illustrated yarns may still occasionally jar with their heartfelt stridency, naivety and often-outdated attitudes but the narrative energy and sheer exuberant excitement of these classic adventures are delights no action fan will care to miss.

…And the next volume heads even further into dark shadows and the grimmest of territory…
© 1973, 1974, 1974, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil in Love and War – a Marvel Graphic Novel


By Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-87135-172-2

It’s been a while since Marvel published an all-original graphic novel as opposed to a collection, but not too long ago they were the market leader in the field with an entire range of “big stories” told on larger than normal pages (277x208mm rather than the now customary 258 x 168mm) featuring not only proprietary characters but also licensed assets like Conan, media adaptations like Willow and even original creator-owned properties such as Alien Legion.

This spectacular and controversial tale of triumph and tragedy from 1986 is a defining moment in the ongoing battle between the driven Man Without Fear and his ultimate antithesis Wilson Fisk – the sinister and grotesque master manipulator dubbed the Kingpin – wherein scripter Frank Miller and illustrator Bill Sienkiewicz (and subtly effective letterer Jim Novak) took a long, hard look at the costs of the struggle in a stark examination of obsession…

The Kingpin is the criminal overlord with New York City in his pocket, wielding the power of life and death over all its denizens. For such a man helplessness is a toxic emotion but all his power and influence cannot cure his beloved wife Vanessa, left broken and catatonic after one of Fisk’s regular confrontation’s with the city’s superheroic guardians…

Dr. Paul Mondat is the world’s greatest expert on such conditions so Fisk orders psychopathic killer Victor to abduct the French physician’s blind wife Cheryl, thus compelling the doctor to cure Vanessa or else. To ensure his total compliance and utmost passionate dedication Fisk leaves Cheryl in the deranged kidnapper’s tender care…

Spending all his time babysitting the unsullied and angelically helpless waif, Victor begins to fixate on his captive…

Daredevil, meanwhile, is punching all the usual suspects in his attempts to get to the Kingpin and save Cheryl, but Victor is far, far off the grid as well as his meds…

Coercing low-level thug Turk into being his snitch and pawn the Sightless Swashbuckler at last rescues Cheryl and then determines to use her as another game piece in his campaign but soon he too is falling under the spell of the impossibly beguiling young woman…

Victor, deprived of his angel of light, goes completely off the rails just as a new factor skews the picture when Mondat succeeds in bringing Vanessa out of her trance…

As the doctor grows ever closer to the recovering Vanessa, ruthless mob overlord Fisk is increasingly distracted and beginning to succumb to jealousy. Events rise to a fearsome crescendo when Daredevil finally tears himself away from Cheryl to invade the Kingpin’s skyscraper citadel. The hero is completely unaware that the utterly unhinged Victor has tracked him down and is only waiting for the masked man to leave so that he can be alone again with his divine Cheryl…

Meanwhile the Kingpin has realised his own great mistake: Mondat has bound Vanessa to him and disappeared, taking with him the only thing Wilson… an eye for an eye, a wife for a wife…

Brutal, scary and enticingly different, this is a truly breathtaking psychological drama beautifully draped in Sienkiewicz’s evocative expressionist painting style: a uniquely effective piece of comics storytelling which is a magnificent, challenging and deeply satisfying.

Although best read in the original oversized Marvel Graphic Novel edition keen and thrifty fans can also see the tale included in the 2003 standard-proportioned compendium Daredevil/Elektra: Love and War.

And they really should…
© 1986 Marvel Comics Group. All rights reserved.

Stan Lee Presents Daredevil


By Stan Lee & Wally Wood (Marvel Illustrated Books)
ISBN: 0-939766-18-3

Here’s another look at how our industry’s gradual inclusion into mainstream literature began and one more pulse-pounding paperback package for action fans and nostalgia lovers, offering yet another chance to enjoy some of the best and most influential comics stories of all time.

After a few abortive attempts in the 1960s to storm the shelves of bookstores and libraries, Marvel made a concerted and comprehensive effort to get their wares into more socially acceptable formats. As the 1970s closed, purpose-built graphic collections and a string of new prose adventures tailored to feed into their all-encompassing continuity began oh, so slowly to appear.

Whereas the merits of the latter are a matter for a different review, the company’s careful reformatting of classic comics adventures were generally excellent; a superb and recurring effort to generate continuity primers and a perfect – if fickle – alternative venue to introduce fresh readers to their unique worlds.

The dream project was never better represented than in this classy little crime-busting cornucopia of wonders with crisp black and white reproduction, sensitive editing, efficient picture-formatting and two superb epics from the first “hot run” of the very variable Man Without Fear …

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, mind-blowing martial artist and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the captivatingly humanistic art of such modern Michelangelos as Wally Wood, John Romita and Gene Colan.

DD fought thugs, gangsters, a variety of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion. He quipped and wise-cracked his way through life and life-threatening combat, before under the auspices of Jim Shooter, Roger McKenzie and Frank Miller, the character transformed into a dark, moody avenger and grim, quasi-religious metaphor of justice and retribution…

After a shaky start, with the fifth issue Wally Wood assumed the art chores where his lush and lavish work brought power, grace and beauty to the series. At last this mere costumed acrobat seemed to spring and dance across the rooftops and pages. Wood’s contribution to the plotting didn’t hurt either. He actually got a cover plug on his first issue.

This brilliant black and white collection begins with the Daredevil #6’s ‘Trapped by the Fellowship of Fear!’: a minor classic wherein the Sightless Swashbuckler had to defeat not only the blockbusting Ox and electric assassin The Eel but his own threat-specific foe Mr. Fear who could instil terror and panic in victims, courtesy of his deadly gas-gun…

Another villain debuted in #8’s gripping industrial espionage thriller with meek, mild Wilbur Day hiring Nelson & Murdock to retrieve the rights to a stolen technology patent from industrialist Carl Kaxton. However, the case led to a clash with a bizarre and terrifying menace in ‘The Stiltman Cometh!’ Moreover Day proved to be far more than he at first appeared…

It’s easy to assume that such resized, repackaged mass market paperback collections were just another Marvel cash-cow in their tried-and-tested “flood the marketplace” sales strategy – and maybe they were – but as someone who has bought these stories in most of the available formats over the years, I have to admit that these handy back-pocket books are among my very favourites and ones I’ve re-read most – they’re handier, more accessible and just plain cool – so why aren’t they are available as ebooks yet?
© 1965, 1982 Marvel Comics Group, a division of Cadence Industries Corporation. All rights reserved.

Here Comes… Daredevil


By Stan Lee, Bill Everett, John Romita, Gene Colan & various (Lancer)
ISBN: 72170 ASIN: B000EQWXLE

This is one solely for chronic nostalgics, consumed collectors and historical nit-pickers… As Marvel grew in popularity in the early 1960s it gradually replaced its broad variety of genre titles with more and more super-heroes. The rapidly recovering publishing powerhouse was still hampered by a crippling distribution deal limiting the company to 16 titles (which would curtail their output until 1968), so each new comicbook would have to fill the revenue-generating slot (however small) of an existing title.

Moreover since the costumed characters were selling, each new title would limit the breadth of genres (horror, western, war, etc). It was putting a lot of eggs in one basket, and superheroes had failed twice before for Marvel.

In the 1960s on the back of the “Batmania” craze, many comics publishers repackaged their old comics stories in cheap and cheerful digest-sized monochrome paperbacks, and it’s easy to assume that those rapidly resized, repackaged book collections of the early exploits and extravaganzas were just another Company cash-cow in their perennial “flood the marketplace” sales strategy. Maybe they were, but many funnybook publishers – including National/DC, Tower and Archie – were also desperate to add some credibility and even literary legitimacy to their efforts, and as well as increased profits these forays onto the world’s bookshelves offered the prospect of fresh new markets and a wider acceptance. Considering how many different prose publishing houses chanced their arm on such projects, their editors also believed there was money to be made from comics too…

Also it’s hard to deny that the book editions were just, plain cool…

As someone who bought these stories in most of the available formats over the years – including constantly recycled reprints in British weeklies from the mid-sixties to the 1980s – I have to admit that the sleek classic paperback editions have a charm and attraction all their own…

Most of the US Marvel collections from Lancer generated smaller (and inferior) British editions from Four Square Books but as far as I know Daredevil never crossed the pond except as a remaindered import…

Heavily abridged and edited and disturbingly printed in both portrait and landscape format, Here Comes… Daredevil was the sixth and last Lancer publication (the others being two Fantastic Four compilations and one apiece for Thor, Spider-Man and The Hulk) and touted a guest-appearance by Spidey, reprinting most of the two-part battle against the mysterious Masked Marauder from issues #16 and 17. Originally entitled ‘Enter… Spider-Man!’ and ‘None are so Blind…’ by Stan Lee, John Romita Sr. & Frank Ray Née Giacoia) the tale recounted how the cunning criminal manipulated the Wall-Crawler into attacking DD whilst his gang of futuristic cut-throats attempted to steal a new super-engine…

This is followed by ‘The Origin of Daredevil’ from issue #1, recounting how young Matt Murdock grew up in the New York slums, raised by his father Battlin’ Jack Murdock, a second-rate prize-fighter. Determined that the boy will be something, Jack extracts a solemn promise from him never to fight. Mocked by other kids and called “Daredevil”, Matt abides by his vow, but secretly trains his body to physical perfection.

One day he saves a blind man from being hit by a speeding truck, only to be struck in the face by its radioactive cargo. His sight is burned away but his other senses are super-humanly enhanced and he gains a sixth: “radar-sense”. He tells no-one, not even his dad.

Battlin’ Jack is in dire straits. As his career declined he signed with The Fixer, knowing full well what the corrupt promoter expected from his fighters. Yet his career blossomed. Unaware that he was being set up, Murdock got a shot at the Big Time, but when ordered to take a dive he refused. Winning was the proudest moment of his life. When his bullet riddled corpse was found, the cops had suspicions but no proof…

Heartbroken, Matt graduated college with a law degree and set up in business with his room-mate Franklin “Foggy” Nelson. They hired a lovely young secretary named Karen Page. With his life on track young Matt now had time to solve his father’s murder. His promise stopped him from fighting but what if he became “somebody else”…?

Scripted by Stan Lee and magically illustrated by the legendary Bill Everett (with assistance from Steve Ditko) this is a rather nonsensical yet visually engaging yarn that just goes through the motions and completely omits the dramatic denouement wherein Matt finally deals with his father’s killers…

Originally tipped for a fill-in issue, Gene Colan came aboard as penciller with Daredevil #20’s ‘The Verdict is: Death!’, inked by Mike Esposito moonlighting as Mickey Demeo. Colan’s superbly humanistic drawing and facility with expressions was a little jarring at first since he drew Daredevil in a passable Romita imitation and everything else in his own manner, but he soon settled in and this cunning two-part revenge thriller – featuring The Owl who had trapped the sightless adventurer on a hidden island overrun with robot raptors and brutal thugs – is a stunning action rollercoaster which perfectly illustrates the hero’s swashbuckling acrobatic combat style.

The spectacular battle concluded with ‘The Trap is Sprung!’ (from #21, inked by Giacoia, Dick Ayers & Bill Everett) and began the artist’s long and brilliant run on the series.

If you’ve not read these tales before then there are certainly better places to do so (such as the Essential Daredevil volume 1) but even with all the archaic and just plain dumb bits in this book these are still fine super-hero tales with beautiful art that will never stale or wither, and for us backward looking Baby-boomers these nostalgic pocket tomes have an incomprehensible allure that logic just can’t fight or spoil…
© 1967 Marvel Comics Group. All Rights Reserved.

Daredevil: Marked for Death


By Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-087135-351-1

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. He fought gangsters, a variety of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion. He quipped and wise-cracked his way through life and life-threatening combat, but under the auspices of Jim Shooter, Roger McKenzie and finally Frank Miller himself, the character transformed into a dark, moody avenger and grim, quasi-religious metaphor of justice and retribution…

Here’s another slim, sleek and sublimely enticing lost treasure from the early days of graphic novel compilations that will undoubtedly enthral fans of hard-bitten, high-calibre Masked Manhunter melees.

Released in 1990, this full-colour 96-page compendium first collected the landmark stories which so quickly confirmed the Man Without Fear as the new face of comics action.

Daredevil #159-161 and 163-164 from July 1979 – May 1980 completed the gradual transformation of DD – begun by Marv Wolfman and Jim Shooter – from bold, apparently carefree Scarlet Swashbuckler to driven, terrifying urban avenger: a Demon dipped in blood. What Roger McKenzie began here Miller would finish in an audacious groundbreaking run of shocking, compelling dark masterpieces… a momentous, unmissable, “must-read” series.

The groundbreaking adventure begins with ‘Marked for Murder!’ (McKenzie, Miller & Klaus Janson) as infallible assassin Mr. Slaughter is brought out of retirement for a very special hit on the Sightless Superhero. Meanwhile veteran Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich starts to slowly piece together snippets which indicate that blind attorney Matt Murdock might be far more than he seems…

The spectacular showdown between the Crimson Crimebuster and Slaughter’s army of killers compels the mysterious client to do his own dirty work and, after brutally abducting DD’s old girlfriend the Black Widow, the hero has no choice but to put himself ‘In the Hands of Bullseye!’, culminating in a devastating duel and ultimate defeat for the psychopathic villain in ‘To Dare the Devil!’

Issue #162 featured a fill-in tale by Michael Fleisher & Steve Ditko and is not included here – although Miller’s rejected cover for that issue is part of the gallery section – so after a one-page info-feature on ‘Daredevil’s Billy Club!’ the stunning David and Goliath action resumes as the merely mortal Man Without Fear battled the Incredible Hulk in ‘Blind Alley’ (inked by Josef Rubenstein & Janson) in a desperate and ultimately hopeless attempt to save his beloved city…

This superb compilation concludes with an evocative retelling of his origin in ‘Exposé’ as the meticulous and dogged Urich confronts the hospitalised hero with the inescapable conclusions of his research…

Tense, tough, dramatic, disturbing, clever, beautiful and astoundingly visceral, these stories turned a popular costumed hero into an icon of the modern comics industry and are still amongst the best tales in the character’s long history.

Available in a number of collections these epics should be compulsory reading for any action fan or comics aficionado.
© 1990 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.