By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Barry Windsor-Smith & various (Marvel)
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 had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul and wunderkind scripter Roy Thomas added an edge of darkness to the swashbuckling derring-do…
The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists, robots and a plethora of super-villains, quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.
Covering July 1968 to April 1970 this third tumultuous collection (in both trade paperback and eBook formats) sees a radical shift in treatment and content after in Stan Lee surrendered the scripter’s role to Thomas and an aura of barely contained escalating madness begins permeating the now staid soap opera narrative beats, peerlessly pictured by the masterful Colan, and a promising British fill-in artist named Barry Smith….
Having killed off his fictitious twin brother Mike Murdock, Matt briefly considered hanging up his scarlet long-johns but eventually retained his secret other-life by revealing to his closest friends that Mike was only one of a number of Men without Fear in the first part of a prolonged battle with a new nemesis as ‘Nobody Laughs at The Jester!’ (by Lee, Colan and inker Dan Adkins).
The Malevolent Mountebank only wanted to be more successful as a criminal than he had been as a bit-playing actor, but his motivation changed when crooked mayoral candidate Richard Raleigh hired him to spoil incorruptible Foggy Nelson’s campaign for the D.A. post.
The role grew, precipitating a protracted saga which kicked off with a temporarily befuddled DD ‘In Combat with Captain America!’ (inked by Vince Colletta) before Hornhead is framed for killing the Jester’s alter ego Jonathan Powers in #44’s ‘I, Murderer!’
Soundly defeated in combat by the Jester, our hero experiences ‘The Dismal Dregs of Defeat!’ and becomes a wanted fugitive. Following a frenetic police manhunt, he is finally arrested before snatching victory in thoroughly enthralling conclusion ‘The Final Jest!’ as inker extraordinary George Klein began a long and impressive association with the series.
With the Vietnam War raging, a story involving the conflict was inevitable but #47’s ‘Brother, Take My Hand!’ was so much more than a quick cash-in or even well-meaning examination of contemporary controversy as Marvel found another strong and admirable African American character (one of far too few in those blinkered times) to add to their growing stable.
Newly-blinded veteran Willie Lincoln turns to Matt Murdock and Daredevil for help on his return home. A disgraced cop framed by gang-boss Biggie Benson before joining the army, Lincoln is now back in America and determined to clear his name at all costs.
This gripping, life-affirming crime thriller not only triumphs in Daredevil’s natural milieu of moody urban menace but also sets up a long-running plot that would ultimately change the Man without Fear forever.
The return of Stilt-Man posed little more than a distraction in ‘Farewell to Foggy’ as Matt’s oldest friend wins the race for District Attorney but acrimoniously turns his back on Murdock, seemingly forever….
Stan Lee’s final script on the sightless crusader, ‘Daredevil Drops Out’ (#49), was illustrated by Colan & Klein, depicting Murdock as the target of a robotic assassin built by Mad-Scientist-for-Hire Starr Saxon. This tense, action-packed thriller grew into something very special with second chapter ‘If in Battle I Fall…!’ as neophyte penciller Barry Smith stepped in, ably augmented by veteran inker Johnny Craig.
Lee then left comics-scripting Boy Wonder Roy Thomas to finish up for him in ‘Run, Murdock, Run!’ (Daredevil #51, April 1969 with art by Smith & Klein): a wickedly engaging, frantically escalating psychedelic thriller which sees Saxon uncover the hero’s greatest secret after the Man Without Fear succumbs to toxins in his bloodstream and goes berserk.
The saga climaxes in stunning style on ‘The Night of the Panther!’ (Smith & Craig) as African Avenger Black Panther joins the hunt for an out-of-control Daredevil before subsequently helping contain, if not defeat, the dastardly Saxon.
The radically unsettling ending blew away all the conventions of traditional Fights ‘n’ Tights melodrama and still shocks me today…
Colan & Klein returned for #53’s ‘As it Was in the Beginning…’ wherein Thomas reprised, revised and expanded Lee & Bill Everett’s origin script from Daredevil #1, allowing the troubled hero to reach a bold decision, executed in #54 as ‘Call him Fear!’ featured the “death” of Matt Murdock and the triumphant return of long-vanished villain Mr. Fear.
‘Cry Coward!’ (beginning a superb inking run by legendary illustrator Syd Shores) reveals DD’s desperate reason for faking his demise (again!) and enacts the end of one of the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s greatest enemies.
‘…And Death Came Riding!’ then opens a tense 2-parter which forever changes Murdock’s relationship with the perennially loved-from-afar Karen Page whilst introducing a stunningly sinister new menace in Death’s-Head. By the end of ‘In the Midst of Life…!’ Matt and Karen are enjoying the most progressive and mature relationship in mainstream comics…
‘Spin-Out on Fifth Avenue!’ starts re-establishing some civilian stability as resurrected (again!) Matt Murdock becomes a special prosecutor for New York District Attorney Foggy Nelson and promptly goes after a mysterious new gang-boss dubbed Crime-Wave. As the fresh plot-threads take hold, new threats emerge, such as amped-up biker and reluctant assassin-for-hire Stunt-Master and #59’s far nastier hired gun who boasts ‘The Torpedo Will Get You if you Don’t Watch Out!’
‘Showdown at Sea!’ closes the career of the insidious and treacherous Crime-Wave, simultaneously signalling a return to single-issue action-based stories, starting with ‘Trapped… by the Trio of Doom!’ and spotlighting featuring a spectacular struggle against Cobra, Mr. Hyde and The Jester.
DD #62 features the nefarious Batman analogue from the Squadron Sinister who attempts to destroy the hero’s reputation in ‘Quoth the Nighthawk “Nevermore”!’ after which Horn-Head stunningly stops deadly psychopath Melvin Potter from busting out of jail in ‘The Girl… or the Gladiator’… but only at the cost of his constantly conflicted love-life…
To Be Continued…
Adding extra value to the proceeding are unused Colan cover pencils for #43, cover art for #44 and a delicious selection of original art pages concluding and complimenting a bonanza of bombastic battles tales that are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic in the grand Marvel Manner that no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.