I had fallen into becoming a regular reader of DAREDEVIL based on the two previous issues of the title and the stories reprinted in SON OF ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS, so when this new issue arrived at my local 7-11, I snatched it up unhesitatingly. At the time, DAREDEVIL was a title in transition, though nobody would realize that for another year or so. It was shifting its emphasis slowly, becoming less fanciful and more grounded. It would take Frank Miller to complete and crystallize this transformation, but even here, several issues before he’d come on board, a change in priorities was becoming apparent.
For one thing, Klaus Janson was already on board. Klaus is, I think, often the overlooked man when it comes to the rise of DAREDEVIL as a critical darling. Already at this point he was not only adding grit and texture and shadow in his inking (he was one of the best inkers Gil Kane ever had, especially during this period) but also doing double duty by coloring many issues as well, controlling the look of the final pages and using both light and shadow and hue and value to help achieve dramatic effects in the service of the stories.
And story-wise, this was another wild ride, as the preceding issue had been. The issue opens with Daredevil’s girlfriend Heather Glenn walking into her apartment to discover that Matt Murdock was really Daredevil, despite his blindness. But more crucially, Matt just got a call informing him that Heather’s father, the wrongfully-convicted Maxwell Glenn, had killed himself while in custody. This revelation–and the fact that Murdock was the one who sent Glenn to prison (even though he subsequently learned that Killgrave was behind Glenn being framed) causes Heather to break up with Matt. And this, coupled with the craziness of recent events, makes Matt decide to give up being Daredevil.
A hero deciding to give up his heroic identity was well-trod territory at Marvel by this point, but there was something about this particular version of that story (possibly nothing more than the fact that I hadn’t yet read any of those earlier similar cases) that made it feel emotionally true to me. Certainly, Matt seemed to be at the breaking point–he trashes his own apartment in a fit of rage and impotence, and then has to explain himself to his friend and partner Foggy Nelson when the latter show up unexpectedly. But nothing that Foggy says can bring Murdock out of his funk.
Matt’s driven further towards despair when he learns that Heather has picked up and vanished unexpectedly. But as they must in this sort of an adventure, fate is about to take a hand. This comes in the form of a pre-SPEED commuter bus that’s been hijacked by terrorists, who have it zipping through the Manhattan streets at full speed, heedless of what might be in their path. Now, in areal life, such a bus wouldn’t get tree blocks before it collided with some other vehicle, but here in the Marvel Universe it has a freer path–until a kid chases a stray ball in front of it and is plowed over by it. Matt is in the area, and this event sparks a memory in his mind.
That memory is of his own origin–how a young Matt Murdock had tackled an old man about to be struck by a careening truck, and how Murdock lost his sight as a result. This snaps Matt back out of his gloom, and he hastily changes into his Daredevil garb so that he can give chase to the bus across the rooftops. But this still isn’t the happy-go-lucky quipping super hero of the past. As the narration points out, this Daredevil is grim and silent, more like a stalking Batman in his approach as he runs down his quarry across the city blocks.
Using materials he gathers from the rooftops, DD is able to create a makeshift smoke bomb that he hurls through the front windshield of the bus. Then, when the terrorists emerge in response, he proceeds to beat the hell out of them. (The text doesn’t say anything much about the commuter hostages who were also aboard the bus, but at the very least they’ve all got a bad case of smoke inhalation.) From there, Matt makes his way to the hospital where the downed boy is being operated upon, and learns that he is likely to recover. And so, with his fighting spirit renewed, Murdock walks off into the night.