Daredevil #39 (April, 1968)

The primary subject of today’s post is the thirty-ninth issue of Daredevil, the first issue of the Marvel comic book series starring “The Man Without Fear” that I ever bought — but probably not the first book featuring Daredevil that I happened to purchase.

That’s because I’m pretty sure that, some time prior to plunking down my twelve cents for DD #39 at either the Tote-Sum or Short-Stop in February, 1968, I had shelled out a whole fifty cents at Miller’s Department Store for this little item: 

This book was one of the last of the black-and-white paperback collections of Marvel comics stories that Lancer Books had begun bringing out in 1966, probably to capitalize on the supposed fad for superheroes generated in the wake of “Batmania”.  I’ve mentioned previously how I had seen these on paperback racks for several months before I bought my very first Marvel comic book in the summer of 1967.  These books (there ended up being six in all) almost certainly raised my personal “brand awareness” of Marvel, a publisher whose products I managed to completely avoid purchasing for the full first two years I bought comic books — but I didn’t get around to trying one until after I’d already bought at least one, and probably two, “regular” Marvel comics — and for whatever reason, not only the first, but also the only one of these “Collector’s Albums” I’d ever end up buying was Daredevil.

Why Daredevil?  I’m not really sure.  I think that the cover may have had something to do with it — the simplicity of the design, and that blue-red-yellow color scheme, really makes it stand out from the other Lancer volumes (even if our hero does appear to be swinging on an invisible line).  But I’d wager that the major selling point for my ten-year-old self was the fact that it had Spider-Man in it as well as Daredevil.  I was always attracted by the prospect of getting two superheroes for the price of one (as all those issues of The Brave and the Bold I’ve featured in previous posts should bear out), and by the time I decided to pick up the Daredevil paperback, Spidey was already a known quantity to me (from the ABC-TV animated series that premiered in the fall of 1967, for sure; and probably from my second Marvel comic as well).  His familiar presence likely made me more willing to risk a whole four bits on this title featuring a hero I didn’t yet know.

The Lancer books were hardly an ideal way to experience Marvel’s comics — artwork created to be seen in color was reproduced in black and white, and cut up to fit the paperback’s 4 x 7 page dimensions, to boot — but the stories chosen for the volume (all written by Stan Lee) were good ones, including Daredevil #16 and #17’s team-up with Spider-Man (illustrated by John Romita) and a tale from issues #20 and #21 featuring one of DD’s major antagonists, the Owl (illustrated by Gene Colan).  Sandwiched between those action-packed extravaganzas was a truncated reprint of Daredevil’s origin from issue #1 (illustrated by the hero’s co-creator, Bill Everett).  All together, the package gave me an excellent grounding in Matthew Murdock’s world — so that when I finally bought that first “real” Daredevil comic book in early 1968, I was primed and ready to hit the ground running with our hero, starting with the very first page:

(OK, maybe that should have been “primed and ready to swing above the ground with our hero.)

As indicated by the first page’s credits box, the story was pencilled by Gene Colan — a veteran artist with whose work I was unfamiliar prior to Daredevil, but whom — like John Romita before him — I might have encountered, even when 99% of my comics budget was being spent on DC Comics’ output, had I ever but strayed from the high, arid spaces favored by my beloved superheroes into the lush, humid gardens of the romance genre, where Colan (like Romita) was one of DC’s mainstays, prolifically turning out covers and interiors for books like Young Love.  Colan had, in fact, previously worked for the publisher that would eventually be known as Marvel, illustrating a slew of western, war, and other genre stories (but no superheroes) from the late Forties through the late Fifties, at which time all that work went away in what some comics historians call the “Atlas implosion”.  By the time Colan was ready to start working for Marvel again, in 1965, DC was expecting him to work exclusively on their comics, so his early Sub-Mariner work in Tales to Astonish was credited to “Adam Austin”.  Some five months later, Colan picked up the pencilling chores for the Iron Man feature in Tales of Suspense, as well.  In 1967, he succeeded Romita (who moved on to Amazing Spider-Man) as the artist on Daredevil, beginning with the twentieth issue (coincidentally, one of the issues that would be reprinted in the Lancer paperback).  By this time, thankfully, “Adam Austin” had been dispensed with, and Colan’s work was appearing under his own name.

Gene Colan’s art — somehow both realistic and expressionistic at the same time — was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and he soon became one of my favorite comic book artists.  He was inked on this particular issue by George Tuska, whom I’d soon become familiar with as a penciller, as well as an inker; unlike Colan, he would never become anything resembling a favorite artist of mine (sorry, Tuska fans), but his style of inking was a pretty good fit for Colan’s pencils.

The script for the issue’s story was by Marvel’s one and only editor, and also its primary writer, Stan Lee.  Lee had co-created Daredevil with Bill Everett, as noted above, and had been the wordsmith for almost every tale of the Man Without Fear since then.  At this point, other than the stories in the Daredevil paperback, my experience of Lee’s work was limited to his writing of my second Marvel comic, Amazing Spider-Man #59.  Just like that book, Daredevil #39 kicks off with a scene of our hero in action — as we’ve already seen, of course, via the splash page reproduced above.

That action scene continues on page 2, as DD finally locates the trio of costumed criminals he’s been looking for — who, as noted on the splash page, have all recently broken out of jail:

As was his wont, Lee doesn’t spend time (or words) explaining to any possible first-time readers who Daredevil is and how his powers work.  He does, however, give a clear indication that DD is using senses other than sight to detect the presence of the “Unholy Three” — even though we readers, looking over the hero’s shoulder in the panel reproduced above left, can see them just fine.

A narrative caption on page 3 (a full-page panel), lets anyone who still doesn’t “get it” in on the fact that the hero of our story is, remarkably enough, blind:

On the next page, we get an explanation for the odd electronic apparatus the baddies are wearing — and an indication that even though the Unholy Three’s original boss, the Organizer, is still behind bars, they’re still working for someone else.

Beyond the brief reference to their earlier appearance working with the Organizer in a page one footnote, Lee doesn’t provide much background on the Unholy Three — though I don’t remember that being a problem for me as a (mostly) new reader, back in ’68.  Long-time fans, however, would recall the debut of the three animal-garbed villains in issues #10 and #11 — two issues from Wally Wood’s brief but nigh-legendary run as artist, co-plotter, and even (for issue #10) scripter on Daredevil — at which time they had a fourth member, Frog Man, and were called the “Ani-Men”.

This initial fight sequence, in addition to demonstrating Daredevil’s acrobatic and fighting skills, also establishes the hero’s wisecracking persona.  My ten-year-old self instantly recognized the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s lighthearted approach to the business of superheroing as being very similar to Spider-Man’s; I’d soon come to find that it was an extremely common (if not universal) mode of behavior among Marvel’s roster of heroes.

After Cat-Man pitches DD through a plate glass window, the Unholy Three decide to cut their losses:

Mulling over the conundrum of the Exterminator’s identity (and dismissing out of hand the possibility that it could be the missing Frog Man, who “hasn’t the brains to lead the other three!”), Daredevil decides to call it a night.  The story moves on to the next morning, as our hero goes into work in his identity of Matt Murdock, attorney-at-law.  Before he can even enter his law firm’s offices, however, he overhears his  partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson railing against Daredevil for having rudely shoved Foggy’s girlfriend on the street the day before.  (Fortunately for noobs like my ’68 ten-year-old self, a helpful footnote from Stan explains that this was actually Dr. Doom in DD’s guise, the villainous Latverian monarch having switched bodies with Matt in the two preceding issues — a great story, incidentally, as I’d learn when I was finally able to read it, years later.)

Foggy’s clandestine amour, Deborah Harris, had been introduced back in the same 1965 storyline that brought us the Organizer and his Ani-Men.  Debbie, the wealthy daughter of a politician, had gotten mixed up in the Organizer’s plot to take over New Your City’s government by criminal means.  Her role in the plot involved playing up to Foggy, whom she’d known way back in junior high school, so that he could be manipulated as the Organizer’s bogus “Reform Party”‘s candidate for District Attorney.  But Debbie drew the line when her actual beau, the Organizer (himself a crooked pol named Abner Jonas) plotted to assassinate NYC’s current mayor, and changed sides, helping Daredevil to take down the whole operation.  Later issues revealed that she’d subsequently testified against Jonas and his confederates at their trials, helping send the entire gang to prison, before being incarcerated herself.  By mid-1967, however, she was out on parole, and she and Foggy had taken the tentative first steps in a new, genuine relationship — despite Foggy’s worries about the possible negative effect dating an ex-con might have on his current campaign for D.A..

While the Unholy Three’s previous boss was able to set them up with their high-tech super-suits, their new employer appears to posses greater scientific genius, as well to harbor ambitions beyond the mere takeover of a single city — indeed, he claims to have developed a “time displacement” device, with which he’ll become “master of all mankind!”:

The Executioner proceeds to load up his “displacer ray” machine with “special formula T-Gas“, and then fires away at the hapless Ape-Man:

Bird-Man and Cat-Man are understandably distressed to see their pal apparently disintegrated, but their boss tells them not to worry — Ape-Man will reappear, none the worse for wear, in one half hour.  And, sure enough…

But while the Exterminator fills in his henchmen on the next steps of his plan, our story shifts scenes to a “swank, noisy night club”, so we can check in on Matt’s double date with Karen, Foggy, and Debbie:

It’s interesting to compare this scene to a similar one in… wait, what was that?  You say you’ve been reading Daredevil for 25 years, you’ve seen both seasons of the Netflix series and the movie with Ben Affleck, and you’ve never heard of Matt Murdock having a brother named Mike?  Well, that’s a long, strange story — but I think it’s better to hold off on telling it until a later post.  We’ll get there, though, I promise.

As I was saying…it’s interesting to compare this nightclub scene with a similar one in Spider-Man #59, which was published just a few weeks before this issue of Daredevil.  In both scenes — each of which takes up about the whole last third of the story — the hero, in his civilian identity, is out at a fancy nightclub with his date and their friends, when sneaky goings-on lead to costumed-character mayhem suddenly breaking out.  It’s not precisely the same situation — in the earlier story, the nightclub itself is a hub of criminal activity, and it’s Spidey who breaks in on the establishment; whereas in our current tale, the presumably-benign nightspot is invaded by the supervillains (as we’ll see in a moment), while DD remains in his civvies.  But the circumstances are similar enough that it’s easy to imagine Stan Lee coming up with the nightclub scene idea while having a Spider-Man story conference with John Romita, and then turning around and recycling the idea (either consciously or unconsciously) while conferencing with Gene Colan for that month’s issue of Daredevil .  (It could also have happened the other way around, of course.)

But now, let’s turn our attention to Matt and Karen, out on the dance floor:

Ah, those two crazy kids.  If only they’d talk to each other…

But while Karen and Matt trip the light fantastic, a shady character puts in a phone call in to the Exterminator to let him know that the Unholy Three’s betrayer, Deborah Harris, is there at the club, along with D.A. candidate Nelson; and momentarily…

As soon as the four felons arrive at the scene, the Unholy Three tear through the place, firing their portable time-displacement ray guns at everyone in sight, until…

Oh, no!  Where’s Debbie?  Has she been displaced for just thirty minutes, like Ape-Man was… or thirty years?  And is ol’ Hornhead doomed to suffer the same fate, as that “Next Issue” preview panel implies?

If you’d like me to answer those questions, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait about a month — just like my ten-year-old self had to do, back in 1968!  Please check back with us in early March when we’ll be reviewing Daredevil #41 — “The Fallen Hero!”



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