BHOC: DAREDEVIL #155

I’ll mention it right up front, as a kid, I didn’t like DAREDEVIL #155. Mostly I think this was down to the artwork of Frank Robbins, who filled in on this issue. I had enjoyed Robbins’ idiosyncratic work on INVADERS, a title that had been his home for a few years. And he honestly wasn’t a bad fit in theory for DAREDEVIL given his strong Milton Caniff influence with its reliance on spotting blacks. But Robbins was always a bit uncomfortable with the specific stylization endemic to super heroes, and so his characters tended to look weird and awkward when they swung from the rooftops or charged into battle. He would go for the typical Marvel-style poses, but his understanding of anatomy didn’t allow him to exaggerate them in the manner that was necessary to keep them from looking a bit absurd a lot of the time.

Case in point, Daredevil’s back leg here is twisted into an angle that it would be absolutely impossible to achieve, and there’s something off about the way his front foot is pointed toe-down. The shot is dramatic, and is almost works–but not quite. Robbins also occasionally employed twisted page layouts where the natural eye-track wasn’t readily available. In those cases, the device known in the business as the “arrow of shame” had to be used to guide readers through the page. This wasn’t a problem exclusive to Robbins in this period by any means, but as a storytelling quirk, it added to the overall impression of his work.

Having spent the last few issues wrapping up plotlines that had been started by his predecessors as writer, Roger McKenzie now began to begin to build some stories of his own. This would lead into a fruitful collaboration with a young Frank Miller in just a few issues–fruitful for the series, at any rate, as Miller eventually grew as a creator to the point where McKenzie was no longer needed. So this issue opens with the sightless Man Without Fear being stricken by a sudden attack that overwhelms his super-senses, causing him to plummet to the ground below. He’s able to save himself with the help of a convenient neon sign, but even thereafter, his heightened senses make him extremely sensitive to the crowd closing in around him. Daredevil isn’t at his best, obviously, and he high-tails it before his situation can get any worse.

As the Man Without Fear high-tails it into the night, the camera lingers on the area, and Death-Stalker emerges, seemingly claiming credit for the sensory overload that momentarily felled Daredevil. Death-Stalker had been appearing in the series on and off for some time, but his true identity and motivations had remained completely a mystery. He seemed more ghost than man, able to make himself insubstantial and kill with a touch. McKenzie would unravel the truth of who he was over the course of this multi-issue adventure. But for right now, Death-Stalker has designs on causing Daredevil’s longed-for demise.

The next morning, Matt Murdock is still in a bad way. His crippling headache has caused him to get a poor night’s sleep, and when he turns up in front of the storefront law firm that he and Foggy Nelson operate, he finds the entrance teeming with applicants to be the operation’s new executive assistant. As much as he’s not really up to it physically–he almost passes out at one point–Matt struggles through the day interviewing applicants. This leads to the introduction of Becky Blake, who’ll become a regular supporting player for some years. Her introduction is a nice little scene where, exhausted, Matt at first brushes her off, not realizing that she’s in a wheelchair. But he’s able to bounce back by showing her that he himself is blind, and thus couldn’t have been judging her based on her handicap.

As the trip heads out at the end of the day, they pass a newsstand, where the dealer is hawking the headline story which involves the Black Widow returning to the Avengers. Why that should be headline news is a bit of a mystery, but it grabs Matt’s attention immediately. He and Natasha had been an item for several years, she had even co-starred in the masthead of the series for a portion of that time. So making his excuses for Foggy and Becky, Matt races off to become Daredevil once again, and to head to Avengers Mansion, intent on seeing if there was still anything between himself and Natasha. Unfortunately, on the way, he’s stricken with another paralyzing headache and assault on his super-senses–one that changes his outlook dramatically.

So when the sightless crusader arrives at his destination, rather than coming through the front door like a normal person, he instead breaks into the place. He’s waylaid by the Beast and Captain America in turn, but in the darkness he has the advantage, and he clobbers the both of them. And as the issue wraps up, we see that Daredevil is ranting like a maniac, telling the Black Widow that he’s there to revenge himself for all the pain she’s caused him. He’s clearly not in his right mind–but that’s probably not going to help him much against Hercules and the Black Widow. So this was a cliffhanger that kind of backfired, at least for me–I didn’t believe for a single moment that Daredevil al by himself posed much of a threat to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. So I reckoned that he was going to get his ticket punched. And it was difficult to empathize with Daredevil, as he was clearly in the wrong here. So i didn’t care for this wrap-up at all. And throughout the entire issue, Daredevil was treated as though he was almost hapless, a piker. As a reader, I didn’t care for that, and so that’s another reason why I didn’t love this particular issue.

12 thoughts on “BHOC: DAREDEVIL #155

  1. I didn’t like the Robbins art on this issue when I first read it either — but it wasn’t long after that that a friend urged me to reassess the work, to look at Robbins for the depth of the art and the graphics and dynamics, and all of a sudden it clicked for me. I’d been reading INVADERS all along, and was aware that while I didn’t like the surface of Robbins’ art, I was disappointed whenever he missed an issue.

    But when I started seeing Robbins for his strengths rather than his unconventionality, I was captivated, and this issues reads a lot better to me than it first did.

    And those “arrows of shame” on page 21 are completely unnecessary.

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    1. I agree with you on Page 21, though there are others in this issue that are needed. This issue evidences the hand of Jim Shooter as overseer, as there are a few places where balloons have been added in another hand to explain powers and the like. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jim were the one who insisted on adding those arrows, needed or not. But I have no particular proof either. It just sounds like him.

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      1. In the interview with Shooter in The Comics Journal #68, he repeatedly called Frank Robbins “a genius.” He said he found it distressing the hate mail he would get when the company used Robbins.

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  2. Different strokes. I loved Robbins work from the first time I saw it. Sure it was weird and distorted but it was also unique and always dynamic. Super hero fans tend to favor house styles over more idiosyncratic takes by and large. I would have been thrilled with a Robbins/Springer DD run but hey… the Miller/Janson run we got turned out alright.

    As mentioned above… Robbins did retire to commit more time for oil painting, but he had already been painting gallery works since the 40’s.

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  3. I think by this point I was used enough to Robbins’ art from other titles that it didn’t jar me too much, at least not as much as when I first saw it on Captain America (issue 181, I think). I’d missed several issues of CA&TF just after Cap took on the Nomad persona (the last of Sal Buscema’s run), then I got the first issue wherein Steve Rogers was fully back to being Cap, drawn by guest artist Herb Trimpe, whose style wasn’t that radically different from Sal’s. But then I saw Robbins’ and IMO it was radically different, and not in a way I liked. I missed Frank Miller’s first issue of DD — I was mainly more peeved to have missed the final conclusion of the Death Stalker yarn, which had been a lingering plot thread for nearly 4 years by this point. Miller’s style was also a bit of a jolt to me. Took me a few months to appreciate his style and the different directions he began taking the mag, with & without McKenzie.

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  4. The Robbins disses bug me. “But Robbins was always a bit uncomfortable with the specific stylization endemic to super heroes, and so his characters tended to look weird and awkward when they swung from the rooftops or charged into battle. He would go for the typical Marvel-style poses, but his understanding of anatomy didn’t allow him to exaggerate them in the manner that was necessary to keep them from looking a bit absurd a lot of the time.,, Daredevil’s back leg here is twisted into an angle that it would be absolutely impossible to achieve, and there’s something off about the way his front foot is pointed toe-down. The shot is dramatic, and is almost works–but not quite.”

    Switch out “Robbins” with “McFarlane” or “Liefeld”, and most of the critique could remain as is. Or even “Gene Colan”, a master artist whose work I love. He distorted anatomy, (often giving characters “floppy” feet”), without decreasing mood, tone, or dramatic effect. But Robbins’ “doesn’t work”? Let’s quantify that with, “for many”, and include yourself, Tom, in there. But it DEFINTELY “works” for many others, including other great professional artists (you mentioned John Romita, Sr. before). It is is more amped up than his “Johnny Hazzard” work, but so’s almost everything else about superheroes. I think he overexaggerates the faces, but again, so do many other artists that are spared Tom’s repeated harsh criticisms he gives Robbins in several of his articles. It’s like my some of my musician friends say: “Insult the band, you insult the fan”. 😉

    Page 28, those Avengers look great. I love Robbins’ lighting, those thick black shadows, also done well on Page 10’s Death Stalker. But Herc looks lit by firelight, right out of some Italian movie production. I love the Beast’s look here, too. His fur’s all silky & smooth, like he just had an hours’ long brush job. I’d have bought this issue new, if I hadn’t been 6 or 7 years old, then. 🙂 And I couldn’t care less about the story, today. But that art still impresses me. I’d have liked to have seen Robbins ink it himself, though I realize that likely was that feasible then, with scheduling, etc. Or if inked by Stan Drake, or the wonderful Al Williamson. But if you’re gonna rake Robbins over for his figures & poses, please also do so for many other pros who’ve taken stylistic liberties, despite being wildly more popular than Robbins was while at Marvel.

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  5. Alan Davis is probably the best example of my favorite style of comic book art but Robbins was always a favorite of mine when younger. Just him too, not any of the Caniff or Eisner types. Honestly though, story is king to me followed by character with art a plus if I liked it and not a detraction if I didn’t absolutely hate it. Those artists are few and far between (I won’t mention any here because I dislike or am neutral on some artists very popular with most others and have had people online react like it was a slap against them that I didn’t share their tastes) but is larger than it was back then. I do have artists who will get me to read a writer I don’t like on a character I’m meh about. I’m sure there’s more but the ones to pop to mind are Davis, Greg Land, and Colleen Doran. I think Robbins would be on that list if he were alive today.

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  6. Regarding the story, and the climax to the issue, I, personally, didn’t have an issue with it, and I have to say I think you’re being too literal, too harsh in this instance, Tom. The main point is that Daredevil’s super-senses are being assaulted, and are transforming him into a maniac-of-sorts. That’s fine. It’s a different angle to take with the character and, as such, it’s entertaining. It doesn’t matter that as soon as the Beast and Cap revive, and in tandem with the Widow and Hercules, DD will get his clock cleaned. In the final panel, Beast and Cap are down, and DD is hell-bent on attacking the Widow with ‘only’ the lumbering Hercules to protect her – if she needs it. I hadn’t seen such a scene with DD and some Avengers before. Therefore, it’s an issue that makes me sit up and take notice, and want to return for the next issue. As for the Robbins artwork and it’s twisted, contorted, impossible body angles, and more… I hated it as a young teen, but today can appreciate his panel compositions, and the dynamic nature of his work.

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  7. I loathed Robbin’s art back then, and have never warmed up to it at all. Just never thought he was a super-hero artist.

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