Superhero Top 10 – Daredevil
Created by: Stan Lee, Bill Everett
For: Marvel Comics
Currently owned by: Marvel Comics
First appearance: Daredevil #1, from 1964
Real identity: Matt Murdock
You can consider Daredevil’s impressive bloodline – co-created by Stan “The Man” Lee, Bill Everett and Jack Kirby; you can take into account the quality work that classic artists like Wally Wood and Gene Colan and current star writers Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker have done on the character; but really, when it comes to blind superhero Daredevil – The Man Without Fear aka tragic lawyer Matt Murdock – it’s difficult to see beyond Frank Miller.
Miller joined the book as artist in 1979 with issue 158 and immediately instilled a moody, atmospheric crime fiction, film noir edge to proceedings, helped greatly by Klaus Janson’s iconic inks. By issue 168 (1981) Miller had also taken over as writer on one of the most influential runs on comics history, providing a narrative voice that is still prevalent in many of today’s comics. Suddenly, it felt as though superhero comics had become adult in tone (it’s interesting that, at the same time across the Atlantic, Alan Moore was making a similar movement). The violence of Miller’s work also shocked – when the mad assassin Bullseye stabbed Miller’s iconic ninja heroine Elektra through the heart the blade emerged through the other side of her body in a way that you simply did not see in “kids” comics. Also, Miller’s willingness to so harshly kill off a successful character that he had created was truly shocking. And the addition of ninjas, a magical edge and martial arts also added something extra to the title. By the time he left with #191 in 1983 Miller had transformed a book that Marvel were only willing to publish bi-monthly due to lack of sales into one of the most critically and commercially popular comics of modern times.
And it wasn’t all style over substance (although there was plenty of style). Miller gave Matt Murdock’s moody hero all-new levels of tragedy and guilt to angst over – the death of his true love providing further impetus for his bitter feud against Bullseye. Miller also turned The Kingpin from an exaggerated, faintly comic Spider-Man villain into the epitome of the brutal, ruthless gangland boss. A man to truly be feared.
All that was taken to even greater heights when Miller returned to the title in 1985, writing one of the great comic stories with “Born Again”, which ran through #227-233 and utilised the stunning artwork of David Mazzucchelli (who would go on to collaborate with Miller on the similarly brilliant Batman: Year One). In Born Again the Kingpin discovered that Daredevil was the blind lawyer Matt Murdock and set about ripping apart his life bit by bit. It further defined Daredevil as the ultimate Catholic superhero – he eventually finds shelter from his previously missing mother, now a nun. There was even some Reagan-bashing politics thrown in with a crazed US super-soldier. It was 1986, the same year that Miller would release The Dark Knight Returns. He was on top of his game. In the same year he wrote the graphic novel Daredevil: Love and War, with Bill Sienkiewicz on art, and returned to the character again with the 1993 mini-series Daredevil: Man Without Fear, with career-best art by Johnny Romita Jr. (aided by Al Williamson on inks). It re-told Daredevil’s origin story and was, again, quite brilliant.
That origin story, originally told in issue one, was one of heartbreak for the young Matt Murdock. His mother disappeared, his father a drunk, but good-hearted ex-boxer in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, who makes Matt study so he could escape one day. Saving an old man from an oncoming truck, Matt is blinded by a radioactive isotope that gives him his powers. His father returns to boxing to try and raise money for Matt but, when he refuses to throw a fight, he is murdered by mobsters. Matt dons an originally yellow and red outfit to track down his father’s killers, becoming Daredevil. He would don his famous all-red outfit in issue #7, drawn by classic artist Wally Wood. Murdock’s secret identity as a successful lawyer in New York, working alongside his best-friend Foggy Nelson, has been a constant throughout the series.
A successful four-year run under writer Ann Nocenti is notable, as was the relaunch of the series with a new issue one under the Marvel Knights banner in 1998 – Movie director Kevin Smith wrote issues 1-8 with Joe Quesada, the future Marvel Editor-In-Chief on art. Daredevil’s identify was finally revealed to the public under the tenor of writer Brian Bendis and artist Alex Maleev, whose hugely popular run from #26-#81 returned the book to Miller’s crime fiction roots, something that writer Ed Brubaker and artist Michael Lark have brilliantly continued with issues #82-#118 and their final issue #500 (The title is returning to its original numbering for its 500th issue).
Radar Sense: Despite being blind, Matt Murdock possesses a sonar-like radar that allows him to make out shapes of objects and people if not their details.
Enhanced senses: His sight may be gone but the radioactive isotope that took it greatly increased his senses of smell and hearing. Daredevil can hear the Hulk’s heartbeat four blocks away (and probably smell him too) and tell whether someone is lying or not due to fluctuations in their heartbeat and breathing.
Martial arts expertise and acrobatics: Daredevil is a normal human being who has trained himself to a phenomenal physical level, but Murdock’s martial arts teacher was Stick – a magical figure and the leader of The Chaste, a group of spiritual ninjas. So there’s more to Dareveil’s martial arts than meets the eye.
Use of Billy-Club: Disguised as a blind man’s cane, Daredevil’s Billy Club is actually a hugely effective weapon containing thirty feet of aircraft control cable with a powerful firing mechanism that is connected to a case-hardened steel grapnel.
CAREER LOW POINT
A cartoon series based on Daredevil featuring a guide dog named Lightning the Super-Dog oh-so-nearly aired at the same time as Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends but ABC (wisely) demurred at the last moment. Comics-wise, pretty much any of his pre-Frank Miller battles with Stilt Man take some beating.
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Played by: Ben Affleck
Not as bad as some remember, but far from a classic either (hello Mr Affleck, hello Colin Farrell). Mark Steven Johnson was the director charged with bringing the Man Without Fear to the big screen, his previous experience writing Grumpy Old Men obviously convincing someone that he was the man for the job. Borrowing mainly from Frank Miller’s run, the movie focussed on Matt Murdock’s doomed relationship with the assassin Elektra (played by Affleck’s future wife Jennifer Garner). It’s not exactly remembered fondly by its stars, however. Affleck has since said: “Wearing a costume was a source of humiliation for me and something I wouldn’t want to do again soon.” Garner went on to play Elektra in the character’s own underwhelming spin-off (2005) and her ex-boyfriend, Michael Vartan was quoted afterwards as saying: “(Jennifer) told me it was awful. She had to do it because of Daredevil. It was in her contract.”
The Trial Of The Incredible Hulk
Firector: Bill Bixby
Played by: Rex Smith
Six years after the close of the classic Hulk TV show, Bill Bixby returned in a series of TV movies featuring the green behemoth. The second of these saw “David” Banner charged with assault in a New York courtroom. His lawyer? Matt Murdock, played here by Street Hawk star Rex Smith. Daredevil’s brief appearance saw his red costume become a cheap-as-chips black ninja knockoff. The Kingpin also appears, played by John Rhys-Davies of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Gimli the dwarf fame.
• Even though Bill Everett is the artist credited with creating Daredevil, Jack Kirby had some input into his costume design.
• Kirby came up with the idea and design for Daredevil’s Billy Club.
• Everett’s full name was William Blake Everett and he was a descendant of the poet William Blake.
• Everett also created Namor: the Sub-Mariner for Timely Comics in 1939.
• Despite being a New Yorker, Daredevil and The Black Widow moved to San Francisco for a period during the ’70s.
• Frank Miller first drew Daredevil in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man # 27-28 (1979). Daredevil was a co-star in the story and Miller has stated that he saw something in the character he liked.
• Alan Moore wrote a Daredevil spoof story called Grit! in the UK monthly Daredevils, issue eight (1983).
• Only issue one of Kevin Smith’s Daredevil/Bullseye: The Target mini-series was ever released. The book was hugely delayed and eventually shut down by Marvel.
• Daredevil briefly appears in Smith’s movie Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back. He is knocked down by security guards.
• Frank Miller appeared as a corpse with a pen sticking out of his head – a victim of Bullseye – in the 2003 Daredevil movie.
Bullseye: Prior to Frank Miller’s stewardship, Bullseye was pretty much your bog standard high concept Marvel villain. A psychopath with an almost supernatural aim, in his hands anything becomes a deadly weapon (hence the name). Miller simply made Bullseye Daredevil’s prime nemesis. A brain tumour convinced Bullseye that everyone was Daredevil leading him to widespread acts of random murder. Then, having been saved by Daredevil following a classic fight on a Subway station, a humiliated Bullseye returns and stabs and kills Elektra. Later, during Kevin Smith’s Daredevil run, Bullseye follows this up by murdering Karen Page, another of Murdock’s loves. There’s no shortage of hate between the hero and the villain.
The Kingpin: Originally a Spider-Man villain, and created by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr, The Kingpin of crime fitted perfectly into Frank Miller’s film noir vision of Daredevil and quickly became a major player in Matt Murdock’s world, hiring Elektra and Bullseye as his assassins in an effort to stop Daredevil being a thorn in his side. In the classic “Born Again” story, Wilson Fisk (Kingpin’s real name) discovered that Murdock was Daredevil and gradually destroyed every aspect of Murdock’s life.
Elektra: Is she an enemy of Daredevil? Not strictly speaking, but she may as well be. The first true love of Matt Murdock, Elektra Natchios was secretly a ninja assassin (Murdock has a recurring habit of falling for the wrong woman). Hired by the Kingpin to kill Foggy Nelson, Bullseye stabbed her through the heart in order to win back his role at the Kingpin’s side. That should’ve been it for her but she has since been resurrected from the dead, in true mighty Marvel style. Oh, and replaced by a Skrull impersonator. Best not to ask…
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