By Scott Tipton
Every family has go-to people for certain issues. I have computer problems, I call my brother. Need to re-wire your house? My dad’s the man. Transmission’s out on the Chevy? Call my uncle. As for me, well, if you’re looking for useless information, I’m the one who gets the call. And call they do.
Consequently, as every superhero who’s ever seen print makes their way to the big screen in the next couple of years, I can expect a repeat of the same conversation I recently had with my father: “So who’s this Daredevil guy, anyway?”
Fair enough. After all, it’s not like we’re talking about Batman or Spidey here. No TV show, no cartoon series, only nearly four decades of continuous publication in the funnybooks, which, while impressive, doesn’t exactly translate into a household name. So, for the benefit of those of you without some serious geek credentials, here’s the 411 on America’s current #1 superhero:
“So who’s this Daredevil guy, anyway?”
Daredevil first appeared in April 1964 in the pages of, logically enough, DAREDEVIL. The creation of then-Marvel editor Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett, DAREDEVIL featured the adventures of crusading attorney Matt Murdock, who secretly prowled the streets of New York fighting crime as Daredevil. The hook? Murdock was blind, but exposure to radiation (the secret ingredient in nearly all of Marvel’s early characters) had heightened his remaining senses, as well as granted him a mysterious “radar sense,” which allowed him to function far better than the average man.
“Wait, wait, back up. Matt Murdock?”
Yeah, yeah. Stan had a theory that alliterative names were easier for young readers to latch on to, and as a result, nearly all of Marvel’s major characters followed suit. Reed Richards, Bruce Banner, Peter Parker, Stephen Strange, and the list goes on.
“So 1964 was the first appearance of Daredevil?”
Not quite. There was actually a much earlier Daredevil in the comics, dating all the way back to 1940, as a matter of fact. Little known nowadays, the first Daredevil was published by Lev Gleason in the pages of SILVER STREAK COMICS, and was a fairly standard mystery man of the era, sporting a distinctive red and blue suit, spiked belt and boomerang. (Although he did eventually earn his own magazine, first entitled DAREDEVIL BATTLES HITLER, and later settling on the somewhat less specific DAREDEVIL.) The Lev Gleason Daredevil survived until 1950, when he was ignominiously elbowed out of his own magazine by his sidekicks, the Little Wise Guys, about whom the less said, the better.
“So Matt Murdock goes out and fights crime just because he can?”
Pretty much. There’s a bit of the usual psychosis involving the loss of a parent to crime and the standard vengeance motif, but for the most part, at least up until the ’80s, Matt Murdock dressed up like a devil and caught bad guys just because it needed doing.
“The movie’s pretty dark and intense. Is the comic always like that?”
Not really. In fact, at its inception, after the initial “avenge-my-father’s-death” origin story, DAREDEVIL settled into a fairly routine “superhero vs. supervillain” pattern with ol’ Hornhead (hey, don’t blame me; that’s what Stan called him) facing off against such evildoers as Electro, the Owl, the Purple Man, the Matador, Stilt Man (try and guess what his power was) and the Masked Marauder. There was a bit of melodrama involving a love triangle between Matt, his law partner Foggy Nelson and their secretary Karen Page, but overall the tone was pretty light, with such hijinks as Matt creating a fictitious twin brother for himself, swingin’ Mike Murdock, to keep his co-workers in the dark about his double life as Daredevil. You knew Mike was hep by the cool checked sport jacket he wore…
Not until Frank Miller took over the series did the tone really shift to more serious, gritty drama. Miller, a big fan of the EC crime comics of the 1950s, took much of that feeling and applied it to DAREDEVIL, one of the few Marvel series that would allow that kind of shift in tone. With the re-definition of the crimelord character the Kingpin and the assassin Bullseye, making them more realistic and genuinely menacing, and the introduction of femme fatale Elektra, inspired by strong female characters like P’Gell and Sand Saref in Will Eisner’s THE SPIRIT, the ground was set for a landmark run on DAREDEVIL that would influence the series for the next two decades.
“So what’s up with the costume?”
Granted, on screen it occasionally looks stiff and a little silly, but it’s part of the character’s mythology, and getting rid of it entirely on the big screen for the sake of realism would take away much of the viewer’s suspension of disbelief.
Besides, if you thought that costume looks silly, take a look at his original outfit, resplendent in bright yellow. I’m certainly not the first to use the joke, but it does indeed look like it was designed by a blind man. There was also a truly awful armored suit Daredevil briefly wore in the ’90s, when giant shoulder pads and spikes were all the rage in superhero fashion.
“Bullseye kills people with paper clips and playing cards? Please.”
Again, this is where the aforementioned “suspension of disbelief” comes into play, but I will say this: anyone who’s seen close-up magician and cardsharp extraordinaire Ricky Jay do his bit where he throws standard playing cards from 10 feet away with such velocity that they penetrate the tough rind of a watermelon shouldn’t find Bullseye’s card trick such a reach.
“Daredevil sure gets unmasked a lot in the movie. Is he that casual about his secret identity in the comics?”
I wouldn’t say casual, but it does seem to happen to him more often than most long-underwear types. Part of the problem is that some of the best DAREDEVIL stories involve the discovery of Matt’s double life, and when you combine many of these characters and stories into a single film, it starts to feel like maybe Matt should invest in a chinstrap with a lock.
Ben Urich pieces together the secret in DAREDEVIL #164, followed by Elektra in #168. The Kingpin doesn’t discover the face beneath the mask until issue #227, some five years later. However, a closer look back through Daredevil’s past indicates that it’s not a secret he’s particularly good at keeping, as some 25 other Marvel characters have stumbled onto the info over the years; everyone from his partner Foggy to the Black Panther to Spider-Man has either been told or put it together themselves. In recent issues of DAREDEVIL by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, Matt’s secret identity has been revealed in the tabloids, with Matt publicly denying it. Of course, he’s handling it better nowadays than the last time the newspapers outed him in the “Fall From Grace” storyline, in which he faked his own death…
Well, to begin with, you should pick up THE ESSENTIAL DAREDEVIL. The first 25 issues of the original 1960s series, with scripts by Stan Lee and quite a star-studded lineup of artists; Bill Everett, Wally Wood, Joe Orlando, Jack Kirby, John Romita and Gene Colan. At 15 bucks for over five hundred pages of comics, it’s hard to argue with the value here, even if it is in black and white.
Also a must are the three volumes of DAREDEVIL VISIONARIES: FRANK MILLER. Spanning roughly thirty issues of DAREDEVIL, these stories are where Frank Miller truly came into his own as a writer and artist. In these pages can be found the introduction and loss of Elektra, and the classic clashes with Bullseye and the Kingpin. Everyone who’s worked on DAREDEVIL for the past twenty years has done so in the shadow of this remarkable work. Looking back on it now, it may seem a bit tame and melodramatic compared to what’s out there today, but it’s important to remember that no one was doing this kind of storytelling at the time, especially at Marvel.
While just about everyone considers Miller’s first run on the series to be the revolutionary stuff, I’ve always found his second stint to be much more powerful. In BORN AGAIN, we see what happens when the Kingpin is handed a slip of paper with that most precious of commodities: information. To be exact, Daredevil’s real name. After the Kingpin succeeds in completely destroying Matt Murdock’s life, we see Murdock slowly lose his grip on the world around him, and descend into what can only be described as a full nervous breakdown. Miller takes us through hell with Matt Murdock, and sees us through to the other side. Some of the best writing of Miller’s career, equalled by fantastic pencils and inks from David Mazzuchelli that evoke Miller’s style without merely copying it. DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN is available collected in trade paperback.
Finally, those of you who spotted Kevin Smith in the DAREDEVIL flick as Kirby the coroner might be interested to know that Smith himself has taken a crack at DD, in the critically acclaimed GUARDIAN DEVIL storyline. With gorgeous art by current Marvel head honcho Joe Quesada, GUARDIAN DEVIL shows us a Matt Murdock once more on the brink of insanity, this time with an infant’s life hanging in the balance. With DAREDEVIL director Mark Steven Johnson citing GUARDIAN DEVIL as potential fodder for a sequel, you may want to take a look at what the future could have in store. A word of caution: more so than any of the other DD books under discussion, GUARDIAN DEVIL requires a certain amount of knowledge of Daredevil in particular and Marvel Comics in general to get the most out of it, so make sure you read the others first. GUARDIAN DEVIL is available collected in trade paperback as MARVEL VISIONARIES: KEVIN SMITH.
“Has Daredevil been on TV or movies before?”
Not that much. There was a fairly awful TV-movie back in the ’80s that teamed up the Hulk and Daredevil. Entitled TRIAL OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK (in which the Hulk is never put on trial, by the way; the only courtroom scene is a dream sequence), it’s memorable mostly for the horrendous Daredevil costume Rex Smith was sporting: all black with a blindfold over his eyes. Okay, we get it. He’s blind. No need to advertise. The Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno snoozer also featured John Rhys-Davies (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, LORD OF THE RINGS) as a bearded Kingpin, and DAREDEVIL creator Stan Lee giving a memorable performance as Guy in Jury Box.
Daredevil’s animated appearances have also been pretty sparse. He appeared for about two seconds in an episode of the 1980s SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS cartoon on NBC, in which Matt Murdock acts as Spidey’s lawyer. DD’s next appearance on video was considerably more substantial, when he guest-starred on an episode of the 1994 syndicated FANTASTIC FOUR animated series. While the first season of FANTASTIC FOUR featured some of the worst Marvel cartoons ever made, the second season, in which DD appeared, was rock-solid, with serious-minded scripts and vastly improved animation.
Daredevil’s most recent TV appearance came on the FOX Network’s SPIDER-MAN animated series, which aired Saturday mornings in the mid-’90s. The series was a fairly faithful adaptation of the Spidey comics, with decent animation by Saturday-morning standards, but suffered in comparison to the vastly superior BATMAN and SUPERMAN animated series that Warner Brothers was putting out at the same time. Daredevil guest-starred in two episodes of the series, “Framed” and “The Man Without Fear.” The Daredevil episodes of SPIDER-MAN are currently available on DVD as DAREDEVIL VS.SPIDER-MAN, and is certainly worth renting. Also on the disc is the aforementioned FANTASTIC FOUR episode, as well as a series of interviews with Daredevil and Spidey co-creator Stan Lee. A nice little package for the hardcore Daredevil fan.
“I liked the movie, and want to buy some merchandise. What’ve you got for me?”
Not a whole lot, I’m afraid. Considering that Marvel is owned by a toy company, you’d think at least a basic action-figure line would’ve been a no-brainer, but it didn’t happen. There is a single Daredevil action figure based on the film, but it’s being shipped to stores in cases of the newest assortment of Marvel Legends action figures, and in limited numbers. There’s also a larger 12-inch scale Affleck Daredevil on the way in their new Marvel Studios line.
As for other merchandise, there’s a soundtrack album in stores now, and another CD of the film score will be available in March. There’s also a novelization out, written by Greg Cox, and a graphic novel adaptation from Marvel as well.
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