Friday, 21 December 2012

Daredevil: The Worst* of Volume One

Tired of leafing through high quality Daredevil stories written by the likes of Frank Miller?  Looking instead for something rotten to read?  Well, then you've come to right place!  I've commented previously on what are my favourite issues of Daredevil.  But what about those that left the shoulders slumped and a frown on my jaw.  Those issues that disappointed. Here, then, folks, are my least favourite twenty issues of volume one.  You have been warned.

20 Issue 263 In Bitterness Not Far From Death
Just to show that even very fine writers can have an off day, Ann Nocenti's tie-in to the X-Men Inferno story goes a little weird and trippy towards the end.  I have no objection to Ann riffing on Dante - in fact, I welcome it - but after two previous decent episodes, Ann flings chaos at the page for the finale and it all ends up being rather strange.  For shame!

19 Issue 148 Manhunt
The Death-Stalker!  The Purple Man!  Foggy eating crackers and watching TV!  The issue has the hallmarks of something quite mouthwatering but the whole issue feels a little like the writer biding time - perhaps building up for the big 150.

18 Issue 84 Night of the Assassin
An issue where Daredevil whisks the Black Widow away to a Swiss Chalet for a little bit of snugglin' shouldn't be anywhere near a worst of list.  But it's also an issue where we learn that a strange creature has come from 12,000 years in the future to reveal that the fate of mankind rests on him killing Daredevil.  Which seems an extraordinary piece of deduction.  Who would have thought Matty had it in him to be so powerful?  (Though to be fair to Baal, maybe he's thinking about Shadowland...)  And all this despite a very fine Gil Kane cover.

17 Issue 126 Flight of the Torpedo
An early Marv Wolfman tale and there's a sense that the writer is still finding his feet with the character, making him rather wisecracking in a way not experienced again until Karl Kesel took over.  Despite the introduction of Heather Glenn, the story (ironically) never really gets off the ground, much of it focusing on the introduction of a new hero called the Torpedo, making the issue come across somewhat as a pitch for a new book.

16 Issue 380 Just One Good Story
Brought back for a swansong and re-teaming with artist, Lee Weeks, it's all looking good for Dan Chichester's tale that concludes volume one.  Early on the story's use of different street voices is good but ultimately the storyline has more in common with the convoluted, over ambitious work of his later yarns.  It's not so much the use of flashback that's confusing but breaking up a final battle between Daredevil and the Kingpin into little snapshots that seem incoherent and out of tune with one another (one moment he's in red, the next, oh no, the dreaded armour costume!) are where this story lost me.  Oh, and Wilson Fisk and Bullseye cowering before DD? Really?

15 Issue 38 The Living Prison
Hmmm.  One allows Matthew Murdock to see at one's peril -indeed, this isn't the only incident of our favourite lawyer being sighted on this list.  Here he swaps bodies with Dr Doom (as you do), with the consequence of Doom knocking about in the Daredevil costume.  I know that sounds like fun.  It isn't.

14 Issue 76 The Death March of El Condor
To say that removing Daredevil from his old New York stomping ground and automatically the story's in trouble is, I think, a little unfair - there are plenty of great DD tales away from Hell's Kitchen.  However this sojourn to a fictional South American country definitely doesn't work.  The bandits are thinly drawn and Daredevil gets sufficiently bored in his fight with the villain that he starts to daydream about Karen.  And that's as good a review as anyone can give of this story.

13 Issue 315 Shock Therapy
Dan Chichester revives Mr Fear... as a woman. Not a bad idea, necessarily but all the worst excesses of Dan's writing are on display here - a trigger happy preacher, characters being sarcastic with each other, an overwrought backstory for the villain and, a frustrating trait in some DD tales, a hint of a follow up that never transpires.

12 Issue 95 Bullfight on the Bay
I'm not sure who would win the 'Worst Daredevil Villain' award but surely Man-Bull would be at least a strong contender.  For a while, though, he popped up quite frequently in the book.  This is, I think, the worst of his appearances.  It's not so much that it's a terrible tale as just rather mediocre, lacking the commentary of the times that appears in Gerry Conway's best tales.

11 Issue 378 Flying Blind Part 3
An amnesiac and sighted Matt Murdock is in Paris, trying to protect a poor doctor from the Kingpin.  It's pretty contrived, coincidental stuff and more on that later...

10 Issue 201 The Day the Devil Didn't Dare
Another good writer on an off day and not just because he's trying to write a tongue twister.  This issue is practically a Black Widow solo story, which sounds like a good thing. However, Denny portraits Tasha in quite a weird way - her dialect becomes more pronounced than we've been used to in the past, and both Foggy and Matt are let down by rather clunky dialogue at times.

9 Issue 143 Hyde and Go Seek Sayeth the Cobra
That clumsy/brilliant title perhaps gives a clue to the kind of story we're in for here, a flashback to the earlier times where Daredevil was a slightly more knockabout character rather than the noir-ish figure that was beginning to define the book, even at this stage.  An odd little tale, with cameos from some real (and rather obscure) sci-fi writers.

8 Issue 351 Helping Hands
Shawn McManus' art has an exaggerated looking Daredevil lapsing into some kind of weird parody in a rather underwhelming tale involving DD hunting someone who appears to be a new underworld villain.  The story is rather average but its overall quality nosedives when one sees Turk Barrett extraordinarily transformed into a Caucasian, which reveals that someone somewhere dropped the ball on this one.

7 Issue 21 The Trap is Sprung!
An early encounter with the Owl is full of over the top action, taking place on a strange little island and nicely illustrated by Gene Colan.  However, the tale itself is wafer thin, perhaps an early indication that Stan Lee was beginning to take a back seat in the writing process and adding plot to whatever Gene was doing.  The result is both rather silly and inconsequential.

6 Issue 24 The Mystery of the Midnight Stalker
An issue which starts with Daredevil piloting his own plane from the European mainland to England and then descends into uneasy stereotyping ("We've jolly well surrounded the entire castle") is all a little too cringeworthy.  The Plunderer in a ridiculous costume doesn't help either.  But possibly its biggest failing is the misunderstanding of the social and political roles of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom.  An English army under the control of a Lord Mayor?  Sorry, that's just plain wrong, Stan.

5 Issue 118 Circus Spelled Sideways is Death
Another issue with a bonkers title - and a bizarre set up too, involving the Ringmaster and the Circus of Terror.  There are a couple of decent moments here - the early use of silent panels is effective, but the story lapses too easily into unintentional humour and, truly, the Ringmaster and his cronies were never the most threatening of foes, even in the 60s, and by the time this issue appeared they were probably past their sell by date.

4 Issue 342 Malignancy
'Alan Smithee''s final issue and there's a real sense of a tired writer bashing out the denouement of his tale quickly and then leaving the building without bothering to turn out the lights. Introducing plotlines that would never be resolved is probably not the writer's fault (Karen Page's employment of John Garrett is never followed up) but only adds to the issue's list of woes.  The villain's death by falling from a building is, at best, homage to the many issues of early Daredevil where this occurred and, at worst, a slightly contemptuous ending by a writer who's had his fill.

3 Issue 352 Smoky Mirrors
A very odd storyline involving Daredevil apparently hallucinating such bizarre goings on as a cherubic kingpin.  There are lots of really fine fill in Daredevil tales but this one just seems to go through the motion without any recourse to what makes Daredevil and his supporting cast distinctive and ends up just feeling like you're on a bad trip.

2 Issue 379 Flying Blind Part 4
The fact that 50% of the Flying Blind storyline makes it into the top 20 is perhaps indicative of how wrong footed that tale turned out to be.  The basic concept of the tale is fine but the excruciatingly overly complicated science - the ability to temporarily recover a blind man's sight is hokum of the highest order, whilst the whole notion of changing the character's bone structure etc. just seems completely unnecessary - and use of coincidence send this plot spiralling into oblivion.

1 Issue 73 Behold... the Brotherhood!
Perhaps just because it's one of the most cynical of all Daredevil tales, where our hero is shoehorned into some big Marvel battle and taken from away from anything identifiable from what makes his own book distinctive and interesting (I mean, imagine Daredevil being part of the Avengers or trying to take on A-listers like the X-Men, for example... What?  Really?  Oh...).  Part of the reason for this was a mooted merging of this title with Iron Man's - once again, a strange combination of ideologies (though that didn't hurt Power Man and Iron Fist a decade later).  All this and some very poor Irish stereotyping and an issue like this was never going to go down well with this reviewer.  Well done, issue 73, your atypical, bonkers, outlandish fare land you with the title of "Worst Issue of Volume One".

Phew, that was hard work.  Next up, the best stories of volume one...

*In my own humble opinion; other opinions are available and valid.  I feel a little bad about such a negative post.  For the sake of balance, I should add that most of these writers have also produced some great Daredevil stories.

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