Monday, June 30, 2014

Every Breath You Take - Daredevil 159

Daredevil #159 (July 1979)
"Marked for Murder!"
Roger McKenzie-Frank Miller/Klaus Janson

Doug: Last week we entered the realm of Frank Miller's Daredevil, and I don't think anyone was overtly disappointed. While some may not care for Miller's present style of drawing or the level of violence in his works (such as the Sin City stories), it would be difficult to argue his impact on the DD book as one of the highlights of the twilight years of the Bronze Age. Certainly he would be a major architect in the segue to the Dark Age. But here, very early on (when Daredevil was still a bi-monthly), it's pretty straightforward superhero fare. And this particular issue, and the subsequent two installments, would establish Bullseye as one of the baddest dudes in the Marvel pantheon of villains. Onward...

Doug: We open in some sort of film room, as the narrator tells an assemblage to look carefully at the film. It's a recording of Daredevil's circus battle with Bullseye (DD #132) in which the Man Without Fear thoroughly kicked the tail of the assassin. At this meeting the narrator is offering some serious cash ($200K -- how times change. That's about three years pay for some middle class folks in the States these days) for the capture of Daredevil and his deliverance, whereafter he will be marked for murder! If, however, DD's body is returned dead, an additional $300K will pay out. The proposal is addressed to a Mr. Eric Slaughter and his goons. We don't know it at the time, but the man with the Benjamins and making this offer is Bullseye. Oh boy... Around three years ago, frequent commenter Fred W. Hill said this in my review of Daredevil #131: "Funny that it took about 10 years for anyone to come up with Daredevil's own great villain, although it would take Miller's handling to really make Bullseye a significant foe." That begins here!

Doug: Cut to the steps of a courthouse, where Matt Murdock is being questioned about his kidnapping the previous night. The Ani-Men had taken him to the Death-Stalker, where all three men ended up dead by the end of the night. Murdock wasn't at the scene when it was over, having been replaced by his alter ego; but the press nonetheless has questions. Off to the side is Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich, listening intently. He thinks to himself that all is not what it seems about Matt Murdock. Once inside the court room, Murdock approaches the bench and asks for a continuance in the case he's working. He gets it, so he and Foggy head back out and cab over to their offices. But in the court room, on the street, and back at the offices there lurk some shadowy figures, each one whispering to a comrade. It's apparent that Murdock's every move is being tracked, and there is a plan afoot.

Doug: Matt is able to hear the whispers around him; Foggy asks him why he's so jittery. Just then two muscle-types emerge and mug our lawyer friends. With a knife held under his nose, Murdock is told that it's known that Daredevil sometimes does investigative work for Nelson & Murdock. So it would behoove Murdock to tell his hornheaded friend that Mr. Slaughter would like to see him, alone, at Pier 42 at midnight. No Daredevil, and it won't turn out well for Matt and Foggy. Then the hoods run off. As Foggy collects himself, he calls to Matt... but Matt is gone.

Doug: DD arrives at the waterfront silently and scopes it out. As he settles in, his keen senses detect gunmen throughout the area -- the sounds of their guns being readied, the scent of cigarette smoke, and of gunpowder give everyone away. Daredevil works behind some of the men -- everyone is skittish, as it's past 12:00. Surely Daredevil would not have put Murdock's life in danger -- why hasn't he shown? DD dives into the water and swims to a ship tied nearby. The men aboard tell us that it's a really dense fog that's settled this evening. Perfect for a sightless swashbuckler.  DD climbs high enough to launch his billy club to the deck, creating a loud clanging diversion and taking out a goon.

Doug: You know, in last issue's review I led you in a discussion of Miller's art, especially as compared to Gene Colan's. I made no mention of the scripting of Roger McKenzie, and that was an oversight on my part. He really has the pulse of this character and the mood of this corner of the Marvel Universe. We might expect Daredevil to be handled as we are seeing last issue and this as Miller is aboard. I cannot tell you anything in regard to who was doing the plotting, but the tone of these stories, as well as the dialogue, is top shelf. So kudos to McKenzie, who had been on the title since #151. Miller's choreography is again well-played, and of course Klaus Janson is along to take us into Miller's noir world.

Doug: What follows Daredevil's ascension to the ship deck is seven pages of all-out butt-kicking. One of the elements of watching DD in combat is his use of the billy club. It's not unlike the manner in which Captain America uses his shield -- for offense and defense. Miller really varies the camera angles throughout the scene, which even goes underwater for a spell. And it's worth noting that the wise-cracking Spider-Man knock-off that could be Daredevil is nowhere to be found in either of these first two issues we've looked at. Instead, we are finding a hero who is just a bit perturbed at the way he's being treated -- kidnapped, mugged, and with a contract on his head. There's no time for banter when you're 24/7 PO'd. Miller gives the readers a phenomenal climactic panel for this scene when DD uses his billy club to whack a bullet right out of the air. Pretty dang awesome.

Doug: As the last tough is corralled for questioning, another thug hops into a motorboat and begins to speed away. As DD shakes his would-be informant, and is about to get the name of the contractor, a life preserver strikes the man square in the back of the neck, shattering his spine. No more talk. Daredevil turns his head toward the craft, and "sees" that the driver is pointing something at him -- but not a gun. He is confused, a countenance not lost on the man getting away. Sometime later, we see the arms and legs of the man who had apparently led off our story. It's a familiar look, and as the camera continues to pull back in each panel, there's no mistaking who had ordered the contract. Bullseye. And what was he pointing at Daredevil? Why, a movie camera. You see, he had been in hiding during the entire fracas on the pier, up to the very end when he had to kill the informant who was about to spill his identity. And what use will the film be? For studying Daredevil's every move and tendency. It's a bloody revenge that Bullseye seeks. And oh yeah... he knows that the Black Widow is back in New York. See you next Monday.


Edo Bosnar said...

The preceding issue got me hooked; with this issue, I remember Daredevil became an absolute must-buy together with X-men and Iron Man (in which Michelinie and Layton were just starting to hit their stride).
Everything about this issue was so cool to the 11 year-old me back then: that awesome cover (which, I notice now, makes it look like that entire wharf is underwater), the fantastic art, with its exciting action sequences and the generally well-written story - yes, McKenzie is often unfairly overlooked when people talk about Miller's first run on DD.

Thanks for a great review, Doug. It really brought back some fond memories of the spring of 1979 when I pulled this gem off of the spinner rack...

Garett said...

Great art on the pages with DD diving into the water, Foggy in the alley, and Bulleye throwing the life preserver! This gets me pumped up to check out these issues again.

Nice page compositions by Miller and finish by Janson. I don't think Miller ever had this kind of anatomically correct, proportioned drawing after this series. Nice use of shadows, silhouettes.

Anonymous said...

This run of Daredevil is when I was hit and miss on the title. I was slipping out of my Spider-Man phase, heavily Avengers and X-Men and hit and miss with Thor and Master of Kung Fu. But like Edo said, it was the cover.

Which brings us to that age old question. Was it McKenzie's writing that began to revive Daredevil as both a character and a comic or was it Miller's visualization of McKenzie's words? There was certainly nothing new going on with Matt/DD. Girlfriend trouble, same stable of villians, juggling a night job and his day time responsibilities, yet, it did seem there was a freshness creeping in. Spoiler alert, when you think of what was to come: Kingpin, Bullseye, Black Widow, Gladiator, Paladin, and eventually Elecktra (I know, it was spelled wrong on the cover), this was all the foundation. And that's just the ones in costume! Foggy, Heather, Karen, Ben, need I go on!?!

To find that balance between writing and art, visuals and dialogue.

Begs the Fantastic Four question: Can Marvel Studios make a good Daredevil story? If I remember correctly it's on the schedule for Netflix in 2015.

The Prowler (sad to say, ninjas may have ruined DD, but they're so cool).

Fred W. Hill said...

As I mentioned in the discussion on DD 158, this was my first Miller DD issue and as it struck me as so different from what I was used to in my Marvel superhero comics, at first I didn't quite like it. In retrospect, it's sort of like my initial dislike of Ditko's art on Spider-Man when I first saw it. Eventually I saw the light and I recognized that both produced great art in their respective key mags. I don't know but do suspect Miller was contributing quite a bit to the plot, just as Starlin was to his first few issues of Captain Marvel written by Michael Friedrich. Also, while I feel the darker turn on DD started long before Miller's run started, I get the feeling that McKenzie & Miller reviewed DD's history and zeroes in on the sort of stories that worked best for DD, mainly the sort of crime-noir featured in DD's origin along with more personal drama, and doing away with most of the more outre sci-fi/fantasy elements that had been irregular elements in the title even during Stan Lee's run. Oh, and adding ninja assassins!
Also, it certainly worked that M&M made Bullsevey a much more intriguing villain than in his initial stories by Marv Wolfman. As depicted here, Bullseye is more cunning and devious and thus more frightening.

Dr. Oyola said...

The art here is fantastic - and it leads me to think that I like Frank Miller's work better with a co-writer/plotter - as the later all-Miller issues are a little too purple and wordy for my taste. Like Claremont, but perhaps worse.

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