And then the impossible happened. The superhero lost. He was not dead, at least not yet, so there was still hope. But the fate that awaited him was far worse than the quick release a sudden demise granted. His foe would turn his lonely, bitter defeat into a public view to a kill, with the big, bald villain savoring every ounce and every drop out of the victory his carefully laid plans and hidden machinations had won. While the bested hero had no way of knowing what horror his nemesis had in store for him, other than that his death foretold would be transformed into a spectacle of loud, bombastic theatrics that exposed the man’s sense of showmanship as well as his propensity for cruel violence and sadism, all he was left with for now was to wait until he and his rival were to meet again. He as a captive, the latter triumphant. All he could do, really, was to steel himself for what lay ahead in what might be the last moments he’d walk the Earth. Even in this
trap he knew that the life he’d led up to his point had been taken from him. Locked away in a dungeon that was far closer to hell than to heaven, everything he held dear, the whole country even, the people and things he’d taken for granted, they were hopelessly out of his reach. Now his world didn’t extend beyond the brick walls that marked the borders of his narrow cage. With senses as keen as his, he knew that the clawing fingers of his enemy were touching all he held dear, with a grip that was corrosively defiling. Not only his life but the whole country had gone to seed as power-hungry men were moved into key positions of influence in the government and society, classless men without taste who reeked of corruption. Still there was one thing no opponent, no matter how fiendishly clever or how big and strong he may ever be, could take from him. His optimism was unshakable, his conviction that he would persist no matter the odds. But then again, in reality, this belief was founded on nothing. Deep in his heart, the hero, this daredevil, was painfully aware that he couldn’t go at it alone. The chips had been down before, but not like this, like this, they hadn’t. He wouldn’t reveal this to another person, not even to the blonde woman he loved, the one person he wanted to protect above all else, but truth be told, he was afraid. After all, heroes weren’t supposed to lose their fights. But being afraid, in a weird way, this was a good thing, for a man without fear is a man without hope. That he knew fear, this meant that he still had hope. As it turned out, others had hope as well, hope in him, in his ability to make things right again. He was not a man without optimism and was also not a man without allies. Or so it seemed. He couldn’t see the face of his benefactor, but the tiny container that was lowered on a thin string from the little window high above his head, it came into sharper focus with every inch it traveled. Daredevil, in shackles and chained to a wall, sensed that it was a little bottle that was attached to that string. The manacles he’d been forced into allowed his arms and hands some movement, and soon he held the vial between the fingers of one hand. With the other hand he removed the note that came with the unusual gift he’d just received. Though the person who wanted him to have the bottle didn’t speak and he could not tell if this individual was a man or a woman, the handwritten missive offered fourteen words in way of an explanation: “When the time comes, instinct will tell you what to do with this bottle!” Then there was this. The communication was signed with the words “a Friend”. From the handwriting he was able to deduce that the sender was indeed a woman, and how strangely fitting, since by now his fingers had touched the label on the flacon. This vial, it contained certain death. Surely, the hero had to ask himself if this was to be his moment of reckoning. The moment of truth when all bravado and bluster subsided and you stood naked, unmasked for who you truly were. Was this his final test to see if he was made of sterner stuff or if he was ready to take the easy way out? But perhaps this woman knew more than he. Daredevil understood that some time had passed since he’d been incarcerated in this prison with walls he couldn’t dream of scaling even if his arms and legs were free. Cut off from all human interaction and any information pertaining to the latest developments, he could only imagine the unspeakable acts that were perpetrated by his arch-nemesis and his cruel henchmen in their lust for control. Maybe his friend wanted to let him know that there was no way out but the easy way out. Poison was often a woman’s choice. Poison was the stuff of fairy tales. Now a tale that ended with the villain victorious, and the one man who could stop him, who’d always fought and beat him up to this point, driven to suicide, it would have made for one extremely dark story. And this was what this was, a tale in a cheaply produced, four color comic book for 10 cents which was intended for kids and perhaps a handful of servicemen. But at their core, these fanciful stories of fit men and women who donned outlandish costumes and adopted semi-original names, they were created to inspire their readers, to tell them that no matter the situation or how dire the circumstances, you could overcome your trouble if only you showed dedication and put your mind to it. If a defeated hero being handed an escape in the shape of poisoned apple seemed way too depressing for such an objective, apparently you hadn’t read Daredevil’s origin story. No matter the obstacles other heroes had to face, this hero had to deal with a major disadvantage from the start. His origin tale was the grimmest tale there was. You see, Daredevil was the first superhero with a disability, though he wasn’t born that way. Nature had wanted for him to be a typical All-American kid, handsome and blonde, an athletic, untroubled boy who would grow into an equally attractive, productive member of society, a man of the establishment. In fact, Bart Hill was born without a flaw or any worries, unless born rich was a flaw. Bart Hill was a part of the establishment from birth. Bart’s father was a successful inventor with the ingenious mind of a Nikola Tesla, though judging from his decidedly WASP background and his fortune, his status was comparable to that of Thomas Edison. This home life, though, it wouldn’t last for long. This wealth he had known from the second the boy took his first breath, while a wellspring of security and stability, it was also the instrument that was to scar him, to rob him of one of his senses and worst of all, to unmake his family. Wealth, it was like a drug, a poison of sorts. His father’s money, his fame, the many adulation that were heaped upon him, they attracted the kind of radical elements from the wrong part of town that float freely to wherever there’s cash to be made on the backs of men who studied and worked hard like true Calvinists and Americans did. But why work if you could steal? The men who came to their house looked like businessman in their suits and with the fedora hats they wore but their faces were those of hardened crooks. They came for the invention of the boy’s father. It was not something Mr. Hill would give away lightly. Frustrated, they killed him, and they killed his wife. As for the child who became an orphan in an instant, as if to give him a taste of what his life would like now and in future, they took a hot branding iron. The tip of the smoldering branding iron, it was shaped like boomerang. Without regard for the boy’s age or the shock from the ordeal he had just been made to witness, the brutal murder of his beloved parents, the gangsters branded his little bare chest. There had to have been something in him that these men sensed, a determination, perhaps an optimism, that went beyond anything his soft features suggested. There had to be, because otherwise he would have given in to the terror, would have given up on life. Instead, all they did to his family and him, it managed to reveal that he was made of sterner stuff than most men, let alone children. No sooner were the men gone, they vanished into the night that had spewed them out earlier like the human refuse they were, now it helped to conceal them, did the boy rise to his feet. Later, as he stood at the graves of his father and mother, he took a silent oath: “I swear to devote my time on Earth to make crime pay for the death of my mother and father.” It was a vow that came without words. This boy, Bart Hill, he no longer spoke.
The first-time readers saw Daredevil, Master of Courage was when they picked up Silver Streak Comics No. 6 (cover-dated September 1940), and in some ways, this issue also marked the last time they would see this latest superhero, though they could have been forgiven if they missed him the first time around. Silver Streak Comics from Lev Gleason Publications came with an interesting marketing ploy. Not to be drowned out by an avalanche of new comic books that hit the newsstands and spinner racks on a daily basis it seemed, all featuring a muscular dude in some costume that was as colorful and tight-fitting as the garb of an acrobat, in the wake of the success of the first superhero Superman, publisher and editor Gleason made a super-villain the star of his series, and what a formidable and gruesome villain he was. The Claw was a grotesque-looking sorcerer who hailed from an unnamed Asian country. If his look was seen as borderline racist, the border had been moved considerably in the wrong direction. Claw’s skin was of a light yellow, his eyes were extremely slanted, like his pointy ears, a feature that conveyed to a child reader that he was a most devious person. Then there were his fingers. They were like claws, with nails that seemed to extend at will. The same was true for his size. The Claw would appear as a regular-sized man, then from one moment to the next, and with ease, he would grow to the size of a skyscraper, an ability that made a mockery of America’s achievements in engineering, but a huge villain was viewed as a spectacle that was appealing to kids who often have an affinity for dinosaurs. It was just about the only thing that made him attractive to somebody, given that he sported fang-like teeth as well. He was a stereotypical Asian bad guy, still he was the uncontested superstar of this publication. There weren’t any heroes for him to fight in the first issues, perhaps they were afraid. Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany was shaking in his boots as well when right in the next issue the Asian sorcerer offered
his aid to the very real, mustache-wearing war criminal. The Claw would support Der Führer by conquering the continent, with half of Europe as the price to pay for his services, of course. By issue No. 3 there were finally some half decent heroes, though they kept their distance from the Asian mastermind, especially since his creator had also given him the power of hypnotism. His creator was the very real Jack Cole, a writer-artist turned editor who is most widely known for his breakout character Plastic Man who made his debut a year later in the soon to be extremely popular Police Comics. Initially, the quirky Plastic Man and Daredevil shared the same fate. Except for a little inset, he didn’t make it on the cover of his debut issue which featured the long forgotten and honestly pretty lame buccaneer hero Firebrand. The cover for Silver Streak Comics No. 6, which presented the origin of Daredevil, Master of Courage among many other stories, offered an especially horrific image of The Claw, who paid homage to his own name since he held a number of broken men and women between his giant claw-like fingers and nails, almost as if they were the tin toys of a child, albeit shattered playthings, nonetheless. This nightmare inducing cover came courtesy of Cole who knew how to sell comic books to the children of America. As the cover told kids, this issue saw the return of The Claw, and this promise and Cole’s terrific and terrifying illustration was most likely the reason why this book and others sold nearly a million copies. Daredevil’s origin tale, the fifth tale in this thick pamphlet, didn’t just seem incidental, it was. As for the origin story itself, in a manner of efficiency that would easily put any modern comic book writer to shame, it all happened on one page which was one page less than Bill Finger and Bob Kane had needed to tell the origin of Batman in Detective Comics No. 33. That book, which had finally revealed how The Batman had come to be, hit newsstand about a year earlier, but the story was clearly on writer Don Rico’s mind. Still interestingly, the image that many people think they remember from Batman’s origin tale, it is nowhere to be found in this original version. Like Bart Hill a year later, newly orphaned Bruce Wayne made an oath by evoking “the spirits of my parents”, only that he did it in his bedroom, and by the light of a single candle. He did not stand at the headstones that marked the graves of his wealthy parents as he uttered his fateful vow that was to determine the rest of his life. Bart Hill did. But there was something else. While most comic book historians (Finger did himself) will argue that it was really Finger’s characterization of The Batman and his civilian alter-ego Bruce Wayne, as well as his input where the visuals were concerned, that gave The Caped Crusader the required endurance to become a sensation first and then a pop culture icon, it is apparent that in the case of Daredevil, there were two artists who created this character, who made him a hero and a megastar. The first of the men was Jack Binder. He had two older brothers. The Binder brothers were veterans, legends even, of the pulp magazines. Landing on the obvious pen name Eando Binder, Jack’s siblings Earl and Otto were prolific authors of pulp science fiction, before Otto, with assist from Jack, started his second career as a writer of comic books in 1939. Not only had Jack made a name for himself as an artist by that time, in an industry that was still in its infancy, he was running a shop, in other words he owned a studio that packaged entire comic books for outfits like Gleason’s. Additionally, he’d also provide comic stories to books that were overseen by the publisher directly, for example Silver Streak Comics. Picking up a few storytelling tricks from his siblings, Binder’s fingerprints are all over the origin of Daredevil, not only in his role as artist. The extremely violent treatment Bart Hill had to endure, as a child no less, the idea that the boy would pick up a boomerang since that was what the scar on his chest looked like, deeply seared into his flesh, the pathos that came with his trauma that had rendered him mute, these elements feel like they are right out of the pulps, and this was only for starters. Binder’s Daredevil looked a bit bizarre, granted, but his roots were more in line with the pulp anti-heroes of the 1930s than anything comic books had to offer during the patriotic days before America was forced into the Second World War. There was one exception of course, Batman, still in his first adventure, Daredevil looks and acts very much like a precursor to the eponymous masked thief Diabolik, the creation of the Italian sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani who first appeared in digest-sized, black and white booklets in Italy in 1962. On the surface, the two characters seem very distinct from one another. Diabolik wears an all-black costume versus Daredevil, who is dressed rather strangely. Like Diabolik twenty years later, when in his guise as crime-fighter, Bart Hill put on a full-face mask and a tight bodysuit, only that in his case the suit was symmetrically divided, with one half colored yellow, the other half dark blue. A leather belt with red metal spikes divided the top and the lower half, with two triangular patterns serving as an additional division at the mid-point of his athletic body. His weapon of choice was the boomerang he’d learned to master as a child. Still, with the way Binder had Daredevil emote via his eyes that were visible like Diabolik’s despite the mask, there is a striking similarity to the thief who knew how to outwit every police officer like Daredevil seemed one step ahead of the criminals he hunted. Both men communicate via their eyes, and though they are on different sides of the law, they follow their own moral code. The slick Italian thief strictly adheres to ancient rules, the hero must forever stay true to the vow he took as a boy, alas in achieving their objectives, their methods are similar. Early on in Daredevil’s inauguration, he forcefully downs a small aircraft to stop two bank robbers from making a getaway. Both men die in the crash, but this hardly concerns Daredevil at all. What attracts his attention is a note he finds on the men, a letter that gives him the clue on how to bring down two criminal organizations at once. Clearly, with the way he athletically moves around, less a brawler but more like an Olympian, a gymnast who’s in absolute control of his lean, muscular body, and rendered to perfection by Binder, he is the original model for many artists who would work on Marvel’s Daredevil, especially in his earlier days. But there’s another intriguing facet that links this version closer to Diabolik. Though originally presented as a loner, Bart Hill was given a blonde girlfriend in his second adventure. By then, the character had seen a radical redesign by Jack Cole. The writer-artist changed the color scheme of his costume to dark red and blue, but the alterations weren’t purely confined to a cosmetic level. Without explanation, Bart was no longer mute, and just like that, his personality had been transformed. But had it? A pipe-smoking milquetoast, Bart seemed content with spending his father’s money while his butler Jarves took care of his mansion. This irritated the socially minded Tonia Saunders to no end, but she took up with his frat boy antics. He was a one-percenter and very good-looking, two very convincing arguments in economic difficult times and in times when women were told to find the right man to marry. Of course, readers who had picked up Silver Streak Comics No. 6, they knew that it was all a clever ruse. Nobody among Bart’s high society acquaintances would suspect that this shallow sunny boy was secretly a masked crimefighter, especially not Tonia. And Bart, he dared not reveal his secret identity to the woman closest to him. This was pretty much the standard dynamic between superhero characters and their love interests, something that was established with Superman and Lois Lane, and soon thereafter became a staple of the genre that proved surprisingly long-lasting. However, not under Jack Cole’s watch. Like he quickly dropped the “Master of Courage” nickname when he essentially rebooted the character, he had Tonia almost immediately learn Bart’s secret no sooner than he had introduced her. Unfortunately, there was little room for her in the tale Cole wanted to tell. This changed when Daredevil got his own series in July 1941. With artist-writer Charles Biro taking the reins, Tonia became Daredevil’s partner and his confidant, an arrangement that mirrored that of Diabolik and his lover Eva Kant, though that relationship started out in an abusive way.
Years later, the more toxic aspects of Diabolik and Eva’s affair would enter into Marvel’s Daredevil when the hero and former spy girl turned heroine Black Widow began and ended their volatile liaison. In what must be one of those strange coincidences that sometimes happen in life, one of the co-creators of the Black Widow was none other than Binder’s collaborator Don Rico. Though he wrote a number of scripts for Timely Comics and Atlas, his output for Marvel in the 1960s, before Rico successfully launched into a long-lasting career as a paperback novelist, was limited to three stories. Then writing under the name N. Korok, he wrote the script for a Doctor Strange yarn, and Don came up with the scenarios in Tales of Suspense No. 52 and No. 53 (April-May 1964), the two Iron Man tales (dialogued by Stan Lee and drawn by Don Heck) that introduced Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow. As for Rico and Binder’s creation Daredevil, publisher Lev Gleason saw the potential, but he didn’t like much else. It fell to Jack Cole to make something of him, and Cole surely delivered. A year before Gleason would stumble on the mega-hit he’d been hoping for, the groundbreaking crime comic series Crime Does Not Pay that would be studied and imitated by his competitors, including a fledgling E.C. Comics until they hit paydirt with a new trend of their own, Cole gave him the most unexpected breakout character of 1941, and Cole did it several months before he came up with Plastic Man. When Silver Streak Comics No. 7 (January 1941) saw print, more than a quarter of a year had gone by, time enough for most kids not to remember the hero from his rather depressing origin story, and with the way he looked and behaved now, even if they did recall his first adventure, there wasn’t much left that resembled his earlier incarnation. Two aspects of the character that Cole
carried forward were the hero’s athleticism and his optimism. But what made Daredevil a superstar was a stroke of genius. The writer-artist pitted Rico and Binder’s guy against Silver Streak’s marquee super-villain The Claw. When everything was said and done, nothing remained of the scourge of the criminal underworld who’d embarked on a one-man mission to avenge the brutal murder of his parents only one issue earlier, but issue No. 7 was just the beginning. Not just being content with a redesign and removing Daredevil from what in essence was a noir world, Cole’s ploy became apparent when readers discovered that there wouldn’t be a neat resolution once they’d reached the end of this already massive 16-pager. Instead of doing another one-and-done story that were the order of the day, something readers had come to expect, he presented this throwdown “The Claw and The Daredevil” as an exciting 5-parter, and it was epic. Though Cole surely had a knack for humorous cartooning, a talent he would bring to Plastic Man, this storyline was a grim and gritty affair before somebody got the bright idea to use these words to describe a modern trend in sequential storytelling. Right from the start Cole let readers know that the stakes couldn’t be any higher. A hand-written note appeared on the first page, advising readers who had “a weak heart… not to venture further!” Cole’s spiel only meant that kids had to read this story, and what they saw was a study in contrast. There were soldiers dying in a theater of war while on a bucolic strip of farmland of the American Midwest, Mr. Hill and his new lady friend Tonia Saunders were having a picnic. Whereas Ms. Saunders almost felt guilty of how lucky they were, when compared to whatever “those poor souls in Europe” had to face, Bart was surely grateful that they lived in “this great land of freedom!” But then their afternoon in the sun is ruined by a sudden thunderstorm which sends them packing. Right on cue there was a caption from Cole who told readers that this was one bad omen and you better believed it. Next, the writer-artist cut to an exterior shot of Claw’s castle, a huge skull, then to several interior shots which depicted near naked Asian men who danced in utter worship of their fiendish master. But one among the men was a traitor. This provided Cole with a perfect opportunity to show (not tell) what Daredevil and America were up against. After he had grown in size until the men were simply mere dolls at his feet, he simply lifted the treacherous one into the air. With his bony fingers tightening slowly, he squeezed the life out of this unfortunate individual until his blood dripped from the megalomaniacal villain’s long nails. Still, the fate that awaited the other men was not much kinder. In a nice example of comic book logic of the early 1940s, The Claw had his minions drill a tunnel to America. Once his slave laborers had completed their virtually impossible task within the span of a few panels, the Asian super-villain immediately went on the attack. But alas, not all was lost. Here was Daredevil, and no matter what elaborated traps the evil sorcerer threw at him, the hero overcame them all, and with ease. With building crumbling or getting entirely demolished, Daredevil and his foe opened the purple testament of war, with neither party willing to give an inch. But the hero did win the first round, with The Claw beating a hasty retreat, but there was Daredevil in the final panel to caution readers. This was only the first round. Surely, the villain would return for his revenge. And return he did of course, right in the next issue. Like with the previous issue, Cole showed readers what to expect on the cover. This was round two of a battle to the finish. This time, The Claw used his superior mind. Bart Hill was shocked to learn that a new tax bill had been passed that demanded fifty percent of whatever you earned or owned. Naturally, this new brand of socialism did not sit well with someone this wealthy. But it didn’t end there. Came next Sunday, he and his neighbors learned that all the churches had been closed, with armed Army personnel standing guard at the entrance ways. This was when Bart had it. No country could exist without faith. It was time for Mr. Hill to go to Washington. Naturally, Daredevil did travel in style, namely in his very own private plane, which came in red and was aptly named “Airdevil”. No sooner had he landed safely, did the masked vigilante pay a visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue where he demanded to learn from the current resident what was up with all these laws and regulations which had an utterly adverse effect on the rich and the faithful. Daredevil is quick to gather that the mightiest man in the world must be acting under some kind of hypnotic spell with only one cause to blame. “This is the work of The Claw, I’ll wager!!” he exclaims, and while the President has some work to do to fight the suggestions of the powerful villain, the Vice President returns to the country to normalcy. But when his enemy finds out about another foiled plan of his, he decides to take the kid gloves off his claws. This is when he arms his men with tanks. Seated behind the wheel of his own drill craft, he attacks several American cities with abandon, no matter the cost in human lives on each side. Soon, many civilians are hopelessly crushed beneath the oncoming tanks of his invading forces. With too many cities in peril all at once, Daredevil proposes that the defending forces are concentrated in Washington, the next logical target of the invaders he predicts. So, it comes to pass, but his arch-nemesis outwits the masked fighter during a critical moment during the skirmish. This time it is his plane that is downed in the assault. Any reader who had picked up part one of this wild story, surely had to gasp audibly when The Claw rushed towards the crash site not in his regular size, but as tall as one of the high-rises this monster had toppled in his first wave of attacks. Surely you remembered how The Claw had crushed one of his own man with one hand. But the man’s vanity got the better of him when Daredevil successfully taunted him by calling him a coward who wouldn’t dare go up against him if the playing field was leveled out. Goaded thusly, The Claw shrunk down until he and the hero could meet eye to eye, which of course was a big mistake. But though Daredevil wacked him hard in the mouth, surprisingly, the villain recovered and for a while their fistfight was evenly matched. Finally, as boys and girl readers knew it would, good triumphed over evil. He ended up in a federal prison where he’d await his execution. Meanwhile, Hill foolishly assumed that he could retire his crimefighting alter-ego for the time being to go on a fishing trip, only now it was he who committed a serious blunder. As a superhero he still had a lot to learn, and his latest lesson was a very basic one: evil doesn’t take a holiday. No sooner was he placed in the electric chair, did The Claw regain his awesome power. He freed himself by crushing the prison walls as if they were made of paper. But like some inmates will, he’d made some new friends in the slammer. Thus, he didn’t hesitate to set the entire prison population free as well, not in an act of kindness, but since he knew that these jailbirds could quite easily be turned into his unwitting slaves. This was the scenario with which Cole kicked off the third act in his four-colored magnum opus that was this brutal feud between the hero and the villain with America the prize that awaited the victor. It was mind-boggling and it sounded totally bonkers, but for six-year-old boys and girls it was the best thing ever. The whole nation as the spoils of war, no other comic book title had ever dared to raise the stakes this high, and in fact no series would for quite some time. Who knew, the hero might lose. This was Jack Cole’s true gift. He made the fanciful seem possible.
The prison break was only the start. With all of the escapees willing to follow his leadership and his plan that wanted for nothing less than a complete overthrow of the American government, he now had his private Army of hardened criminals who all held a grudge against their own country. The villain and his crew wasted no time to set up a functioning base of operation. What made all of this weirdly believable was how the writer-artist grounded the events in reality. Instead of going on the next attack, The Claw used his powers to steal food and other supplies for the men, and the material they needed to set up a small fortress. As he locks himself in his new laboratory to build bombs, his highly motivated men keep busy with doing construction work. What makes this tale even more astonishing from a purely narrative point of view is Cole’s background. Jack Cole was an illustrator first and foremost, still in many respects his instinctive grasp of storytelling fundamentals far surpassed that of his contemporaries, possible with just a handful of exceptions like Bill Finger and Jack Binder’s brother Otto.
Cole was just twenty-six when wrote, penciled and inked these stories. Born on December 14, 1914, Cole was completely self-trained as an artist save for a single correspondence course he took in his teens. After he graduated from high school at seventeen, he made a solo-bicycle tour across America, to Los Angeles and back home to his place of residence in New Castle, Pennsylvania where he proposed to his girlfriend Dorothy. Working a dayjob at a bottling plant, he honed his artistic craft during the night. In 1936, he and his wife made the leap to New York City where the aspiring artist hoped he’d find work with one of the glossy magazines that were popular in those days. What he found instead was the new medium of comics. Cole was soon hired by one of the studios that like Jack Binder’s own shop provided publishers with completed issues of any given comic book, made to order and ready to be printed. Gleason, one of their clients, was very impressed by Cole’s ability to tell a story visually and he realized that Cole might be suitable for a higher calling, which in return meant job security for the young family man. Gleason asked Cole what to make of Rico and Binder’s Daredevil, and Cole told him how he’d approach the character and his world. After the first pages had made it to his desk, the publisher offered Cole the position of editor. His intuition in regard to the level of quality the talented cartoonist would be able to achieve were spot on. Having set the stage for The Claw to gain new weapons with his scientific knowledge, he’d assembled a device that fried the engine of every airplane that flew past his headquarters, thus enabling him to commandeer a small fleet of fighter jets, it was time for the villain to beat his foe once and for all. And as he’d promised with the note on the first page to this unprecedented storyline, this wasn’t something for a person with a “weak heart”. When the hero launched a brazen one-man assault on Claw’s fortress, the sneaky villain hit him over the head with a plank of wood. Surrounded by the sorcerer’s army of convicts and severely incapacitated due to his head trauma, the masked vigilante had little choice but to surrender. Daredevil was tied to a stake, and as hungry flames began to leap up from the ground towards his muscular thighs, his fate seemed sealed. Like a witch in medieval times, Daredevil was burned at the stake while he still yet lived. Once the gruesome deed was done, The Claw mailed the ashes of the hero to the police as a sardonic means to break the morale of the uniformed men. Lo, the fool-hearted Americans, they even broadcast the sad news via their modern radio band, calling all frequencies to inform the entire country that their valiant champion had been slain in combat. Cole turned the screw even a little tighter when he capped off the page with letter box, marked by a black border no less, to pay tribute to Daredevil, a man who “died as he lived, fighting for right. And may his memory serve as an inspiration to all American youth to live a clean life.” Now, that was surely something you didn’t find in Action Comics or Detective Comics. But things only got worse. With his arch-nemesis having kicked the bucket, there was nothing to stop The Claw from unleashing an all-out assault on America. But then, suddenly, a familiar red plane zoomed into the frame to intercept the airfighters of the tyrant. Being the mastermind that he was, The Claw was quick to surmise that only one man would be able to handle this devilish plane in such an apt manner. But that seemed impossible, Daredevil had died (albeit off panel to spare those who suffered from a heart condition or where otherwise of a poor constitution). While this was technically true, there was a catch. With Bart on his fishing trip, an error he shan’t repeat this lightly, his brother had tried to take his place, to disastrous effects. Bart’s hitherto unmentioned sibling had perished in the fire. But to Bart this was of minor concern, there was no time for mourning, not when you had to reckon with such a diabolic fiend as The Claw. And sure enough, even the real Daredevil is quickly subdued. With nobody to stop them, the sorcerer’s fleet of stolen fighter planes wears down all the defenses the country has mobilized. Tied to a chair in the villain’s command center, he learns the shocking news from The Claw himself. America has surrendered. Thus, The Claw was now the Emperor of America, though as the tied-up hero was quick to assert, he surely lacked the proper leadership skills. Just like that, Cole let his story fall shut, forcing readers to wait a whole month to see how this wild ride continued. It did continue with The Claw seizing control of the government and the whole nation while the hero was incarcerated in a dark dungeon. Quite the contrast to the lavish palace the first emperor of America now resided in. This was also the location to which he had his merciless men bring the most attractive women in the country by the boatload. The men, the former inmates and collaborators The Claw had picked up along his rise to power, were now all decked out in uniforms as such behoved the rulers of this new American society. The fiend makes his choice and soon one of the beauties is crowned as Empress of America, albeit she’s not happy about it. Showing he had a fine sense for interior design, the despot had his palace outfitted with an impressive arena. What better spectacle to inaugurate this splendid indoor coliseum with, than with the execution of Daredevil in front of a crowd of excited onlookers. Public opinion was rather fickle it seemed. One day they’ll cheer you on as their champion, the next day they want to see you canceled. But as he was led into the arena by some of the criminal mastermind’s henchmen, Daredevil had more pressing matters to contemplate than idle philosophical tealeaf reading. The masked vigilante spotted a huge tank with water that had been placed right in the center of the amphitheater. Since readers had no way of knowing what sadistic trap the new sovereign of their home country had come up with, albeit in no small thanks to Jack Cole’s vivid imagination, he offered a helpful explanation to his shot-gun bride who wore a crown that was lovingly adorned with a skull: “Notice the tank is swarming with fish. Hungry piranhas! The most vicious fish alive! Now watch!” But the thought bubble that Cole gave to the woman clued readers in that not all was what it seemed: “You’re in for a surprise, dog!” Alas, no sooner was he “shoved into the vat of killer-fish”, did Daredevil experience their sharp bite on a personal level. Trying to punch them with his terrific jackhammer-like fists availed him naught. There were too many of these little beasts with a taste for his flesh. The crowd, raging with a blood lust of the human variation, went berserk with anticipation. Exhilarated screams pierced the air like the tiny, sharp teeth of the piranhas did with his skin, teeth that were liable to rent his flesh from his bones if this perverse show continued any further, not that the crowd wanted it to end in a good way. “Kill ‘im! Kill ‘im! We want blood!” were some of the words that resounded from the walls of the cavernous hall inside the monarch’s palace. As the masked adventurer contemplated his predicament and his lack of viable options, it did occur to him that it had been good if he hadn’t wasted the easy way out that the bottle of poison strongly suggested. He was no man without fear, clearly, but that also meant that he was no man without hope either. He was made of sterner stuff, definitely. Daredevil’s instincts told him what to do with the lethal substance.
The murderous piranhas, they died swiftly and all at once. With his tiny assassins taken care of, it was time for the ripped superheroes to put his strong shoulders to the wheel, or more aptly put, to the walls of his glass prison. Well, in the end it were the spikes on his belts that did most of the work, but there wouldn’t be any sticklers for details among the readers, save the most obnoxious ones that were always difficult to please and thus missed out on the fun. And what fun it was to see Daredevil leap up into the air and to the balcony from which his arch-nemesis had the best view to a kill that just got put off. But the surprised villain was not the hero’s goal, not this time anyway. Moving as fast as greased lightning, he slung his arms around the tiny waist of the recently crowned Empress of America and with jolts from his muscular thighs, he made off with her from the theater box. Too stunned was his foe to immediately realize what had happened. Luckily, there was a motorbike that was conveniently parked right outside, and before the surprised guards could take proper aim, the superhero and his lovely cargo were bound for a ride through the night. You see, Daredevil, he had figured out that it had to have been this woman, this stranger, who had lowered the bottle with the poison into the dungeon. While one may argue that the “let’s poison the fish” resolution doesn’t feel earned, this misses the point Cole wanted to make.
In a time of oppression, there is a need for a resistance movement, not just the heroes, in whatever shape and form they might come, but a movement of men and women who operate in the shadows and often go nameless, exactly like the woman who gave Daredevil the vial which contained certain death. If you were a kid, and perhaps even if you were an adult, this was a powerful message and a very potent one. Though the United States were months away from a war, this war had ravaged the European continent and other places around the globe. Numerous Americans didn’t want to see their country get involved in what they viewed as a foreign conflict that had nothing to do with American interests. However, here was Cole who told the kids of America that whenever and wherever a despot seizes power, it was your responsibility to decide if you wanted to be a face in a crowd that cheered while democracy died a slow death, or did you want to oppose those who did unlawful things. Every single act counted. That he said it, and how he said it, least of all in a comic book, is a testament to Cole’s talent as a storyteller, though this would prove a double-edged sword, for Daredevil and his new fans at first, then for Cole himself in the most tragic of ways. While readers couldn’t even begin to know why things were suddenly different, when they picked up a copy of Silver Streak Comics No. 11 (cover-dated June 1941) with bated breath, eager to find out how the saga continued, they immediately noticed that they were. The issue was one crushing disappointment. Neither the story, which concluded the feud between the villain and the hero seemingly once and for all, nor the art were particularly good. Jack Cole, being pulled every which way by his new responsibilities as an editor, simply didn’t have time to finish the job he’d started. Don Rico was his replacement, but he made a mess of things. In all fairness, Rico inherited a thankless task. After he’d co-created Daredevil, the younger Cole had turned him into a new superstar, and now he got stuck with an ongoing story. Still, the contrast between Cole’s intricate plotting and his ability to switch from dynamic battle scenes to quiet moments, to the ham-fisted fantasy tale that Rico delivered as writer as well as artist, couldn’t have been any more jarring. He continued with the character for one issue, then the superhero said goodbye to his former home and to the man who had brought him into a wild world that existed with two-dimensions and four-colors. Lev Gleason and his newly appointed right-hand man Cole had concluded that the increased sales numbers and the many effusive letters they had received were grounds enough to make Daredevil the star of his own book, and obviously, they wouldn’t let Rico anywhere near it. Instead, Gleason decided to give another creator a shot at the big game. Charles Biro was in many ways the opposite of Cole. Three years Cole’s senior, Biro was a much-respected illustrator and cover designer, but he was no wunderkind. Biro had in fact studied classical art for many years. He clearly lacked the sturm and drang energy with which Cole approached his work, or his humor for that matter, but he was a similarly meticulous plotter. But like his colleague Cole, Biro was also a risk taker. Case in point, the first issue (cover-dated July 1941) wasn’t simply called Daredevil but Daredevil Battles Hitler. Having superheroes go up against the dictator of Germany on the cover of a comic book months before the country officially entered into the war, wasn’t particularly original, not since Simon and Kirby had their Captain America punch Der Führer on the chin four months earlier, but Biro took it to the next level. In the first story, he had the hero infiltrate Hitler’s top secret meeting in Berchtesgaden where he and his military leaders where in the final stages of planning the invasion of England across the Channel. Having learned what he needed to, the hero took a sudden leave of absence, but not before punching Hitler in the stomach. The irony being, it wasn’t Daredevil who made it into the Nazi leader’s inner circle but Bart Hill. He was tall, muscular and blonde, and in that he was an ideal specimen of the master race. This wouldn’t be Hitler’s only appearance in the book, though. In a jungle adventure, in which Hill wore his red and blue costume and he teamed-up with another Lev Gleason hero, the Nazi boss lost his little ‘stache when a well-placed arrow left him clean shaven under the nose. With Cole assisting Biro to get the first issue across the finishing line, the book was a smash success. All of this was a bit fanciful, and the terror of the real historical events notwithstanding, played for laughs. Perhaps this was the way to go with a real dictator, to make fun of him. However, the series was renamed to Daredevil Comics with issue No. 2, most likely for the better. Ironically, once Biro turned to made-up villains, this was when he began to make the series more serious and grounded, albeit less brutal than what readers had gotten from Cole. As he stretched his wings, he also developed the relationship between Bart and Tonia. When Tonia became the victim of a hypnotist in issue No. 3 (September 1941), and it seemed that she’d killed a judge, this was but a storytelling device Biro used to have Bart show some real emotions for once. As Ms. Saunders got arrested and then put on trial for a murder she couldn’t remember having committed, the hero frantically searched for the real culprit to save his lover. Before Daredevil was able to succeed, this was when she received the death penalty. Confronted with a newspaper headline that proclaimed: “Pardon Refused! Tonia Saunders must die tonight!”, Bart had to face the possibility that his lover might very well get executed. Biro put a lot of heart and emotion into the story and so did Bart. Still, Daredevil managed to win the day, and as it turned out, Tonia hadn’t killed anyone. In the wake of the ordeal, the couple had forged a much stronger bound which was exactly what Biro had wanted to achieve. Speaking of bonds, however, readers fell out of love with Silver Streak Comics. Without his star, the book wasn’t that interesting. Sensing an opportunity, Gleason re-branded the book as Crime Does Not Pay, and thus, together with Daredevil Comics, he suddenly had two books that moved millions of copies in any given months. But things had yet to settle down. For one, another publisher, Everett Arnold, had been paying attention to the work Cole was doing. Arnold, a man who’d had a major hand in Will Eisner landing the gig for a new syndicated newspaper strip, events that had led to the creation of The Spirit, made Cole a better offer than what Gleason was willing to pay. Once Cole had landed at Arnold’s shingle, Quality Comics, this was when he created his famous hero Plastic Man. The success Jack Cole was enjoying with a fun character, the gifted writer-artist had once again a character on his hands who was wildly popular, wasn’t lost on Biro. He began to rethink his more grounded approach for Daredevil and this in turn led to the introduction of a kid gang to the series. Though as a writer and illustrator he lacked Cole’s talent for visual jokes and subversive humor, his supporting characters, whom he had named Little Wise Guys, moved the sales on Daredevil up considerably. Eventually, the Little Wise Guys would save the Daredevil from cancellation when superheroes suddenly fell out of favor with readers after the war. Indeed, the near impossible did happen. Daredevil got pushed out of his own book by a bunch of kid characters. All told, Biro stayed nearly sixteen years on the series until the book got the axe in September 1956. That Biro did remain this long on the book that eventually became a funny book, is somewhat surprising. His sensibilities were clearly geared towards more grounded material as his earlier yarns attest. Two issues after he had introduced his new supporting players to the readers, the writer-artist killed off one of the kids, a mistake he wouldn’t make again. But when working on a character called Daredevil, maybe some darkness was part and parcel of the deal. Tragically, in many respects, Biro was the Salieri to Jack Cole’s Mozart. In the end, like with the two composers, fate would see to it that tragedy struck down the more gifted creator far too young. When the double whammy of the newly established Comics Code and the rise of television caused a dramatic decrease in readership which led to many comic professionals losing their livelihood, thus forcing them to seek work in other industries like advertising, Cole wasn’t wanting for job offers exactly. Cole had done a few, slightly risqué illustrations with a humorous bent which had caught the eye of a former staff writer for Esquire who had just launched his own men’s magazine. Cole was hired by Hugh Hefner to do cartoon illustrations for Playboy, a partnership that not only paid well, but which introduced the cartoonist to a whole new audience that clearly appreciated his work. In 1958, the cartoonist received another chance of a lifetime, namely, to create a daily newspaper strip. He was forty-three by now and he’d been a married for more than half of life. Thus, Cole created Betsy and Me, a cartoon series about a nebbish fellow, his wife and their genius son, a five-year-old called Farley. It was a popular strip, no surprise there. Together with his Playboy cartoons, and the adulation he reaped from his many new admirers, Cole had to be sitting on top of the world. But he was also the man who had put a masked adventurer through the ringer like nobody’s business. Maybe the reason why Charles Biro was never able to match his humor was for the simple fact that for Cole, humor was but the other face of tragedy, and who can really say when a man’s personal nightmare starts. Jack Cole’s might have started early on when he was the outsider among his siblings who didn’t share his interests or who had an ounce of his creative genius. Perhaps it started when he met Dorothy whom he loved dearly. We do not know, but if one looks at the dark, near surrealist tour de force that is his short run on Daredevil, it seems whatever kept him awake at night, it began early in his life. Then it got too much. On August 13, 1958, only months after he’d started Betsy and Me, another successful series, Jack Cole got into his car. He purchased a rifle, and just leaving two notes, one to Dorothy, one to Mr. Hefner, he shot himself in the head inside his Chevy station wagon. Dorothy never revealed what her husband’s last words were.
When compared to the death of a real person, the demise of the superheroes at the end of the 1940s seems small. It was small. And contrary to Jack Cole’s suicide, we know why the superheroes died. And it made sense. Jerry Siegel, one of the two fathers of the superhero genre, was born just a few months earlier than Cole. Like Cole, his father owned a store, and like Cole, Siegel had the drive to be creative, but the circumstances of their upbringing, their personalities, and their abilities to create couldn’t have been any different, still early on in their careers, they arrived at a similar idea. When Siegel was sixteen, he met Joe Shuster at school and they quickly became friends. Joe had the artistic talent that Jerry was missing, and together the duo began to write and draw short cartoon strips for their high school paper. By all accounts, their home life was a rather depressing affair, and this work provided an escape from a world that was rather dour. Both their families were just getting by, and unsurprisingly, this didn’t work any wonders for the boys’ self-esteem. While Jerry consumed genre movies and pulp stories, which he emulated in his writing, the short-sighted Joe used his money for mail-order booklets that promised to show him how to gain muscles. The pencil-thin Shuster worked out every day like a man possessed, but as the image in his mirror proved, to no real effect. At their school, despite their creative
endeavors, or simple because of them, they were shunned by girls and ridiculed by the other boys. But they had each other for company. Cole had five brothers and sisters, and his home life was a happy one. Though none of his siblings showed any creative spark, his father worked as an amateur entertainer in his spare time and his mother was a former elementary school teacher. Around the same time, he embarked on a bike tour across the country, Jerry’s father, in an attempt to stop a shoplifter, suffered a fatal heart attack. On top of the emotional pain this caused Jerry, the loss of the family’s breadwinner left them off worse than before financially. College was out of the question anyway, but not to be solely dependent on the handouts he and his mother received from their neighborhood friends and relatives, Jerry had to work odd factory jobs. Still, he and Joe worked on their ideas, but with the passing of Joe’s father, something had changed. In this cruel world which had put him at a disadvantage, then pulled the rug from under him, what seemed more logical than to create a super-villain? For this, he and Joe pulled from the pulp magazines which had experienced a transformation. With the stock market crash of 1929, exotic stories of lost worlds or worlds on Mars or the allegedly true accounts of heroism of noble soldiers during the world war, they quickly went out of style for being too tame and too outlandish. Taking their place was a new breed of hero. In 1931, The Shadow premiered, two years later, Doc Savage, rich men who fought an urban war for social justice. 1933 was also the year when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created “Reign of the Superman.” The titular character was a bald-headed man named Bill Dunn who possessed several paranormal powers. He was a powerful mind-reader and a clairvoyant, and he was able to control other men with his thoughts. It would only seem natural to Jerry that such a man would use his crazy abilities for criminal exploits. In that, the young creator took inspiration from the pulp magazines. The Shadow fought megalomaniacal men who used their supernatural powers to seize control of America, if not the entire world. There were the films as well, the first two of Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse films, the second one of which, “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse” had just premiered in theaters. But still Jerry offered a twist. His villain, Dunn, hadn’t been born with his powers nor had he learned them, instead he was a simple-minded vagrant who was tricked by an evil scientist into drinking an experimental chemical concoction. In part, this was an element Jerry lifted from Philip Wylie’s novel “Gladiator” (1930) which also featured a mad scientist type, who, in this case, unbeknownst to her, injected his pregnant wife with a drug that would affect their unborn child, a child that gained the powers of a god and would grow up to become the first superhero in popular fiction. However, that Jerry shouldn’t go the route of Wylie’s book which was about the son and not the father, seems very much tied to the sudden death of his father, an event that had just occurred a year prior and thus was still fresh on his racing mind. Looking at Jerry and Joe’s early work, with the former self-published in a magazine Jerry put out, one can’t help but realized how the lowly criminal who was to blame for the demise of his father, suddenly becomes larger than life. He is the voice of the Depression Era during which some men will find it easier to steal than to create. Dunn gets his comeuppance by the end of the tale, of course. Once the mad scientist’s drug wears off, Jerry’s super-villain loses his abilities. Dunn goes back to being a powerless vagrant, only not quite. What better punishment for such a man than to know a life in which he sat on top of the food chain and then, in the blink of an eye, to see it all slip away? In a way, this was not just Jerry exercising a fantasy of retribution, this was also emblematic of the economic downturn that took down the movers and shakers, the men who stuffed their pockets to the disadvantage of the laborers, the corrupt backroom dealers. The crash of the stock market left them no better off than where Bill Dunn ended up. By the mid-1930s, Jerry and Joe and Jack Cole entered into the nascent comic book industry. While Siegel and Shuster put together their first comic book stories, they also tirelessly re-fined Jerry’s original idea. Though he would use the mad scientist later for the villain of their new strip, Lex Luthor (who initially wasn’t bald), not much else remained but the name Superman and the world that they had built, a world the duo knew from looking outside their window. Cole on the other hand, he combined the mad scientist and Dunn into one person (though he was most likely unaware of Jerry and Joe’s self-published work), then he made him an Asian sorcerer as well, and to attract kid readers, he gave him the outlandish look of a racist caricature, those would have been prevalent in newspaper cartoons in those days. The difference being, Cole’s character didn’t lose his abilities by the end of his story, he only grew more powerful as he grew in size. Superman would eventually become a sensation once he saw publication in a comic book in 1938. While the world in which he operated had much more in common with Siegel’s first draft, and the economically broken settings of Dr. Mabuse and The Shadow, he was a good guy now, he was the champion of the oppressed. However, eighteen months later, Superman got challenged for the crown of the most popular character when Fawcett Comics’ introduced Captain Marvel in Whiz Comics No. 2, which hit spinner racks around the time of Christmas in 1939. Created by writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck, Captain Marvel was in many ways the anti-Superman. Though both heroes had fantastical abilities, the series looked nothing alike. Siegel and Shuster had brought their superhero from a dead alien world of science to a hell down here on Earth that was a contemporary metropolis with shinier front streets and dark back alleys. Every panel that Joe created felt a bit too claustrophobic and grimy. His men were rough-hewn in appearance and brutal, with their fists constantly in motion. His nylon-stockinged women exuded a raw, unfiltered, intoxicating sexuality that he wanted in his own life and which was very confusing for children. Shuster’s world was our world, only much more crudely drawn. By contrast, Beck made Captain Marvel as bright and colorful as he could get away with. Beck gave his art the room it needed to breathe, which resulted in layouts that were clean and easy to follow. He was the ideal artist for Parker’s tales which were light-hearted and fanciful. Whereas Superman was surrounded by science and money, his alter-ego, a mild-mannered newspaperman named Clark Kent, and his colleague and love interest, a ravishingly beautiful girl reporter by the name of Lois Lane, would frequent swank nightclubs, Captain Marvel lived in a world in which magic was real, and his secret identity was that of a wide-eyed child. With most comic readers being kids themselves, it is easy to see why they soon gravitated more to Fawcett’s superhero. Though both universes existed separately from one another, they were as far apart as one could only imagine, Cole combined these polar opposites when he revamped Rico and Binder’s Daredevil. His stories took place in a realistic setting that was modeled on the contemporary world that the readers knew, a locale Shuster strived to depict in his and Jerry’s stories, but when Cole allowed the magical, the fanciful access to this naturalistic world, this made for tales that were truly mesmerizing. The criminals Superman faced never posed any real threat to him. With Captain Marvel, the craziest things were liable to happen, but in the end, everything would turn out fine. This was not the case in the four Daredevil stories that Cole initially created. There was something unspeakable dark going on in these stories that was beyond the brutality of Siegel and Shuster’s power fantasies, a sadism and nightmare quality that lived in Cole, and in no other strip you saw the hero die (albeit his unfortunate brother) or America brought to her knees.
Like many of his peers, Cole anticipated the involvement of the United States in the war, but very much unlike his peers, in his mind and on the printed page, he showed his gasping readers what things would be like if the unthinkable happened and good guys lost. Could you really blame the hero if he took the easy way out? Still, Daredevil was by far the darkest strip that made it to the newsstands, and it would remain an exception. Soon, the United States entered into the war, and for a legion of superheroes that had emerged since Superman had taken flight, it was a call to arms. As every superhero, every sidekick and every woman in costume became a patriotic defender, with real-life super-villains and their hordes of minions to fight, superheroes were the biggest came in town. Gone were the corrupt politicians and the gangsters, gone was the darkness of Cole’s stories, these were supergods and they were Americans. As it would turn out, Jack Cole had been right all along. The good guys lost. After the war was won and the men returned home and the women were no longer required as workers in the factories, life slowly returned to normal, only not quite. For one, the economic landscape started to shift in a dramatic and unprecedented manner, and with long-lasting
effects. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, men who had served their country were able to attend college. For many of the men this was the first time that someone in their family should achieve the previously unattainable goal of a higher education. But during the war, money from their government had also been poured into scientific research, least of all atomic research, which meant that new scientific breakthroughs could find new applications that helped to increase the overall standard of everyday life. Still, more scientists and civil engineers were needed, and with money around and in the hands of men and women who had grown up in modest circumstances, this caused a massive spike in consumer spending and a huge economic boom in many industries. With work available, people began to move from rural areas into the cities and then into the new suburbs. This also caused a tectonic shift in the cultural makeup of the American society. Real heroes lived in the here and now. Men who’d stormed the beaches in Normandy at great personal cost, soldiers who’d raised the red, white and blue flag on Iwo Jima, the heroes of Midway. Then there were the physicists who’d harnessed the power of the atom as a source of energy, the captains of industry in whose factories the weapons were produced that had helped with defeating the powers of the axis, the engineers who built the roads and bridges, the architects of the new cities, the policemen who kept you safe, the jet pilots who tested new planes lest the Communists dared to launch a sneaky attack. Or you could turn to past where there were men who were noble in spirit like the country itself. Or if you wanted to, dream of the future. Soon, equally brave men would be going into space to perhaps visit new worlds. As for the supergods and their two-dimensional, four-colored adventures, they found it much harder to adapt to peace times. Sensing the changes in society which would ultimately lead to different appetites in the readership, some publishers were quick to phase out any superhero character. Too closely were the supergods linked to the days of the depression and the war that kids would want to read tales of their exploits, not with better heroes around. However, once a publisher had established a roster of previously immensely popular, valuable, and best of all, vastly profitable superheroes, letting them go was a hard pill to swallow, especially if all your eggs were in that one basket. Boys and girls were still reading and enjoying comics books, but they didn’t worship the supergods any longer. The supergods had to become mortal men. Superman stayed on the ground more often. He was a somewhat portlier, friendlier hero now, a dad who’d left the crazy idea of social justice of his younger days behind. While Lev Gleason sold millions of copies of his crime comic title Crime Does Not Pay (an ironically misnamed series if there ever was one), he got out of the superhero game completely. DC Comics, home of Superman among many other superheroes, managed to hold on to their biggest super-powered characters, in part because they had changed enough to still find an audience, but also because they had the best distribution. But even they had to branch out into new genres like western comics and romance books. What about their anarchistic rival Timely Comics? Publisher Martin Goodman’s comic book shingle had always been a bit dirtier with its output. Not unlike Cole, Timely’s best creators, young men like Carl Burgos, Bill Everett and Jack Kirby, were battling their own demons. Their stories were often more subversive and equally more sophisticated than what was considered par for the course across the industry. Painfully so, this had led to ban of all of Timely’s titles at the PEXs since the U.S. Army had deemed some of their material too depressing for their servicemen to read. Under the leadership of editor Joe Simon, Timely rushed a slew of superheroes to the printers that for the most part were a dime a dozen. However, three of their heroes stood out. For one, because their creators were extremely good at their job, with their art in particular two cuts above the rest, but mainly for the fact that these superheroes were different and interesting. Kirby’s (and Simon’s) Captain America was the story of a weakling who got turned into a super-soldier by an experimental drug, in a positive, more physical version of the idea Siegel had originally pursued. Then there was Burgos’ Human Torch. He was a man who could lit himself on fire at will, only that this super-power was the by-product of something else. He was supposedly a new man in that he was an android. Last, yet certainly not least, there was Everett’s Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Namor was the ruler of the fabled sunken continent that was Atlantis, and he was supremely pissed. In a massive fight, the Torch and Namor dug it out with one another because that made sense and because it was a huge spectacle that put both heroes on the map and on the minds of kids across America. What’s remarkable about this, these two gods chose our world as their battleground. Whereas Superman and Batman and the other superheroes defended cities that only resembled American cities, the Timely characters fought each other in New York City. In that, their creators pulled in the same way at the fabric of reality as Cole did, and it worked great. While Superman had initially led the charge for a more grounded realism, in that he tackled the social issues of the time, Timely’s superheroes introduced the fantastical into neighborhoods that were familiar to some readers. Burgos and Kirby were from New York and this was the world they knew, the world they had grown up in. For them, there were no posh nightclubs, especially not for Kirby. For Kirby, who was born as Jacob Kurtzberg and whose family lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, there was the rawness of abject poverty and of fists. He and Carl were the children of Jewish immigrants, and in a way, Burgos and Jack Kirby reflected the two identities of the most famous immigrant in the world of comics. Carl Burgos was the effete intellectual, something which his real name, Max Finkelstein, already conveyed. Kirby solved any conflicts he might have with other kids by punching faster than they. As for Everett, he had his own reasons to feel like a fish out of water, but together the three writer-artists laid the foundation for what would become the two most important tenets of the Marvel Universe. Not because of their powers but despite their powers, superheroes were outsiders, and they lived in the real world. Still, the war united them all, and they all faced very real enemies. When former office boy turned writer and interim editor Stan Lee became Timely’s “Managing Editor, Director of Art” in 1947, he refused to let the heroes retire. Though Timely had a line of funny animal comics early on, his first writing gigs, after Lee had graduated from writing text fillers for his boss Joe Simon back in the day, were for some of their superhero books. Seeing the decline in superhero sales after the war, though, his publisher Martin Goodman had asked him to expand their lineup, and this was what he did. There were the funny teen comics and the teen romance comics that were the staple of Archie Comics, and once there were romance comics, invented by Simon and Kirby who had long since left Timely, he did those as well. In an attempt to make the old seem all new again, Lee re-branded the whole kit and caboodle that was Timely’s output into what Stan called the “Marvel Comic Group”. With the way the biggest publisher for superhero comics, DC Comics, was still able to hang on to their most valuable superhero characters, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and even a few second stringers like Green Arrow, Lee felt that there had to be life in the likes of Captain America, the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner. With the romance comics, as started by his former boss Joe Simon and Timely’s former art director Jack Kirby, a lot of girl readers returned to the habit of reading these cheaply produced monthly pamphlets. This gave Lee the idea to try female spin-offs of two of their heroes, Namor and the Human Torch, Namora and Sun Girl respectively. As for the Sentinel of Liberty, Captain America, Lee embarked on a different experiment when he asked his writer Bill Woolfolk to give the hero’s sidekick Bucky an unexpected send-off. Captain America and Bucky had fought together in the trenches of the war. Together the heroes had faced the sadistic menace that was the Red Skull, but for Bucky it was the end of the line. He was no match for a pretty, long-legged blonde.
By 1948, the heroes, like the men and women in America, had adapted to a life in peace times. Though they still put on their tights and they still fought crime, they had settled down and they had found a girl. What had been a fantastical world in which they would go up against tanks and whole platoons on their own, it had shrunken to a small place that looked like your neighborhood. In essence, superheroes who had seemed like your big brother who defended you against the schoolyard bully only that they fought to protect the whole country, they looked like your dad now, or maybe your dad before he got married. Boys and girls who spied Captain America Comics No. 66 (April 1948) on a spinner rack were confronted with a shocking cover they thought they’d never see. Here was Bucky, the perennial smiling boy-sidekick of the Sentinel of Liberty as he was clutching his abdomen in agony. He’d been shot by a sadistic woman with a black mask who was clad in an ankle-long evening gown and a long coat. She was about to make a clean getaway, too. All Cap could do, as he seemed frozen on the spot, was to watch his young partner go down in the knees, and he was wincing in pain as well. The splash page for issue told eager readers where this was going. With artist Syd Shores pulling out all stops, the man had gotten a promotion after all, he was now Timely’s “Art Associate”, there was a full figure drawing of a beautiful blonde in a short, mini-skirted costume who was ready to take Bucky’s place. The blonde woman, she was Betsy Ross, ally and platonic love interest for Captain America since the first issue. Obviously, to better aid the Captain in his time of need, heaven forbid that he had to fight some ruthless criminals on his own, she’d
picked a superheroine identity of her own. She was now Golden Girl, and the way Shores drew her in the outfit he’d created for her, she knew how to make the most of shapely legs. Clearly, this was intended to lure boy readers in who were about to or had already hit puberty. But there was something else. With these girls around, like Golden Girl and Sun Girl, Lee and his writers had stumbled onto a new formula. Taking some cues from the romance comics, suddenly superhero comics could be about romance as well. This opened the door for a lot of soap opera melodrama. In the same issue in which Betsy replaced the boy who had fought side by side with Captain America, she became the woman by his side. Early on, Captain America revealed his secret identity to her. He even offered to train Betsy as a crimefighter, and clearly there were romantic sparks when before the possibility of a liaison or at least a romantic entanglement, had always been kept at arms-length. That Bucky did pull through became almost a footnote. Lee tried hard to peddle the characters to the readers, superheroes that just two years ago were hugely popular. But it wouldn’t take. Like Sun Girl, Golden Girl vanished quickly. He attempted to re-brand this series as a horror title because that was the hot new trend, re-naming it Captain America’s Weird Tales, but that wouldn’t last either. Except for DC’s still valuable trinity, superheroes were over. However, Stan would remember the romance angle they’d tried and file it away for later. Comic books in general on the other hand, they were still big business, and to such a degree that his boss Martin Goodman decided to create his own distribution company, Atlas Comics. However, the economics of scale only made sense if there were more books to ship. Thus, Goodman asked Stan Lee to expand their line, by more than two-thirds in fact, a quantity that left the editor to wonder what these books should be about. Careful not to make the same mistake twice, he and Goodman agreed that these shouldn’t all be horror comics. What if this new trend went away in a few years? After putting out romance books, war titles and horror comics for a few years, Goodman still demanded more books (a near fatal mistake since the bubble was about to burst). Once again stuck with the question what to put into these books, Stan decided to put the band together again, only that his motley crew of top creators had shrunken from a trio to a duo. Jack Kirby was working all over the industry except for Timely Comics which was known as Atlas Comics now. He’d soon darken the door of DC Comics where Jack had already worked in the 1940s. But with Everett and Burgos still around, here was the opportunity to bring back The Human Torch and Namor. Only that as with DC, Stan wanted the complete trinity. Captain America needed to be in the mix as well. Thus, right at the end of 1953, the three superheroes made their triumphant return, more or less, in an Atlas title called Young Men No. 24. As for his creative teams, Lee had Burgos draw a few panels of the Torch tale, consequently called “The Return… of the Human Torch”, and he did provide the cover art (Burgos would eventually return to doing interior art for his creation as well), Bill Everett was back on Namor, The Sub-Mariner. Cap and Bucky and even the evil Red Skull also returned. For the creative team for their return, called “Back from the Dead!”, for the art, Lee turned to a new rising artist named John Romita, a young man who was noticeably influenced by legendary newspaper cartoonist Milt Caniff and whose style did look nothing like Kirby’s. For the script, Lee hired the co-creator of Daredevil, Don Rico. After a try-out in yet another anthology title, Lee made the call to give the three heroes solo books again, keeping the creators as before. Unfortunately, The Torch and Captain America had very little staying power and the two books vanished after three issues respectively. Still, Rico had introduced a new element to the title that Lee (and Rico) would go back to for a new character, Iron Man. Captain America had once famously punched Hitler. Rico turned him into a “commie smasher” who defied “the communist hordes”. Verily, Cap and Bucky took on fifth columnists and super-powered commie villains like nobody else’s business, only that readers were quite blasé about the whole thing. This was 1954. The Comics Code was getting introduced, thus taking the fun away, and television was the best new invention since sliced bread. But surprisingly, there was one hero who’d shuck such developments off his naked shoulders as it behoved one of noble birth. With Bill Everett giving it his best shot, as a writer and as penciler and inker, Namor, the Sub-Mariner outlasted his colleagues. Maybe it was the amount of naked skin of a perfect body that attracted many girl readers (and boys who were into that as well) and the fact that the physique Everett gave to his character seemed less outlandish and like something that was actually attainable, but Namor was popular enough for his book to last ten issues and well into 1955. When Goodman did eventually cancel the book, he didn’t notice that Stan had been right the whole time. The superheroes, they were poised for a massive comeback, only when they did, Atlas had been defunct and Timely was dependent on DC’s sister company Independent News to distribute their books, and the distributor would tie them to 16 bi-monthly titles for the time being. The return of the superheroes though, it started with a sound from outer space, and with the DC Comics editor who inadvertently had a huge hand in the birth of the Marvel Universe that did eventually occur. It all began with a backup story in Detective Comics No. 225 (cover-dated November 1955) which hit spinner racks just a month after the final Namor tale had been sent to the printer. Earlier, writer Joseph Samachson (possibly with input from editor Jack Miller) batted an idea around the offices of DC. On the heels of purported sightings of unidentified flying objects, with even some of these mysterious crafts crash landing in the desert since the 1940s, maybe there was life on Mars. Even if not, wouldn’t it make for a cool story? Detective’s editor Jack Schiff liked the sound of that. Schiff had been instrumental in moving The Caped Crusaders away from his crime fighting roots and more towards outlandish science fiction tales, neither doing the character or himself any favors. As an editor, Schiff wasn’t the sharpest tool in DC’s shed, but unbeknownst to him, he was setting events into motion that were to cause a big ripple effect. Inadvertently, he’d bring about the birth of two lines of superhero comics. Schiff assigned artist Joe Certa to work with Samachson on his idea. Together they came up with the character Martian Manhunter. He was really J’onn J’onzz, a green-skinned man from Mars who minded his own business until the huge computer brain of an old scientist teleported him to our world. With the elderly scientist suffering a deadly heart attack once the green man set foot in his remote laboratory, an understandable reaction one might add, J’onzz found himself trapped in a world he never made. But as luck would have it, and since this was not a Marvel Comic, the alien wasn’t forced to live his life as an outcast, at least not as an easily identifiable migrant. Like Superman, he instinctively knew that assimilation was the way to go, and since he was a shape shifter, he could be anyone, really. That he did choose to hide any semblance of his real appearance, and to Americanize the spelling of his name, told you a lot about the immigrant experience in America, but that he elected to become a police detective, this was when the superheroes and the real heroes of this new age began to merge to great effect. Samachson and Certa turned Martian Manhunter into a semi-popular back-up strip, and another editor at DC took note of this strange occurrence. Soon Julius Schwartz, a former agent for pulp writers, began to petition his boss, executive editor Whitney Ellsworth, to let him revive one of the superheroes that had fallen out of favor, but with fresh coat of paint, streamlined to the tastes of boy and girl readers in the jet age. Since they already had a try-out book called Showcase, what did they have to lose? With Showcase being an anthology series that featured the real-life heroes of the day, like firemen and Navy divers, here was an idea to give this new incarnation of an old superhero a secret identity that reflected this trend, or better yet, a combination of two professions that were popular. Thus, in his everyday life, the hero would be a scientist and a policeman, one job liked by more nerdy kids, the other more action oriented and ideal to lure readers in who liked crime comics and some such. Once he’d obtained a go-ahead, and he’d settled on The Flash as the hero who would get a new lease on leave, Schwartz tapped Robert Kanigher, a writer who’d worked on the 1940s version of the speedster. As for the art, naturally, Julius Schwartz went to DC’s best illustrator, Carmine Infantino, who redesigned the retired model from ground up by giving this new incarnation the body of a professional swimmer and a sleek uniform, two aspects that made him look like a hood ornament on a sports car. The interior art by Infantino and inker Joe Kubert (a fantastic artist in his own right) made for dynamic, highly stylized visuals that put readers under a hypnotic spell. The Flash was fast, and the layouts and artwork were fast. The Flash was a hit.
Once the next superhero made his triumphant return, Green Lantern, there was no way of denying it. An entire genre, that some of the younger kids might have missed out on completely, was experiencing a sudden renaissance, not to the degree as in the days of the Second World War, but still, superheroes were selling again. However, at the offices of DC there were loud shouting matches going on that made the walls vibrate as if The Flash was putting one of his super-quick hands against them. In reality, it was the bitter consequence of the two Jacks having a row. Earlier, Jack Schiff had recommended artist Jack Kirby for a lucrative syndicated newspaper strip, with the understanding, at least on his part, that he’d be earning royalties on the man’s work in perpetuum, something that Jack Kirby, in his mind, had never consented to. When DC’s top brass got word of the conflict between the editor and the freelance artist, which eventually would end up in court, they did what nearly every organization will do. Unthinkingly, they sided with their employee. Unable to land future jobs from any other editor at DC, since they had been informed that Mr. Kirby’s services would no longer be required, the artist was effectively ousted from the publisher. Schiff was enjoying a stiff drink at his local watering hole while he imagined that he had doomed Kirby and his family to abject poverty, a thought that put a smile on his face. Unbeknownst to himself and to Kirby, he’d sealed his own fate instead. At what was left of Martin Goodman’s comic book business, Stan Lee was still reeling from the severe whiplash he’d experienced in recent years. The line expansion Goodman had demanded in the early 1950s had been cut short twice. After the market had
experienced its highest high in 1952, there was the downturn that came with the Comic Code. Then there was television. It felt like an entire generation of readers was falling out of love with comic books, which was worse than in 1940s when only the superheroes had been affected. Atlas shuttered its doors by the end of 1956. There simply weren’t enough comics to ship each month. Goodman quickly signed with a new distributor, an outfit called American News Distribution, but this move proved equally bad. Like Atlas, they went out of business within the year. As it turned out, there weren’t many distributers left, and those that were around didn’t trust him much. When DC’s sister company Independent News swooped in to the rescue, they knew that a drowning man will accept any lifeline and that here was the possibility to put a competitor on a short leash, even though he’d never been more than a nuisance. By the time he signed the contract, Timely had already lost two months without any product getting send to the wholesalers, an eternity in monthly publishing. When Lee got the news that they’d only be able to ship 8 monthly books henceforth, or alternatively, 16 titles every other month, this meant additional layoffs. Naturally, he kept his best artists around, or more aptly put, the guys he liked best. Joe Maneely, Matt Baker and Steve Ditko still got assignments, while a cadre of loyal, perfectly serviceable artists like Don Heck were shown the door. Heck quickly found a new line of work. He’d be doing illustrations for model airplane manufacturer Berkeley Models. Had his timing been off just a little bit, Kirby’s return to his old hunting grounds could have ended right there. As things stood, the experience of having to ask the kid who he and Joe Simon once had made fun of when he was an errand boy and he solely got hired because he was the cousin of the boss’ wife, was humiliating, but being shown the door, it would have been crushing. But there’d been a death in the family, sort of. Maneely was about the only artist with whom Lee associated privately, in fact he was a regular at the cocktail parties Lee and his beautiful wife Joan threw at their residence on Long Island. Recently, after getting smashed at Lee’s house, Maneely had taken the train back to the city. When Joe lost his glasses, he reached down to pick the little object up as he was standing between two the moving cars. With safety measures not up to today’s standard, Maneely got crushed to his death. Thus, when Kirby asked for work, a bereaved Lee told him there were pages to be drawn. While the Flash ran faster and faster across the sleek streets of a metropolis called Central City which came with a pristine, the two-dimensional cityscape, and Green Lantern, secretly a fearless test pilot with the body of a ballet dancer, visited fantastical worlds in outer space, Lee and his brother Larry put words to stories about giant monsters and feverish men who woke up as tiny insects. After the short-lived revival he’d attempted a few years back, Lee had forgotten about the superheroes, which was understandable. Pushing forty but looking much older, and with not much to show for, Stan had grown somewhat bitter. He was more resentful of comics than he’d ever been, but work was scarce, and he had a family to support. Meanwhile back at DC, Schwartz was putting together the super friends. Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru had modernized Wonder Woman, the only superheroine that was still around, and slowly, Schwartz had the member for a team of supergods. That was except for DC’s biggest players, Superman and Batman, who’d be relegated to glorified cameos in the first couple of issues of Justice League of America. Their editors, Mort Weisinger, Schwartz’ pal and colleague from the agency days, and Schiff respectively, were extremely territorial where their star players were concerned. Schiff allowed Julius to use Martin Manhunter, though, a superhero he didn’t much care for anyway. Neither men knew Goodman who had a habit of keeping himself abreast of what was going on in the industry, simply by asking newsagents what was selling. When he heard that Justice League did gangbusters, he told Lee that he should give a book about a group of superheroes a try. Stan had no ideas what the title should be about and who to pick as the artist. Burgos and Everett had moved on after the debacle that was their ill-fated attempt of a comeback for the supergods. However, when Matt Baker had suddenly died of a heart attack in 1959, Stan had been able to rehire Don Heck, simply for his ability to draw the best-looking women in the business. Lee knew that boys liked attractive ladies. He liked them, too. Lee knew that Kirby had created a team book for DC, Challengers of the Unknown. Here was an idea. With the space race whipped into a frenzy, why not do the Challengers, but as space explorers who got their powers from the Van Allen radiation belt that surrounded the Earth. Lee recalled having read something to that affect in Esquire. Lee discussed his idea for the book with Kirby. While the artist did most of the heavy lifting, Lee put the pieces into play he’d filed away over all the lost decades. Going forward, much mentioned would be made of the overall difference between Marvel’s (Timely/Atlas by new name) and DC’s vastly different approach to superheroes, with many comic book historians in agreement that DC kept their initial idea of the supergods, but viewed through a fanciful, whimsical and brightly colored lens (a lens taken from C.C. Beck’s drawing table), whereas at Marvel, Lee and his new all-star team of Kirby, Ditko and Heck opted for realism. This misses how Lee operated. The character models Lee used were exactly the same Schwartz and his writers built the comeback of the superheroes on, the heroes of the day. The detective, the police lab technician, the jet pilot, they weren’t different to the scientists who built rocket ships or gamma bombs, or a doctor who found an enchanted hammer of the gods, or a dashing captain of industry who put on a suit of armor instead of a business suit. But like Everett and Burgos had, Lee used New York City as the backdrop for their stories. His heroes were motivated by the cold war, a trick Don Rico had taught him. Then there were the soap opera melodramas of the romance books that Bill Woolfolk and others had incorporated into their superhero stories at the tail end of the 1940s. Most importantly, Burgos, Everett and Kirby had given Stan the idea of superheroes as outsiders.
For the most part, Lee’s characters hated that their powers made them different, that they were unlike everybody else, but the fact of the matter was, these men had always been outsiders, and despite their powers they still were exactly that. Though Bruce Banner was revered as a physicist, he was a weakling when compared to the dashing Major Talbot, your typical Army hero who even sported a pencil ‘stache. As for Tony Stark, a “billionaire playboy genius philanthropist” who looked like Major Talbot’s twin, he was lonely at the top and aloof, with his beautiful (as portrayed by Don Heck) secretary Pepper settling for his driver and bodyguard instead, who was called Happy for a reason. Though some of these aspects were played up by Ditko, especially on Spider-Man, this was Lee going back to Burgos and Everett once more. Had there ever been bigger outsiders than a machine with the face and the body of a man, or a ruler from world that mere men considered fiction? Like with Cole, for their own private reasons, these two creators were outsiders themselves, not unlike Siegel and Shuster. But whereas Superman was the “perfect Jew” in America, he knew how to assimilate as was expected of him, Burgos got beaten up a lot in his youth, and Everett, like Cole, he encountered the pain of the soul. What felt odd in 1939 and was quickly cast aside once the superheroes marched to the same patriotic drum, fit right into the early 1960s when a new generation made all the difference in the world. Children during the depression and in the years of the war, they were made of sterner stuff. They knew that Daredevil wouldn’t simply kill himself, but that he’d beat The Claw, no matter the odds. Their counterparts in the early 1960s, which were years of peace and prosperity, they knew of doubt, of feelings of insecurity, they sensed that even though the American Dream had become a reality for their parents, that even though they lived in one of the new model houses of suburbia, even though they had two cars, they weren’t happy. In a strange accident, with
Lee gathering all the pieces that had fallen into his hands in the past two decades, here were superheroes that shared the feeling of these readers. Lee and his trio of artists gave the children of the baby boomer generation heroes and heroines they could easily identify with. But they didn’t live in a real world, not just yet. Ditko came close, though. Heavily influenced by the philosophical writings of Ayn Rand, his hero Spider-Man was teenager Peter Parker who worried about money constantly. His uncle died in a robbery after Peter as Spider-Man had failed to catch the robber earlier. He had to care for his ailing aunt, but he also needed to keep his grades up to win a scholarship, his only ticket to move up in society and away from his meager circumstances, which meant that there was no room for social interactions. But his classmates hated him anyway, simply for the fact that he liked science and that he wasn’t good at sports. But even as a superhero, he was hated by the public at large for all the fake news one man was creating around him, such was the voice of the media. In that, thanks to Ayn Rand, Ditko’s Spider-Man was incredibly prescient, especially in light of today’s cancel culture. But whereas the high school setting gave kid readers a lot to identify with, there was the peer pressure Peter constantly faced, and the fact that money was always too tight to mention, Ditko peddled his Randian message very ham-fisted. This wasn’t realism as such but a philosophical treatise on how nobility and incorruptibility would prevail, mixed with a feverish excitability and nervousness not seen since the days Johnny Craig worked at EC Comics. This was by design. Ditko wasn’t interested in realism in the slightest, he put Spider-Man into a world that was ruled by objectivism. It makes for intriguing speculation to imagine how Daredevil might have continued hadn’t the series fallen victim to Cole’s success. As for Marvel, it would take two creators to come up with the first modern superhero who eschewed the more fanciful aspects of Cole’s work for a hardened realism while keeping the bleak existentialism that Cole had infused his hero with. The hero, he was not Daredevil, Master of Courage, but Daredevil, the Man without Fear. And the two men, neither of them was called Stan Lee, though as was his wont, Lee gladly took all the credit he could get for his initial idea, but then again, this was another one from his “file away for later use” folder. The idea, it went all the way back to 1953. When asked to provide the preface for a collection of Daredevil stories many decades after these issues had been printed for the first time, Lee was quick to point out the obvious: Marvel’s Daredevil was a blind man. Now after folks who wouldn’t touch a comic let alone read it, even if their life depended on it, had a moment to consider how preposterous that sounds, they might have heard of Superman after all, a man who could fly, let’s give Lee his say verbatim: “[He] was the very first and, as far as we know, is still the only blind hero in the annals of comicdom. What’s more, he’s not only sightless, but he’s probably the most daring and acrobatic crimefighter of all!” Lee neglects to mention however, that he freely made use of the original character who was a mute man in his first adventure and who wasn’t all that bad at acrobatic crimefighting himself. Since this Daredevil had fallen into public domain by the early 1960s, and most of Marvel’s new readers had never heard of him in the first place, reprints of older comics were still years into the future, Lee was right to assume that nobody would notice what was essentially borderline plagiarism. But then again, weren’t The Fantastic Four but The Challengers of the Unknown by a different name? What he’d added to the mix in case of the former, was a huge amount of melodrama, his secret formula going forward. The Fantastic Four were monsters or at least freaks. Now, how does one deal with that? The biggest takeaway from the cover for Daredevil No. 1 (April 1964) is indeed that Stan was convinced that the fact that their hero was blind, would make him different to all other superheroes. And in case some readers had any doubt that this latest Marvel superhero would be different, here was sly Stan with a friendly blurb: “Can you guess why Daredevil is different from all other crime-fighters?” Why clearly, you couldn’t, not from simply looking at the cover, even if you had eyes to see, which was the clever marketing genius of Stan Lee hard at work. Still, Stan might have been a little unsure about their latest creation since he asked the cover artists to include a bunch of headshots, among them the faces of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Marvel biggest books at that time, though these characters wouldn’t appear in the actual comic. It was a desperate ploy, akin to how movies are marketed these days as “From the producers of…”, still it didn’t do any harm either. Lee proudly states in his preface for the collection that he received letters “from people associated with organizations which aid the handicapped, and particularly the blind. These letters have told of the warm reception given to Daredevil’s adventure by handicapped readers […] who feel they have finally found a hero with whom they can empathize with […] a hero whose fantastic exploits help to strengthen their own sense of pride and self-esteem.” These were most certainly very positive words one does not want to take away from, but (there’s always a but), the fact that here you had a blind hero, an acrobatic one at that, didn’t automatically make for a hero people with disabilities could identify with immediately or easily. That Daredevil was different from his Marvel peers for two other reasons did. Lee invited a direct comparison to their Spider-Man, an obvious marketing ploy, but Daredevil was nothing like Spider-Man. Had Lee given Daredevil the same attitude that he and Ditko (mostly Ditko) gave to Spider-Man and his alter-ego, it would have made for bleak stories. Peter Parker hated the circumstances of his life. Parker hated that he was Spider-Man. In that, Peter wasn’t that far removed from Lee himself. That he became a virtual joke machine once he was in costume also mirrored the public persona Lee started to develop. Spider-Man’s quips and one-liners was Lee telling readers and himself to face front. But Lee was aware that things were changing in the social and cultural makeup. Marvel’s readers were getting older. Their outlook on life and the world had begun to shift. One might think that the assassination of JFK had only exacerbated the anxieties of the baby boomers. Instead, it energized an entire generation as the gap to their parents became a chasm. Now the buttoned-down conservatism of the parents contrasted sharply with the first pangs of the counterculture revolution. Parents wanted stability; kids wanted to volunteer for the peace corps to shed a sheltered upbringing while they dug wells in a developing country whose name they could never hope to pronounce correctly. The kids were eager to export democracy and the right kind of American values, save for those of their parents. It was a noble endeavor, one which would get blurred around the edges by the purple haze of marijuana and hashish cigarettes they’d soon inhale to a soundtrack provided by The Rolling Stones, played against the amplified, distorted feedback loops of Hendrix’s electric guitar. As it turned out, when Stan had lifted many aspects of the original Daredevil, the optimism of the hero had come with the deal. It reflected the newfound positivity of a generation.
In a complete one-eighty to the Marvel heroes that pre-dated him, Daredevil loved being Daredevil. In that, he was darn close to a DC superhero, save for Lee’s ability to supply soap opera melodrama. That he did this in the case of Daredevil, too, came with the blueprint. Daring Love No. 1 (September-October 1953) was the only issue of a romance book floated by a small publisher called Gillmor Magazines, one of the many outfits in the 1950s that offered a disparate line of action, romance and western titles. As for the lead-in story, which is well-written and excellently drawn (though exact credits are lost to time), this was the tale of a young model who was in love with a G.I. Whenever Lani has to say goodbye to her beau, her heart breaks a little, and she promises to write to him daily, and that she’ll be faithful to him. The first part of her vow comes easy since Lani loves talking about herself, the latter part not so much. She’s a fashion model. There’re many sharks that come with the territory and one predator in particular. When the director of her modeling agency gets phased out, the new executive is a smarmy, handsome bloke with a mean streak. For starters, he makes the guy who got the boot tell Lani that management feels that he got too old for this line of work. From the get-go his replacement is on her case, telling her that he’s going to take the agency all the way to the top and that right now is a good time for her to put any doubts he might have about her to rest. He expects her to prove to him that she has the goods that are required, otherwise it’s “see you later, kid, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” She does prove it to him, in a little two-piece bikini as he expects. The dashing executive likes what he sees, and obviously male readers liked it, too. As for the girl readers, why, on the inside cover there was an ad for an amazing undergarment girdle, purportedly of French
design, because you knew “new styles demand smooth, flat tummy,” thus, you could at least pretend that you had a body like Lani’s. But as ravishingly as she looks, Chet Giles is still not fully on board with our model Ms. Drews. He’s done his homework, you see, asking around that is. Lately her effort has fallen off. He tells her that she needs to get herself together. Lani confides in him that she is very lonely. Well, there’s cure for that, according to Chet who kisses her on the mouth. Instead of showing the reaction one might expect, she’s mightily tempted, and her thoughts are filled with images of Giles. But he leaves it at that, telling her that they most try harder to get the agency to where he wants it to be. With new big accounts coming in, a highly motivated Lani gives it her best. But then she receives a letter from her beau. He’s seeing combat action now. Certainly, this puts a cramp into her style, and she again confides her worries to her boss. Mr. Giles knows what’ll make her forget her trouble. Once he takes her out to nights on the town and tennis matches, her G.I. love seems many miles away, which he literally is. But there’s more. Having completely wooed her, Lani thinks it best to send her boyfriend a “Dear John” letter, the irony being that his name is John. But right afterwards she feels bad about it, with bringing down the morale of a fighting man. Clearly, her work is not ideally suited for so many thoughts, and a costumer does notice. Sure, she’s a beautiful girl, but the man asks Chet for a fresher model, one with a less worried face. The executive’s happy to oblige, which puts Lani out of work, but lo, he’s already kissing another model. This is when Lani realizes what a fool she’s been. As a distraught Lani arrives home, her mom tells her that her former beau’s waiting for her. Before she can even begin to tell him how sorry she is for her most recent letter, he turns around. With the way his eyes are covered by black shades you could almost guess where this was going. He lost his eyesight in battle, and for her letter, why, he hadn’t read it since it arrived after he got injured. She can still read it to him. She does exactly that only that she lets him hear the words she wants it to say now. Best of all, John is scheduled to have an operation that will restore his eyesight. It is unknown if Lee had any knowledge of this story, he certainly never mentioned it, but once we get to Daredevil No. 2 (June 1964), Lee offers a similar resolution, but with a surprising twist. By then, he had introduced readers to Daredevil’s alter-ego and the main supporting players. The hero was secretly a fellow named Matthew Murdock, a strikingly handsome, young attorney at law in New York City who’d only recently graduated from law school as the valedictorian no less, and he and his former roommate Franklin “Foggy” Nelson had their own law offices all set up. This was when Foggy hired a secretary. She was Karen Page and in short, she did look at lot like Lani only that her hair was of a blonder shade. Karen is immediately smitten with the dashing Matt who also likes her quite a bit, but then there’s Foggy, which makes three. It would not take long for Foggy wanting to propose to Karen which made it this much harder for Matt to come forward. Lee cleverly eschewed certain dynamics that’d been played out. Karen was not that interested in Daredevil, even though he’d come to her aid two times in the first four issues. Yet she didn’t hate the hero either, as was the case with Peter Parker’s first girlfriend Betty Brand. It was simply a classic stand-by, the “my best friend and I love the same girl” scenario that played over many soap operas as in real life. But then there was the handicapped angle which Lee knew how to milk. Surely, Matt needed to be certain that Karen was really interested in him, and that he or she didn’t mistake love for pity. It should be mentioned that Murdock wasn’t the first blind character Lee featured in a Marvel comic. Nearly two years earlier, in Fantastic Four No. 8 (November 1962) he and Kirby had the grotesque Thing meet the lovely Alice Masters, who was not only blind but the daughter of the super-villain The Puppet Master. While they looked nothing alike, Matt and The Thing had similar thoughts when it came to the women they loved, though the roles were reversed. But no sooner had Lee begun issue No. 2 of Daredevil, here was Karen with good news that felt like they came right out of Daring Love No. 1. Karen had written to an eye specialist in her home town, describing to the guy the type of blindness Matt had (astute readers had to wonder how she knew), and lo, without having examined Matt first, his answer was that he’d be able to restore Matt’s eyesight. Maybe he’d operated on John, we don’t know, but a major coincidence if Stan hadn’t at least flipped through the “Dear John” story from Daring Love No. 1 once, if only some years prior. However, Matt’s reaction was surprising, for a blind man, and a Marvel hero, and it did put the letters Lee later claimed he’d received somewhat into perspective. Though Murdock was technically blind, his other senses were heightened to eleven. For instance, his hearing was such that not only could he make out an individual’s heartbeat, but he also knew if a person was telling a lie, an ability useful to any lawyer. Matt’s sense of smell allowed him to identify people by their scent, and his taste buds were sensitive enough for him to know “how many grains of salt are on a piece of pretzel.” As for his fingers, he didn’t need books in Braille, for his fingers could trace every letter in a book or a newspaper just by sensing the impressions the inks had made on the paper. Now surely this was most impressive, but he had gained an additional sense, too. Of course, the accident Matt had been involved in as a boy couldn’t have been any regular accident. When a teenaged Matt saw an old man, who was crossing a busy street with a truck rushing into his direction, he knew he had to act swiftly. The man was blind (oh, the irony). Hurling the man out of the way, the boy was struck instead by the vehicle that was marked with a huge “danger” sign, and for good reason. The fire-red truck was moving a container with radioactive material around, of course it did, and in a freak accident, that was freakier than the accident itself, the container spilt is contents all over his eyes. How exactly that happened, with the vehicle hitting the boy from the front and not the rear, further details were discretely kept off panel. Anyway, the radioactive substance enhanced his senses, and they gave Matt what pretty much amounted to a radar sense. Now that was helpful if you were a masked vigilante which Matt wasn’t yet. But when he was and he heard his blonde secretary, possibly his future love interest, he wasn’t all too pleased to learn that such an option should exist, only that he didn’t tell her that. This Daredevil was intent on keeping his dual identity a big secret. It would take some years before he’d reveal to Karen that he was Daredevil. But the readers, they were of course privy to his private considerations: “I dare not do anything which may lose me my super-sharp senses… the senses that make me… Daredevil!” And after having seen how Daredevil made short work of gang of unfortunate car thieves at the top of the issue, who would blame him. Due to his athleticism and the Sean Connery like confidence he exudes, and of course the high-octane action, Daredevil made for a visually arresting series, ironically. From a historically perspective, Marvel’s Daredevil almost feels pedestrian when directly compared to the vast imagination, the fanciful playfulness and the real horror that Cole had brought to the original Lev Gleason character, but less so when put side by side with the somewhat tamer, watered-down, even domesticated incarnation of the Charles Biro years. Still, Cole’s version and Biro’s interpretation were enjoying the life of a superhero no matter the circumstances. So was Matt Murdock. He got a kick out of this secret life as a masked crimefighter and the physicality and the rush that came with his nocturnal activities. This went even beyond his mission to stop criminals. It was an addiction. Matt was an action junkie. Only, like with any addiction, it didn’t feel like a bad thing. Not at first. But after hearing so many Marvel characters complain about their lot in life and their super-powers, it was surely a thrilling spectacle to finally have one superhero who loved being a superhero.
Besides Lee’s dramatic and melodramatic scripts, the other aspects that made Daredevil unique among every Marvel series at that time, a hard-boiled realism and a bleak existentialism, they entered into the first issue the same way the readers did. Through a door, quite literally a door. However, before we can open this door like the readers did in 1964, this foreboding looking door which had a widow with a wire mesh screen, time needs to be spent on the surroundings, and even further back, on how the first issue and the character came about. The success Lee and his main artists were experiencing with these newer superheroes became a reality once the sales numbers reached their offices. Somehow, these felt more like a confirmation than the many letters of praise from their readers, at least to Goodman they did. It wasn’t the time for a victory lap just yet. Goodman sensed that they were on to something. He was also aware that spotty and limited distribution was keeping them down. This was when he took the numbers for the year of 1962 and he sat down with Independent News. Clearly, his business partners had gotten word from their top boss not to give an inch. Their boss and DC’s executive director were the same guy, Jack Liebowitz, all around hatchet man for owner Harry Donenfeld. But the numbers didn’t lie. If Marvel were allowed to put out more titles, there’d be more profit for Independent News as well. The publisher had to smile a little. A little over a year ago, he’d told the cousin of his wife Jean that he and Liebowitz had been playing golf together, and that when Liebowitz had bragged about how well Justice League of America was selling, this had convinced him to give the superheroes another day in the sun. Stan, who was somewhat of a bullshit artist, only that Lee thought that nobody noticed, he’d believed him. When talking to his distributer, Goodman reached a new agreement. There’d be a revised contract as of 1963, which allowed for 11 books in total, monthly or over a bi-monthly schedule, whatever. This meant three additional books. Time for his relative to get cracking. For the time being, Marvel was a blip on the sales chart for the best-selling books, with Superman, Archie and even Lois Lane moving several hundreds of thousands of copies every month. But in 1965, Journey Into Mystery, an erstwhile suspense anthology series that dated back to the boom year that was 1952, got to No. 50. Meanwhile, the book starred one of their new superheroes, Kirby’s Thor. When Lee got the news, he
ditched the “Journey” name entirely, which had been shrunken to little more than a secondary title. Henceforth, this series would be known as The Mighty Thor, lest there be any confusion among readers who’d heard that this was a series they wanted to check out. Then in 1966, suddenly and unexpectedly, two Marvel books moved into the top twenty. Thor missed the honor, but barely, still The Fantastic Four got to No. 19 and Spider-Man to No. 14. It was the year when Ditko left Marvel and Stan had former Captain America artist John Romita take over. He’d let him pencil Spidey in a few issues of Daredevil prior. This was when all hell broke loose at DC. Jack Schiff (remember him?) was removed as group editor of Batman with Julius taking over. Schiff was relegated to second stringers. Back in 1963, as for the original artist of Captain America, Stan relied heavily on Kirby to help him to come up with the heroes for these three additional books. Jack thought that one book should be a team title, which made Stan wince when he realized how many origins he’d need to come up with for a whole team of super-powered beings. As always, he’d something filed away. In this case a science fiction novel called “Children of the Atom” (1953). Wilmar Shiras’ book, which was set in 1972, was about a group of kids who were hidden across America, only that they weren’t ordinary children. They were gifted children, gifted with powers. These children, they were called mutants. Born to parents who worked at an atomic weapons complex where they were involved in a nuclear accident, these kids were brought together at an exclusive private school dedicated to such gifted children. How about that? Lee wouldn’t have to come up with origins for his superheroes, they were simply born that way, and of course, they were outsiders. As for their teacher, Lee had an idea as well. Why not an older guy, a bald-headed fellow with mental powers (like The Claw or Siegel and Shuster’s original Superman), but he’d be wheelchair bound. X-Men No. 1 (cover-dated September 1963) did indeed feature all those elements and of course Jack drew it, and he went on to create several interesting characters, like Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and the ultimate bad guy, Magneto. The thing was, in June 1963, DC had introduced their own team of outsiders who were led by an older mentor who had lost the use of his legs. And lo, when Arnold Drake and Bob Haney co-created The Doom Patrol (with artist Bruno Premiani) they came up with an origin for all of its members. As for Kirby, what he wanted to do, was a book about soldiers in World War Two. Stan and Jack had both served, but whereas Lee had been able to secure desk duty, which enabled him to send scripts to Timely, as a matter of fact, he never left the States, Jack had seen real combat action, and doing a book about it, it helped with working through what he’d experienced. Lee was fine with adding a war book, nobody could say how long the superhero fad would last. Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos saw its debut in May 1963, and for a while, Lee stuck with the book. Soon Fury made himself known in the present as well, when he showed up in an issue of The Fantastic Four, in a story that was about a villain with Hitler’s face. Nick Fury however, he didn’t look much older than he did in his concurrent war title, only now he was a colonel. As for the third book, Stan had an idea as well, he could be an acrobatic guy who they might call Daredevil. He asked Jack to do a cover mock-up and to put him in a yellow and blue costume, or better yet, in a yellow, red and black costume, like that of an aerialist or a gymnast but with a cowl. Still there was just no way for Kirby to do another book. He was already scheduled to launch their first team book that would combine their greatest heroes, their version of Justice League, a series Stan had decided to call The Avengers. In one of their rare misfires, a slot in their line-up had opened up when earlier in the year The Incredible Hulk (another Stan and Jack creation) got the axe. This Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde meets Frankenstein in a gamma explosion mash-up hadn’t clicked with fans, still he’d make it on Avengers, less as a full-fledged member but as a huge, green MacGuffin to drive the plot of the next issues forward. As for Daredevil, Stan had a fantastic artist in mind who had the whole outsider gig down pad. It took him a few months of asking around, he could not spend the entire day on the phone, he had plot outlines to type so the artists had an idea what the books they were drawing should be about, but eventually he got back in touch with Bill Everett. He was not surprised to hear that Bill had landed on his feet after he’d been forced to fire him back in 1955. In fact, and much to Stan’s chagrin, the former Namor artist was currently making more money hand over fist than he was himself, at least that was what Lee had to assume when Everett told him that he worked at the Eton Paper Corporation in Massachusetts where he was the art director. It was a managerial job, which meant that Everett had his own staff, and that he was bringing in the dough, not that he needed it. Among all the other artists Lee knew, Bill had always been a fish out of water. Whereas many of the creators and even the publishers of the first generation in the industry came from Jewish backgrounds and immigrant families, poor and poorly educated families that hailed from Eastern Europe and Russia, Bill’s decidedly English ancestors were able to trace their family roots back for three-hundred years. A number of his relatives held positions of power, as congressmen, president of Harvard, and as governor of Massachusetts, or they had towns named after themselves. Though he was born rich, Everett’s dad owned a highly successful trucking business which not even the stock market crash could touch. Robert Maxwell Everett, Everett’s father, actually owned several houses, this on top of being a business tycoon who counted a former U.S. Secretary of State and poet Robert Blake among his relatives. Surprisingly, when considering his family history, Bill had little interest in entrepreneurial activities or politics, all he wanted to do was to draw. Even more astonishingly, both Robert and Bill’s mother were supportive of his artistic talents. Thus, right around the time the whole country was knee-deep in the quagmire that was the Great Depression, he and his older sister Elizabeth would spend time at the large summer home in Maine the family had recently bought. His family background did show in the material young Bill read for inspiration. Instead of pulp magazines and comic strips, he turned to the classics, Coleridge, London, and of course, Blake. However, very similar to Jack Cole, who was Bill’s senior by three years, he burned bright, and he’d never be able to frame the fearful symmetry of being gifted and cursed, of possessing a great talent while being plagued by an all-encompassing darkness of his soul. At the age of twelve, he contracted tuberculosis. As was customary in those days, the physician his parents hired recommended a move to a more arid climate. With his father tied up in his business, Elaine Grace Brown Everett packed her bags and her two children as they relocated to Arizona. It was the year when Bill took his first drink.
Thus, began a downward spiral while the teenager found himself in the ever-tighter grip of his addiction to alcohol. Before he’d fully hit puberty, Bill drank any hard liquor he could get his hands on, which one might think wasn’t easy or that often for a boy, especially during the prohibition, but Bill was a fabulist who knew how to spin many tall tales, and more importantly, he was rich, and many other people were dirt poor. What if you managed to get the kid a drink? Nothing to it. His massive drinking, it did its work, and Bill turned into a rebellious teenager while he failed at school. Alcoholism wasn’t really a recognized illness back then, still there was a stigma that came with it, which might explain why his parents pulled him out of school and instead of getting him the help he clearly needed, they send him to art school. It was there that Bill found the structure and discipline to focus on something other than the question of how to fix his next date with the sauce. He was massively talented, and soon he’d been trained by some of the best art teachers in the country, though he only stuck it out for eighteen months. Still, he found it easy to secure work, even in economically difficult times. Everett worked as a magazine illustrator, as a technical draftsman at a civil engineering office, and as a commercial artist for ad companies. He also began to move up the ladder with every new job he briefly held down. He was an
art editor, then, with his next employment, he was hired as assistant art director. Looking for work as art director, he moved to New York City where destiny had been waiting for him. He ran into a former colleague who happened to mention that comic books were the hot new thing. Bill had no idea what that was. His acquaintance helpfully explained that they were like the pulp magazines, but with pictures. Those he’d seen around, but he had no use for such lurid magazines. He was still reading the Romantics, like Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but Bill liked the part about there being pictures. By then, the prohibition had ended. He was what we call a functioning alcoholic. He decided to give comics a try, but what Bill found was an industry that was still unsure of itself and the direction in which it wanted to go. Comics had started as reprints of newspaper cartoons, then some publishers began to create their own material. But would children really pay for this untested material that lacked any name characters, or any name creators for that matter, they knew from their Sunday Papers or the daily strips? Some publishers came up with the idea that comics could be promotional giveaways, hence they tried to hook up with companies or with ad agencies. To Bill, all of this seemed a bit sketchy, especially when he heard that some of the people who ran these publishing companies were in the business of peddling the near-pornographic pulps and that many had started out in the garment industry, or the printing business with ties to organized crime. Still, he gave it a shot. He was hired on the spot as a freelancer by an outfit called Centaur Publications. He sold his first page, which he wrote, penciled and inked for $2. He then renegotiated his fee and saw it go up to $10, then it jumped to $14, which was decent money, not that he needed it. He began to co-create new characters, only suddenly they needed to be superheroes. Seeing a revolution in the making, the art director of the shingle Bill worked for, decided to set up his own shop, not as a publisher, clearly, he lacked the funds to do that, but as a packager. They would provide complete stories or even entire issues to pulp peddlers who wanted to get in on the action but didn’t have the staff to do this. The shop was called Funnies, Inc., a bit of a misnomer if you considered how violent comics soon became. It was at Funnies that he met Carl Burgos. When Bill was asked by his boss if he could create a new superhero for a title, they were putting together for their first client, his reply was that he could, in fact, he already had. This was for an aborted project, still Everett had liked the hero, and decided to dust him off and to expand the original 8-pager he had envisioned by four pages since this was needed. The inspiration for his character didn’t come from any crime pulp or an adventure movie serial, or Lang’s “Metropolis”. Bill used two poems by Coleridge as his template instead, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, from which he took the core idea for his character, and “Kubla Khan” which provided the initial setting and a bit of color for his character, like unknowable wealth, nobility and tragedy. The Sub-Mariner was the ultimate outsider. A king of a lost kingdom who walked the streets of New York City. He was an insert character for Everett himself who was very much a king without a country. His father had died from illness around the time when Bill was at Jerry Siegel’s age when his dad died under different circumstances. In a brutal twist, Jerry had to face even tougher financial hardship in consequence, while his dad’s demise left Bill richer. But then there was another thing. His temper; fueled by his rampant alcoholism. This was what he gave to Namor, too, and just like that, Bill Everett had created the first anti-hero in comics. Funnies’ client, he was Martin Goodman. Marvel Comics No. 1 (cover-dated October 1939) featured Carl Burgos’ Human Torch and Everett’s Sub-Mariner, and upon its release, it didn’t do particularly great. It moved enough units though, that Martin Goodman re-solicited the issue as a second printing two months later. This was when it caught on, it did it ever. The book went back to the printer several times and when all was said and done, the two printings sold nearly 900,000 units. Burgos and Everett and their creations were suddenly superstars, and soon they’d be joined by Jack Kirby, all the while, here was this kid who emptied their ashtrays and got them sandwiches and art supplies. And here was this kid, a quarter of a century later who phoned him long-distance and with a bad connection at that, to tell him that he had an idea for a new superhero. That Stan Lee had an idea, that was something Everett needed to see for himself. Everett took a day off from work to come down to New York, and lo and behold, Stan’s idea, it walked into the room, and its name was Kirby. Many years later, it would be difficult to say who created what, as these things go in a creative process and in light of the men giving accounts that were in conflict with what they themselves had said at an earlier point in time. Everett would later confirm that it was Kirby who came up with the billy club weapon for the hero, the cane Murdock used, converted into one handy weapon, and that it was Kirby who created Daredevil visually, but here Jack was working from a suggestion by Stan, only that he’d divided the color scheme of the original character differently. Instead of a symmetrical division that ran lengthwise, Jack had gone for a costume an acrobat might wear, or a wrestler. Still, contrary to many Kirby creations, Daredevil didn’t look like a brawler, but he looked and moved like a dancer. What was really groundbreaking about the character, especially in the first issue, was the subtle, and at times not so subtle social commentary. As a young lawyer, Murdock looked very refined and strikingly handsome, qualities that are often associated with wealth and success. He looked like Bart Hill, face, body type and all, except for the fact that he had red hair. Though this isn’t mentioned in the book, he’s the offspring of Irish immigrants and he’s most likely a Catholic. As the tale opens, we see the aforementioned door in the first panel. It is the entrance to what is called Fogwell’s Gym, which is located “one flight up”. Around the door there are several tattered posters designed to promote one boxing match or the other. Except for the flyers and the memories and scars some men might still carry, these fights are meaningless and forgotten, like this itself is a neighborhood that many people will never see. The door is emblematic of the entire neighborhood. Like the black cat that slowly walks past it, one unfortunate, scraggy beast, this part of the city had to have known better times, but that was long ago. What you get now instead, once you enter, are four morally broken men who sit around a table as they are involved in a meaningless game of poker. What they do, who’ll win, is utterly pointless. They know the fix is in and that they are all losers, for this is the Lower West Side of Manhattan, Hell’s Kitchen. This is the area where you’ll find the poor and lower-class Irish migrants who play by their own rules, just to get by, to survive. Like with these four men, they all have to pay for protection, money is due, payable in cash and in small bills to those who are stronger, who are meaner and who control every small racket, the grocer and the restaurants down the street, and they control the boxing matches. This is the world of an entire neighborhood of outsiders who stepped from a boat on Ellis Island with the grime of barren potato fields under their nails, the stink of poverty on their clothes, and the last sermon of their priest still ringing in their ears. They have also stepped out of Jim Thompson novel, a journalist turned crime writer whose career Goodman once helped to foster when he owned a paperback publishing company. But that company is long sold off and Thompson had long since signed with a bigger publisher. His book “The Grifters” has only recently been published, arguably his best work, a novel about characters such as these four men. However, to kids who picked up Daredevil No. 1 in 1964, because it had The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man on the cover, this is like a world from another planet, an alien place, determined by rites and rules you couldn’t quite understand. This was unlike anything you’d seen in a Marvel book.
Daredevil’s world, and this was Daredevil’s world, as evidenced by the final panel on the first page, was completely foreign to Everett who in many ways was Bart Hill. Still, the shot Everett gives us of the hero as he confronts these four hoodlums and grifters, tells you all you need to know. Dressed in yellow and dark red, with a belt as the dividing line between the halves of his torso, he’s framed between an open door and some more posters of former prize-fighters. He is one foot in, one foot out, but he’s never out entirely. He can’t be, for this is his turf, his hunting grounds. He knows the rules of this neighborhood, and he knows his prey. These men mean nothing to him, they are mere steppingstones to the men he is after, a man called the Fixer. After the cold opening, which delivered on wild, high-octane action, it’s time to learn about the man behind the mask. When the story flashes back, we are introduced to Matt as a boy. He’s being raised by a single dad, a washout boxer named Battling Jack Murdock. The life they led is one of poverty, especially since Jack has gotten on in years. He finds it exceedingly difficult to get into the ring again. No manager wants to take on a has been. Still, Jack has one dream left. His son, he can lead a better life if only he chooses a different path, if he excels at school and wins a scholarship to open a different door, one to a higher education and to prosperity. Jack expects dedication out of Matt, he drives him to study while the kids in the neighborhood rough each other up and his classmates are busy with football practice. Matt is an outsider twice. He is poor, and he is isolated from his own peers. The kids, they taunt him, they call him a daredevil, an insult reserved for children who don’t know how to fight.
This setting and the characters are very unique. And though Stan infuses everything with much melodrama, they are very expressive of Kirby. This naturalistic world of fringe characters is not a clever thought experiment by some late 19th or early 20th century author, but it stems from Kirby’s own life experiences. He grew up in poverty on the Lower East side, he knew how to use his fists, he boxed, and he was quite athletic despite his small stature, with people comparing him to James Cagney. With Jack, these characters aren’t all that surprising. Steve Rogers was thin, a weakling, because he came from the days of the Great Depression. Kirby’s Ben Grimm and Nick Fury look like working-class prize-fighters. A case can be made, that he and Ditko opened the door to lower class characters for Marvel. All of this is true, but this is discounting Everett’s voice. Like Jack Binder brought more to the original Daredevil than his dynamic artwork, Everett took Stan’s naturalism (obviously, Matt would be dealt several blows since this was what happened to those characters) and Jack’s realism (Matt’s answer to the taunts of the kids is that he starts punching things, very much like Jack only knew to punch a wall when Schiff demanded royalties from him) and he ran with it as far as he knew how to. What often goes unnoticed in the origin story, which is basically a revenge tale, is the subtle social satire Everett brought to it. While his father eventually makes a deal with the Fixer against better judgment, Matt continues on his way, even when the accident happens that must happen. He goes on to college and law school where he meets a fellow by the name of Franklin “Foggy” Nelson who like the Fixer has a scheme of his own. Whereas the Fixer builds up Jack as “the comeback kid”, to fix the odds for one last match when Jack will be asked to throw the fight, Foggy latches on to Matt’s hunger and drive. But also, his handsomeness. That Matt is a pretty boy, and a workhorse allows him access to certain circles, though he lacks the funds. This is where Foggy comes in whose father is wealthy. Early on, Foggy pegs Matt as the guy with whom he can start his own business. Everett makes this obvious when he gives him a soft face and a flabby body. In Foggy’s world, fitness and physicality equals poverty and lower class. Murdock looks nothing like his dad, but he shares some of his attributes. Matt can make a suit work. He can easily walk into a boardroom on 6th Avenue, with street-smarts, and the easy confidence of someone who has nothing to lose but everything to gain. For Matt, looks aren’t important, he is literally blind. They are to Foggy. When he hires their secretary, of course she looks like a blonde super model, and of course, without knowing anything about her, he immediately falls in love with her, or he thinks he’s fallen in love with her. By design, Karen is another social climber. Her attractiveness makes her upward mobile; she doesn’t even need a higher education. In that she isn’t different from Jack. Karen and Jack’s physical attributes give them cachet in their world. It is what brings them to the attention of the men who control the flow of money, the Fixer in Battling Murdock’s case, and Foggy in Karen’s case who notices how she looks in a tight pencil skirt. They are a twelve-year-old kid who discovers that people who’re poor will buy you a drink if you can make it worth well their time and effort. Like a rich kid can buy people during an economic crisis, the Fixer and Foggy are people collectors. Both men want to get their target into a horizontal position, and they use money to achieve just that. Daredevil No. 1 showed readers how Matt Murdock grew up, but it is also a tale by Everett and about the maturity he’d reached at this point in his life, a clarity that came with age, and in his case, ironically, perhaps with alcohol. As a young man, he’d fancied himself a Kubla Khan of a sunken world, a snotty monarch who behaved like a spoiled twelve-year-old. As an adult and as the co-creator of Daredevil he’d become the Friedrich Engels of comics. If you recall, together with Karl Marx, Engels was the co-creator of communism. Marx was poor all his life, and there’s a fantastic line from his mother to that affect: “I wish my son had spent some time on making capital instead of writing about it.” Marx, he had a sugar daddy, though, Friedrich Engels who was the sole heir of an extremely wealthy family of industrialists in Germany. While Marx grew embittered, and he got very hungry once Engels withdrew his support because he’d grown tired of him when the fun was gone, Engels’ lofty seat gave him a point of view that allowed for a big laugh at the expense of the petty, shallow rich. If Namor was a self-insert for a younger Everett, Foggy Nelson is Everett at forty-six. It isn’t all that surprising that the artist, who once was the boy who had everything, gave Matt’s law partner the soft, bloated face of a hard drinker. Indeed, if the man who had once looked like Bart Hill, looked in the mirror now, this was his own visage. It is also not surprising that Everett stopped after the first issue. He had his job as art director that paid much better, but it was surely fun to touch base with the old gang for one more time. But like Daredevil in the first panel, he drew him in, Everett was one foot in, one foot out, but never out entirely. Like the blind hero, he was too much of an addict for that. Within the next two years, Everett was back at Marvel, where he worked on many characters, including his creation Namor. Perhaps his best work during this later stretch of his career didn’t come as a penciler or as a scripter, but when Everett inked the linework of two upcoming artists, Alan Weiss and Barry Windsor-Smith for Daredevil No. 83 (January 1973). Black Widow, co-created by Don Rico, arguably never looked more beautiful. Eventually, years of excess and heaving drinking caught up with Everett. Bill Everett passed away in 1973, at the young age of fifty-five.
Back in 1964, with Everett back in Massachusetts, Daredevil and Lee were in desperate need for another artist to take the reins, or Stan might have his second flop on his hands after The Hulk. Lee realized that he had to cast a wider net. Back in the day when he simply couldn’t put out enough books to satisfy his boss Goodman, one outfit had ruled them all, with the possible exception that was DC Comics, only that they were just one letter off. Though Stan had assembled a great bullpen back then, chief among them his late friend Joe Maneely, every kid knew that EC Comics had the best artists hands down. They also had the best writers, but he wouldn’t go that far with his concession. Now he wondered what some of these guys were up to. As luck would have it, one of EC’s erstwhile top illustrators was available on such short notice, which meant that he’d be willing to work for cheap Stan surmised. Joe Orlando was a top horror artist, but he hadn’t been tested on superhero books. His style looked nothing like what kids had come to expect from a comic in the mighty Marvel manner. Also rumor had it that these EC illustrators were all a bit prima donna and very slow. But Stan had secret weapon he knew how to unleash on any artist who couldn’t or wouldn’t pick up the slack. Though Daredevil was still on a bi-monthly schedule, Lee had to do fuller scripts for a guy who wasn’t yet housebroken, that was guys who couldn’t supply a few ideas of their own even if their life depended on it. Thus, very much like the change between Silver Streak Comics No. 6 and No. 7, the difference of the Everett and Kirby origin to No. 2 of Daredevil, which hit newsstands two months later, was jarring. Even though Stan had Matt go up against his first super-villain, sort of (he borrowed Spider-Man baddie Electro, a second-stringer), pedestrian would be a good word as any to describe this sophomore effort.
There was a tonal clash to the grimy predecessor, worse, the artwork for the issue looked like it was fighting with itself. Stan’s secret weapon, perhaps a threat to any artist to work a bit faster, was pinch hitter Vince Colletta, an inker who wasn’t above taking a big eraser to an illustrator’s linework if this allowed for quicker results. To say that his thin line was ill-suited for Orlando’s soft pencils that required depth and not flatness, is an understatement if there ever was one. Still, worse than the art, which is serviceable at best, was Stan Lee’s script. All you needed to know really, beyond the poignant exchange between Matt and Karen discussed earlier, was that in this story readers witnessed Daredevil flying the rocket plane of The Fantastic Four back from Earth’s orbit. Surely, this was a book about a blind crimefighter, but there were limits to which you could stretch the credulity of any self-respecting six-year-old. What was most disappointing and simultaneously revealing, without Kirby and Everett’s input, this was no longer a book about street-level crime and fringe characters. Matt had left his past behind with the death by heart attack of the Fixer, the man responsible for the murder of his father. In a way, this mirrored what Cole had done when he took over for Rico and Binder on the original series, only that Lee had nothing interesting to say. With the existentialism and the fine satire purged from the title, this felt as if suddenly John Romita had taken over for Steve Ditko on Spider-Man. As it often will be the case when you have people who’re working together on a project who don’t know each other or the individual working style of the other parties, once the initial get-to-know-each-other phase is over, there can be decent results, with a little give a take. Luckily, this happened with this team. Daredevil No. 3 (August 1964) is a marked improvement. Like with the previous issue, Kirby and Colletta provided the cover, but the interior art was nothing to sneeze at either. Anticipating the scraggy ink line that Colletta was wont to use as an embellisher, Orlando made his line art much tighter, forcing Colletta to give it the depth is deserved. Some of the earlier panels feel off, but overall, the former EC artist sets up a nice, claustrophobic mood with his pencils and page layouts that fit the tale well. This time around, Lee did create a new super-villain, the first one for the new hero, but contrary to his more flamboyant sensibilities, the writer-editor showed amazing restrained. Stan Lee takes his time to introduce the bad guy, but more importantly, the Owl isn’t a super-villain in the stricter sense of the word. Yes, he can fly, but that seems more like an extension of his larger-than-life persona. Who the Owl is, instead, is a wall street financier, a businessman who has taken great pains to always appear legitimate in all his dealings. The Owl, he doesn’t yet have a birth name, will crush you financially, not with his fist. Although he looks grotesque on the outside, he is highly intelligent and a master manipulator, thus he exudes power from within. In many ways he feels like a logical continuation of The Claw had he still been around. Lee clearly wanted to give his artist a more horror like character to work on, and especially once the action moves to the Owl’s strikingly bizarre-looking hideout in the mountains, with Daredevil and Karen held hostage, this reads like a Gothic horror tale, and true to form and despite working with an inker who was in many ways the antithesis to his approach to art, Orlando surely delivered. But what is most interesting, once the plot is set in motion when the Owl comes under investigation by the FBI for his transactions, he has maneuvered his accountant into a position that makes him the fall guy, we see the earliest shades of a criminal who’d play a huge part later down the road, the Kingpin. Similarly, to how that mob boss would react, once the Owl realizes that the jig is up, there is evidence to tie him to criminal activities, he takes this in stride and decides to become the top boss of the underworld instead. Lee even manages to give Matt some screen time as lawyer when he’s hired to advise the Owl in court. Though much of what had made the first issue such a standout is still missing; the tale provided a roadmap where things might be headed. Only that Lee decided to mix things up in such drastic manner that his artist might have gotten whiplash, but that was just it, he didn’t. In issue No. 4 (October 1964) Stan gave the world Killgrave, the Purple Man. Continuing a long-standing tradition that said that green and purple were colors for villains (the Owl wore green and purple), logic dictated that a baddie whose skin and garb were all purple, had to be especially dangerous. Actually, he was. By merely suggesting a thing, people were forced to follow suit. What was more, Killgrave committed his crimes in broad daylight, like at the start of the tale when he casually strolls into a bank and asks the teller in a friendly tone of voice to fill his new briefcase with a bunch of hundred-dollar bills but just the crisp ones. It meant that the dark corners and the suffocating panel layouts of the previous yarn had to give way to widescreen vistas, since The Purple Man wanted the world to see what he was up to. Technically, he wasn’t even committing a crime by simple asking a guy to give him money. Though he can’t completely leave his restrictive panels behind, like Kubrick, Joe was compelled to show you the actual ceiling of every room the action took place in, he knew when to open up his artwork, to very nice results. This was Manhattan of the early 1960s with clean, geometrical shapes and large windows and men and women in smart clothes. The stakes are raised quickly, though. Again, Matt is hired to defend a villain, and in a mistake, he’ll soon regret, he asks Karen to accompany him, clearly, he likes spending time with her. Now bringing a beautiful blonde on a date to a prison may not be the smartest idea in the first place but allowing her to fall under the spell of an individual who’s able to control minds, is far worse. Though it would fall to a scripter of a later generation to go to dark places with this idea, nevertheless, Stan had something sinister in store, and again Orlando was able to meet him halfway. When the Purple Man gets rushed by the hero on a rooftop, he asks Karen to walk to the edge of the roof. The panels with Karen at the edge, as the wind tears at her skirt, are downright chilling, especially in hindsight, even if the cover (another Kirby/Colletta joint) spoiled the moment. All in all, the issue marks an interesting moment in time. There’s a surprisingly candid callback to the first Daredevil when Matt fashions his billy club into a boomerang, but we also slowly see how certain tropes are used for the first time or much better. There’s the idea of Karen’s mind getting messed with and we also get a scene when a manipulated crowd tries to kill the hero. But most importantly, the ideas of the second issue, that Matt is somewhat addicted to the action, that he’s severely over-confident and a risk taker, these aspects grow. Whenever Matt takes to the rooftops to hunt for a foe, we sense that to him, the city is his lover and that he craves her embrace like a junkie needs his next fix. Consequently, giving Daredevil villains with the ability to get into his head seems appropriate. Lee is actually at the top of his game when he has Matt tell us that neither the Owl nor even Killgrave can manipulate him, only for his foes to use Karen against Daredevil since he’s been so careless, and they sense that they can get to him this way. Lee was on to something and Joe Orlando was game, that was until he got a better offer. Once again, the series lost its artist. James Warren was prepping a new monthly horror comic magazine, and not only would he pay Orlando better, but the artist was offered the opportunity to write his own tales, he would get paid for submitting story ideas and for editing. Obviously, Orlando took the next step on a career path that would eventually see him become a vice-president of DC Comics in the future. Like a man possessed by the devil, Matt rushed over the New York skyline, roof after roof, fearlessly jumping, not yet swinging, across a chasm that offered little but thin air and certain death beneath his dangling feet, racing faster as his horned shadow eluded and outdistanced him, while Lee was determined to get more than four issues out of this character, lest he had to create another hero which was though work. Then again, why couldn’t he go back to the same well? As he dialed the number of the replacement he had in mind, little did Lee suspect that he’d be the second alcoholic who would work on the series, also the second man to work on a book that starred a superhero called Daredevil who would die from a self-inflicted gun wound. As for Daredevil, the door had been opened. His erratic behavior would be harder to ignore. His descent into hell had begun. According to Dante, there were nine circles. Limbo was first.