Friday, January 6, 2023

Essential Daredevil Volume 4 by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan, et al.

Colan delivers excellent art, and the stories are getting better
Marvel’s’ Essentials line of trade paperbacks reprints classic runs of their comic books in black and white on newsprint paper. Essential Daredevil Volume 4 reproduces issues 75 to 101 of the Daredevil title, as well as one crossover issue of the Avengers (#111). These comics were originally published with cover dates from April 1971 to July of 1973. Though at this time Daredevil was probably not one of Marvel’s more popular or groundbreaking heroes, for the most part this is a very good run of issues thanks to its talented writer and artist.

With issue #92, the Daredevil comic was retitled Daredevil and the Black Widow. The former Russian spy Natasha Romanoff plays a major role in the stories throughout this volume. Daredevil has always been somewhat of a romance comic in addition to a crime comic. Daredevil/Matt Murdock spends the first half of the volume lamenting his breakup with Karen Page until the Black Widow becomes his new love interest. The two lovers move out to San Francisco, which may seem like a radical departure from DD’s usual association with Hell’s Kitchen, but it’s actually a refreshing change of pace. The Black Widow isn’t quite an equal partner in these comics. She gets rescued a lot more than she rescues. This early in the ‘70s Marvel was still trying to get a handle on feminism, but this was a step in the right direction.

I last read Volume 2 in this series (haven’t gotten my hands on Volume 3 yet), which was written mostly by Stan Lee, and not very well. Here in Volume 4 most of the stories are written by Gerry Conway, who has really improved the quality of the Daredevil magazine immensely. Even some of Daredevil’s sillier villains (Man-Bull, for example, who makes his debut in issue #78) become reasonable and formidable opponents in Conway’s crafty stories.

The main attraction to these years, however, is the superb art of Gene Colan, who was the primary penciller of the Daredevil title throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s before Frank Miller took over. Colan’s work is particularly stunning with the inking of Tom Palmer. Colan was a great anatomist, and every Daredevil fight he draws is like a well-choreographed ballet. He was also very skilled at balancing light and shadow, amounting to a style that calls to mind film noir. His creativity continued to evolve and improve over time, which is evident when one follows the run of his Daredevil issues. The reproduction quality of the black and white art in Volume 4 is very good, with the exception maybe of a few murky pages here and there.

Unfortunately, the final four issues included in this volume do not feature Conway or Colan, and the writing and art suffers as a result, amounting to a descent into mediocrity. Steve Gerber takes over the writing and delivers a forgettable crossover with the Avengers and the X-men, as well as introducing some goofy villains like Angar the Screamer, a macho hippie whose shrieks have an effect equivalent to LSD. Conway and Colan’s work is so good overall that it is a shame to end the book with these lackluster issues. Nevertheless, the volume as a whole is pretty good and should please any fan of 1970s Marvel Comics.
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