Sunday 17 March 2013

Essential Daredevil Volume 2.

Essential Daredevil Volume 2, Stan Lee, Gene Colan
Well, this is all a rum do. I bought Essential Daredevil Volume 2 a few years ago - along with Volumes One and Three - and thought it was complete and total rubbish, filled with lame villains, a hopelessly tiny supporting cast -- and Mike Murdock.

But, of late, in the absence of anything better to fill my time with, I've been re-reading it.

This time, I did it differently. Instead of greedily devouring it in one long sitting - as is my habit when it comes to such collections - I decided to read it one story per day.

And what a magical difference it made. Suddenly, instead of a feeble hero fighting lame villains it was...

...well, OK, it still seemed like a feeble hero battling lame villains - but the drama of it all and Stan Lee's sense of fun shone through far more than it had before and I found I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Strangely, when read in bite-sized chunks, the uselessness of the villains becomes oddly charming, the tininess of the supporting cast seems cosy and even Mike Murdock becomes more-or-less bearable.

Of course, what does come across is that Matt Murdock is completely and totally mad. There's no other explanation for why he should adopt the eminently punchable persona of his non-existent identical twin brother Mike - especially when he at one point contemplates marrying Karen Page in that identity! As for his plan to bump Mike off with no regard for how Foggy and Karen might feel about his death...

Highlight of the collection has to be Dr Doom swapping bodies with DD in order to launch a surprise attack on the Fantastic Four.

It's a tale that makes no sense.

For a start, it follows straight on from a story in which the Trapster disguises himself as DD in order to launch a surprise attack on the Fantastic Four. Dr Doom somehow fails to notice he's now blind, DD finds himself in trouble fighting Doc Doom's goons, despite wearing a suit of armour that's weirdly unprotective against their bare fists, and Doom doesn't tell his lackeys his plan, meaning DD can order them around and plunge Latveria into a war that forces his adversary to completely abandon his scheme before he's even managed to reach the Baxter Building. Somehow, you can't help feeling Doom didn't put an awful lot of thought into this plan.

Despite all this, there is something about the sight of our hero alone and up against a villain he's totally outclassed by that means the tale lingers in the mind more than others do.

Another highlight is Daredevil's battle with a bunch of aliens who want to send everyone blind. It's a stupid tale - let's face it, if there's any menace DD shouldn't be fighting it's aliens - but it has a certain charm, and possibly highlights the difference between him and the superficially similar Spider-Man. Whereas Spider-Man fighting aliens seems wrong, for Daredevil it doesn't. Possibly this is because it's such an odd series - even when he's fighting more terrestrial foes - that it can get away with such eccentricities in a way that Spider-Man's strip couldn't.

Probably the weakest story is the character's first King-Size Special, where Lee redoes Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 by having Daredevil's deadliest foes team up against him.

So undeadly are they that Electro has to be drafted in to give them some semblance of menace and, even then, Daredevil manages to beat the lot of them all in one go.

The book is, of course, dominated by Gene Colan's artwork. It could be argued his style wasn't best suited to super-heroes but there's a non-stop dynamism, flow and organised chaos to it that few artists can match.

So, there you have it, proof that comic book tales don't have to knock your socks off to be enjoyable.

And proof that the tales in compendiums are best read as they were originally meant to be read and not as impatience might dictate they be read.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Forty years ago today - March 1973.

The old March of Time newsreels always tried to get clever by telling us, "Time marches on!"

They could, of course, not stand comparison with the majesty of Pathé News's giant chicken. But still Steve Does Comics marches bravely into the third month of 2013, with a look at what our favourite Marvel heroes were up to exactly forty years ago this month.

Conan the Barbarian 24, Red Sonja, Barry Windsor Smith

It's Bazza's last issue of Conan, as Red Sonja gets stuck in like a good 'un.
Captain America and the Falcon #159

I assume this is the issue where Cap gets super-strength?
Daredevil and the Black Widow, Dark Messiah

My memory fails me. Were the Dark Messiah and Angar the Screamer the same character in different guises? And did everything go all wibbly-wobbly in the local park?
Incredible Hulk 161, the Beast and the Mimic

The Hulk takes on the Beast in the only original copy of his mag that I ever owned as a youth.

Maybe that's why I've always liked it so much.
Fantastic Four #132, Omega

Omega's up to no good.

Does a giant Ultron turn up at the end of this? Or am I mixing it up with another story?
Iron Man #56

I detect the handiwork of Jim Starlin on that cover but have no recall of the comic's actual contents.
Thor at Stone Henge, The Druid

Blinky blonky blimey, guv'nor. That blinking Yank thunder god's shown his boat race in good old Blighty and found himself up against a bally druid wot never ages.

That'd be Ken Barlow then.

And he didn't even have time to finish his jellied eels and stand round the old joanna for a sing-song.

I like to feel that perfectly captures the speech patterns of all Britishers who appear in this tale.

G'day, cobbers.

Oh, no, that's no good. I've turned Australian.

Still, never mind. British, Australian - they all sound the same to me, yer galah.
Avengers #109, Hawkeye quits

This is the one where Hawkeye proves how stupid he is by helping a super-villain become all but unbeatable.
Amazing Spider-Man #118, the Disruptor and the Smasher

The Distruptor's still showing he doesn't quite get democracy, as New York's mayoral campaign rumbles on.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Fifty years ago today - March 1963.

A wise man once declared, "Beware the Ides of March!"

But it's the ideas of March we're interested in right now, as it's time to look back at what our favourite Marvel heroes were up to exactly fifty years ago.

And, as we'll see, it turned out to be a significant month indeed for our ever-expanding company.

Amazing Spider-Man #1, the Fantastic Four

Spider-Man finally gets his own comic and celebrates by giving the Fantastic Four a punch in the bracket.
Incredible Hulk #6, the Metal Master

Just as Spider-Man's comic makes its debut, so the Incredible Hulk's bows out, as we see the last issue of that title until the late 1960s.
Fantastic Four #12, the Hulk

It's even more bad news for the Hulk. Not only is his comic about to be cancelled but now he's got the Fantastic Four after him.

What with facing Spider-Man and the Hulk, it was clearly a packed month for our heroes.
Strange Tales #106, the Human Torch

And it's about to get even busier - because now they find themselves up against the unstoppable menace of the Acrobat.

But, I mean, seriously, how on Earth can a man who can fly and has his own built-in flame-thrower possibly hope to prevail against a man who can do forward rolls?
Tales to Astonish #41, Ant-Man

Poor old Ant-Man. Every month seems to heap a fresh new indignity upon a man who now finds himself helpless in the face of a spent matchstick and a cricket.

Why do I get the feeling that next month's cover'll see him menaced by a blob of chewing gum?
Tales of Suspense #39, the origin of Iron Man

Spidey isn't the only one making his debut this month - because March 1963 also sees the arrival of Iron Man.

And, miraculously, he manages to get through the entire issue without once fighting the Fantastic Four.
Journey into Mystery #90, Thor and the Carbon Copy Man

Can even Thor prevail against the Carbon Copy Man?

More to the point, looking at him, who exactly is he supposed to be a carbon copy of?