By Andy Frisk
February 13, 2009 - 07:21
|Essential Daredevil 1 cover image is courtesy barnesandnoble.com.|
I really love these Marvel Essentials volumes. Granted they are in black and white, and the cover bindings often seem to separate but the tales and art are still engaging as historical records of one of the most exciting times in comics; the dawn of the Marvel Age.
With the first volume of The Essential Daredevil we get a collection of issues 1 thru 25 of Daredevil: The Man Without Fear Volume 1. These early and formative tales of ol’ hornhead were written, for the most part, by Stan the Man himself and it is easy to see why, after one reads these tales, we refer to Stan as The Man so often. The tales collected in this volume are not quite as sophisticated to modern readers as Frank Miller’s run or even Brubaker’s current run, but if put in their historical context they are incredibly ground breaking. Several of the villains introduced, or in the case of Electro, borrowed from other hero’s rogue galleries, border on the silly if not inane. In issue 5 we get “The Mysterious Masked Matador,” yes true believers he is what his name implies, a funny hat, stocking and slipper wearing, cape waving bull fighter! In issue 8 we get Stiltman, that’s right, a guy with hydraulic stilts, that don’t appear to have knee joints so one wonders just how does he walk over the Brooklyn Bridge as shown in a panel on page 13 of the collected issue he appears in. Although these villains seem enormously silly, and in many ways they are, the tales of their tangles with Daredevil are not quite as silly as their monikers or appearances.
During the Stiltman episode we get some interesting insight into some of Daredevil’s nifty gadgets. For example we get a pretty sophisticated breakdown of his billy club with its built in microphone, batteries, tape recorder, cable springs, etc. (page 5). We also get the revelations that his “devil horns” are really antennae for radio reception. Whether or not these toys stayed part of D.D.’s collection over the years, they were pretty cool for their time. We also get a pretty harsh ending to Stiltman that foreshadowed the tone the book would later take over the years especially with the theme of seeming death and resurrection. (Okay, maybe Stiltman doesn’t die per se, but shrinking into nothing is a pretty close analogy!).
With the Matador episode we get a Daredevil who is defeated by this silly looking villain in perhaps the least silliest of ways, by taking away D.D.’s only super power, his senses. We also get that classic Stan Lee realism of character when we see Matt Murdock agonizing over his defeat and willing admission that he wants to defeat the Matador, “not merely for my pride…but to show the world justice is mightier than crime.” It is the “not merely for my pride…” admission that helps make Matt seem so human to us, and the readers of the day. While he is a hero, he is also a man with varying emotions such as pride and anger. Again, this humanism is common place nowadays in comics, but for its time, Stan Lee was breaking new and interesting ground in comics storytelling. Matt also, keeping in character as a lawyer, sneaks into the library at night to research his foe in the library’s archives. In our times he most likely would have hopped on the internet but alas we would have to wait several decades for the chance to see Matt log onto Westlaw. During the course of his research Matt stumbles upon The Matador’s weakness, his pride. Matt ends up using The Matador’s pride against him by publicly declaring that The Matador and D.D. are the same person, thusly “daring to seal my (The Matador’s) glory??” Underlying this whole tale filled with silly costumed bad guys and heroes (D.D. was still in his mostly yellow tights at this point) we get a battle, not just between hero and villain, but between the blinding power of pride and its consequences. Daredevil, when he first takes on The Matador and is defeated he feels the sting of defeat and a blow to his pride. He then humbles himself, makes a fool of himself as Murdock, and uses The Matador’s pride against him to defeat him by calling him out. We end up with a rather sophisticated tale about pride, excessive pride’s danger, and the need to set aside your own pride in the pursuit of the greater good and justice. Stan Lee gives us a very human and easy to relate to character along with an insightful cautionary tale with his storytelling.
It was this kind of “gritty realism” in the portrayal of heroes and villains as men and women with commonplace virtues and vices that would set the stage for the Daredevil tales to come in the following decades. Another aspect of this realism would prove to be the love triangle that exists between Karen, Foggy and Matt. This triangle would take many twists and turns in the first 25 issues alone, including Foggy’s hinting to Karen that he might actually be Daredevil to win her affections. At one point Matt vows to always go it alone and “accept my lonely fate” since “After all can Daredevil offer a girl the type of life all brides dream of? No…” Oh Matt, if you only stuck to your vow…
(There is so much to talk about in this collection that I have to break this review into two parts to fully convey the importance and greatness of these early DD stories and to the history of the medium. In part two of my review we’ll look a little more closely at D.D.’s early interactions with other Marvel Universe heroes and more of Stan Lee’s great storytelling…Stay tuned True Believers!-Thanks Stan-)