Cry... Beetle by Steve Gerber and Bob Brown
One Sentence Overview: Daredevil races to New York when he hears that Foggy Nelson is badly injured but is also conflicted about his relationships with Natasha and Moondragon
The supporting cast of Daredevil has mushroomed somewhat since his move to San Franscisco. As well as sharing the billing with the wonderful Widow, DD has acquired his own grumpy father in Ivan Petrovich, as well as a hard as nails police commissioner in Ironguts O'Hara. There's sleazy lawyer, Jason Sloan and butter wouldn't melt potential love rival Paul Carson. There's even news reporter Lucretia Jones lurking in the background. Yet despite all these new additions, there's a sense that there isn't really anybody we know terribly well (only Paul seems to be developed to any length). And these characters certainly don't hold the appeal of the old DD crew of Foggy Nelson and Karen Page (and to a lesser extent Debbie Harris).
So it's perhaps no surprise that we have our old faithful bloodhound and favourite DA, Franklin Nelson, back on board this issue. Welcome back, Foggy! Or rather this could be goodbye. Because our Foggy's been shot and is critically ill in hospital in New York. Quick, Matt! Quuuuiiiiccckkkk!
But before we move coasts, there's some exceptional emotional drama early on in this issue. Natasha's rightfully puzzled about DD's impulsively horny feelings towards Moondragon in the last storyline. Where does she stand, she wonders. When Matt tells her that he's never "sat down and analyzed" this, Tasha erupts. "Analyzed! I'm talking about feelings... not legal briefs!" There seems to have been a brief attempt in the last run of issues to turn Matt into a kind of trendy man of the times. But here we have the old square conservative, emotionally repressed lawyer back. And you know what? I think the character's better and more consistent because of it.
Later on, Natasha, still upset, is knocking seven shades out of a poor thug, who she's interrupted mugging an old lady. DD's not impressed and has to intervene in what is known as the 'Hank Pym method' by slapping her hard. Unlike Pym in today's comics, this incident doesn't appear to have followed Matt Murdock in the violence against women stakes. Of course, this was back in the day when a good slap was positively recommended to stop someone who was, as in this case, 'hysterical'.
To be fair, there are repercussions for this action for Matt. A few pages later, the two argue fiercely about Tasha's actions. Neither is particularly repentent about their actions. Wryly, Matt leaves the scene to reflect on his partner's feelings. He thinks, "The great champion of women's lib is jealous!" This is an interesting insight. Does this imply that maybe Matt hasn't wanted to explicitly restart a relationship with Tasha because he's maybe intimidated by her desire to be her own woman, on an equal standing? It would certainly be consistent with his rejection of Karen Page earlier because she chose being a film star over him (like, Matt, duh!). Once again, Matt's not quite the free loving West Coast liberal. (Later on, Matt's lack of emotional insight is demonstrated somewhat when, trying to talk about his feelings for Moondragon he tells her awkwardly, "I'm not good at this sort of thing...")
All this heated emotion is not helped by the fact that Moondragon's been staying with them the last two months. Oh, Matt, you're so tactful... Not that the bald one is helping matters much. Noticing that he's tense, Moonie enquires, "May I use my mental powers to soothe your mind... relax you?" Oh, yeah, Natasha's gonna love that under her own roof! Seconds later, she's offering Matt a lift to New York in her spaceship (hey, it saves an airfare after all). Inevitably, for the Widow, it's all ending in tears.
There's a serious dissonance between the reality of Matt's world and that of Moondragon's. I'd been thinking that Steve Gerber's been pushing our favourite lawyer in the direction of a starbound saga, especially since the guest appearance of Captain Marvel. But here, he recognises that this isn't Daredevil territory. Trying to ekk out of Moondragon her feelings for him, the Titian priestess shows her upper hand. "Our respective orientations towards life and the cosmos," she remarks worthily. "We're galaxies apart that way." And with that, she's off to explore the universe.
Arriving back in New York on Christmas Eve, Steve and Bob give the reader a terrific contrast between SF and NY. It's cold, snowing, the streets are empty and Matt's dug out his long coat. At the hospital Matt not only bumps into Debbie Harris (who we last saw spending all of Foggy's money at an offshore casino but who is now all tears and tenderness) but Foggy's parents and sister. "I didn't know Foggy had a sister," Matt grumbles hilariously. Yeah, well, Matt, Foggy didn't know you had a brother, remember? Candace rather intriguingly sets up her character by telling Matt that Foggy doesn't like to introduce her to his friends because he doesn't want her to !corrupt them", which seems shockingly overprotective. Or is Candace really a very naughty sort altogether?
When Matt finally mets a very poorly Foggy (which the reader can tell because there's... a lot... of... ellipses... between... every word... Foggy... speaks), he reveals that he's been taken down by some shady corporation called Black Spectre. This leads naturally to Daredevil swinging through the city and what I thought initially was a rather odd mistake. A text box tells us that Matt's swinging over "Gotham's midtown rooftops". I'm thinking, "Oops, there's a Freudian slip." But a quick google reveals to this ignorant non-American that there is an area of Manhattan called Gotham. Still, the error perhaps is a serendipitous reveal of what would later become an appropriate comparison - that there isn't a lot of difference between the worlds of Daredevil and Batman.
All in all, this is a very fine story. The Beetle, the nominal bad guy hardly appears - turning up for a perfunctory battle at the end of the issue whilst Matt tries to figure out who Black Spectre are. But that doesn't matter. There's a lot of great emotionally melodramatic storytelling, some terrific dialogue and interesting character development in this issue. And I love all that kind of nonsense. There's a slight dissatisfaction right at the end when it's revealed that the story will be partially concluded in Marvel's Two-in-One magazine (with the blue eyed Thing, naturally). But that apart, this is Steve's strongest issue to date.
I've remarked before that the art has been a little mundane since Colan has moved on. Perhaps inspired by some of Gene's action panels in earlier issues, Bob Brown displays a little charisma this issue early on with a great balletic sequence of Natasha flying through the SF skyline with her buddy. I particularly like the way that she's flying through the (redundant) panels.
A few pages on and we have a wonderful little panel of Daredevil chopping a low life across the neck. It's surprisingly violent and actually makes you catch your breath and reach for your own neck when you look at it. Old Bob has the ability to surprise on occasion.
Inker News Perhaps best known for his work on DC's Catwoman, Paul Gulacy is the inker on this issue. A quick google reveals that Gulacy would have been 20 or 21 when he took on the inking duties on this issue so we catch him right at the beginning of his career. Always nice to see the work of a guy still doing the stuff in comics today.
Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff
Rating: 8 out of 10