Saturday, 1 August 2009

Daredevil: 51-100: 10 Things I've Learned

Yes, it's review time once again. Another 50 issues under the belt and what exactly have we learned?

1 Don't be a male chauvanist pig, Matt
Ah, the times they are a-changing. And as we move in the 1970s and Marvel bring in successive writers who are very obviously affected by what's being going on around them, fusty old lawyer Matt Murdock struggles to throw off the chains of oppression he has implicitly kept his womenfolk in. In one memorable exchange with Karen Page, like a vengeful patriarch he insists she gives up her job (not as a lowly paid cleaner but as a movie star no less!) so that she can move back to New York to support him. On another occasion, he happily dumps Karen, having just become engaged to her for a second time earlier in the issue, and in straight onto snogging duties with Natasha by the end of the story...

2 Do let women have independent fulfilling lives
...And this is all despite the fact that the Marvel hierarchy are becoming more and more aware that they have to change the way women are portrayed in their books. Karen's movie career may eventually end horribly but the fact that she's moved on from being the subservient secretary has to be a positive. Whilst the introduction of Natasha as a self assured Russian aristocrat woman (despite a few wobbles from time to time) who runs her own fashion line and is an equal with Matt emphasises the point. A glance at any of the letters pages in the latter dozen or so issues in this run reveals that the readership were very keen at seeing Marvel address issues of sexual politics within their books. Of course, explicit feminism in comic books remains a pipe dream as, over 30 years later, uber-breasted women in tight and revealing costumes is still the default setting for the female superhero.

3 Do show off your literary prowess, Roy
Ah, Roy Thomas and your knowledge of books! I have to say, I was very impressed with the literary references in Roy's run, including the Bible, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft and others. Roy was clearly on a one man mission to encourage the comic book readers of the day to broaden their horizons. This century, Roy's love of literature would be rewarded by Marvel in its range of illustrated classics that Roy penned. I highly recommend his takes on 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' and 'Moby Dick'.

4 Do try to say Something Important, Gerry
Before he had 20 candles on a birthday cake, Gerry Conway was scribbling Daredevil scripts and it's the zeal of youth that really comes across, particularly early in his run, in Gerry's intense desire to say something significant about the changing times. It's not always successful and is often a little preachy and distracting in a superhero comic book. But, by golly, do I admire the fact that he's sticking his head above the parapet to even make an attempt to tackle 'issues'. More than anything else, Gerry brilliantly evokes the flower child idealism of the times and is completely unashamed of promoting their worldview.

5 Don't be afraid of explicitly political storylines
Once or twice in this 50 issue run, the writers let rip with morality plays about the times. We have a storyline expliciting supporting black power, surely a contraversial stance at the time. A few issues later this is followed by undoubtedly my favourite story in this run featuring the preposterous right wing republican good old boy, Buck Ralston, with his deadly gavel that zaps hippies to death. What's great about this story is that is not at all balanced. The writers (Roy Thomas and Garry Friedrich) are completely biased towards the children of the revolution, sticking it to the rednecks!

6 Don't hide the true identity of your villains from your artist
Not every villain is as enthralling as Buck Ralston, though. The mysterious Mr Kline turns up halfway through this run and seems a suave, sophisticated and deadly figure. We know this by the way he smokes with a cigarette holder. Imagine Gerry's embarrassment, though, when he saw Gene Colan's finished art and had to tell the artist that, actually, er, the villain is an android. Gene, unashamedly and brilliantly, continues to draw Kline puffing away. D'oh!

7 Do dump your friends and move to the other side of the country
Perhaps feeling that the Matt/Karen/Foggy triumvirate has been exhausted after over 80 issues, Gerry Conway ruthlessly disposes of Matt's friends and moves him to San Franscisco. What's perhaps more peculiar is that the writer then forgets that there are no villains living on the West Coast so has to contrive of situations where the likes of Electro, Man Bull and the Purple Man can turn up on Matt's doorstep.

8 Do give your supporting characters interesting personality quirks
But who do we replace Karen and Foggy with? Enter "daddy" Ivor, "grumpy" Ironguts, "sleazy" Sloan and "oh, Matt, you're so wonderful, oh, and by the way if you've finished with Natasha..." Paul Carson. Yes, they're fun but, alas, there doesn't seem a lot of time to move them beyond the one note characteristics these folks are burdened with. As such, it's not surprising that they haven't remained in the imagination the same way Karen and Foggy have. Still, I do like Sloan's slippery, in-it-for-the-money, lawyer as a nice contrast to Matt and can't help thinking he hasn't been used yet to his fullest potential.

9 Do have awkward cohabiting relationships
Despite all the backing for the flower children there's still one element of the post 60s world that Marvel are very coy about. And that's bedroom relations. Whilst it's implicitly mooted that Matt and Tasha got jiggy with it during their brief sojourn to Switzerland, once they've decamped to San Franscisco (the capital of free loving surely), Matt's relegated to sharing with Ivor (hmmm, that reminds me, what else is San Franscisco famous for...?)

10 Don't use fluourescent paint on a horse
Okay, there are some great moments in these 50 issues. Karen's agent (accidentally) having two surnames, Mr Kline coming from about a gazillion years in the future to stop Daredevil ruining the human race, a terrible (and very cynical) team up with Iron Man and Matt playing social worker to a couple of hippy newly weds. However, all these pale into insignificance with Karen's father, Professor Page, and his "brilliant" idea of deciding to paint his horse so that it looks like a ghost. Sure it's impressive. For about five seconds. One issue later, in response to Matt's queries about where the nag's hiding, Page is unashamedly announcing that, well, it's dead, of course. Due to the toxins in the paint. Naturally. Oh, it's a shame he dies. I would have loved to have seen the animal rights protest outside his house in the next issue.

So there you have it! A great 50 issues. Let's hope the next run gives us at least as good entertainment...


Christine said...

Congrats on making it this far, and thanks for the enthusiasm you bring to each of your reviews, even when the story itself might not always deserve it! Looking forward to more. :)

Craig said...

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this blog! I'm having a blast remembering these old books as I read your reviews. A note regarding Gene drawing an android smoking. Gene has said many times that he didn't read ahead in the story. He drew it as he read it. A plot twist like that would be one of the down sides to working that way. :) He's also famous (infamous?) for running out of pages to finish the story. You may have noticed (or not) that the beginning of the books will often have fewer panels and more dramatic scenes, where the end of the book will have many smaller panels. It's a Colan trademark!

Robert said...

Thank you, Craig! I had certainly noticed that Gene Colan loved his big action splash pages but had failed to pick up the 'more-panels-towards-the-end-of-the-book' thing. I'll pay more attention if I ever go back over the old issues.