Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 8


By Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Mimi Gold, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Alan Weiss, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8841-4 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him capable of astonishing acrobatic feats, a formidable fighter 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 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, an eclectic mix of established and new super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion. He quipped and wise-cracked his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody quasi-religious metaphor he became under modern authorial regimes…

In these tales from the pivotal era of relevancy, social awareness and increasing political polarisation the Man Without Fear was also growing into the judicial conscience of a generation turning its back on old values…

Covering August 1970 to February 1972, this hardcover and digital compilation chronologically re-presents Daredevil #75-84 and includes the entire run of the Black Widow’s first solo series, which appeared in “split-book” Amazing Adventures #1-8. Those mini-epics kick off the Marvel Magic following scripter Gerry Conway’s introduction ‘Strange Days’ which shares memories of this transitional period whilst paying dues the superspy’s contemporary influences… Modesty Blaise and Emma Peel.

Natasha Romanoff (sometimes Natalia Romanova) is a Soviet Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s earliest and most successful female stars.

The Black Widow started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days, battling Iron Man in her debut exploit (Tales of Suspense #52, April, 1964).

She was subsequently redesigned as a torrid tights-&-tech super-villain before defecting to the USA, falling for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – before finally enlisting as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., freelance do-gooder and occasional leader of the Avengers.

Throughout her career she has always been considered ultra-efficient, coldly competent, deadly dangerous and yet somehow cursed to bring doom and disaster to her paramours. As her backstory evolved, it was revealed that Natasha had undergone experimental processes which enhanced her physical capabilities and lengthened her lifespan, as well as assorted psychological procedures which had messed up her mind and memories…

Despite always being a fan-favourite, the Widow only truly hit the big time after the dawn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her printed-page escapades have always offered a cool yet sinister frisson of dark delight.

The first of those was ‘Then Came…’ (Amazing Adventures #1, August 1970 by Gary Friedrich, John Buscema & John Verpoorten) as the agent comes out of retirement to become a socially-aware crusader, defending lower-income citizens from thugs and loan sharks. That act of charity leads her to help activists ‘The Young Warriors!’ as their attempts to build a centre for underprivileged kid in Spanish Harlem are countered by crooked, drug-dealing property speculators…

Gene Colan & Bill Everett take over the art with ‘The Widow and the Militants!’ as her actions and communist past draw hostile media attention, more criminal attacks and ultimately precipitate an inner-city siege, before the ‘Deadlock’ (scripted by Mimi Gold) comes to shocking end…

Roy Thomas steps in for a bleak and powerful Christmas yarn as ‘…And to All a Good Night’ sees Natasha and faithful retainer/father figure Ivan, meet and fail a desperate young man, only to be dragged into a horrific scheme by derange youth cult leader the Astrologer who plans to hold the city’s hospitals to ransom in ‘Blood Will Tell!’ (illustrated by Don Heck & Sal Buscema).

Convinced she is cursed to do more harm than good, the tragic adventurer nevertheless inflicts ‘The Sting of the Widow!’ (by Conway, Heck & Everett) on her ruthless prey and his kid killers, after which the series wraps up in rushed manner with a haphazard duel against and Russian-hating super-patriot dubbed Watchlord in ‘How Shall I Kill Thee? Let Me Count the Ways!’ scripted by Thomas.

The Man without Fear finally makes an appearance with his own politically-charged tale from Daredevil #75 (April 1971): a period when the company was making increasingly determined moves to make the hero cutting-edge and relevant…

A drama of political intrigue and kidnapping begins as Murdock travels to the banana republic of Delvadia where ‘Now Rides the Ghost of El Condor!’ (Conway and the incomparable art team of Gene Colan & Syd Shores) offers a canny yarn of revolutionary fervour, self-serving greed and the power of modern mythology which concludes in ‘The Deathmarch of El Condor!’ – wherein inker Tom Palmer (perhaps Colan’s most effective inker) starts his long association with the penciller.

Guest stars abound in ‘…And So Enters the Amazing Spider-Man!’ when an uncanny artefact appears in Central Park, inviting DD, the webspinner and the Sub-Mariner to participate in a fantastic battle in a far-flung, lost world. The adventure concluded in the Atlantean’s own comic (#40) but as Daredevil didn’t join the quest, that sequel isn’t included in this tome.

Issue #78 returned to more traditional territory as ‘The Horns of the Bull!’ traces the downfall of petty thug Bull Taurus after enigmatic mastermind Mr. Kline transforms him into a savage beast and sets him upon the Scarlet Swashbuckler…

Friedrich scripted cataclysmic conclusion ‘Murder Cries the Man-Bull!’, but plotter Conway was back the following month to spectacularly reintroduce a vintage villain ‘In the Eyes… of the Owl!’: presaging a major format change for the series…

From issue #81’s ‘And Death is a Woman Called Widow’ (inked by Jack Abel), Soviet defector Natasha Romanoff burst onto the scene as the ubiquitous Mr. Kline is finally unmasked and revealed to be behind most of DD’s recent woes and tribulations…

Following a stunning pin-up of the bodacious Black Widow by Bill Everett, the conspiracy crisis continues with ‘Now Send… the Scorpion’, as Kline – AKA the Assassin – sets the manic artificial arachnid against DD and the Widow even as his Machiavellian master attempts to suborn Murdock’s greatest friend Foggy Nelson.

At the end of that issue the Scorpion was apparently dead and ‘The Widow Accused!’ by Nelson of the villain’s murder. A sham trial intended to railroad and pillory the Russian émigré ensues in #83, (rendered by Alan Weiss, Barry Smith & Everett), with the Assassin subsequently dispatching brutish Mr. Hyde to ensure his victory.

Against all odds, however, Murdock exonerates Natasha of the charges, prompting the hidden mastermind to take direct action in ‘Night of the Assassin!’ (Colan & Syd Shores). After attacking DD and the Widow in Switzerland – whence the jetsetting former spy had fled to nurse her wounded pride – Kline at last meets final defeat in a stunning and baroque climax to the extended saga.

Rounding out the comics experience here are bonus pages including the cover to all-reprint Daredevil Annual #3, a selection of house ads and a brief gallery of (pre-edited) Everett original art pages, revealing a little too much of the sexy spy, and which were toned down for eventual publication…

As the social upheaval of this period receded, the impressively earnest material was replaced by fabulous fantasy tales which strongly suggested the true potential of Daredevil was in reach. These beautifully limned yarns may still occasionally jar with their earnest stridency and perhaps dated attitudes, but the narrative energy and sheer exuberant excitement of the adventures are compelling delights no action fan will care to miss. And the next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…

Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s unbeatable formula for success: smart, contemporarily astute stories, truly human and fallible characters and always magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.