My blog post about Daredevil #40 last month ended — as did its subject — by promising that the following month would bring “The Death of Mike Murdock!” And if you read that post — or have read, and can recall, the fifty-year-old DD #40 itself — you’ll know that that’s going to be a hard trick for writer Stan Lee, penciler Gene Colan, and inker John Tartaglione to pull off in issue #41 — because, even in the context of the fictional Marvel Universe, “Mike Murdock” is himself a fiction — a false persona invented by blind lawyer Matt Murdock to keep his friends and co-workers, Foggy Nelson and Karen Page, from learning that he, Matt, is actually the superhero Daredevil. Improbable as it may seem, Matt has managed to convince Karen and Foggy that he has a twin brother named Mike, and that Mike is Daredevil — and, as things have progressed, has also found himself actually enjoying playing the role of the more flamboyant and freewheeling Mike — though he’s beginning to have second thoughts, as we’ll see in a minute.
As issue #41 opens, however, Daredevil has a more immediate problem — which scripter Lee helpfully (and succinctly) explains on the splash page, via a narrative caption, as well as having our hero talk to himself:
DD reasons, quite logically, that if there’s a way into this “time warp”, there must also be a way out of it. Continuing along that line, he theorizes that an opening will eventually appear, and even if “it can’t be seen — or felt“, he, with his “hyper-keen faculties” may be able to sense it. (And if that sounds to you like Daredevil’s “radar sense” could do just about anything the series’ creative team needed it to do in any given story situation back in the day, you’re pretty much on the money.)
And sure enough…
Meanwhile, at the law offices of Nelson and Murdock, Foggy — whose girlfriend Deborah Harris is among those who’ve fallen victim to the T-gun’s rays, and who also has a good lead on the true identity of the Exterminator — decides he can’t wait around any longer waiting for “Mike” (i.e., Daredevil) to bring the bad guys to justice. He resolves to go the media and tell them he knows who the Exterminator is, in hopes of flushing the villain out of hiding. Right after that, Karen, worried about Matt (who’s been out of pocket for some time), decides to go to his apartment:
At the end of DD #40, we readers saw Debbie Harris vanish from the “time trap”, along with all the other T-ray victims save Daredevil. In the next scene, however, we find that she’s still not entirely out of danger:
Unaware of how near (and yet how far away) Debbie is, Foggy makes his way to a relatively secluded area in a city park, figuring it’s as likely a place as any for the Exterminator’s minions — the “Unholy Three” of costumed criminality also known as Ape-Man, Bird-Man, and Cat-Man — to try to jump him. He’s not a complete idiot — he’s packing a police whistle he plans to use to summon help at the first sign of trouble — but, unfortunately, when the trio of baddies do suddenly attack, Foggy immediately loses the whistle. Oops. Nevertheless, the attorney tries to give a good account of himself, despite the odds…
… but, alas, it’s all in vain. Foggy is quickly overwhelmed and then taken captive.
Meanwhile, Karen arrives at Matt’s apartment. No one answers the doorbell, but since the door’s unlocked, she goes on inside — where she finds a Daredevil costume lying on Matt’s bed.
Meanwhile, our hero has found himself free of the time trap, although — just like Debbie Harris — he’s still not quite where, or rather when, he belongs:
It’s probably best not to dwell too long on Stan Lee’s explanation of how DD intends to escape this strange, new “in-between” realm (based on the last caption on page 10, “Semi-scientific Stan” wasn’t completely convinced by it, himself), and instead simply relish Gene Colan’s atmospheric visualization of the bizarre environment. I can’t imagine another comics artist of the era doing this job any better.
Writing on his “Great Caesar’s Ghost” blog, Dan Hagen calls this sequence one of his favorite examples from Silver Age Marvel comics of a hero escaping an “inescapable” doom trap in a way that plays fair with the reader. I have to say that, as a 60-year old, I don’t find myself quite so “entirely satisfied” with the resolution as Dan reports he was as a young fan (how in the world does Daredevil manage to latch onto the car if he’s out of phase with it, I’d like to know) — but, as a 10-year-old, I’m sure I bought it completely.
Disengaging from the moving car causes some wear and tear on DD’s costume, as you’d expect. He heads home for a change of threads but, upon his arrival, realizes that Karen’s there by virtue of sensing both her heartbeat and her perfume. Ol’ Hornhead can think fast on his feet, though, and so…
“…the nuttiest idea I’ve ever had!” Actually, Matt, I’m pretty sure that was when you came up with “Mike Murdock” in the first place. Still, it’s interesting that you’re suddenly so keen to end your “triple-identity bit — forever!”, as you put it. Have your book’s readers been at all clued in that you’ve recently gotten tired of pretending to be your own non-existent twin brother?
As far as the most recent issues are concerned, the answer to that question would have to be “no”. As I’ve related in previous posts, I started picking up Daredevil with issue #39, and by the time we’d reached this scene in #41, I still had hardly any idea what this “Mike” business was all about.
And the fact is, Mike hadn’t put in an actual appearance since #34. In the following issue, Matt found himself having a row with Karen and Foggy when they thought he’d been cavalier about a threat on Daredevil’s life — a threat on his brother’s life, in their view. After his friends left, slamming the door behind them, Matt mused about how complicated the situation has become, as depicted in the panel shown at right.
But that was it, really, until this issue. Mike had been mentioned a few times, but was mostly not a factor either in the main storylines or the subplots. Which probably serves as a good indication that regardless of whatever Matt’s attitude might be in the stories, the people creating those stories had had just about enough of ol’ Mike.
But getting back to our present narrative… back at the villains’ lair, the Exterminator has discovered that his “time displacer” tech is slightly out of synchronization, which explains why Debbie, Daredevil, and the other victims weren’t properly returned to the present. He gets the problem fixed just as the Unholy Three turn up with the captive Foggy Nelson — though, considering what he’s got planned for Foggy, it’s not entirely clear why he’s bothered:
Meanwhile, however, Daredevil has managed to home in on the T-ray’s power source with his super-senses — and thus, in the nick of time…
DD spends the next page-and-a-half subduing Bird-Man and Cat-Man, and then…
And that’s that! As promised, faithful readers,you’ve just witnessed the “death” of Mike Murdock — and as far as Karen, Foggy, and most of the rest of the Marvel Universe is concerned, the death of Daredevil as well. Of course, I expect you hardly need the “NEXT” blurb in that last panel to tell you that this is hardly the end of the line for the Man Without Fear… but more about that in a minute.
First, though — did that final 2 1/2 page sequence feel just a little… rushed to you? Yeah, it did to me too. Gene Colan’s visual storytelling is generally excellent, but the transitions from DD pulling the lever, to the explosion, to the aftermath, seem a wee bit abrupt — as though the artist was trying to fit too much of the plot into too little space. One possible explanation for how this situation could have come about is suggested by a comment Colan made in a 2000 interview, conducted by Roy Thomas and published in Alter Ego vol. 3, #6, where he admitted that he didn’t always read Stan Lee’s plots all the way through before he started drawing a story. Most of the time, that seemed to work out all right for everyone (as Thomas noted in the same interview, when a story was continued in the next issue, you could always break it off earlier that the original plot outline called for) — but sometimes, especially when a storyline needed to be tightly wrapped up by page 20, it may not have worked quite as well. I’m inclined to think that such was the case, here — Colan had just a little too much story to fit into these last couple of pages to be able to pace things as well as he otherwise would have been — though, at this late date, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know that for certain.
Having blogged about Daredevil for three months in a row, I’ve already decided that I’m not going to blog about the next issue coming up, #42, even though I did buy and read it when it first came out. Yes, I know it’s the first appearance of the Jester, but, frankly, I think the Jester is (or was) too much of a Joker knockoff to be very interesting. Still, I’d hate to leave you wondering how Matt Murdock managed to continue as Daredevil after faking his death — so I’m going to break from my usual pattern with these posts and take a look at the relevant material in “Nobody Laughs at the Jester!”, starting with the following scene (script by Lee, pencils by Colan, inks by Dan Adkins):
As you can see, Matt is still irritating his friends with his apparent cold-bloodedness, this time over his twin’s violent demise. Jeez, you’d think he’d at least have learned to try a little harder by now.
I think it’s interesting that Lee and Colan give such a detailed recap of the previous issue’s climax on page 5; one might think that one or both of those gentlemen regretted the somewhat herky-jerky way the sequence had played out in #41, and wanted to try a do-over — Lee’s “it took a couple of pages” footnote notwithstanding.
The funny thing about this whole business is that, while there’d been at least some indication that Matt had grown tired of playing Mike (even if you had to dig back to issue #35 to find it), there’d been little, if any, suggestion that he’d grown tired of being Daredevil. Yet, on page 12, we find Matt strolling in a park with Foggy, Debbie, and Karen, musing, “I’m beginning to think I should have killed off my Daredevil identity long ago!”
Just a page later, of course, our happy party of four has been jumped by the Jester (for story reasons we won’t get into here), and Matt abruptly decides it’s time for Daredevil to return. That’s fine, of course — but you get the feeling that he hasn’t given any thought as to how he might make that work until this very moment:
Still, like I said earlier — the man can think fast on his feet.
Daredevil is soon back in costumed action, and everyone soon accepts that there’s a “new” Scarlet Swashbucker in town, because what other explanation is there? At the end of this issue, the Jester escapes — but it’s no biggie, because he’s served his very important story purpose — for Daredevil, as well as for us readers:
Matt wasn’t quite done with having to deal with the “death” of the “first” Daredevil just yet. I mean, you can’t just fake your own demise and immediately resurface as your doppelgänger without there being some lasting repercussions, even in the Marvel Universe. Five years later, in the special 100th issue of Daredevil, writer Steve Gerber and artists Gene Colan and John Tartaglione had DD get tripped up by this very topic while being interviewed by Rolling Stone‘s Jann Wenner (yes, really!):
“I wonder — will that one insane idea… ever stop plaguing me?” Probably not, Matt — at least not so long as you keep changing your story. Now there’s supposed to have been two Men Without Fear who started their careers at the same time? Sheesh!
Actually, though — I don’t think that the subject of Mike Murdock has come up that often, in the 45 years between DD #100 and now. It certainly seems that it should have come up, at least during the extended time when most of the world knew that Daredevil and Matt were the same person — but without digging through my copies of all the issues published since 2001, I can’t say for sure. No, the only definite callback to Mike I’m aware of in recent years came in a tale written and penciled by Karl Kesel (and his imaginary twin brother “Kurt”) and inked by Tom Palmer for 2014’s 50th anniversary special Daredevil #1.50 issue:
That story may well turn out to be Mike Murdock’s absolutely final bow — since the Purple Children made the whole world forget DD’s secret identity as Matt all over again not too long after this story appeared, and thus, who knows what anyone in the Marvel Universe remembers about Mike Murdock anymore?
But don’t get too cocky, Matt. After all, we still remember.
Updated on April 3, 2018 to correct erroneous inking credits for DD #41 and #42 that appeared in the original post. Thanks for the save, Neill Eisenstein!
Ah, good old Mike Murdock! Even considering the crazy flying-by-the-seats-of-their-pants nature of early Marvel Comics stories, Mike Murdock was an especially odd idea that Stan Lee & Co came up with. And, yes, over the subsequent decades Mike gets brought up now & then, typically as a punchline.
Karl Kesel also referenced Mike in Daredevil #353. Having dramatically faked his own death some 28 issues earlier, this story sees Matt just casually waltzing into an open courtroom to help out an overwhelmed Foggy Nelson. The judge, clearly not amused by this, dryly states “I thought you were dead, Mr. Murdock. You’ve already lost a twin brother… please don’t tell me this was a clone!” Matt then rattles off some nonsense about Nick Fury faking his death to protect him from the Kingpin, everyone shrugs their collective shoulders, and the status quo gets restored with nary another comment about Matt’s recent “demise.” 🙂
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Thanks for the additional information, Ben! I have to confess, I wasn’t reading the book during Kesel’s run, so I would have never known this factoid if you hadn’t brought it up.
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