This is another comic book whose cover is a bit unfamiliar to me. And the reason for that is that this is another book that I got in one of those plastic-wrapped bundles of coverless recent comics from my local Drug Store chain. I think that to this day, I don’t possess a copy of this issue with a cover on it. But at least in my mind, this issue represents something of a transition point for the series, a shift in what it had been up until this moment and what it would become in the days and years ahead. Many people credit that shift to Frank Miller coming on board the title, first as artist and then as writer, and it’s true that he accelerated and popularized the change. But things were already moving in that direction by the point where Miller signed on board.
And the creator most responsible for that shift is probably writer Jim Shooter. Shooter had taken over DAREDEVIL from the departing Marvel Wolfman, and he thought about where he wanted to go with it. For most of its existence, DAREDEVIL was framed as a sort of quasi-Spider-Man title, with colorful villains and a quippy hero. Matt Murdock was an adult (not that he always acted like one) so it’s not as though it was exactly the same strip or anything. But Shooter figured that the best thing to do was to reframe it, to move it away from being a Spider-Man style series and rather make Daredevil more of a creature-of-the-night. More like Batman, in all honesty. While he had to wrap up some dangling business before getting into things, with this particular issue, he could start relatively clean.
Shooter’s partner in crime in this story is Gil Kane, a master of the form whose interest would seemingly wax and wane over the years. Kane had higher aspirations for what could be done in terms of stories in comics–he was an expert in the theory of sequential storytelling. But he never quite had the writerly inspiration to be able to put many of his theories in practice. And he was cash-strapped enough that he needed to be working almost constantly in order to keep up with his bills, which forced him to take on a lot of assignments he wasn’t really into. (It’s also an open secret that Kane would sometimes attempt to supplement his income by making off with pages of original art that were lying around his editors’ offices, selling them on the fan market. At least once, Kane was thwarted in this endeavor by his returning editor, who took the pages from his hands and told him, “Let us publish it first, Gil.”) The point of all this being that Kane seems a bit more charged by this story–whatever communication he may have had with Shooter about its narrative content, it appears to have inspired him to pour more of himself into the work. He was ably assisted by inker Jim Mooney, who adds an uncharacteristic grittiness to Kane’s pencils in this job.
The story itself is quite simple, it’s the execution of it that really sets this issue apart (for all that Shooter wanted to make Daredevil more of a creature-of-the-night, every scene in this story takes place during the brightly-lit day–go figure.) It opens with Daredevil, en route across the city, hearing the voice of his running enemy Bullseye somewhere on the street below. Dropping down, DD assumes his Matt Murdock identity the better to suss out what Bullseye is up to–but he winds up following the hitman into a gun store, the proprietor of which questions what a blind man wants with a gun. As Bullseye pulls a golfball from his pocket, Matt realizes that he intends to bean the proprietor with the ball and then loot the shop, and despite being in civilian attire, he intercedes. But when the police show up, he can’t convince anybody that he somehow knew what Bullseye was going to do before he actually did it, nor how he knew anything at all (since he cannot tell them about his radar-sense.) So Bullseye gets to walk, and Murdock gets a warning.
He also gets a cracked skull. Bullseye can’t understand how a blind man foiled his rip-off job, but he’s not going to let that go, and he beans Murdock on the street with that selfsame golfball. This doesn’t kill Matt, but the concussion fouls up his radar sense something fierce. He’s now more truly a blind man than he typically is. Matt works his way back to the law office he shares with Foggy Nelson after he’s gotten medical help, and even there, he’s uncharacteristically bumping into things and generally not in good shape. Which is unfortunate, because the reason Bullseye is back in town is to restore his reputation. He failed to kill Daredevil on a few recent occasions, and he needs to eliminate that stain on his rep. So he takes over a television studio during a live broadcast and holds a trio of people hostage, demanding that Daredevil come and fight him in a televised bout or they will be murdered. Matt is in no shape to tussle with anybody, let alone the lethal Bullseye, but he can’t let people die, so he suits up anyway, hoping that his other enhances senses and general prowess will be enough for him to be able to bluff things through.
What follows is a spectacular hand-to-hand battle that takes up a great deal of the issue, as Daredevil is on the ropes time and again. This bout more than anything that had come prior cemented Bullseye as a key adversary of Daredevil’s–his prowess at being able to turn anything he might pick up into a deadly weapon is on full display here in a manner that it hadn’t been before. But Daredevil pushes on through guts and moxy–he reasons that Bullseye could easily kill him at any time, but the assassin wants to break Daredevil, for the world to see him crawl. As the tables begin to turn, Bullseye–who has claimed all along not to have any weapons–pulls out a secreted gun and shoots Daredevil right in the chest–it’s only DD’s last-second dodging that causes the slug to strike in his shoulder instead of his heart.
His back to the wall as Daredevil continues to pound on him despite having taken a bullet wound, Bullseye realizes that he needs to escape–and so he attempts to kill one of the hostages, intending to threaten the other two if Daredevil doesn’t allow him to withdraw. But his own sense of showmanship fouls him up here, as he shoots the rope suspending a weighted dagger over the hostage’s head rather than shooting her directly–and Daredevil is quick enough to catch the blade in midair, hurling it into his opponent to disarm him and finally put him down. It’s a pretty great moment that illuminates character, and it represents the wrap-up of the issue. With the fight over, so is the book.
On the letters page this time around came another communication from then-student Peter Sanderson, who would in later years become a writer and researcher and comics historian, doing work for both Marvel and DC among other places.