Daredevil Masterworks volume 2

By Stan Lee, Dennis O’Neill, John Romita, Gene Colan, with Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0804-7 (HB)                    978-0-7851-5050-3 (TPB)

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.

It all worked out in the end though…

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, enabling him to perform astonishing acrobatic feats and fight like a demon. He is a formidable fighter for justice in both identities and a 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 illustrated 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. His civilian life consisted of assorted legal conundra and manfully standing back while quenching his own feelings as his portly best friend and partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson romanced their secretary Karen Page

Still, Lee and a rotating line-up of artists plugged on, concocting some extremely engaging tales until the latest Marvel Sensation found his feet. This potent compilation from the much-loved and crucial series of Marvel Masterworks – available in hardcover, trade Paperback and eBook formats – traces the fascinating transition of moody masked avenger to wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler, which can be enjoyed in this collection. It gathers Daredevil #12-21 (spanning January to October 1966) into one boldly boisterous package of thrills and spills which commence following another effervescent Introduction from Stan Lee…

The previous year had seen Golden Age giant Wally Wood leave his own unmistakable mark on the series but with his departure Lee turned to an old friend who had left during the harshest days of the Atlas implosion. He 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 National/DC.’s romance comics, as well as freelance advertising.

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

With this multi-part globe-girdling epic, Daredevil began to confirm his persona as a wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler: one that 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 the artist’s facility for explosive superhero action as the dim strongman last seen in DD #6 resurfaced, albeit in a new and sinister fashion as the lummox is made the subject of a macabre brain-swapping experiment…

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

‘Enter… Spider-Man!’ introduces criminal mastermind Masked Marauder who has big plans; the first of which is to get DD and the wallcrawler to kill each other…

With next issue ‘None are so Blind…’, a convoluted a sub-plot began which would lead to some of the highest and lowest moments of the early Daredevil series, beginning after the wondrous wallcrawler accuses Foggy of being the Man Without Fear!

Although the webspinner quickly realizes his mistake, others present don’t…

Issue #18’s ‘There Shall Come a Gladiator!’ introduces a manic armoured villain and archetypal super-thug in a tale two-thirds scripted by legend-in-waiting Denny O’Neil. Here Foggy tries to sway Karen by bolstering the idea that he is Daredevil… and almost perishing as a result of the deception.

Issue #19 then sees the Masked Marauder ally with Gladiator in 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 abrupt, controversial and utterly unexpected 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 Giacoia, Dick Ayers & Bill Everett inked ‘The Trap is Sprung!’) is a fine beginning to his long, impressive run on the series, incorporating the Sightless 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….

Augmented by Kirby’s designs for the Plunderer, his pencil page layouts, house ads and Romita’s very first pencil sketch of ‘Ol Hornhead, this classy compendium is a nostalgic delight for one and all.

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.
© 1965, 1966, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.