Monday, January 24, 2022

Daredevil, Volume 1 by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

Promising start to an epic run
Back in the early 1980s when I used to stop by the drug store on my way home from school and pick up random comic books off the rotating rack, it was a special day if I walked out with a Frank Miller issue of Daredevil. At that time, Miller’s tenure on Daredevil was probably the most acclaimed title of Marvel Comics’ prolific output. Marvel’s series of trade paperbacks simply entitled Daredevil reprints this epic run. The volumes in this series are attributed to Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, the latter being the ace inker who finished Miller’s pencil sketches. For many years, the two artists comprised an almost symbiotic duo of comics creation. Volume 1 of this paperback series, published in 2008, reprints Daredevil issues 158 to 172, which were originally published from May 1979 to August 1981.

The book opens, however, with two 1979 issues of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man in which Daredevil guest stars, drawn by Miller. Bill Mantlo wrote the story, and there is nothing special about it that merits these issues’ inclusion in this collection. Shortly thereafter, Miller took over the art duties on Daredevil with issue #158, while Roger McKenzie handled the writing. Prior to Miller signing on, Gene Colan was the artist for Daredevil. Colan, an old-school anatomist along the lines of Neal Adams, was one of Marvel’s best artists of the ‘70s. I happen to own Daredevil #157, Colan’s last issue before Miller took over, and issue #158 was definitely a step down in visual impact. Miller and Janson had yet to find their mature style, and the artwork is clumsily sketchy compared to Colan’s beautiful work, but still far better than the average Marvel art of the time. Over the course of this volume, however, one can see a definite positive development in Miller and Janson’s art, going from merely sketchy to deliberately stylized as Miller works his way towards the stark style of his later Sin City series. One area where Miller particularly excels in his Daredevil run is in the depiction of physical combat. More than just Jack Kirby-style splash-and-smash panels, Miller’s action scenes actually look like martial arts as practiced by someone of Daredevil’s superhuman abilities.

Miller didn’t take over the writing of Daredevil until issue #168. Prior to that, mostly in the hands of McKenzie, Daredevil faces off against a string of garden-variety tough guys like the Gladiator, the Mauler, and a rather dull outing against the Hulk. When Miller takes over, he gradually amps up the drama. The introduction of Elektra Natchios as Matt Murdock’s college girlfriend is a rather unimpressive debut, but then Miller introduces Daredevil to the Kingpin, which sets off a multi-issue arc that finally showcases Miller at his finest. The last few issues of Daredevil, Volume 1 are five-star comics that grant an enticing look at things to come when Elektra comes into her own, Stick becomes Daredevil’s mentor, and DD fights the ninjas of The Hand.

Marvel published four volumes in this Miller and Janson paperback series, then gathered them together in an “Omnibus” hardcover edition. The first half of Volume 1 holds it back from greatness, but the second half of the book is definitely a treat for classic Miller fans. Miller’s run on Daredevil is one of the shining moments in the history of Marvel, and this is where it all starts. Although there are no doubt better things to come in Volume 2, even Miller and Janson’s early issues are a substantial cut above typical Marvel fare of this time period.

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