This is another unfamiliar cover for me. Unfamiliar because the copy of this book that I got had been stripped of its cover, which was sent back to the distributor for credit. However, rather than destroying the remainder of the book as he was required to do, the wholesaler instead sold it and a mountain of other titles of similar vintage at a cut-rate price to the drug store chain that had an outlet in my area, who packaged them in bundles of 5 and sold them for a similar bargain price. Everybody won, except for Marvel, who made no money at all from the purchase of this book. This was in the days of Newsstand distribution, and this sort of graft is one of the reasons why the field was in such a state of decay in the latter part of the 1970s. Publishers were having to print three copies in order to sell one, and with all of the printing and shipping and re-shipping and so forth, profit margins were razor thin. It was the advent of the Direct Sales market of comic book specialty stories that broke this cycle and made selling comics viable again, as the Direct Market ordered exactly as many copies as they wanted on a non-returnable basis. So publishers would only have to print one to sell one.
DAREDEVIL was a lower-selling title for most of this decade, and in fact, it had almost been cancelled in 1971 and combined with IRON MAN into a split book along the lines of TALES OF SUSPENSE. It was never a strong seller, and its identity bounced all over the place. Most often, it was cast as a kind of ersatz AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, but it had also dabbled in going cosmic (as almost every book did in the early 1970s) as well as being just a generic super hero title. Jim Shooter took over writing the series with this issue, and he started the ball rolling towards guiding it to what it ultimately became under Frank Miller a couple of years later. In Shooter’s estimation, Daredevil had more in common with Batman than with Spider-Man, and so over the course of his tenure, he made the character more nocturnal and shadowy. He also thought a bit more about the fact that Matt Murdock is blind (even if he has a radar-sense that in almost all practical ways makes up for that deficit.) Shooter had inherited a bunch of plotlines from outgoing author Marv Wolfman, so there was business that he had to tie up. But that didn’t stop him from trying to figure out the magic formula for making DAREDEVIL successful again.
The artwork on this issue was produced by Lee Elias, an old pro from a bygone time mostly, whose style had once been the ideal at DC in the 1950s, but whose super heroes were often a bit awkward. Polished inker Dan Green here helps to smooth over some of Elias’ rougher edges, but there are still a number of poses that are a bit bizarre, and reminiscent of the manner in which Frank Robbins would stage his super heroes. I suspect that Elias may not have been quite as comfortable working in the Marvel method, where a lot of the choreography was left in his hands. On that page above, for example, there is hardly a background to be found. This isn’t a bad looking issue of DAREDEVIL, but it is just a shade “off” in its execution.
This issue was plotted by Gerry Conway during the brief time that he was Marvel’s editor in chief and was almost certainly designed to be a fill-in job that was called into service here. As such, there’s some minor continuity bits that need to be reconciled in the copy–chief among them being why the Man-Bull is behind bars as this story opens when the last time he showed up, Daredevil had let him walk, feeling sorry for the poor misshapen brute. Here, though, the tale begins with Matt Murdock hearing about a riot having broken out at Ryker’s Island prison, and heading over there to help out in his Daredevil identity. The purpose of the riot is to allow men working for the Owl, an old foe of Daredevil’s who was something of a minor crime lord, to facilitate the Man-Bull’s escape. Daredevil attempts to put a stop to this, but the Man-Bull is simply too strong for him. Shooter makes a point of the fact that, unlike Spider-Man or Thor who have super-strength, when Daredevil is feeling under the weather, he can’t simply bull his way through anything.
The Owl has liberated the Man-Bull in order to offer him a position as the avian criminal’s bodyguard. You see, the Owl is locked in the midst of a gang war, and he’s at a serious personal advantage, in that the serum that gave him the ability to fly has also, over time, caused his legs to decay. The gangland situation gets so bad that there’s a shootout right outside Murdock and Nelson’s storefront legal office, causing Matt to put habeas corpus aside and don his Daredevil duds to intervene. Shooter works in some copy throughout this sequence to cover for the fact that, in prior issues, Foggy Nelson’s fiance had been kidnapped and was missing, and that Daredevil ought to be devoting his time to finding her. During the scuffle, Daredevil finds a mysterious card–but without his sight, he can’t tell exactly what it might be.
Elsewhere, the Man-Bull and the Owl’s men attack the East Side Medical Research facility, with the intention of capturing Professor Kerwin, who has been attempting to isolate animal traits and duplicate them in human beings. The Owl is hoping that Kerwin can reverse the damage done to his legs, but the Man-Bull has his own separate interest in the Professor–he wants to be cured of his hulking physiognomy, and he tells the Professor not to worry. He’s not going to hand him over to the Owl, he has his own uses for the Professor. Elsewhere, Daredevil has brought the mysterious card to a computer firm, which confirms that, as DD suspected, it’s a magnetic swipe card used for granting people access to a building. The techs are even able to pull up the address from the card’s magnetic encoding, but Daredevil can’t read it, and needs to trick the guy helping him into reciting the address out loud for him. But now he’s got a pretty good idea of where the Owl is hiding out.
And so Daredevil is there when the copter ferrying the Man-Bull arrives, carrying the Professor in tow. But the Man-Bull acts out, saying that he’s not going to turn the Professor over to the Owl. In the midst of this disquiet, Daredevil shows up, and he and the Man-Bull engage in some fisticuffs at the top of the building, while being peppered with shots by the Owl’s men. The vulnerable Owl, not really able to cope with either combatant, stages an advisable retreat. And Daredevil is able to lure the Man-Bull into flinging the pair off the rooftop, so that DD can use his billy club line to swing the Man-Bull into the side of the building, knocking him out. And that’s a wrap this time, apart from Professor Kerwin revealing to Daredevil that he would happily help both the Owl and the Man-Bull cure their afflictions–they only needed to ask.
As with many letters pages during this time period, the one in this issue includes a correspondence from Peter Sanderson, who would go on to make a name for himself as a comic book historian and researcher.