Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Marvels: Daredevil #1

"The Origin of Daredevil" by Stan Lee & Bill Everett
(April 1964)

Daredevil is, honestly, a character I've never paid much attention to the history of. I started reading Daredevil when I first got into Marvel Comics in grade school; at that time, Ann Nocenti and Walt Simonson were the creative team. But like a lot of fans my age, Daredevil really starts for me during Frank Miller's run on the character. So I've never read any of the early issues.

I thought this issue was pretty fantastic, so I'm curious to see where it goes from here.

After some business at Fogwell's Gym where Daredevil faces off against some goons, we go right into a flashback of Daredevil's origin. Daredevil is Matt Murdock, the red-haired son of widowed prizefighter Battling Murdock. Matt is growing up poor and struggling, and Battling Murdock vows that instead of playing in the streets and joining a gang, his son is going to study hard and become a doctor or a lawyer and make something of himself. Matt sticks to his studies, becoming the top student in his class. The other kids in the neighborhood think he's too scared to do anything physical, and mockingly call him "Daredevil." As an outlet, Matt begins to exercise just as hard as he studies, making himself physically fit as well as mentally sharp.

Battling Murdock is washed up as a fighter, and the only person who will manage him now is called the Fixer.

I feel like the name is a dead giveaway. In fact, Murdock won't even work for the guy until he's promised that he won't have to take a dive in a fixed fight. That'll come back to bite him in the ass in just a minute.

At more or less the same time, young Matt gets hit by a truck hauling radioactive waste after pushing an old man out of harm's way. Matt loses his sight, but not his spirit, and plans to continue on the studious path. From here on out, Matt becomes an even more powerful and agile athlete; all of his other senses and abilities have been heightened by the radioactive chemicals that he's been exposed to.

He can even read printed words by tracing his fingers over the raised ink. And he's developed a sort of built-in radar sense that allows him to get around without walking into things or endangering himself. I feel like, over the years, the radar sense becomes cumbersome to explain, but I dig the concept. (And on a personal note, as someone whose hypersensitivity informs his anxiety, it's kind of thrilling to see someone whose heightened sensitivities are turned into an asset.) He keeps these new abilities from everyone, including his father and his college roommate, Foggy Nelson.

Now back to the Fixer: he's been fixing Murdock's fights alright, he's just been fixing them so Murdock keeps winning, driving up the odds. Now it's time for Murdock to go down, but Murdock refuses, desperate to make his son proud. He wins the fight and the championship, but the Fixer's goons murder him on the street that night.

Matt keeps his promise to his father and graduates law school as valedictorian, then opening a law firm with Foggy. But Matt is distracted by two things. First, the office secretary, Karen Page...

That dialogue... but yeah, those two kids are pretty much struck by each other right off.

But the second thing, of course, is that the Fixer needs to be brought to justice. And that's how Matt Murdock creates his identity as Daredevil, sewing himself what looks like a wrestler's costume (he can feel the difference in colors with his heightened senses) and rigging himself a collapsible cane/billy club that he can use as a weapon,

So that brings us back to the opening scene at Fogwell's, and now we know that the man who performed all of those amazing acrobatics and fought three men to a standstill is actually blind. Then the Fixer shows up, and Daredevil demands that the Fixer turn himself in for ordering Battling Murdock's murder. The rest of the issue is pretty much fight and chase; there's a neat bit where Matt switches back into his street clothes and is able to follow the Fixer into the subway simply by following the scent of his cigar smoke, before facing the Fixer and his assassin, Slade, as Daredevil. During the chase, the Fixer suffers a sudden heart attack and dies, but Slade confesses to the murder and is taken away by police.

Battling Murdock's death now avenged, Matt is free to let go of the past and move into the future. A future which includes Daredevil, the Man Without Fear.

Stray notes:

:: Just a month after bringing Captain America back, Stan Lee has brought another Golden Ager to the modern Marvel Universe: artist Bill Everett. Everett was sickly as a child and a teenage alcoholic who had left high school early and then dropped out of art school. When Everett was 18, his father died of acute appendicitis. I wonder if these things led him to especially sympathize with the characters of Matt and Battling Murdock.

Everett got into cartooning, which had been his goal, and created the Sub-Mariner in 1939 for Marvel Comics #1. The Sub-Mariner was an immediate success, and he became one of Timely's three flagship characters (alongside the Human Torch and Captain America). Everett stuck with the character (for the most part, although he took time out to serve in both Europe and the Pacific in World War II). Everett continued with the character until the 1949 cancellation of all of Timely's superhero characters. In the 1950s, when Timely became Atlas, Everett drew for a number of anthology comics, including the Blonde Venus character.

This issue is Everett's first work for the new Marvel Comics. The art is credited solely to Everett, but he was slow getting the art finished, and most (all?) of the issue is inked by Sol Brodsky and Steve Ditko. The cover and splash page were hastily put together from Jack Kirby's design; it seems to be a controversy whether or not Kirby designed Daredevil, though Everett is co-credited with creating the character with Stan Lee.

As for the art of this issue itself, I really enjoy it. You can tell Everett drew in the Golden Age, especially given some of his poses. It looks like an older style that's been refreshed and given new vigor. Maybe that's the inkers, but the issue just looks so dynamic. Battling Murdock's boxing scenes look especially great.

:: This reminds me of old Batman comics:

Stay fit, kiddos.

:: I hate it when Stan Lee plays the "poor crippled man" card. I know he means well, but it always comes across as very condescending and shallow to me. Like, he can still live a full life, Karen.

Also, Karen, Foggy and Matt look like kids. Which, really, they are; they're all pretty young, just out of college. You just never see it reflected in the artwork this much. Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko draw teenagers that look like young adults rather than young adults, if you get what I mean.

I saw this issue coming up some time ago, and I wasn't really excited about it. Daredevil is a character that I enjoy, but not really one I seek out. I had no idea what to expect from the tone of this first issue, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. I really dug this one. It feels at once pleasantly old-fashioned and contemporary to the Silver Age, and the mix of styles gives it a fun energy. This is basically a Golden Age origin story retranslated into the Silver Age style of storytelling. And Everett's art is something different in this Marvel Age. Glad to see more talent on the roster.

Can't wait to see where Daredevil goes from here.

Next time: once again, the Hulk vs. the Thing!


Roger Owen Green said...

I remember when we at FantaCo did the Daredevil Chronicles magazine, and someone (i want to say one of the brothers running Eclipse Comics) complained (accurately, to my mind) that the issue was too focused on the popular Frank Miller era, and not enough on its origins, Wally Wood, et al.

SamuraiFrog said...

It's funny that you mention that, because I remember the sort of anti-ninja comics stance of Eclipse in the 80s when other companies were so heavy into ninja. (I remember they even parodied it in one issue of The Dreamery, one of my all time favorite comics. Eclipse was fantastic.)