The last issue of Daredevil discussed in this blog, #55, ended with the Man Without Fear’s decisive triumph over Starr Saxon, the sinister technologist who’d discovered his secret identity as attorney Matt Murdock back in #51. While Daredevil’s strategy against Saxon had centered on the rather drastic expedient of staging Matt’s violent demise in an aerial explosion, his ultimate victory actually came about when, while tussling with our hero high over the streets of Manhattan, Saxon slipped and fell to his (apparent) death. With the man who had known Daredevil’s secret no longer among the living, that specific problem was obviously now solved; but, considering that DD was still left with no civilian identity, and that all of his friends and loved ones still thought he was dead, you’d probably be surprised to find the guy, at the beginning of issue #56, swinging through New York’s concrete canyons singing a happy tune.
On second thought, if you were familiar with late-Sixties Marvel comics — maybe you wouldn’t be.
So why is ol’ Hornhead breaking out his best Beatles warble? Why, because he’s on his way to see the love of his life, Karen Page, and tell her that the man she’s been needlessly mourning for weeks isn’t really dead! It’s gonna be great! “Then I’ll conjure up a new legal name,” he tells himself on page 2, “and we’ll be altar bound — !” Well, yeah, DD, when you put it like that, it sounds easy.
There’s a hitch, however; because when Daredevil arrives at the office of his former law partner, New York District Attorney Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, Karen — who works there as Foggy’s secretary — isn’t in. As Foggy proceeds to tell DD, she’s asked for a few days off and has gone home — though where “home” is, he has no idea.
As we learn on the next page, Karen has avoided talking about her dad all the time Foggy and Matt have known her, because her dad was widely accused of being a traitor. After abandoning his research, he’d retired to his estate in Vermont, which is where Karen grew up — and where she’s now returned:
“Fagan Corners” isn’t a real place, but the name of Karen’s hometown is nonetheless a tip of writer Roy Thomas’ hat to a real Vermonter, Tom Fagan — a comics fan who was also chairman of the annual Rutland Halloween Parade. Both the superhero-centric Parade, and Fagan, himself, would go on to make appearances in several fondly-remembered early-Seventies comics from both Marvel and DC.
Inquiring at the train station’s office, Karen finds that there’s no longer a bus that goes by the “Page place”, and a taxi driver that she approaches flat out refuses to take her there. Eventually, a kind stranger offers her a ride; still, by the time she’s been dropped off on the outskirts of the family estate, her earlier “can’t go home again” musings are starting to seem a bit less melodramatic:
Gene Colan was a master of light and shadow; an aspect of his craft that required a sympathetic inker for its complete success. Syd Shores might not have been the very best embellisher Colan ever had (that would be Tom Palmer, in my opinion), but he was better than a lot of them; and his effectiveness in maintaining the spooky atmosphere of Colan’s pencils for these pages is well evidenced here.
The image of a spectral horseman in a rustic New England setting definitely conveys a “Sleepy Hollow”, Headless Horseman sort of vibe, although artist Gene Colan has unquestionably based the figure’s skull-like head on an Aztec turquoise mask, believed to be an image of the god Tezcatlipoca, currently held in the collection of the British Museum. (In the next issue, Karen will explain that this very mask haunted her dreams when she was a child.)
The bizarre apparition calling himself “Death’s Head” hangs around just long enough to warn Karen to leave “this forbidden tract”; if she doesn’t obey, then “not all the forces of Earth” will save her “from hordes of Hades!”
Just in case you’re too young to remember, Thomas’ caption above mentioning “a woman’s cigarette” in the context of Karen’s identity as an “emancipated female” is a reference to the Virginia Slims cigarette brand, and its long-running (and in 1969, inescapable) “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” advertising campaign, which attempted to associate the brand with the burgeoning Women’s Liberation movement of the era.
Knocking on her family home’s front door, Karen finds herself greeted by a butler she’s never seen before, who introduces himself as Garth. Garth promptly escorts Karen into the presence of her mother, who reveals the awful truth — Dr. Paxton Page has been kidnapped “…by a dreadful creature called… Death’s Head!”
Meanwhile, Daredevil has followed Karen’s trail, taking the train from New York to Fagan Corners, then literally hopping off (from the top of the train) at the railway station to hoof it the rest of the way. He has a brief, inconclusive encounter with Death’s Head himself before arriving at the Page house, and thus knows there’s trouble afoot before he’s even talked to Karen:
Karen’s pretty surprised to see Daredevil as well, as she was already considering trying to contact him for help. How could the Scarlet Swashbuckler have possibly known she needed him? DD brushes off the question, saying he’ll explain letter; for now, he needs to know the details of what’s happening, and so Karen and her mom dutifully fill him in.
It’s late by now, and so everyone at the Page house tucks in for the night…
Daredevil leaps at the floating figure, only to find it’s actually “a radio-rigged balloon!” He falls to the ground, landing hard on his left shoulder. Then, of course, the real Death’s Head shows up, and begins flinging flaming projectiles at him.
Unsurprisingly, all of this commotion rouses the rest of the household:
Now there’s a deathtrap cliffhanger so improbably complicated, it should remind all fans of a certain age of the 1960s Batman TV show. Wouldn’t it have been a lot simpler just to stab DD with one of those flaming dagger-things?
Be that as it may, my twelve-year-old self was curious to see how the Man Without Fear was going to get out of this one, and happily snagged #57 when it showed up in the spinner racks in August, 1969. (Of course, even if I hadn’t bought the previous issue, the dramatic cover probably would have hooked me into buying it — even if, as is likely, I didn’t quite believe that Karen Page was really about to discover Daredevil’s secret identity.)
Somewhat miraculously, given the close range, all the policemen’s shots go wide. DD then spurs his steed to leap over their car, after which the cops get back in the vehicle and hit the gas. Soon thereafter, however, our hero finally manages to snap the ropes binding him to the horse’s back:
Not sure what ol’ Hornhead is going for with that “going courtin'” bit, since the only thing it brings to my mind is a song from a musical comedy set in 19th century Oregon. Any other ideas, faithful readers?
After returning to the Pages’ house, Daredevil gets his wounded right shoulder bandaged up by Karen’s mom, while telling the two women what he’s learned from his encounter. Maybe Karen used to dream about a spectral figure in an Aztec mask riding a skeletal horse, but the horse our hero was recently tied onto was, he’s sure, a real animal — though one that had been “treated so that its flesh was transparent, and only the bones could be seen!” Um, sure, if you say so, DD. As they talk, Daredevil notices that someone is hiding behind some drapery, apparently eavesdropping on their conversation. It turns out to be Garth, though the butler assures them he was simply waiting until he was sure it was OK for him to enter with his tea tray.
DD then excuses himself to go have a lie-down; so, an hour later, when Garth surreptitiously slips out of the house on some unknown errand, it’s Karen who notices, and secretly follows him:
Entering the mill behind the butler, Karen slowly makes her way down a creaking wooden staircase, until…
Yeah, Daredevil was on the job the whole time! But, you ask, why didn’t he let Karen know what he was doing, rather than let her go on ahead of him and put herself in needless jeopardy by confronting Garth? Um, beats me.
Going on the attack, Daredevil drops a rhetorical bomb not only on Death’s Head, but on Karen and Garth as well, by announcing that he’s deduced that the seeming specter is actually… Karen’s father, Doctor Paxton Page!
Watch out for that cobalt radiation, kids — it’s strong, strong stuff. (Just ask Happy Hogan.)
My twelve-year-old self was probably completely accepting of the revelation that the sinister-acting Garth was in fact a Federal government agent, i.e., one of the good guys. My sixty-two-year-old self, on the other hand (or maybe it’s my inner Nick Fury) wants to know what kind of idiot agent pulls a crazy cowboy stunt like shooting a wooden stick out of an innocent woman’s hand, almost blowing her head off.
Never mind all that now, though. We have a funeral to get to — not to mention two pages’ worth of expertly paced, illustrated, and scripted comic book drama:
What the — ? They actually did it!
It may be hard for younger fans to get their heads around — especially fans for whom the long period in the last decade or so when Matt Murdock’s costumed identity was an open secret represents a hefty percentage of the time they’ve been reading comics — but this was a really big deal in 1969. Sure, there were a few superheroes who didn’t have secret identities at all — the Fantastic Four, DC’s Elongated Man — but I could count those who’d bitten the bullet and revealed their alter egos to their sweethearts on one finger. There was, in my experience, only one: DC’s Flash, and he’d made rather a mess of the whole thing (though it had worked out OK in the end). Were Karen and Matt indeed headed for the altar? Again going by my limited experience at the time, it seemed like the logical next step. Of course, the only way to find out for sure was to grab Daredevil #58 when it came out in September. Which, naturally, I did.
I think I was probably surprised by the scene featured on the splash page of #58 — though not, as the captions suggested, by the “late” Matt Murdock’s appearance in a courtroom (I’d always assumed that Marvel would find a way around Daredevil’s latest “death” ruse) but rather because there was no sign or mention of Karen. That’s what I wanted to know about. But Thomas and Colan, whether on purpose or by happenstance, were going to keep me and their other readers in suspense for at least few pages.
On those pages, we learned that Matt was now working as a special assistant to the D.A. — which explained why he was arguing for the prosecution instead of the defense, as was his usual gig, if not how he’d returned from the dead. The case he was arguing involved an attempt on Daredevil’s life perpetrated on behalf of a mysterious new figure calling himself Crime-Wave. To learn more, we’d have to enter a flashback sequence, courtesy of Matt’s memories — which, thankfully, picked up right where issue #57 had left off:
We see on the next page how Foggy called a press conference to share the good news about his friend and former partner — and also used the occasion to announce that Matt was coming on board his legal team.
Following the press conference, Matt was left alone with Karen. Officially alive again, he seems to have figured there was no need to wait any longer to pop the big question:
The flashback now moves on to the following afternoon’s parade for the “United Fund“, which is obviously a stand-in for the United Way; I suppose it was easier on Marvel to adjust the charity’s name slightly, rather than to ask permission to use the organization in a comic book story.
Yeah, right. We’ve been here with Matt before, when he was convinced that his days “as a hooded hero” were done — as recently as issue #49, in fact — and we’ve seen how long that lasted. Since it seems unlikely that Marvel’s going to change the masthead of this series to “Here Comes… Matt Murdock, the Attorney Without Fear!”, things aren’t looking good for Matt and Karen’s matrimonial prospects.
But before we get into any of that, it’s time for the flashback to deliver on some superheroic action — and so, we see how Daredevil, standing onstage next to Karen and Foggy and about to make his big surprise announcement,was suddenly upstaged (so to speak) by a costumed motorcyclist calling himself the Stunt-Master:
DD managed to get both himself and Karen out of the way in time to keep from being run down, but the Stunt-Master quickly turned around and came back for another pass:
Trying to shake Daredevil off, the Stunt-Master activates a very special feature on his cycle:
Suffice it to say, I was disappointed in this turn of events. Perhaps I was a hopeless romantic at age 12 , but if Karen was walking out of Matt’s life (which she wasn’t, yet, not quite*), I didn’t see the point of his revealing his secret identity in the first place.
I’m not sure what was going on with the coloring in the next-to-last panel, above, but I suppose you could interpret it as Karen’s vision going haywire as her world goes sideways upon hearing Matt’s words.
The defendant who’s been on trial, we now understand, is the Stunt-Master himself, taken into custody and charged with the attempted murder of Daredevil following the parade incident. And now, it looks like he’s going up the river to serve some hard time.**
I may not have realized it when I first read the above scene of Matt Murdock making his exit, but I was about to make my own exit from Daredevil as well, at least for a while. I had first begun reading the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s series with issue #39, and had missed only two out of the twenty issues published since then; but #58 would prove to be the last I’d buy for well over a year.
Why did I drop DD? I can’t claim to have distinct memories of my reasoning, but I figure it involved both my disappointment over the outcome of Matt’s big secret I.D. reveal, and my weariness with his constant back-and-forth over whether he really wanted to be a hero or not. That aspect of the series just seemed to be going in circles, as far as I could tell. Additionally, I didn’t have much curiosity about the mysterious Crime-Wave, who at this point was just a name and a reputation (and, frankly, would never be much more than that). Therefore, I left Daredevil behind in September, 1969, not to return until… ah, but that would be telling. Stick around long enough, though, and the blog will get there, I promise.
*Karen would actually hang around for another eight issues before committing to a new life in Los Angeles as an actress, where her first major gig would be a role on the Stunt-Master’s television show (see note below). She’d still continue to appear In Daredevil intermittently after that, before eventually moving on to become a supporting character in the Hollywood-set Ghost Rider. Some time after that, however, as most longtime fans will know, Ms. Page’s film career sadly hit the skids, and she became both a porn actress and a drug addict, eventually selling the secret of Daredevil’s identity when she hit rock bottom. That was bad news for Karen — as would be her later murder at the hands of the assassin Bullseye, of course — but at least it gave us one of the greatest Daredevil stories of all time, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli‘s Born Again.
**The Stunt-Master, aka George Smith, would make a return appearance as early as Daredevil #64, so his stay in the Big House wasn’t all that long — and possibly non-existent, as he says something in that issue about getting lucky due to a legal technicality. Since I wasn’t reading DD at that time, though, the next time I’ld actually see him would be in Ghost Rider #18 (June, 1976), which found him more-or-less reformed, with a new career as a TV star (although he’d relapse back into crime in later years). Frankly, the guy hasn’t had a bad run for someone with no powers — just a pair of rocket-jets on his souped-up motorcycle.