Daredevil had always been an unsure and confused franchise. Before Frank Miller (initially with Roger McKenzie in DD #158, May 1979) turned it into the definitive gritty no-holds-barred super-hero/crime noir, it was a mishmash of genres with each writer imposing upon it a different style. What other hero has his costume completely changed only seven issues into his series? (In Back Issue #110, February 2019, Denny O’Neil says, “Bill Everett was the first artist and he did a generic costume.”) And what other character has been interpreted by the likes of Bill Everett, Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Jack Kirby, John Romita, and Steve Ditko, all in a very short time before Gene Colan took over in DD #20, September 1966 becoming, in his time, the definitive DD illustrator?
Stan Lee was the one near-constant for the first 50 issues of the book but even Stan didn’t quite know what to do with it and he found himself in the same secret identity snafus and “I can’t marry my girlfriend because…” shticks that plagued him in several other series. But one thing Daredevil had that makes him an interest to us here is a relationship with the Amazing Spider-Man, more so than any hero other than the Human Torch. Steve Ditko gives us their first meeting in ASM #16, September 1964 and John Romita does his first Spidey work in Daredevil #16, May 1966. The last time we saw Spidey in DD’s own book was Daredevil #27, April 1967 where, if you read the Background to that review, you’ll see that the web-slinger mucks things up for Daredevil without even appearing when, in DD #24, January 1967, he sends a letter to Matt Murdock telling him he knows he is Daredevil. The trouble is that both Karen Page and Foggy Nelson read the letter, forcing Matt to invent a twin brother, Mike Murdock, and pretend that he is the one who is Daredevil.
As I mentioned in the wrap-up of my DD #27 review, “Mike Murdock finally ‘dies’ in ‘The Death of Mike Murdock’ in Daredevil #41, June 1968 lasting a year and a half and 17 issues. Not bad for a wacky idea that never should have seen the light of day to begin with.” Before that happens, Spidey encounters DD in Fantastic Four #73, April 1968 in the conclusion to a wacky tale in which Dr. Doom switches bodies with the Man Without Fear. It’s only a couple of months after that that Mike Murdock “dies.” But this causes another problem. Since Foggy and Karen “knew” that Mike was Daredevil, how can there still be a Daredevil if Mike Murdock is dead? Welcome to Daredevil #42, July 1968 in which Matt Murdock tells the new villain The Jester that “The original Daredevil was killed but he trained someone else to take his place!”
That’s not the only thing worth mentioning about that issue. There is also the matter of the appearance of Richard Raleigh. Yes, Raleigh was killed at the end of Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1 but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t skulking around doing bad things beforehand. Here, he decides that he doesn’t “want any District Attorney whom I can’t control” once he becomes Mayor. That means he wants Foggy Nelson taken out of the running. Reading about the Jester in the newspaper, he decides to employ him. He gets on TV and announces, “I shall not rest until the Jester is safely behind bars,” knowing that will prompt the Jester to attack his campaign headquarters. There, he offers the Jester ten thousand dollars to get Foggy out of the race. The Jester ends up kidnapping Matt to coerce Foggy but this only gets him in a fight with Daredevil. When the Jester arrives at Raleigh’s “sanctum sanctorum” to complain that DD has mucked up the works, he finds Raleigh dead. (Stan provides a footnote. “How it happened has nothing to do with our present yarn, pilgrim…but if you just have to know…it’s all spelled out in the Spectacular Spider-Man #1, now on sale.” Except now you know before reading that story that Raleigh is the bad guy and that he ends up dead.) So this issue takes place both before and after Spec Spider-Man and the presence of this story wreaks havoc with retconning the whole “Lo, This Monster!” story out of this time frame and into the world of ASM #116, January 1973. But let’s not worry about that now.
At the end of this issue, the Jester escapes. Since the Jester is clearly a Joker knock-off, Stan tries his best to make him Daredevil’s arch-nemesis. In that regard, he brings him back in three consecutive issues…except those issues happen to be Daredevil #44-46, September-November 1968. So, what happened in Daredevil #43? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.
It begins with a Jack Kirby-Joe Sinnott cover! But it’s a rather clunky-looking Kirby cover (showing DD and Cap in a boxing ring with the press and fight fans witnessing the battle) as if Jack had to do a rush job. It’s interesting that Cap dominates the illustration, even though it’s DD’s book. His left leg and right hand seem to jump out at the reader in a 3D effect. But the fact that it’s his left leg and right hand gives you an idea of how skewed the perspective seems to be.
(In his review of this issue, Alan Stewart, at his Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books website, tells us that Gene Colan drew a cover for this issue but Stan rejected it, perhaps because he didn’t like showing DD getting the upper hand over Cap, even though it’s in DD’s own book. Here’s that cover…)
The interior art is by Gene Colan as usual, with inking by Vince Colletta who doesn’t do the kind of damage here that he often did to Kirby’s work. There’s a nice overhead camera shot on the splash page showing Matt, still in his DD outfit but with his mask off, in a tuck position as he bounces high up off a trampoline. (Since Matt is alone and still in his DD costume, you have to wonder why he’s bothered to put his dark glasses on.) As he bounces, he says, aloud, “It’s wrong…all wrong! And there’s nothing I can do about it!” To what is he referring? Well, apparently, he’s lost Karen Page “forever. And there’s no way I can get Karen back!” So, when did this happen? Didn’t we just see that the previous issue ended with no breakup in sight? Well, that’s why we need the awkward flashback that’s coming right up.
As Matt continues his exercise routine, he talks aloud of how he can’t “jeopardize the life of the girl I love by letting her share the deadly secret of Daredevil” and deciding that “Only by giving up my crime-fighting career forever could I marry Karen without endangering her life! But I can’t!! I just can’t do it!” Then he thinks back “a few short hours ago” when Karen announced, out of the blue, that she’s “decided to leave! I can’t work here any longer!” She tells Matt that “all I ever longed for was to love you…take care of you…but you let your blindness come between us.” And since Matt is your typical idiotic 1960s Marvel super-hero, he decides “I’ve got to help her forget me….make it easier for her…no matter how it hurts” by acting like a jerk. So instead of comforting Karen, instead of asking her to stay, he pushes her away and says “Women! You’re all alike! You try to own a man! Well, nobody’s owning Matt Murdock! If you’re going, then go! And good riddance!” Karen slams the door on her way out and Matt thinks, “I’ve driven away the one I love most in all the world.” And we’re supposed to feel sorry for this sap?
Matt finishes his workout by ripping parts of his gymnasium apart as he whines, “Why has the identity of Daredevil become the most important thing in my life? Nuts! What am I questioning myself for? What’s done is done and there’s no turning back! I was never meant to be a blasted Casanova! I’m a red-hot swingin’ superhero and that’s the way I want it!” Then he breaks down. “Yeah…that’s the way…I want it!” Oh boo hoo. Maybe if you hadn’t been such a jerk, you might have worked something out, Matt.
Daredevil takes to the streets, trying “to out-run her memory.” He winds up outside Madison Square Garden where he hears an announcement that “for the benefit of the Urban Poverty Fund, our world-famous guest Captain America will battle any volunteer in any type of combat.” For a moment, he muses that “it would be a blast if I was the one to tangle with Cap” but then he figures his time would be better spent to try to track down the Jester. This leads to a half-page flashback of the DD-Jester fight and prompts Daredevil to leave MSG behind and search for that “corny costumed clown.”
Soon, his attention is diverted elsewhere. He overhears a report on a police car radio that “a small black bag containing radioactive vials” has been stolen from Parkside Medical Center. “It happens all the time,” says Daredevil, “Some bird-brained sneak thief grabs a doctor’s medical bag not suspecting it contains deadly radioactive material!” Really? It happens all the time?? How many doctors are even walking around with deadly radioactive material in their bags anyway? Shouldn’t we tell them to stop it?
Since DD got his hyper-senses from radioactivity (and don’t worry, that flashback is on its way) he’s “like a walking Geiger counter.” He says, “It shouldn’t take me long to sniff ‘im out!” And it doesn’t. In fact, he grabs the guy by the tie by the end of the page. Apparently, the guy reaches for a gun (or so DD says but we don’t see it), so Daredevil knocks him out with one punch. He picks up the bag to return it to the medical center but the radioactivity is affecting him, even from a distance. (I repeat. Doctors are walking around with this???) “It remind me of that day when I was just a kid,” says Daredevil which cues the expected flashback.
He remembers the moment when he pushed a blind man out of the way of a truck carrying radioactive materials. (People are so cavalier about radioactive materials in Marvel New York, aren’t they?) However, “an open cylinder fell from the truck” and it contains, yup, “radioactive materials.” (Were they using it as an ashtray? How can it just fall out of the truck?) This is what blinds Matt and gives him his hyper-senses (as seen in Daredevil #1, April 1964, as I’m sure you know). DD realizes that it must have also made him “hyper-sensitive to radiation” and now he feels “strange” and “different.” And for some reason, this strange feeling makes him want to go back to the Garden and fight Captain America. (Fortunately, this urge doesn’t come out until he returns the radioactive vial, as Stan manages to squeeze into a caption.) And his whole manner has been altered. “What that phony needs is a real fight,” he says of Cap, “And I’m just the guy to give it to him!”
In Madison Square Garden, Cap is uncomfortable with the whole scene. “If this wasn’t for charity, I’d call it off!” he says. Meanwhile, Daredevil forces his way into the arena. “Clam up, flunky!” he tells a police officer, which prompts a reporter to say, “He looks like Daredevil but he doesn’t sound like him! I did plenty of news stories about him but I never saw him throw his weight around before! What’s changed him?” Believe me, Mr. Reporter, the answer to that question is too embarrassing for you to know.
Now, as a volunteer starts to enter the ring to take on Cap, DD uses his billyclub to swing in (he’s attached it to the roof somehow, I guess), where he kicks the volunteer right through the ropes. “Hey, you could have hurt him!” says Cap. (Could have hurt him? The guy has to be seriously injured after that.) DD doesn’t care. He finishes his swing by entering the ring and punching Cap in the jaw. That begins a seven-page battle in which Stan does a great job of keeping the dialogue going even though nothing of consequence is happening. He starts with Cap trying to calm DD down only to have DD insult him. (Cap: “This is just an exhibition.” DD: “Sure ! That’s what I’m doing…exhibiting what a nowhere fink you really are!”) It moves to Cap using his shield and DD commenting on it. (“You and that rotten shield of yours!”) After a couple of pages, Cap decides he no longer has to hold back. (“You can’t be the real Daredevil! I must be fighting an imposter! And that means all bets are off!”) Gene Colan gives us some great kinetic panels full of motion lines and explosive bursts as Cap finally knocks DD to the canvas. (“Now talk! How come you have all of Daredevil’s powers but your strategy is like an amateur compared to his?”) After four plus pages, Stan finally runs out of things for Cap and DD to say so he switches to the crowd and we get a page of their comments. (“Greatest fight I ever saw!” “It’s still anybody’s fight!”) Some of these crowd members are reduced to telling us what we can already see. (“Wow! He’s butting Cap right over the ropes!” “Cap toppled him! He’s tossing him over.”) One of the crowd members is photographer Peter Parker who appears in one panel. He is in the process of snapping a picture and he seems to love every minute of the fight since he has a big grin on his face. He also contributes to the narration with his only line. (“Uh oh! They’re toppling into the elevator shaft!”) And, yes, somehow, the fight has spilled out of the ring and gone down an elevator shaft. I can’t imagine how they could have done this without taking out a whole swath of the audience.
And speaking of things I can’t imagine, why is Peter Parker at this event anyway? Isn’t he the free-lancer who takes pictures of Spider-Man? Aren’t there regular staff Bugle photographers who could be assigned this exhibition? It’s not like Peter knew that Daredevil was going to show up. I have this feeling that Gene drew Peter just to keep himself interested.
Now as the combatants tumble down the elevator shaft, DD’s head starts to ache. Then everything gets hazy. Then it “feels like someone’s lifting a veil over my brain letting the light in.” Then suddenly he realizes there is a crowd “gathering all around me.” (Did they follow them down the elevator shaft?) And Captain America is coming towards him. Everything else is a blank.
Daredevil flees out of MSG with Cap running after him. “I remember now!” thinks DD, “it was the radium…it affected me…made me temporarily go berserk! But the effect has finally worn off!” And with that, he swings away on his billyclub. Cap lets him go. “If he’s willing to call it quits, it’s okay with me! Whatever he did, I guess he had his reasons!” Yeah, Cap, but it was a really stupid reason.
The press catches up to Cap and asks him why Daredevil chickened out. Cap covers for him, pretending that it was an act all along, because that’s the kind of thing that Cap does. “We all wanted a good show and he gave us one,” he says. But he also gave us a ruined elevator shaft, a broken window, and who knows what else which has to have put a dent in the charity money. And “in another part of town,” Daredevil wraps up the story by going back into his self-pity funk. “For just a few moments in the heat of battle I was able to forget Karen!” (But should he remember any of the battle to know that he forgot Karen in the heat of the battle? When he remembers the radium, he remembers everything, I guess.) “But, what happens now?” he asks.
So what does happen now? In DD #47, December 1968, Karen turns up, working at the Welfare Department. In DD #48, January 1969, Karen returns (“I couldn’t stay away from you any longer!”) but Matt stiffs her and Foggy’s DA campaign so that he can protect Foggy from Stilt-Man. Karen ends up working for Foggy when he becomes DA (but it’s not entirely clear when she starts) and Matt, appears to die in a plane crash. (We’ll get into this when we tackle Daredevil #54, July 1969 with its Spidey cover and cameo appearances.) Then, in DD #57, October 1969, Matt reveals his identity to Karen, which causes its own set of problems. Eventually, Karen is killed by Bullseye, in Daredevil #5, March 1999. As far as I know, she is still dead.
So, what is the deal with this issue? Why does Stan bother to wedge it into the midst of the four-issue Jester storyline? There’s really only one explanation…to use Cap to increase sales of the book. But it’s an awkward insert and it seems rushed, as does Kirby’s artwork for the cover. You have the wedged in flashback of Karen’s departure which, by making it a flashback and not showing it “live,” puts the emphasis on Matt’s self-pity rather than the moment itself. You have the tiresome routine of Matt acting like a jerk in order to intentionally push Karen away. There is so little plot that you even have time for a DD #1 recap and it all leads to seven pages of a pointless fight. What little plot there is is right out of a Superman Red Kryptonite story. With his radioactive hyper-senses turning him into a human Geiger counter, Daredevil finds the stolen bag of radium (taken from a doctor who’s walking around the city with it!) but then is turned evil, or at least “jerkwaddy” from its effects. He’s lucky it didn’t give him the head of an ant to boot.
I hope Cap’s appearance boosted sales but the sorry excuse for a story probably kept those people from returning. At least, Gene’s fight panels are cool. But it’s still only a half of a web.
Echh goes King-Size and so do we! Not Brand Echh #9 is next.