Monday, July 14, 2014
Carnival of Madness - Daredevil 161
Daredevil #161 (November 1979)
"To Dare the Devil!"
Roger McKenzie-Frank Miller/Klaus Janson
Doug: It's been a fun series so far, hasn't it? Today we'll wrap up our month spent with Frank Miller and the team as they changed comicdom's perspective on Daredevil, perhaps forever. Maybe at the end we can have discourse on the impact of Miller's tenure on the character -- specifically, did said tenure really do anything for Daredevil? Or was any critical acclaim short-lived in the larger 50-year history of the character? Maybe Miller's art and stories are the book's golden age -- but why is that window of greatness so narrow? Would the general public, in spite of the Hollywood film, recognize the name or visage of Daredevil?
Doug: When we ended our visit to Daredevil #160, we'd just seen one of the great comic bar fights of all time, rivaling anything Conan was ever involved in. DD had gone looking for information about Bullseye's whereabouts. The assassin had kidnapped the Black Widow and was using her as bait. Ol' Hornhead wanted nothing more than to take that bait. As we begin, we're at Coney Island and watch from above as one of the informants DD had so wanted to squeeze comes sprinting into the area Eric Slaughter is using as his base. You'll recall that in issue #159 an unmasked Bullseye had hired Slaughter and his men to either capture or kill Daredevil; Bullseye used that ruse as a means to videotape Daredevils movements for study. "Turk", he of the lisp and fast feet, runs right up to Slaughter and tells him how Daredevil wants him. Trouble is, DD tailed Turk and is right above the gangsters as Turk begins to relate his tale. Remember -- this is a very impatient vigilante. As we've now grown accustomed to, Miller is just dynamite in these fight scenes. Although static images, the reader can feel the pop in each blow and hear the jangles of chains and the crushing of jawbones. And for my money, you can't beat Miller's efforts in providing motion through the use of multiple images, sequentially presented and overlapping. Great feature of the art.
Doug: Daredevil emerges from the scrum to face Slaughter, and he basically tells him to give up Bullseye or else. But just then DD hears the Astrotower kick into gear -- in a deserted theme park? Scaling the tower, he knows that Bullseye can see him -- but what's he to do? Of course there are gunmen on a perch, but DD evades their fire in another great series of panels. Miller seemed to have his finger on the pulse of the radar sense and when would be a good time to depict it; he also gives us another "motion" panel that nails it. Bullseye gloats over a loudspeaker that he indeed has Daredevil's "woman", and it's a shame that she has to die; after all, she's quite beautiful. And then the rollercoaster cars begin moving. DD knows he has a very limited amount of time to a) locate Natasha, b) avoid additional gunfire and/or Bullseye himself, and c) free her from however she's bound on the tracks. Swooping low over the 'coaster tracks, he begins his search. And of course, the gunfire commences. DD's able to take out several gunmen, actually swinging right at them -- pretty unnerving I'd guess, trying to get off an accurate shot while knowing you're going to get buried in about 10 seconds...
Doug: As Daredevil scrambles back toward the tracks, he suddenly wheels and veers in a different direction. The flunkies can't believe it, and as the train hits the Widow's body there is a large impact, knocking "her" off the tracks! But hey -- no heartbeat = no Natasha, right? Bullseye, ever watching, cannot believe it. Of course he has the real Widow, a goon on each arm and a very large gun to the back of her head. While he taunts her, Bullseye has her moved and strapped to a large board; the assassin throws a knife at her, pinning it just below her shoulder. Sceneshift to a musty and dirty old gym, where an old man is talking to Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich. Urich's come for some information on "Battlin'" Jack Murdock. The old man relates a story of the old pugilist, and of course Murdock's son comes up in the conversation. He's a lawyer now, you know. Urich says he knows. "K.O." tells how hard Murdock pushed his son to study, and how the neighborhood kids always made fun of him for it. Called him a name... "Daredevil?" says Urich. "How'd you know?" "Just a hunch." The plot thickens...
Doug: Back at Coney Island, DD has caught up with Turk again and drags him to a very high point in the park -- in the fork of a devil, no less. Turk decides that giving up Bullseye's location gives him a chance to get away; not giving it up, and the pavement's going to be coming up real fast. Inside the arcade, Bullseye has a marksman throwing knives at the Widow. Bullseye orders him to stop missing and kill her before DD arrives. But the Widow begins to wriggle, and her catlike reflexes allow her to avoid several knives... until she gets the right one. She maneuvers her wrists into just the right position, where a blade cuts her bounds. Now it's butt-kicking time, Soviet spy-style! I was really glad they did this and didn't keep Natasha as some helpless female, which would greatly have disrespected the character. Tasha easily takes out the biggest of the thugs assembled, and shows no fear as she turns to face Bullseye -- he armed with a knife. But as he is about to throw it, the cord from Daredevil's billy club encircles his wrist. DD whips him backwards, totally killing his enemy's balance. And then Daredevil proceeds to kick his butt -- hard.
Doug: But it couldn't, and shouldn't, end that easily. DD tosses Bullseye across the arcade, but the villain lands in the baseball toss game. Coming up firing, DD takes several baseballs off his face and chest. Trying to recover, he fires his billy club toward Bullseye, who snatches it out of the air. Bullseye fires it back, catching DD square on the jaw. While Daredevil struggles to catch is wits, Bullseye uses the club to crack our hero on the back of the head. However, through sheer will, DD takes advantage of the close quarters and punches Bullseye in the face, following that up with a hand to the face. Bullseye's head is driven back into a wall. Daredevil then delivers a roundhouse, which sends his foe reeling -- right toward a gun. But Bullseye's nerves are shot, and his hand shakes as he grips the weapon. At close range, DD knows he's done for, so he takes the only chance he has left: he goads Bullseye. And the assassin cannot pull the trigger. Calling out to Eric Slaughter and his men, Bullseye orders them to shoot Daredevil. Slaughter calls back that DD has earned his respect, and if Bullseye wants him dead he should shoot him himself. Bullseye collapses to the ground. The Widow steps over by Daredevil and remarks that Bullseye seems to have lost his mind. DD says that it's over now. He binds Bullseye's arms behind his back, lifts him to his shoulder, and DD and the Widow walk off hand-in-hand.
Doug: Sentimentally, I'd have liked to have seen Daredevil and the Widow get back together. But as I said when we began this tour back near the end of June, this was the last issue that I read for a very long time. And even saying that, I've never read Miller's complete run. Really, I've only picked at it here and there, even though I have access to almost all of it. So the Elektra stories? I wouldn't see those until around four years after they were released. In fact, when I was first going about filling in the massive holes in my collection, it was Miller's collaboration with Bill Sienkiewicz on Elektra: Assassin that was on the newsstands. I thought it was weird (I never warmed to Sienkiewicz's style). Bullseye is a great villain, and I think Miller was onto something (by now co-plotting with Roger McKenzie, I'd guess) in reaching into the head of the villain and going after the pathological elements of his psyche. While the "anything in my hands is a weapon" schtick is cool, depth was needed. I think in this 3-parter we started to get a little of that. All in all, these four issues would equate to around 80 minutes very well spent!