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!


Edo Bosnar said...

Like I've kind of been saying in the comments to all of these reviews, these issues really cemented Daredevil as a book I just had to read every month (just like Claremont/Byrne/Austin's X-men). The noirish stories and the wonderfully stylish and dynamic art were just a killer combination for me back at about the age of 11 or 12.

As to your questions, I don't know that I can really answer them intelligently. I stopped reading DD as soon as Miller left, and I never became a regular DD reader again. Also, to this day I've only read a few random Silver Age and earlier Bronze Age issues of DD, so I can't really comment on how well any of this material compares to Miller's run. For me, though, Miller's first run on the book was a Golden Age on the title, and - as I've said several times before - Miller's Golden Age, period. Nothing he ever did after this even comes close.

david_b said...

I'm in a different DD fangroup than most here. I applaud Miller's style and change back to more noir stories, but somehow I wasn't a fan of the art. Just didn't like it, perhaps a tad too sketchy, inks-wise.

I missed the Widow love-interest angle (frankly, one of the reasons I started reading DD..), and her farewell back in ish 123-124 (which I finally picked up earlier this year..) pretty much marks the end of my DD interest, with the exception of a few later issues here and there. Not sure why or how best to explain, but I just have a sense of the Bullpen back during that tenure and I guess I liked the period it was written in as much as the content. Also, there was a sense of light-hearted fun in DD stories up to that point which Miller removed, for better (for most) or worse.

Great review today..!!

Ewan said...

Miller’s DD run was the bronze age high point for the character, but no, kind of like Moore’s Swamp Thing, they took second tier characters to totally new heights but did not elevate these characters to primetime for the long haul.

I think it’s multiple factors:

1. In comic book reader circles, his DD would get overshadowed by Dark Knight, just like Swamp Thing got overshadowed by Watchmen.
2. DD’s costume visually is a tad bland…some of us like it just fine, but maybe not as many marketing opportunities as Spidey, Wolverine, Batman, etc.
3. The movie was not very good and didn’t help…no “Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark and we love him” breakout phenomenon.

Personally looking back, I think Miller’s DD has aged better with me than his later work. He stretched boundaries with DD, but it was still framed securely in bronze age storytelling which I find more appealing.

Mike said...

Doug - I wanted to thank you for your DD posts this month. These are the stories that made me into a comic book collector. I've been holding back commenting as everyone has been in basic agreement with me. I am hoping the new DD Netflix series they're doing treats the character with much more respect than that absolutely horrible movie did. If they do, maybe that will bump him up a bit in the Marvel video universe. DD is a really good character, so I hope so.

If you ever revisit Miller's DD in the future, I'd suggest the Elektra arc of issue #'s 168-181. As a young reader those stories shaped much of my comic disposition. I remember how I could not wait to grab 181 off the spinner rack back then. I never, ever waited in such anticipation for a comic as I did for that one back then.

Garett said...

First off, great cover. You can feel that kick, and nice deep perspective to the tracks.

Great dynamic art this issue! The acrobatic scenes seem like a lighter, quicker Gil Kane. That scene with Natasha tricking the knifethrower into cutting her ropes has always stuck in my mind.

Bullseye is a fantastic villain for DD. Seeing this review makes me wish McKenzie had stayed on longer in collaboration with Miller. I read the whole Miller era at the time, and stayed on a while longer as Janson took over the art. I also picked up a few Romita Jr. issues, but it felt as if the Miller-era energy was dissipating. I went back years later to read some Colan issues, and I liked them--some beautiful art by Colan and Palmer in Essential DD #4. But this Miller era is my golden age.

Enjoyed these DD reviews Doug! In more recent years, when I picked up DD it was drawn by Alex Maleev, who has a kind of smokey realism, but lacks Miller's dynamic energy. I've heard good things about the new Waid DD stories, but the art by Rivera looks a little too simple for me. I did enjoy Elektra Assassin for the Sienkiewicz art, very daring especially for the time, but Miller's Ronin left me perplexed. I've heard in a number of interviews Miller saying that Ronin allowed him to experiment and was the reason he could then do Dark Knight. At the time I loved the daring of Dark Knight, but now that Bronze age type comic stories aren't being produced, Miller/McKenzie's DD here seems even better. I'd buy this issue if it came out today.

Humanbelly said...

Given that I really do prefer my reprints in color. . . but am still an unrepentant cheapskate. . . is there a bargain-level reprint volume out there somewhere that contains this run? Or at least these issues? (I'm thinking that SURELY there has to be-- or at least something that could be picked up used on Amazon/ebay.)

Garrett, it's funny you mentioned sort of "seeing" Gil Kane in Miller/Janson's work-- 'cause I thought exactly the same thing. And I'd also add that in other moments it looks almost as if Neal Adams had taken possession. . .and then even Steve Ditko, for a bit! (In a very good way, mind you-)

As Doug's been guiding us through this arc, my mind's ear has been absolutely YEARNING for some kind of film underscoring to go along with it-! Something very jazzy/retro/Nelson Riddle-ish, y'know?


Doug said...

HB - you want the DD Visionaries series of color tpbs.


Humanbelly said...

Excellent-- thank ya much, Doug.


Garett said...

Hey HB, I have these stories in Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller Vol 1. Reprints #158-167. $18.

Garett said...

Haha--which Doug just told you. Guess I should read all the comments first : )

Edo Bosnar said...

HB, those Daredevil Visionaries volumes are nice, but kind of pricey (and I think there's three volumes).
But since you mentioned you're even interested in a book that just reprints these issues, here's a suggestion: a tpb called "Daredevil: Marked for Death" which is now out-of-print but can be found used.
Here's the listing at It reprints this story arc, plus two more (the one that has DD fight the Hulk and the - really excellent - one in which the reporter, Ben Urich, reveals to DD that he knows his secret identity. I've actually had my eye on this one for a while, but the high postage rates to Europe have kept it out of my price range. If you're interested, you should also check eBay - last time I looked, there's quite a few sellers offering it for $4-5.

Anonymous said...

This was a good start for Miller's run on DD. I did feel that Bullseye's first fight with the Black Widow was too short, too one sided. This was closer to who she was. Miller reinvented a DD from the ground up. His origin, who had ever heard of Stick, college, Elektra as his love interest, all done without fanfare, just good storytelling. The later DD who fought demons to keep babies of prophesy alive, secret nuns running secret societies, it all became a bit much. DD fighting not only street crime but political corruption is what made him the hero he is. There came a time on the DD title, Marvel Knights and so when the only approach was to out dark and gritty him. With all the story lines that have been done, there's never been that gripping court room drama. DD the detective gathering all the evidence, Matt the lawyer trying to get it admitted as evidence.

The Prowler (once discovered a buy one get one free burger coupon in a junk drawer).

William said...

Nice job Doug. These last few issues of Daredevil you've reviewed represent a huge turning point in my comic reading history. I think I was around 13 or so when these came out, and for some reason they just captured my imagination. It was love at first sight. Which when I think back on it is weird, because I never really loved DD as a character all that much before these. I mean, I liked DD a lot when he would team up with Captain America or Spider-Man and such, but I never really bought his book on any kind of a regular basis, but then starting with issue #159, I never missed another issue until after Miller departed.

As the series continued Daredevil soon became my favorite character, and I even got a subscription. Seeing this story and the others really brings back a lot of happy feelings. Too bad you're not doing anymore of them, because the next issue where DD fights the Hulk is a true classic. Hopefully you'll pick back up on these at a future date.

It's funny that loved this series to much (the Miller/Janson DD) but I never really cared all that much for anything Miller did afterwards. I didn't even like his return to DD with the sad and dreary "Born Again" storyline. And "The Dark Knight Returns" could have been a timeless masterpiece, except that Miller took it too far into the realm of political satire, to the point that it now seems very dated and unintentionally comical in some parts.

Unlike DKR, Miller's DD run remains a timeless classic that is as good today as it was when it originally came out. And for anyone who wants to read them you can pick up the whole run, in color, in a couple of different formats. First there is the aforementioned "Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller" trade paperbacks that reprint Miller and Janson's entire run in 3 softcover volumes. I got lucky and found them all at my LCS in the 50% off bin. Another way you can get these is in the "Daredevil by Miller and Janson Omnibus" that reprints the entire run in a single, phonebook sized hardcover. I own that as well. While it's great to have the whole series in one book, it's really tough to read in bed, lol. Which is why I picked up the 3 trades as well.

Before I go, just wanted to mention that cover for this issue. Is that not a thing of beauty. That perspective is just insane.

Anonymous said...

Color me a guy who never wants to leave a half formed thought unspoken. The persona of Matt Murdock, a lawyer from Hell's Kitchen, using the court room as an avenue of justice is nothing new. Many of us may not have grown up with Perry Mason, but certainly Matlock, The Defenders, Paper Chase, dang, the show where the guy lived in the back of his truck showed the popularity of lawyers in the court room. And Miller's run on DD predated Law And Order, but look where how long that's been on. And Matt working with Foggy on how to get evidence obtained by DD into a court room, that could be an issue and half alone. I just think that Miller building up DD, especially in his relation with/to the Kingpin sacrificed Matt Murdock. There were certainly many elements there that soon became hugely popular on other shows. Instead of Marvel seeing that strong stories made DD popular, they just kept telling the creative teams "What can you do to make it dark and gritty, that's what the people want".

The Prowler (likes his sausage dark and gritty).

Related Posts with Thumbnails