Who's groovier, Michael Jackson or the Bee Gees?

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.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

A common problem with collecting a series (whether comic book issues in one volume, or TV episodes in a DVD set) is that the repetition of certain themes and plot devices becomes obvious. These series were intended to be read or watched one episode at a time.

Anonymous said...

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 was a little before my time, so I actually enjoyed Daredevil Annual #1, not realizing at the time that it was basically a remake. Many years later, I read the ASM story when it was reprinted in Marvel Tales and felt a kind of deja vu. Which older fans must have felt in the mid-1960s when reading the DD annual.

Anonymous said...

The "Daredevil and Doctor Doom swap bodies" story seemed silly and contrived even when I was eight. The whole idea seemed to be a set-up for that Fantastic Four issue where the FF thought Doom was still impersonating Daredevil, so they fired a cannon at the real Daredevil, who then recruited Spider-Man and Thor to help him fight the FF. With heroes constantly fighting each other, who needs villains?

david_b said...

Funny you posted this column, I've been buyin' up Colan Silver Age DD mags by the bucketful lately, even paying $25 for a VF+ DD Annual 1.

Silly story..? You betcha, but NO ONE can outdo Gene C. for exquisite DD art, and he was no slouch in Annual #1. His ability to show movement and form, murky shadows, you name it is unmatched. Besides, who really reads the stories..???? It's essentially a visual medium anyways, and the silly plots only add to the fun. Sure beat's the Frank Miller stuff we had to put up with.

Afterall, it's not Shakespeare. But the art is SO majestic. And Annual #1 was so memorable for ALL the extras, such as DD's equipment, villains, the silly Colan/Lee story at the end.

Marching Marvel at it's finest, I'd say.

Really wish the annuals in the '70s/'80s kept all the cool zesty extras to make them truely special.

Seriously, I'd toss the B&W Essentials and buy readers copies of the 4-color originals.

Boston Bill said...

I've always had a soft spot for DD. I saw his villains as insane more than lame. I also liked his lack of power (other than heightened senses) that made him a little easier to identify with compared to Marvel's more powerful heroes.

Your comment about Daredevil taking on aliens hits the nail on the head: DD's lowered expectations allowed him to get away with things that Spidey couldn't!

Robert said...

These aren't great tales, which often appear to be written in a rush (Stan Lee was pretty much in charge of scripting everything in those days, so no wonder quality wasn't great.)Like david_b, though, I do think Gene's art is always worth turning up for.

My take on Mike Murdock, which I've gone on about at length on my own blog, is that it highlights (perhaps by serendipity) the fact that Matt's fractured childhood - wanting to fight and play in the streets but also wanting to achieve the ambitions his father has lain down for him - means he's always been liable to adopt different identities to suit different scenarios (including the awful Jack Batlin). It's not so much madness, I think, as being able to release stress and expectation. If Daredevil is closer to Matt's true identity (remember it's more dad's idea for him to study the law), then Mike is Matt at his least reserved and most relaxed, when he doesn't have to play the serious lawyer society expects him to be. Mike may be a ridiculous character but he also may be closer to the heart of who Matt is than we might think.

Kid said...

It's funny that Stan didn't seem to realize that DD should've been played almost like a Batman-type figure. I liked the first few DD tales, but the Plunderer and Ka-Zar just didn't seem to fit. Still worth a read 'though, but as you say, not all at one sitting.

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