Daredevil Masterworks volume 3

By Stan Lee, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5953-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Everybody’s Truest Meaning of the Season… 10/10

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…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists and a plethora of super-villains (and – as seen in this collection – even the occasional monster or alien invasion), quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.

Covering November 1966 through September 1967 and re-presenting Daredevil #22-32 and Daredevil Annual #1, this third compilation (in both paperback and eBook formats) sees a marked improvement in overall story quality as scripter Stan Lee begins utilising longer soap operatic plot-threads to string together the unique fight scenes of the increasingly bold Colan, who gradually shook off the remnants of his predecessor’s art style.

In a very short time John Romita had made the Sightless Swashbuckler his own before graduating to Spider-Man, so when Colan took over on Daredevil he initially kept the clipped, solid, almost chunky lines whilst drawing the Man without Fear, but increasingly drew everything else in his loose, fluid, near-tonal manner. With these tales his warring styles coalesced and the result was literally poetry in non-stop motion…

Following a fond reminiscence from Colan himself – in an Introduction first written in 2005 -the action opens with ‘The Tri-Man Lives’ (Lee, Colan, Frank Giacoia and Dick Ayers), containing Gangland themes whilst sharing focus with super-menaces Masked Marauder and Gladiator, whose eponymous killer android proves less of a threat than expected…

The villains had sought control of crime organisation The Maggia but their plan to murder the Man without Fear to prove their worthiness goes badly awry after the kidnapped hero refuses to lie down and die…

Concluding in #23 with ‘DD Goes Wild!’ the ending found our hero trapped in Europe, but he soon makes his way to England and a violent reunion with Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar who has become the prime suspect in #24’s ‘The Mystery of the Midnight Stalker!’ This tale contains my vote for the Most Obnoxious Misrepresentation of England in Comic-books Award when a policeman – sorry, “Bobby” – warns, “STAY BACK, PLEASE! THE MILITIA WILL BE ARRIVING IN JIG TIME!”

After clearing the English hero’s name, Matt Murdock returns to America in time to enjoy the less-than-stellar debut of a certified second-rate super-villain as ‘Enter: The Leap-Frog!’ introduces a crook dressed like a frog with springs on his flippered feet (yes, really).

However, the big event of the issue is meeting Matt’s hip and groovy twin brother Mike

By the time of ‘Stilt-Man Strikes Again’ (DD #26, March 1967) Colan was fully in command of his vision and a leaner, moodier hero was emerging. The major push of the next few issues was to turn the hopeless romantic triangle of Matt Murdock, best friend and Law-firm partner Foggy Nelson and their secretary Karen Page into a whacky quadrangle by introducing a fictitious twin brother Mike, who would be “exposed” as Daredevil to divert suspicion from the blind attorney who actually battled all those weird villains…

Confused, much…?

Still skulking in the background was arch-villain Masked Marauder who was slowly closing in on DD’s alter ego. He gets a lot closer in ‘Mike Murdock Must Die!’ (with Giacoia inks) after Stilt-Man teams with the Marauder and the ever-fractious Spider-Man once more clashes with old frenemy Daredevil before the villains meet their apparent ends.

The Sightless Swashbuckler “enjoys” his first encounter with extraterrestrials in #28’s moody one-trick-pony ‘Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Planet!’ – an Ayers-inked thriller wherein alien invaders’ blindness-inducing rays prove inexplicably ineffective against the Crimson Crimebuster.

John Tartaglione inked the next tale, a solid, action-packed gangster-thriller entitled ‘Unmasked!’ whilst issue #30 begins a protracted and impressive epic clash with old Thor foes the Cobra and Mister Hyde, complete with an Asgardian cameo in ‘…If There Should Be a Thunder God!’

Attempting to catch the super-criminals DD masquerades as Thor only to encounter the real McCoy. Unfortunately, the mortal hero is ambushed by the villains once the Thunderer departs and as a result of the battle that follows loses his compensating hyper-senses. Thus, he must perpetrate a ‘Blind Man’s Bluff!’ which almost fools Cobra and Hyde…

Sadly, it all goes wrong before it all comes right and against all odds Murdock regains his abilities just in time ‘…To Fight the Impossible Fight!’

Wrapping up the devilish derring-do is the first Daredevil Annual: a visually impressive but rather lacklustre rogues’ gallery riot from Lee, Colan & Tartaglione, detailing five old foes ganging up on Daredevil in ‘Electro and the Emissaries of Evil!’

The Man without Fear quickly puts a pretty definitive smack-down on the electric felon, plus his acrimonious allies the Matador, Gladiator, Stilt-Man and Leapfrog.

Of more interest are the ‘Inside Daredevil’ pages, explaining his powers, providing the ‘Blueprint for an All-Purpose Billy Club’ and recapping the Matt/Mike Murdock “Faked News” situation, plus offering stunning pin-ups of Karen, Foggy, Ka-Zar, DD and a host of old foes such as Gladiator, Leap Frog, The Owl and Masked Marauder.

Rounding out the experience is a short comedy tale ‘At the Stroke of Midnight!: an Actual Unrehearsed Story Conference with (and by) Stan and Gene!’ plus a gallery of original art pages by Colan, Giacoia, Ayers & Tartaglione.

Despite a few bumpy spots 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.
© 1966, 1967, 2012, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.