Another week at my local 7-11 meant another flight of new release comics for me to buy and read. I was a regular purchaser of DAREDEVIL by this time, so I was right there when the next issue showed up. This issue represented the return of long-time series artist Gene Colan to its pages–a return that would wind up being relatively short-lived, but which was touted as a bit of a triumph. Colan had drawn the second Daredevil story reprinted in SON OF ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS, so I knew he had history with the character. But his art style was a bit of an acquired taste for me–particularly since he was so difficult to ink, and was often matched up with unsympathetic finishers.
Writer Roger McKenzie had succeeded Jim Shooter as the guiding hand of the book, now that the latter was ascending to Editor in chief, a position he would hold for the next nine years. The credits on this issue would probably have been the first time I became aware of that change, but honestly it didn’t impact on me at all. McKenzie continued to move things in the direction that Shooter had been going, making Daredevil less of a Spider-Man -style happy-go-lucky wisecracking hero and more of a creature of the night in the vein of Batman. This transformation wouldn’t completely take effect until the arrival of Frank Miller a couple of issue hence, but it was already in process. Exhibit A is the introduction in this story of one of the great Daredevil supporting characters, Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich.
Interestingly, Colan’s initial depiction of Urich is a bit heftier and shabbier than he would eventually become. He’s working on the story of Daredevil’s battle with the Cobra and Mister Hyde, a battle that he was drawn into after receiving a call from Matt Murdock’s girlfriend Heather Glenn. Her father had committed suicide while incarcerated, the victim of the mind-controlling Purple Man whom Daredevil had been chasing after for literally months. This would be the first step in the running plotline that would see Urich unravelling the secret of Matt’s dual identity as Daredevil and ultimately deciding to burn the story rather than publish it. It’s a sequence that’s often associated with Miller (who drew most of it), but it really originated with McKenzie.
Anyway, Daredevil gets to Heather’s apartment, to find his old sparring partners the Cobra and Mister Hyde waiting for him–a good way to launch directly into a fight sequence without much need for set-up. Daredevil isn’t sure what the criminal duo is doing there, nor what has become of Heather, but right now the more immediate problem is saving his own life. Things get dire as the fight crescendos when Hyde launches himself and Daredevil out the window. The sightless crusader is able to break his fall on a handy flagpole, but he wrenches his arm while doing so. And Hyde survives the fall, but is taken out of the battle by it.
But that still leaves the Cobra to contend with, and Daredevil is worse for wear–he’s been absorbing damage all through this fight, to say nothing of the ones he had in prior issues. It becomes apparent as the battle continues that both of the villains are operating under the commands of the Purple Man, who appears to have decided to eliminate Daredevil entirely.
Like many Marvel books of this age, this issue really just boils down to a protracted fight scene–there’s precious little plot to it. So Daredevil dances with the Cobra for a bit, but then Mister Hyde pulls himself together and gets the drop on Daredevil, smashing him into a nearby wall and rendering him senseless. For all of the duo’s big talk about killing Daredevil, they opt instead to grab up their foe and beat a hasty retreat with him into the sewers.
Ben Urich is on the scene, and able to snap a phot of the villains escaping–a photo that accompanies his front page article on Daredevil’s abduction the next morning. The final three panels of the issue reintroduce us to Matt’s partner Foggy Nelson (though Foggy is never named–a bit of the bad craft prevalent in the Marvel titles that Shooter was determined to stamp out over time) and a bunch of subplot stuff is hustled onto the page, as though it had been meant to be in the issue earlier and it simply didn’t get drawn because Colan got carried away with the action. I don’t know if that’s the case, but Colan certainly did have the reputation of both not reading ahead in the plots he was illustrating and also running into pacing difficulties, where he’d suddenly need to cram a bunch of story into relatively little space because he’d used too much real estate at the start. In any event, things were once again To Be Continued. I have to say, from my point of view, Daredevil had been chasing after the Purple Man since I had begun reading the series several issues ago, and I still had yet to even lay eyes on the elusive string-puller. Which made the whole story feel tenuous to me. Fortunately, the next issue would wrap this long-running saga up and bring it to as good a climax as was possible.