With Mark Waid’s relaunch of DAREDEVIL currently reaping all kinds of well-deserved critical acclaim, it seems like a perfect time to look back at where it all began for Marvel’s Man Without Fear, and take a quick look at how things have changed over the years.
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.
Although this wasn’t quite the first appearance of a “Daredevil” in the comics. 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.
Anyway back to Marvel’s DD. It has to be admitted that at least at the outset, the concept is a little thin. 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. Even the aspect of his blindness wasn’t overly stressed, and more often than not, Daredevil was more in the role of a wisecracking acrobat, similar to Spider-Man.
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.
One of the things that really helped the character early on was the shift in costume to a deeper, more devilish red, as opposed to 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.
Even more so than most, a lot of Daredevil’s adventures seem to revolve around his secret identity or lack thereof. 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 issues of DAREDEVIL by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, Matt’s secret identity was revealed in the tabloids, with Matt publicly denying it, a storyline that carried on through Ed Brubaker’s run and continues on today into Waid’s current storylines. Of course, Matt Murdock’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…
Don’t know where to start? 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.
Director/podcaster Kevin Smith 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. 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.
In the days and weeks to come, we’ll take a look at some more recent DAREDEVIL adventures from the likes of Brian Michael Bendis, Jeph Loeb, Ed Brubaker and Mark Waid, explore ol’ Hornhead’s pop-culture impact, focus in on some favorite stories, and lots more. Hope you stick around.
Have we whetted your appetite? Take a look at the Daredevil section of Blastoff’s Online Store and place an order!
Yes, the early years of DD are important, except I found some failing in them. I had always thought that Wally Wood did the first 11 issues of DD, but now I find it was only #5-11…and they are stunning, including the seminal #7 with the Submariner as the launching point for Subby’s Quest storyline over in Tales to Astonish.
Second, Romita’s DD & Spidey two parter was great in #15-16.
When Colan comes on board, not only do you see Gene learn how to tell a story, but also how to make it ridiculous… check out the full page build-up to opening a door in #27 I think. Along the same lines, the whole concept of Mike Murdock is a year of misdirection (literally!) Having DD impersonate Thor is silly, especially thinking that he’s wearing his costume under Thor’s costume. I used to think that the story arc running from the Trapster to Dr. Doom was the greatest breakneck romp I’d ever seen, until I realized Doom didn’t need a machine to accomplish a body switch (FF#10)…only Matt needed one to revert. Sigh. And the crossover to FF #73, while interesting, is a slugfest marvel style, with no purpose except for a misunderstanding.
Later, after a Star Saxon discovery of DD’s ID, I found the series to go off the rails, as DD unveils to Karen and then can’t understand why she no longer trusts him, considering he lied to her, deceived her, tricked her into believing he died, not once but twice, and then can’t believe that she’s walked out.
And the whole affair with Natsha and her “curse” just made my skin crawl. The Assassin “Mr. Kline” was awful, the man-beast or OX-man was awful, and to undo the Gladiator’s mental health was shameful. About the time the Stuntmaster showed up, I check out. And I wouldn’t come back until Miller showed up and took the story in realistic terms in a dance of death that gets tighter and tighter with each issue. Man, what an arc!
I have to second the beauty of Colan’s work on Daredevil. I loved Miller’s run on Dardevil but greatly missed the wisecracking swashbuckler than Colan enlivened (though Miller had a little wisecracking). My first DD comic was the giant sized (King Sized?) battle between DD and Electro’s Emmisaries of Evil (a little too academic to strike fear in the hearts of the masses), with the wonderful mix of camera angles and Colan’s unparalleled shading. To top it off, you got a look inside Matt’s brownstone and a peek at the inner workings of the billyclub. We could use more cutaways and schematics in modern comics. How else would we know how an ICBM is launched from a metropolitan skyscraper?
this jeff dude is my new best friend! and that ‘electro issue’ is what I thought was annual #1 so we’re talkin the the book. it’s beyond classic!
and don’t get me started on how Gene Colan to this day drew iron mans face (and armor) better than anyone EVER. ok, mike detoto (sp?) is a close second.
I’m with you on Colan’s Iron Man, although I also have a fondness for George Tuska’s Iron Man, even the one with the nose…
Right with you on Iron Man and I have a special fondness for his Captain America. Really, Colan handled everyone well, in his own unique style; yet, they still seemed like the same character tha his predecessors had done. Yes, that is the idea with a continuing character, but there were many artists who just couldn’t seem to get a handle on a character and ended up with some bizarre version that left you feeling hollow.
I had a large collection of Colan’s Daredevils, at one point, and they are just beautiful. Colan’s shots and the way he had DD move through his environment, like a mixture of Errol Flynn, Burt Lancaster, and an acrobatic troupe; was just amazing to look at, even when the story couldn’t match his talent. The only artist who come close to matching Colan for that moodiness and vitality, for me, are the late Don Newton and Brent Anderson. Mignola can do the moodiness, but he can’t quite buckle the swash like Gene the Dean.
Take it easy, Ron, it’s only Day One! We’ve barely got the lights turned on!
We’re gonna be talking Gentleman Gene, as well as the sheer insanity that was “Mike Murdock.”
HOLLLLLLLLLD IT! in the very first column you have managed to nearly TOTALLY blow past some of the greatest comic artwork of the 2nd half of the 20th century and I’m talkin bout “Gentleman Gene” Colans run on daredevil, which, is unequaled to this day!
I have recently been buying old silver age Daredevils from the start of Colans run, (around ish 30 something – through issue 70 something) and let me wake you up, Judd and gang, these are f-ing classics! Colan’s style changed throughout, clearly always experimenting with DD’s look but NEVER shortchanging us. the athleticism of his DD is so good you can practically hear the kicks and punches landing on Daredevils FANTASTIC rouges gallery which was every bit as good as spideys back then.
and as far as “Mike Murdock”….hello? Matt pretending to be his own wild, ‘party boy’ brother to safeguard his secret identity didn’t just give the book a fresh jolt of energy, it was also FUNNY!
this DD run wasn’t concerned with the latest trends. it made it’s own rules thanks to Stan, Roy Thomas, and Gene Colans brilliance.
yes, Joe, Frank, Kevin, Jeph, Tim, Mark, have all done amazing work with the character. but, come on. give credit where’s it’s also due. without Gene Colans stunning art to use as a launching pad, I’m not sure DD would have survived the bronze age.
read the first appearance of “The Jester”. read the 1st DD annual. just look at the cover of DD vs Dr Doom and Thor, and Cap! as the great Eugene O’Neal wrote in ‘death of a salesman’, “ATTENTION MUST BE PAID!”
love this site but I think you have breezed past the most important part of DD history and THAT, is Gene Colan.
please readers, when you go to order some old Daredevils, start with Colan. he paved the way for all that came after him. I promise you will not see fights and movement like he could draw in any other books.