While I was at the Batcave, that comic book shop adjacent to the South Shore Mall, I took the opportunity to pick up a small number of back issues in addition to a bunch of new books. The place had a wide selection of older books, and many of them were chewed up a little bit, well-read copies that consequently were very affordable for me. Being set loose in this cornucopia of riches, I focused on trying to get the oldest books that I was able to, with a heavy emphasis on the Marvel titles. Which is how I wound up with this early issue of DAREDEVIL. I don’t remember what it cost me, but it couldn’t have been more than a buck or two. And more than anything, that’s why I wound up with the back issues that I did, rather than honing in on a particular favorite character or anything like that. It was very much a fishing expedition.
DAREDEVIL was still in its early days at the time when this issue came out, but after a rough initial shakedown period, the series had found its footing once Wally Wood redesigned the lead character’s costume and John Romita had helped to find a balance that gave it a unique tone among the Marvel titles of that era. That tone, an off-the-wall sense of wackiness, only grew more pronounced under Romita’s replacement, Gene Colan. DAREDEVIL routinely featured plot developments that border on if not veered into self-parody. It was very much being plotted in the manner that the title character lived his life: leaping blindly from element to element with only the vaguest sense of where it was going. This freewheeling approach made the book more outlandish than Spider-Man and more introspective than Captain America. It wasn’t for everybody, and it’s understandable that Daredevil never quite ascended to the heights of some of the other Marvel series–but it made for an entertaining read month after month.
A lot of this was down to the work of Gene Colan, who, having started working for Marvel a few months earlier under the pseudonym Adam Austin, became one of Stan Lee’s most valued collaborators. Gene was the first Marvel artist whose style wasn’t rooted in the abstracted dynamism of Jack Kirby. Rather, Colan described what he tried to do as “painting with a pencil”, giving his work an emphasis on shadows and realism that was very appealing. He was often at the mercy of his inkers, some of whom were better than others at reproducing the nuances of his work. Gene also had a bit of a storytelling blind spot which hung him up on occasion: he tended to approach his stories very cinematically, often devoting whole splash pages to a given moment like this one of Daredevil entering Matt Murdock’s office. What would sometimes happen in Gene’s stories is that he’d get so carried away with what he was doing that he’d look up and be only two pages from the end of the issue, and have to cram the remainder of the plot into whatever space was left. (Sometimes that was impossible–there’s at least one CAPTAIN AMERICA sequence that was expanded from two parts to three because Gene couldn’t get the first issue’s plot into a single book.)
But what Gene did do well was to dramatize his heroes’ adventures, leaving plenty of open space where Stan could have the characters monologue both internally and out loud about all of their personal problems and hang-ups. It was a very soap opera-heavy series, for all that the central relationships didn’t actually change much once they had been established. There was a lot of running in place. This issue opens up with the wrap -up of last month’s battle with the Owl, as the sightless adventurer body-surfs the villains’ abandoned mechanical owl-ship back to Manhattan, having freed a Judge taken captive by the criminal. But the Owl himself had escaped, and he blows up the purloined craft that DD and his passenger had been using to fly to safety. Daredevil laments the fact that he’s still out there somewhere, waiting to strike again, as he makes his way across town back to the law offices of Nelson & Murdock where he earns his living.
Elsewhere, two other enemies of Daredevil’s are plotting a new scheme. Having become aware that Count Nefaria was arrested in a recent issue of X-MEN, the mysterious Masked Marauder and his musclebound associate the Gladiator figure that there’s a leadership gap at the top of the criminal Maggia, and they’re looking to take it over. To that end, the Marauder has created a super-powerful android to serve as a henchman, and he infuses the thing with the skills and attributes of three captured underworld figures: the Mangler, the Dancer and the Brain. The Marauder believes that his newly-christened Tri-Man will be able to defeat all comers, in particular the duo’s nemesis Daredevil. The Marauder sends a message to the Maggia leadership, telling him that he intends to use the Tri-Man to challenge and destroy Daredevil at Madison Square Garden within a week, to demonstrate why he should be put in charge of the organization. I wonder if any of the Maggia guys put money down on the Man Without Fear.
The Marauder sends the Tri-Android to the Garden, where it breaks up that night’s boxing match with a televised announcement: unless Daredevil shows up to fight him, the Tri-Man will destroy the arena and everybody inside of it. That includes Foggy Nelson, the hapless idiot, who was taking in the fights that evening. Back at the law office, Matt wants to meet the challenge, but Karen Page is sticking to him like glue. Desperate to figure out how to get away from her, he convinces Karen to dig out the Daredevil costume that Foggy had used to impersonate the sightless crusader a few issues ago and to drive him to MSG–he says that they can’t let all of those people get killed, and that maybe he’ll be able to do something. Which is all nuts, but very typical for the type of shenanigans that would go on in this series. Once they arrive, Daredevil slips away from Karen, figuring that once he leaps into the ring and takes on the Tri-Man, Karen will know that he’s the real Daredevil and assume that Matt Murdock was still mixed in among the crowd somewhere.
Now free to go into action, Daredevil puts the hurt on the Tri-Man in a battle sequence that covers a number of pages. Despite the androids many skills, Daredevil seems more than a match for him, to the consternation of the watching Marauder and Gladiator. But then the villain pair spots Foggy and Karen in the crowd–they’d had run-ins with the Nelson & Murdock staff in the past (and the Marauder was secretly their landlord, Frank Farnum) and know they have some connection to Daredevil. So the issue wraps up with DD having the upper hand on this inhuman opponent but stopping short as the Marauder announces that unless he surrenders, the Marauder will murder Foggy and Karen! To Be Continued!
Almost as much as the story in this issue I also enjoyed the assorted ads, letters page and Bullpen Bulletins page. This was right at the moment when the 1966 Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon series was being rolled out across the land, so a number of the pages in the story carried plugs for the show as a crawl at the bottom. The really smart gimmick of running the names and home cities of 26 M.M.M.S. Members on the Bullpen page every month was still going on, and was likely as responsible as anything else for getting readers to send in their membership dues. And the Might Marvel Checklist gave me a tantalizing glimpse into a bevy of other stories that Marvel had on the stand at that moment, stories that I would itch to read.