WC: DAREDEVIL #6

Here’s another book that came out of my longbox haul of Windfall Comics, costing me, as i repeatedly keep saying, only 33 cents each in 1988. There was always something a bit fascinating and mysterious about these early issues of DAREDEVIL to me–they had a mystique, a sense of a thing not quite being fully formed yet. It was that original yellow costume, I imagine, that did it. So I was quite pleased to find this book in the stack of comics that I had purchased. DAREDEVIL had been something of a mess at the time of launch. It was only done because Marvel publisher Martin Goodman wanted to lay claim to the name (the earlier Golden Age character’s trademark having lapsed in the intervening years) and the first issue was delayed by months by artist and co-creator Bill Everett. Thereafter followed three lackluster releases from editor/scripter Stan Lee and artist Joe Orlando. Theirs was a partnership that didn’t quite work–Orlando once told me that he wound up having to pencil 7 or 8 pages for every 5 that were accepted, as Lee would come up with different actions he’d want the characters to take after pages were drawn. But one thing that Orlando did do before he fled Marvel for greener pastures was to put Lee in touch with his old friend from the EC Comics days, Wally Wood.

Wally Wood was already a legend in the field, respected both for his technical skill and his accomplishments. He had worked with Will Eisner on The Spirit at the very end of that strip’s lifetime, been a key contributor to the EC line of comics, in particular their science fiction titles, where he excelled, and was one of the pioneers of Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD–the one most often called upon in the early days to mimic the art style of some other comic strip that was being satired. Wood could do it all, and Lee was so happy to have him in the House that he plastered Wood’s name all over the covers to his initial Marvel releases, something that typically wasn’t done (especially for an inker, as on the cover to AVENGERS #20)

Wood, for his part, started out strong but quickly soured on the relationship. In particular, he didn’t like the Marvel method of putting together a story, in which the artist was responsible for the loin’s share of the plotting, often doing virtually the entire thing apart from filling in the final copy. Wood felt that if he was doing that part of the job, he ought to be getting compensated and credited for it–and unlike Jack Kirby, who would fume about his situation when with his fellow artist but wasn’t wont to rock the boat with Lee when his livelihood might be on the line, or Ditko, Wood wasn’t shy about being vocal about his dissatisfaction. Realizing his value to the firm, Lee let Wood do the whole job on an issue of DAREDEVIL a few months later, but was unhappy with the results and reportedly rewrote a portion of it. This was the last straw for Wood, who departed Marvel for other opportunities, most notably the chance to launch what would become T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents for new start-up Tower Comics.

A pause here, for a quick look at this house ad. Say what you will about this early Marvel period, but Stan knew how to market his titles and the sense of universe and cross-continuity between them. The super hero line had grown large enough by this point that this ad page, which had typically shown three upcoming releases, was adapting to instead showcase four. There’s another similar ad later on in the book. As a fan, I loved these glimpses into the other comics that were on sale at the same time, and those cover images fired my imagination, and my desire to read those stories.

Upon taking over DAREDEVIL with issue #5, Wood immediately began to recast it in his own image. He began to refine Bill Everett and Jack Kirby’s costume design for the sightless crusader–eventually discarding it entirely in favor of a much more streamlined and dramatic all-red uniform that is till employed today. The story structure of the series got better and more polished, and the artwork was much lovelier to look at. In the first four issues, Lee seemed not quite sure what sorts of threats Daredevil ought to be taking on. But Wood, as Ditko did on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN before him, defined what it meant to be a Daredevil antagonist. For this issue, he invented Mister Fear, who has become a mainstay in the Man Without Fear’s rogues gallery. Mister Fear’s gimmick is that he came up with a chemical that caused an immediate fear-response in anybody exposed to it, and which he decided to use to go from Wax Museum manager to costumed super-villain. He also possessed the memorable civilian name of Zoltan Drago–anybody with a monicker like that one is destined for eventual villainy. To aid him in his foray into the underworld, Mister Fear recruited two underlings from earlier Marvel stories: the Ox, from Ditko’s Enforcers, and the Eel, who had appeared in a pair of Human Torch tales.

The story opens with Daredevil stumbling upon a film being shot. Except it isn’t really a film–it’s all a cover for the Ox and the Eel to take off a robbery. Once the sightless crusader dopes things out, he swings to the attack and knocks the two villains around. But e’s cowed by the appearance of their leader, Mister Fear, whose Fear Gun makes even the renowned Man Without Fear quiver. As Matt Murdock, Daredevil questions whether he’s losing his nerve. Elsewhere, his heist foiled by Daredevil, Mister Fear decides to lure his foe into a trap by advertising a new Daredevil exhibit in Zoltan Drago’s Wax Emporium. Fear intuits that Daredevil will turn up to see the exhibit, and then he and his Fellowship of Fear can jump the yellow-clad super hero. And Drago isn’t wrong, despite the fact that Matt is blind. He and his officemates Foggy Nelson and Karen Page do come out to see the new Daredevil figure. While there, Foggy catches a glimpse of the Ox and decides to come back later and investigate, the idiot. And Matt catches a whiff of Fear’s terrifying chemical compound and likewise decides to come back later in costume.

So that evening, there’s a battle in the Wax Museum, one that Foggy gets in the way of at a crucial moment. He’s left with a concussion and raced to the hospital–and Drago is worried that he may have evidence of his true identity. He sends the Ox and the Eel to finish off the stricken lawyer at the hospital–but Daredevil is waiting for them, and we get another bout–this one partially in darkness as the Man Without Fear shuts off the lights, giving him the advantage with his radar-sense. Unable to complete their hit on Foggy, the two super-villains flee, and Daredevil is able to pursue them back to Mister Fear’s hideout (which is in Drago’s Wax Emporium, a place he’s already been to, so why he needs them to suss it out for him is a bit of a mystery.) So now it’s time for one final battle.

By standing in front of a handy air conditioning fan, Daredevil is able to blow Mister Fear’s petrifying fumes back at him, putting the Fellowship of Fear into disarray. Like Ditko, Wood breaks down his fight choreography into smaller panels, sometimes as many as nine to a page. But the images are elegant, and while they don’t possess quite the power of Kirby, they sit comfortably next to Ditko’s. Anyway, Daredevil whips teh Fellowship of Fear, Foggy is discharged, and all’s well that ends well.

Before we get to the letters section, though, there’s this great full page advertisement for the very first Merry Marvel Marching Society Membership Kit. This was a great piece of merchandise, and even costing a buck (at a time when that would but you almost 8 comics) it was a hell of a value. Editor Lee sells the hell out of the thing here, too. There’s such an infectious sense of fun, who could resist becoming a member?

And the issue wraps up with another one of Lee’s chatty, gregarious letters pages. From the tentative first stabs at these, he’s perfected the rhythm of his Marvel patter and the fashion in which he can intersperse plugs for other Marvel titles (such as the Mighty Marvel Checklist) amidst the other tomfoolery in a way that made it seem less like a reader was being shilled to. The Special Announcements Section is here as well–it would evolve into the Bullpen Bulletins page in a number of months, but it’s already got the trappings here–a mix of more plugs, some insider gossip and cornball gags. Not to mention a typical hard-sell from Stan on the next issue of DAREDEVIL, the copy to which makes it apparent that he has no idea what the story is going to be about. It’s astonishing how often Lee pulled this particular trick, and also how often I and readers like me fell for it.

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