Monday, October 24, 2022

Essential Daredevil Volume 2 by Stan Lee and Gene Colan

Gene the Dean gives great art, but Stan the Man’s writing is poor
Marvel’s paperback Essential series features reprints of their classic comics in black and white on newsprint paper. The lack of color is made up for by the fact that you get at least two dozen issues of continuity in one volume. Essential Daredevil Volume 2 reprints Daredevil issues 26 to 48, plus Daredevil Special #1, a “giant-sized” issue. These comics were originally published from March 1967 to January 1969. All these issues were written by Stan Lee and drawn by Gene Colan. The volume also includes one crossover issue of the Fantastic Four written by Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby.

While Kirby was Marvel’s heavy lifter throughout their Silver Age, Colan carved out a name for himself as the artist of the Daredevil title for most of its run up until Frank Miller took over in 1979 with issue #158. Colan was a consummate anatomist along the lines of Neal Adams. In his hands, every Daredevil fight scene looks like a well-choreographed ballet, if shot by a director of film noir. Colan’s art is exceptional throughout this volume and greatly exceeds the quality of Lee’s writing, which really isn’t very good here. Through these 24 issues, one can see Colan’s personal style develop to become more innovative and expressive over time. His art would continue to evolve further as the Daredevil title progressed, making him one of the most impressive and expressive Marvel artists of the ‘70s.

Unfortunately, Lee’s writing is not up to the same level. With the exception of perhaps the last few issues in this volume, Lee just doesn’t seem to know what to do with Daredevil. What was great about Marvel’s Silver Age is that every comic had its own unique atmospheric niche. Fantastic Four was the amazing sci-fi comic, Dr. Strange was the mystical fantasy comic, X-Men was the mod teenage comic, etc. Daredevil, on the other hand, seemed to have trouble finding a personality. Ostensibly he’s an urban vigilante, like Batman, but there’s no sense of darkness to these early issues. Lee just gives DD the same wise-cracking personality as Spider-Man. Because of Matt Murdock’s love affairs, there was also often a soap opera element to the Daredevil title that called to mind the romance comic genre. For the most part, however, the stories are just fights, which thankfully look beautiful under Colan’s pencil. Daredevil wins by kicks and punches, and rarely uses his wits. Lee also gives DD the most absurd secret identity since Clark Kent when blind lawyer Matt Murdock pretends to be his own identical twin, non-blind blowhard Mike Murdock.

The Daredevil of these issues is a second-tier hero badly in need of a decent villain. At this time, Bullseye and the Hand hadn’t been invented yet, and the Kingpin was still a Spider-Man villain. What the reader gets instead is a slew of unpowered bad guys dressed in silly super suits: Stilt Man, Leap Frog, Gladiator, Cobra, Matador, the Masked Marauder. Appearances by Dr. Doom are refreshing but incongruent. Other than that, the only really interesting baddies are the Ani-Men and the Jester.

Judging from this volume, the early run of the Daredevil title was not one of Marvel’s better offerings of the 1960s. Fans of Colan’s art, however, will enjoy this volume. As is often the case with these Essential volumes, however, the reproduction quality of the art is not always great.

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