Last month I blogged about Daredevil #39 — the first issue of Ol’ Hornhead’s series that I ever bought, as well as the first chapter of a three-part tale featuring a return engagement between Daredevil and the “Unholy Three” — a trio of animal-themed villains our hero first battled back in issues #10 and #11, when there were actually four of them, and they went by the collective moniker of the “Ani-Men”. (O Frog Man, Where Art Thou?) If you weren’t around for that post. or would just like to refresh your memory on the details, feel free to click on over there to get caught up. Or — you could just pretend that you’re a brand new Daredevil reader, circa March, 1968, and hope that scripter Stan Lee has provided enough exposition via captions and dialogue on the first couple of pages to bring you up to speed on what’s going on.
You know what? That latter option will probably work just fine.
“…my brother Mike…” Ah, yes. In my DD #39 post, I promised that I would explain the bizarre history of Matt Murdock’s fictional twin brother, whom our hero first dreamed up as a means of proving to his friends that he, Matt, couldn’t possibly be Daredevil, because “Mike” was DD — and then had so much fun playing the role of his fun-loving, flashy-dressing twin that he got a bit carried away.
Without getting too far into the weeds of a couple of years’ worth of continuity… The whole business began as a bit of fallout from a two-issue team-up with Spider-Man that ran in issues #16 and #17. In the course of that adventure, Spidey managed to deduce that Daredevil was, somehow, the blind attorney Matt Murdock, and he wrote Matt a letter to tell him. Unfortunately, Matt’s law partner and best pal, Foggy Nelson, and their secretary Karen Page (whom both Matt and Foggy were sweet on at the time) opened the letter, instead. Oops. When they confronted Matt about it in issue #25, our quick-thinking hero came up with the notion of his heretofore unknown twin brother.
Of course, having invented “Mike”, Matt was eventually required to produce him. To pull off the illusion that he was a wholly different person, Matt opted not to rely just on the fact that Mike, unlike Matt, was obviously not blind — he also gave him a personality as unlike his own as he could imagine.
The scene where Foggy and Karen met Mike for the first time, from which the panels shown at left and right are taken, pretty much set the tone for all the ones to come. Mike was brash, loud, and outgoing, where Matt was serious, quiet, and reserved. But while Foggy took an immediate dislike to this “loud-mouthed clown”, Karen found that he possessed “a certain charm”. And so it began.
Matt soon found that, for all the headaches juggling three different identities caused him, he kind of liked being able to cut loose and show a different side of himself, besides just when in costume as Daredevil. So much so, in fact, that when he mused on issue #29’s splash page about asking Karen to marry him, he couldn’t decide whether he should do so as Matt or as Mike. (I’m serious. Take a look to your lower left.)
Yeah, the whole business was more than a bit of a stretch. For one thing, Foggy had roomed with Matt all through law school, and had never heard anything about a twin brother. (When Foggy pointed that out, Matt’s explanation was that Mike, already planning for a life of adventure as a masked crimefighter, had asked Matt to never talk about him to anyone, ever. Um, OK.) For another, Foggy and Karen never saw Matt and Mike together (although Matt did manage to cleverly rig something up with a tape recorder and telephone so that they could at least be heard together). And lastly, no matter the time or place, Mike Murdock always wore sunglasses. Always.
In retrospect, it may seem absurd that Karen and Foggy wouldn’t have tumbled onto the truth, sooner rather than later. And a number of modern readers do seem to think so, with CBR’s Brian Cronin going so far as to call the whole sequence of events “the most embarrassing moment in Daredevil’s history”, while DD uberfan Christine Hanefalk describes it simply as “the madness that was this strange plot development”. On the other hand — if Karen and Foggy didn’t accept the existence of Mike on its face value, they’d be compelled to believe that Matt was lying to them — not just about Mike, but about being Daredevil — and therefore (since they don’t know about Matt’s super-senses) about being blind. (And, of course, he is lying to them about his blindness, for all practical purposes, since he conceals his actual sensory capabilities when he’s Matt.) One can understand how the people closest to Matt wouldn’t want to believe that he’d been blithely deceiving them for years, and might unconsciously suspend their usual critical acumen as a consequence.
In addition, writer Lee rather cleverly leaned into the wackiness of the premise, having Matt frequently consider what a wonder it was that he kept getting away with his ruse — which, paradoxically, made the reader more willing to accept what was happening on the page. And finally, we should note that the whole business had an undeniable wish-fulfillment appeal for a certain kind of youthful reader — “What teenaged boy wouldn’t want to try being a new person, confident and breezy, especially with the understanding that he could always go back to being the meek and mild-mannered guy if things didn’t work out?” (Pat Curley, via the “Silver Age Comics” blog) — which didn’t hurt in gaining audience acceptance, either.
Even so, by early 1968, Lee and his primary collaborator, penciller Gene Colan, seemed to have decided that the idea had run its course — although that wouldn’t be completely evident until the issue following the one currently under review. For now, just rest assured that you know a lot more about Mike Murdock than my ten-year-old self did when he first read this issue fifty years ago, and we’ll return to the story at hand.
Daredevil hits the late-night New York streets looking for Ape-Man, Bird-Man, and Cat-Man, and quite soon, a hunch to start his search by checking out the local banks turns out to be right on the money (sorry). Confident that he can handle all three villains without much fuss, at least as long as he stays clear of their mysterious new rayguns, DD leaps into action in the first of two dramatic interior splash pages that penciller Colan and inker John Tartaglione will serve up over the course of this issue:
(While I can’t claim to actually remember this, I feel confident that my 10-year-old self, as a regular reader of Mad magazine, was tickled by our hero’s name-dropping of the magazine’s famous mascot in the panel above [even if “Neuman” was misspelled]. “DD’s into Mad? Cool!”)
Daredevil proceeds to knock the Unholy Three around for a couple of pages, and then…
Unfortunately, Ape-Man manages to retrieve the gun before Daredevil can grab it. DD dodges its blasts for a while, but he’s already worn out from fighting three bad guys at once, and the sinister simian eventually gets the drop on him:
Not only is Debbie Harris trapped in this unearthly limbo that the Exterminator’s time displacement ray has sent Daredevil into, but so is everyone else we’ve seen similarly zapped by the bad guys — with the exception of Ape-Man, who was the Exterminator’s original test subject, back in #39. In that instance, the ray only displaced the recipient for thirty minutes, after which he popped back into our time stream, none the worse for wear. We’re not expressly told this as readers, but we can reasonably assume that the Unholy Three’s rayguns have been set to displace their victims for… well, a lot longer than thirty minutes.
While DD becomes oriented to his eerie new surroundings, the three elated super-hoods make their getaway; the story then shifts scenes to the law offices of Nelson & Murdock:
As I detailed in my DD #39 post, Debbie Harris has a history with the Unholy Three — she’d actually been involved with them and their previous boss, Abner Jonas (aka the Organizer), before turning against them and working with Daredevil to take their operation down. She went to prison for her crimes, but has recently been paroled and has started dating Foggy — who, because he’s running for District Attorney, has been conflicted about being seen in public with her. But Debbie’s disappearance — or disintegration — at the end of issue #39 has rid Foggy of any ambivalence regarding his feelings for her, and galvanized him to do whatever he can to rescue her — or to bring her murderers to justice.
Foggy heads for the New York Public Library Main Branch (smart guy!), where he digs into the newspaper files concerning the Organizer and Ani-Men’s capture and trial:
Uncertain how to follow up on this new lead, Foggy heads off to a scheduled TV interview concerning his campaign for D.A.. Meanwhile, back in the time-displacement limbo, Daredevil assures Debbie that the effects of the ray blasts that put them there can’t last forever — and those words are hardly out of his mouth, when…
One by one, all the other victims of the “T-ray” fade away as well — until our hero is the only one left remaining:
Yes, it’s true — Daredevil #41 will feature the death of Mike Murdock! Which is a pretty good trick, since he’s never really been alive in the first place!
Since we all know Mike’s “real” (fictionally speaking) identities of Matt Murdock and Daredevil are still around and going strong fifty years down the road, you can probably hazard a pretty good guess how this is going to go down (assuming you don’t know already). But hey, why not come on back in around 30 days anyway, so you can learn (or get refreshed on) all the details? Your humble blogger will do his best to make it worth your time.