|Today's cover should warm the hearts of our British readers!|
"A Grave Mistake!"
Roger McKenzie-Frank Miller/Klaus Janson
Doug: Does anyone around here have an explanation as to why in the past five years we've never gotten around to reviewing one of the hallmark series of the latter Bronze Age? Will someone please tell me? You know, it is funny. One would think that with 52 weeks of partner reviews in a year that we'd have gotten to some Frank Miller DD. But what you may not know is that in all of our meetings to come up with four-issue blocks to fill out the various months, this just never came up. It was always, "Hey, sometime we need to get to some Miller Daredevils!" and then we'd say, "But we haven't done the FF in awhile so let's find a good storyline." In fact, back in January when we were on vacation and plotting out 2014, we were going to do the Frightful Four storyline that we mentioned in our last Super Blog Team-Up. But no Daredevil. Today that changes.
Doug: With this issue, we're right up against the wall that symbolizes my departure from comics buying for around a five-year period. As I've remarked in the past, I left just as the "Dark Phoenix Saga" was getting underway over in X-Men. Ditto here. I know I had this issue, and DD #s 160-161. Then nothing until I got back into the hobby circa 1985. Sheesh. Talk about a ship sailed. But I've caught up on most of what I missed in one form or another (the "Golden Age of Reprints", indeed), largely because in this case I liked what I was seeing before I left. I'd like to start off with a question for everyone, aside from any thoughts you'll leave on the plot and my thoughts. That question is, who do you think is the quintessential DD artist: Gene Colan or Frank Miller?
Doug: Talk about dropped right into the middle of the action! We open with a splash page featuring Daredevil's then-cast of characters, and it looks like a scuffle has taken place. Natasha Romanoff is front and center, and bloodied. In the background we see a prone Foggy Nelson, and Matt Murdock's love interest at the time, Heather Glenn. A page turn later we find out what's up -- the Ani-Men (I can here you all gasp in horror all the way over here in Chicagoland) are on the scene and have busted up the place! You know, I've come across these goons a few times, and I just can never bring myself to say, "Holy snot! It's the Ani-Men!!" But apparently the fellows in this version are pretty nasty, particularly if they bloodied the Widow. But they've come for Matt Murdock, at the behest of "the boss". Natasha was out as far as secret IDs go, so she had no trouble jumping right back into the fray; Matt couldn't so easily do that. So while 'tasha tried to give Matt a chance to escape, she took some further physical abuse from Ape Man. Finally Matt called out that he'd go peacefully if no one got hurt. As the "Unholy Three" makes their move to leave, a lady in a wheelchair named Becky (help me -- I don't have my DDs anymore, so I'm going to need to be reminded here) fires something at Bird Man and knocks him for a loop. This gives the Widow an opening to launch herself onto his back, even as he flies out the window. She disables his flight pack, which drops him. Ape Man and Cat Man make it safely away with Murdock in tow.
Doug: Heather comes to the window to call Natasha back inside. She says that Foggy needs her help. Then she remarks that Matt can take care of himself. This shocks the Widow at a couple of levels, but mostly wounds her. Previously, only she and Karen Page had known Matt was Daredevil. How serious were Matt and Heather? thought Natasha. Cut to the mean streets, where Murdock's kidnappers make their way through Uptown. Along the way, Ape Man divulges the name of "the boss" -- Death-Stalker! Murdock suddenly pipes up, telling them they need to not deal with Death-Stalker -- he's a cold-blooded killer and their lives are in very real danger. Of course, it's the money for delivering the lawyer that they care about and blow off their charge's words. Shortly they are in a small cemetery, where they tie Murdock to a large stone crucifix. Death-Stalker emerges from a mausoleum. While his look was in no way original, I did think he was a cool-looking villain. One of my first DD comics was #128, and I was sold on Death-Stalker after that. The Ani-Men get their money, and huddle in the corner to count it. They're most happy to now only have to split it two ways.
Doug: Death-Stalker waves a hand toward an open grave, with a headstone bearing Murdock's name and the inscription "May he burn in Hell". He then narrates an origin that stretches back to DD #41, when he was known as the Exterminator. He had built a time-displacement ray, and after the defeat of the Ani-Men Daredevil had thrown the switch to the machine. This forced the Exterminator into the time stream, where he drifted in limbo. He was able to anchor himself at one point and steal AIM tech that allowed him to craft his death gloves. And now Daredevil would pay a price for the Death-Stalker losing his former life (it seems that this is all about the destruction of the time-displacement ray, which for some reason could not be rebuilt? -Flimsy...). As the Ani-Men count their loot -- all $100K of it -- Death-Stalker leaves Murdock to walk over and kill both of his mercenary assistants. That distraction was just enough time for Murdock to finish loosening his binding. It's swashbuckling time!
Doug: Matt removes his clothes to reveal his DD costume. Death-Stalker wants it that way and Matt obliges. DD thinks that he has to be very careful, as Death-Stalker exists a second out of the timestream -- he's blurry in his movements to DD's radar sense. But suddenly the Stalker's heartbeat becomes more audible. DD thinks that -of course!- Death-Stalker must materialize on this time plane in order to use his death grip. DD takes that window of opportunity and strikes! The two men engage, with Daredevil always staying away from those white gloves. But as DD drives the Death-Stalker back toward a large monument, D-S blinks out -- jumping back into limbo. As Daredevil tries to get a bead on his adversary, Death-Stalker re-emerges above Daredevil. DD is barely able to roll to the side and away from the grip of death. The two continue to tussle until Matt becomes aware of a street lamp overhead. Rifling his billy club into the heart of the globe, he plunges the cemetery into darkness. But seriously -- I wasn't buying this. They're in the heart of the city! Even if they were away from any sort of "downtown" area, the neighborhood wouldn't be a black-out. But not to hear Death-Stalker complain... "What sort of game is this, Daredevil? I cannot see you in the darkness!" Boo hoo, dude. Come and get your whuppin'. The combat continues, with DD having the obvious advantage. Finally, Death-Stalker lurches toward a monument of an angel, thinking it's Daredevil. As he stretches out his white gloves for the coup de grace, Daredevil uses his club to strike down hard, smashing the Death-Stalker's hands -- and with them, the tech that allowed him to kill by touch. Now blind with fury, Death-Stalker lunged at DD, but with his concentration gone did not realize that he had partially phased through a headstone. Unable to control his anger, he solidified -- half in and half out of the monument. End of battle.
Doug: Back at the storefront offices of Nelson and Murdock, Matt's quite moody. He's exhausted from his ordeal with the Death-Stalker. Foggy's been bandaged up. Becky tells him that there's been no word from Natasha since she left to look for him. As everyone gets ready to leave, Matt says he is going to stay behind to get some work done. As he broods in his office, he hears a noise and voices Natasha's name. But it was Becky, who apparently has a secret thing for him. To be continued.
Doug: Frank Miller's pencils were quite a departure from the work of Gene Colan, who had most recently been back on the book (issues #s 153-157). I had enjoyed Bob Brown's much earlier run on the title, and found Miller's "look" to be similar to Brown's. But whereas Brown's figures could at times seem stiff, there was none of that in Miller's pencils. His figures seemed to burst with the frenetic energy that Colan imbued them with, but in a more realistic style that evoked acrobats, or dancers in a ballet. There was drama in his pencils. And Klaus Janson's inks remained steady, as he'd been on the book for several issues prior to Miller's arrival. But I'd submit that Janson's inks over Miller's pencils changed the tone of the book from how I had perceived it over my previous years as a regular reader. So while Miller would not write the Daredevil feature for several more issues, his (and Janson's) presence was nonetheless a watershed moment on the book -- and for Marvel. And help us all -- it was great. I only wish it had not continued down a path that has brought us to where we are today in comics, where ninjas and bloody violence permeate our comics and the anti-hero takes center stage more often than the noble helper. Give me the way-back machine...