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.