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News Article
Marvel’s super-sensitive Daredevil comic turns 50
By Brett Weiss

Known by day as lawyer Matt Murdock, the swashbuckling vigilante Daredevil was created by writer Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett during the Marvel Age of Comics, the early 1960s. According to The Superhero Book (2004, Visible Ink Press), he was “the last new Major Marvel super-hero to come out of the comic company’s burst of creativity in the 1960s.”

The Marvel Age of Comics began in 1961 with the release of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four No.1 ($90,000 in near mint condition), which was Marvel’s answer to DC’s popular Justice League of America, a series that united such iconic heroes as Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

Instead of emulating DC’s penchant for squeaky clean heroes who were near-perfect in every way, Lee created a flawed team of characters that struggled with interpersonal conflict and self-doubt. The Fantastic Four, comprised of Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Girl, The Thing, and The Human Torch, were heroic, but they squabbled like a dysfunctional family.

In some ways, Daredevil had the biggest obstacle of all the classic Marvel super-heroes to overcome: blindness. Fortunately, his super-heightened “radar” senses more than made up for his lack of conventional eyesight. He can hear the sound of a heart beating from across the room, block knives and shurikens with his hands, read newsprint by running his fingers across it, and, most importantly, “see” impressionistic outlines of the buildings, people and other things around him.

“Stan was always looking for ways to make his heroes fallible and vulnerable,” said Craig “Mr. Silver Age” Shutt, a former columnist for the late, lamented Comics Buyer’s Guide. “He already had an emotionally crippled hero (Peter Parker/Spider-Man) and a physically crippled hero (Don Blake/Thor), so this time he tried crippling the hero’s vision. DD was the last of the big super-hero titles, so finding a new vulnerability was getting harder.”

The man without fear

The sightless super-hero was introduced in April 1964 in Daredevil No.1 ($9,000), in a story titled The Origin of Daredevil, which the writers of Comics Shop (2010), a price guide produced by Krause Publications, sum up nicely:

“Matt Murdock was the son of a second-rate fighter named ’Battlin’ Jack’ Murdock. But although his own life was spent in physical combat, Jack Murdock insisted that Matt avoid fighting and concentrate instead on his studies. It wasn’t easy. The neighborhood kids called him a coward and even nicknamed him ’Daredevil’ to poke fun at him.

Then fate intervenes in the form of a truck laden with radioactive cargo, headed for an unsuspecting man. Matt runs into the street to save the man but is hit by the truck himself. Blinded by the accident, he finds his other senses growing far more acute. He even develops a radar sense that lets him ’see’ objects in the world around him.”

When his father was killed for refusing to throw a fight, Matt decides he can hold back no longer – becoming Daredevil, “The Man Without Fear.”

To hide his identity, and to make good on a promise to his dad that he would never fight as Matt Murdock, Matt fashioned a yellow and black/red devil costume by stitching together some old shirts. He also managed to turn his blind man’s cane, which looks ordinary when not deployed, into a billy club containing a grappling hook and cable for scaling walls. He also trained himself into a world class athlete, capable of moves that would make the best circus acrobats and Olympic gymnasts blush.

In issue No.7($1,550), Daredevil exchanged his original outfit for the far more familiar all-red costume, which was designed by Lee and the great Wally Wood (of EC Comics fame).

On the surface, Daredevil isn’t all that original, borrowing the name from the defunct Lev Gleason-published character and, perhaps, the blindness angle from DC’s Dr. Midnight. Both of these characters debuted during the 1940s. Further, Daredevil is a cross of sorts between Batman, a creature of the night who trained himself into near physical perfection, and Spider-Man, a swashbuckling do-gooder who enjoys swinging around New York City. Like The Webbed Wonder, The Man Without Fear makes wisecracks while battling his enemies.

Shutt was never bothered by these similarities.

“I didn’t see him as a Spider-Man knockoff,” he said. “The only thing they had in common was swinging around and acrobatics, and that made sense as how an acrobat would get around. Otherwise, they were pretty different in powers, attitudes, cast, etcetera – I liked them both. It was easier to relate to Peter Parker, but there were worse things than growing up to be Matt Murdock.”

A fan of the series from day one, Shutt bought the first installment fresh off the newsstand and eagerly awaited each subsequent issue. He especially enjoyed Daredevil’s encounters with other costume-clad denizens of the Marvel Universe.

“I was there at the beginning, and I liked Daredevil immediately,” he said. “I liked that he could interact with the Fantastic Four in a natural way, as their lawyer. He and Spidey had several crossovers in their early comics, which also seemed natural and I liked as a big Spidey fan. That he didn’t interact so much with the Avengers also made sense to me because their villains were really out of his league.”

Along with introducing Matt Murdock and his alter-ego, Daredevil No.1 established his supporting cast, namely Matt’s law partner, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, and their gorgeous blonde secretary, Karen Page. Both men loved Karen, but Matt felt inadequate and was afraid she only felt pity for him, so he pined for her from a distance.

Despite his appreciation for Daredevil, Shutt did feel that certain elements of the soap opera-like love triangle had too much in common with previous Marvel titles, such as Journey into Mystery (later Thor), in which the crippled Donald “Thor” Blake wonders if his nurse, Jane Foster, could ever love him in his non-powered state.

“I really liked that Matt was a dashing, good-looking adult who overcame his problems and turned them into benefits,” Shutt said, “even if he had Stan’s trademark ’I can’t tell you how much I love you’ approach to women. It certainly played to the audience, but it got a bit redundant.”

Daredevil began his crime-fighting career facing off against The Fixer (and his gang), the boxing promoter man who had his father killed. Subsequent issues found him battling such colorful foes as Electro (issue No.2, $1,800), the Owl (No.3, $1,000), the Purple Man (No.4, $850), the Matador (No.5, $650), Mister Fear (No.6, $425), the Sub-Mariner (No.7, $1,800), and the Stilt-Man (No.8, $310), who wears an impenetrable suit of armor and is made incredibly tall by telescopic legs.

Wielding the pencils and inks

Bill Everett drew the interiors and inked the cover for Daredevil No.1 (Jack Kirby penciled the cover), but he quickly stepped aside for Joe Orlando and Vince Colletta, who penciled and inked (respectively) issues 2 through 4. Wally Wood (as Wallace Wood) drew issues 5 through 8, while Wood and Bob Powell collaborated on issues 6 through 11.

4/14/2014
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