Daredevil (Vol.1) #54

 Lookback: From The Beginning
 Posted: Dec 2022
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)


We haven’t looked in on ol’ Hornhead since Daredevil #43, August 1968 and it looks like we’re coming into the middle of a storyline so let’s try to catch up.

In DD #44, September 1968, the Jester sets up Daredevil so that it appears that he murders Jonathan Powers. This is caught on film by the press, none of whom know that Jonathan Powers is the Jester’s true identity. A police dragnet is put out for DD but in DD #46, November 1968 he defeats and unmasks the Jester, showing the world that the Jester is the guy he was supposed to have killed.

In DD #47, December 1968, Matt Murdock meets blind Vietnam vet and police officer Willie Lincoln who tells him that he has been framed for taking a bribe by a mobster named Biggie Benson. In court, Matt clears Willie and, later, Daredevil gets Biggie convicted.

In DD #48, January 1969, Foggy Nelson gets elected District Attorney but he and Matt are on the outs because Matt has to act like a jerk to keep Foggy away from a fight with Stilt-Man. This move also alienates Karen Page and, in DD #49, February 1969, a fed-up Matt Murdock decides to give up his Daredevil identity only to be attacked by a robot coming out of his closet. The robot has been built by Starr Saxon who is hired by the incarcerated Biggie to “get Daredevil.” Saxon’s robot has “scentolator” that allows it to track down its quarry via an “aromascope.” Its “built-in sensors…saturated with Daredevil’s aromagraph” has allowed it to track down Matt Murdock. The robot fails in its mission but returns later and battles Daredevil in DD #50, March 1969, demonstrating an ability to grow in size. DD manages to damage some of the robot’s circuitry so that it forgets its mission and returns to Saxon to be reprogrammed. Saxon has a “batch of chemically-treated aromagraphs” with which he plans to wipe out the city’s biggest criminals so he can “become master of them all.” The robot returns unexpectedly with DD following and, in the confusion, Saxon reprograms the robot with the Biggie Benson aromagraph, causing the robot to head to the prison to kill Benson.

In DD #51, April 1969, the prison guards use “Tony Stark’s stunulator” to stop the ever-growing robot but it topples over and crushes Biggie Benson. Its mission complete, the robot shuts itself off. Having lost his robot, Starr Saxon turns to vengeance against Daredevil. He tracks down the site of his robot’s attack on DD, Matt Murdock’s apartment, and figures out that Matt is DD. During the previous battle with the robot, Daredevil is injured and accidentally shot. The prison doctor gives DD a blood test which somehow causes a severe allergic reaction, apparently because DD’s blood is radioactive, so that DD gets dizzy and starts to lose his radar sense.

Determined to stop being Daredevil, he calls and makes up with Karen (and Foggy), setting up a date with her. But Saxon accosts him in the street and tells him he knows he’s Daredevil. At dinner, Matt realizes Saxon is there and, panicked, crushes a water glass in his hand. He stalks off while Saxon abducts Karen by telling her he is Matt’s friend. Karen takes Matt’s cane, which is secretly his billy club, along with her.

Later, in DD #52, May 1969, we learn that the blood Matt loses from the broken glass cut has dispelled the poison from his system…or something. I’m still not clear on how any of that works. Starr Saxon has taken Karen to Matt’s apartment as his hostage and Matt, recovering, confronts him there as Daredevil (with the Black Panther’s help). Together, they defeat Saxon. It is at the apartment that the arriving prison doctor explains the bit about the cut to DD and Karen realizes that DD has the same water glass cut as Matt does and momentarily suspects that Matt is Daredevil but then seems to forget that again. Saxon recovers and escapes with DD ultimately letting him go because he has no evidence against him (I guess, tying Karen up and holding her hostage at gunpoint doesn’t count) and because Saxon could reveal his identity. DD #53, June 1969 is mostly a retelling of Daredevil’s origin but it ends with DD making a decision. “My problem isn’t Daredevil – and never was! It was always Matt – the blind layer – the hapless, helpless invalid! He’s been my plague…since the day I first donned a costume! Then, let Matt Murdock no longer exist!!”

And so, our issue begins with Karen Page stunned by the headline in the Daily Bugle, reading “D.A.’s Ex-Partner Killed in Plane Crash!” “I…I still can’t believe it!!” she says, “The man I loved – is dead!”

Most of the issues mentioned above are by Stan Lee and Gene Colan. Stan bows out after #50 and Roy Thomas takes over, although they are both credited for the recap issue in #53. Barry Smith fills in on the art for #50 (with inks by Johnny Craig), 51, and 52. Gene returns to the pencils then.

Our issue features the writer/penciler/inker team of Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, and George Klein. Syd Shores takes over the inks with DD #55, August 1969 and that threesome sticks together up to DD #69, October 1970.

Story Details

  Daredevil (Vol.1) #54
Summary: Spider-Man Cameo
Editor: Stan Lee
Writer: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Gene Colan
Inker: George Klein
Reprinted In: Essential Daredevil #3
Articles: Daredevil

There isn’t much of Spidey in this issue but one place he appears is the cover, which shows a ghostly Daredevil standing in a bunch of swirling mist and placing his hand on a tombstone that reads “R.I.P. Matthew Murdock, Died 1969.” (It doesn’t give us a birth year but we know from DD #53 that Matt was a kid, perhaps 10 years old, in 1950.) That figure and the tombstone are on the left side of the cover with the right side filled with a spooky-looking tree, a lantern and four bodiless heads. From top to bottom (and from largest to smallest), they are Mr. Fear, Spider-Man, Karen Page (with a tear running down her cheek) and Foggy Nelson. The cover artwork has a rather sketchy feel to it as if the inker was not a good match for the penciler so it’s interesting that Gene Colan appears to be both the penciler and the inker here.

So, Matt has apparently died in a plane crash and Karen is upset about it. But she does say, “the man I loved,” past tense, which shows the state of their relationship. She sheds a tear as she recalls that Matt left her a note “on the very day he died” which said “some urgent business had come up…upstate…something that concerned Daredevil.” Karen still buys into the whole “Mike Murdock” fiction Matt set up when he invented a twin brother who was Daredevil but who was “killed in action months ago.” She doesn’t know who the current Daredevil is.

It turns out that Karen is at Foggy’s D.A. office. Foggy shows up there as well. He tells her that their recent rough times with Matt were “just a crazy misunderstanding” and then he leaves Karen to sit there as she still hangs on to Matt’s cane/billy club.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Daredevil is just outside the office on a rope. He is sneaking into Foggy’s office to see if his cane happens to be there. (He doesn’t know that Karen has it since he “was out of my head” when he lost it in DD #51.) He senses Karen’s presence and enters, telling her that he thought “someone might be burgling” the place. He “sees” that Karen has his cane and tries to get it from her by asking if he might keep it. Karen, rightly, turns him down, telling him that “it’s all I have left.”

So, here’s Daredevil, who is secretly Matt, asking for his cane as a memento like he’s an old friend, trying to pry it from the woman who loves him and who he knows loves him. He doesn’t tell her Matt isn’t really dead or that he is actually Matt. No, he leaves, telling her “Life must go on” and then tails her taxi home (he doesn’t know where Karen lives?) so he can steal his cane/billy club. He does call himself “a first-class heel” and “a callous bum with a steel pump for a heart” but he still sneaks into Karen’s apartment after she’s asleep and steals the cane. (Isn’t he the likeliest suspect? He’d have been better off ignoring the cane when he entered Foggy’s office so that Karen didn’t know he was interested. Except, Karen never mentions it so I guess it doesn’t matter.)

Now billy-clubbed once again, and seven pages into the story, he thinks back to how this whole “Matt is dead” mess played out. (I love how Daredevil removes his mask and has Matt’s dark glasses on underneath. It’s such a weird little bit of artistic license.) It turns out that Matt wore a “black fright-wig” and drove to an airfield in Matt’s Austin with a dummy dressed as Matt in the passenger seat. (Does Matt have a car? Why would he need one? If not, whose car is this?) He has a forged pilot’s license and he tells the guy at the airfield that Matt paid for everything but he didn’t come in to claim the plane himself because he is blind. Then Matt drags the dummy into the plane, sets a bomb inside to go off in 15 minutes and takes off. In flight, he changes to Daredevil and dives into a lake he flew over intentionally, landing in the water right when the plane explodes, as seen by a man and his son.

There are all sorts of problems with this plan. First, I hope Matt bought that plane instead of renting it. How much ready money does he have anyway? Second, you know an explosion like that is going to be investigated, particularly when the passenger is an attorney whose death gets a front-page headline in the Daily Bugle. The debris from the plane is sure to be collected and a bomb is not going to reduce two bodies to atoms. It seems to me that it wouldn’t be long before investigators discovered that nobody died in that explosion. Then, there’s the matter of DD getting out of that lake and getting back home (without his billy club) without anyone seeing him. And wouldn’t the authorities check with the airfield and find out that Matt’s pilot was a phony? That should raise some questions. Third, how do they even know that Matt was in the plane? Just because the guy at the airfield may have noticed the pilot dragging a guy into the cockpit? How does he know that it’s Matt? Does that dummy even look like a real person? Fourth, what about the car? Is it still sitting at the airfield? Enough. You get my point.

The reason he has done all this is to counter Starr Saxon who threatened to expose his secret identity. “But now—no secret identity – no blackmail! And, as soon as you come crawling out of hiding – I’ll nab you! Only then will I feel safe to marry Karen – begin a new life with her!” Huh? Is he going to whisk Karen away and create a whole new identity? Because nabbing Saxon won’t stop him from blabbing DD’s identity. If faced with Matt’s death, he’ll just point out that there’s no body and that the pilot was fake. No, I’m afraid Matt has gone to all this trouble for nothing.

What’s worse is that days go by (Gene shows us the calendar going from May 1st through the 5th) and Saxon is nowhere to be found. (And where is Matt living during all of this?) Instead, DD spends his days taking down various hoodlums. In one fight, he bumps into Spider-Man who is also taking down various hoodlums. “Hornhead!” says Spidey, “Blundering into my fight!” “Didn’t know you had a franchise, wall-crawler,” says DD, “But, far be it from me to muscle in! TA TAAA!” And DD swings off, leaving Spidey to punch a hood and think, “Funny…I once thought DD was a blind lawyer! But, Matt Murdock’s dead now! So, scratch one web-headed hunch!” And, showing himself to be a complete sucker for buying into Matt’s full-of-holes scheme, the wall-crawler bids adieu to this issue.

We are more than halfway through but the story is about to abruptly change. DD picks up a newspaper, which has a headline reading, “Mr. Fear Challenges Daredevil” with a subheading reading, “Criminal Has Been Released From Prison.” “I’ve been challenged to a public duel…by one of my oldest foes!” DD says, “Tomorrow at the Central Park Zoo no less!” DD recalls that Mr. Fear is Zoltan Drago, “full-time sculptor and part-time nut,” who put together the Fellowship of Fear with the Ox and the Eel and whose only previous appearance was Daredevil #6, February 1965.

At the same time, Mr. Fear has bought time on television to pre-empt Laugh-In (which must have cost a lot of money since Laugh-In was the biggest show on TV at the time). He tells his audience that he has $100,000 “waiting, in trust, for the charities of this city” if DD accepts his challenge. “For even without the fear pellets…I shall prove tomorrow that the Man Without Fear is a common, craven coward!!”

Daredevil shows up at the zoo at the appointed time. There’s a crowd waiting to meet him. Mr. Fear flies in on a hover platform (that DD calls a “flying hubcap”) and yanks DD into the air. Daredevil kicks him in the chops and the fight in underway on the hubcap. Mr. Fear has promised to not use his fear pellets but he has other tricks up his sleeve, such as his “repello-ray” that he fires right into DD’s chest. He shoves DD off the hubcap toward the polar bears below but Daredevil adjusts in the air so he dives into the seal pool. Emerging, DD snags his billy club on the hubcap and starts to climb up but Mr. Fear points a finger at him. “I neglected to mention my new power,” he says, “To fill you with frenzied fear – with a mere gesture!” and DD is suddenly overcome with fear and dizziness. Yelling “Noooo!” so the crowd below hears, he falls, managing to grab a tree on his way down. Having proven Daredevil a coward (I guess; it seems a bit of a stretch to me), Mr. Fear flies off. As DD gets out of the tree, the crowd turns on him and he is left to wonder, “What if I killed off Matt Murdock to be Daredevil – just in time for the Man Without Fear to become a coward??”

General Comments

Now you know that I’m not going to leave you hanging. In DD #55, August 1969, Daredevil’s cowardice continues. He gets Foggy Nelson to call the penitentiary to get the dirt on Zoltan Drago and finds that Zolton wouldn’t be flying around on a hubcap because he has a fear of heights. So, this Mr. Fear is not Drago but is, surprise!, Starr Saxon who “killed Drago weeks ago.” DD explains it all in the final panel: “When Saxon briefly possessed Matt’s cane he rigged the club with these specially-timed fear-gas pellets…which his flying disk triggered during our first battle! It was his warped revenge on me…for ‘killing’ Matt Murdock to escape his blackmail threats!” Once DD figures that out, he removes the pellets and battles Saxon, who falls to his death from the flying hubcap. Convenient, no?

Does any of that make sense? Not really. It was Karen who had Matt’s cane and we’re not given any indication that Saxon sneaks away from her with the cane to put any fear-pellets into it. He could have, since he left her tied up, but you’d think Karen would have made a mention to DD (or someone) that Saxon went off with Matt’s cane. Then again, Karen forgets all about the cane so who knows? The biggest problem, though, is with the whole Mr. Fear identity. Saxon went so far as to kill Zoltan Drago to…what? Get his fear-pellets? He wasn’t getting revenge on Daredevil “for killing Matt” when he killed Zoltan, since that happened “weeks ago.” Why bother with all this? As an expert roboticist, why not build a robot to do something to discredit DD, instead of building a flying hubcap from which you might fall to your death? Or, better yet, why not go to the authorities and tell them that Daredevil is Matt Murdock? There’s still no evidence against him, except for that little matter of tying up Karen Page and holding her at gunpoint.

Daredevil keeps mentioning “blackmail,” as if Saxon is going to bleed him dry financially but there is no evidence that Saxon wants anything more than to be free to do what he pleases. In which case, none of this is necessary; Matt’s fake death, Saxon becoming Mr. Fear, none of it.

Oh, and Starr Saxon is not dead…sort of. As we learn in Captain America #249, September 1980, the dying Saxon is found by his robots who upload his consciousness into a new body. He becomes Machinesmith and, as far as I know, never messes with Daredevil again. Maybe the upload knocked his knowledge of DD’s identity right out of his consciousness.

As for the rest of the mess DD has left us, in DD #57, October 1969, Daredevil reveals his true identity to Karen Page. And in DD #58, November 1969, the Daily Bugle reports that “D.A.’s Ex-Partner is Alive and Well in Vermont!” with the subheading “All part of D.A.’s scheme to trap Mr. Fear! Says Matt Murdock!” How does Matt talk Foggy into going along with this nonsense? Beats me, because Foggy tells the press “I never gave up hope that Matt was still alive” which sure sounds like he wasn’t in on the plan. Instead of getting quotes like this, shouldn’t the press ask, “What could hiding Matt from Mr. Fear have to do with any scheme which didn’t work because the D.A. didn’t trap Mr. Fear?” At this point, you’re on your own.

Overall Rating

And so, we found ourselves in the midst of an overly-long and convoluted storyline that was passed from Stan Lee who probably didn’t know what to do with it to Roy Thomas who probably didn’t want to deal with it, all because Spider-Man was in two panels for no particular reason except that Gene could then put him on the cover to possibly draw in some stray Spidey fans. You think this was a mess after reviewing the before and after issues? Imagine if you picked only this one off the rack.

One web, mainly for Gene’s artwork.


Next: Reprint Madness! With Marvel Super-Heroes #21! Hey, wait a minute! Since when is MSH a reprint book? Well, there’s a story behind that. Next time.

 Lookback: From The Beginning
 Posted: Dec 2022
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)