Essential Daredevil, v. 5
Collects: Daredevil #102-25, Marvel Two-in-One #3 (1973-5)
Released: February 2010 (Marvel)
Format: 496 pages / black and white / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785144540
What is this?: Daredevil loves and loses the Black Widow and battles Hydra, Thanos’s goons, Mandrill, and a few others
The culprits: Writers Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Tony Isabella, and Marv Wolfman; pencilers Don Heck, Bob Brown, and Gene Colan, with some others
Essential Daredevil, v. 5, comes from a sort of forgotten era in Daredevil’s career. Daredevil has a lot of forgotten eras; everything between Stan Lee’s last Silver Age issue of Daredevil and Frank Miller’s first issue is generally unremembered, as is most of what falls between Ann Nocenti’s “Typhoid Mary” storyline and the Kevin Smith late ‘90s reboot. For the most part, forgetting is the best course of action for those issues.
However, that’s not true of v. 5 — this stuff deserves to be remembered. That may, in part, be because there’s more continuity of creators than usual for an early Bronze Age Essential. The book has a long run from writer Steve Gerber and penciler Bob Brown, and writer Tony Isabella and penciler / inker Don Heck have shorter runs.
As you might expect from Gerber’s involvement, this isn’t Daredevil’s usual kind of stories, resembling neither what came before or after. He’s in San Francisco, playing Marvel Team-Up with the Black Widow; both changes were set up by Gerry Conway in the previous Essential Daredevil. But Gerber takes that and runs with it, having Daredevil battle large crises by himself. Daredevil fights the minions of Thanos, and Gerber puts Moondragon (who introduces herself as “Madame MacEvil”) and Angar the Screamer to good use. He uses two of my favorite characters, Mandrill and Nekra — they’re both goofy and menacing, especially Mandrill’s telepathic control of women. Gerber’s not afraid to have Daredevil lose fights, as the Beetle beats him and Kraven the Hunter defeats both him and the Black Widow. He shows an occasional flair for the Black Widow’s dialogue, especially when she snarks with society ladies in #104. And there’s something charming about having the Owl try to steal Daredevil’s brain.
Although some of the pieces of Gerber’s run are fascinating, the overall picture feels warped. There’s no denying that Thanos, Captain Marvel, and Moondragon are poor fits for Daredevil, and Mandrill’s nationwide revolution doesn’t quite work as a Daredevil story. Shanna the She-Devil and her story don’t exactly feel at home either, and meeting Man-Thing in his swamp really feels like something Spider-Man or the Thing would do rather than Daredevil. Perhaps most damningly, Gerber draws a hamfisted line under Black Widow and Daredevil’s relationship — Moondragon as a romantic foil for the Black Widow? Really? — as well as the entire San Francisco experiment.
Isabella’s five-issue run is more tightly focused, and it holds together much better. It involves Daredevil, the Black Widow, and SHIELD vs. Hydra, with the life of Foggy Nelson at stake. I’m a sucker for a good Hydra story, and this one is just that — a good Hydra story, rather than a great one. It has Silvermane and his son trying to guide the Hydra to a new resurgence, backed by several second-string villains — El Jaguar, Man-Killer, Mentallo, Blackwing. It’s a good idea, with the ousted Maggia leader presumably having the organizational capability to mold a splinter of Hydra into something more, and I wouldn’t mind seeing that sort of plot again.45
The art is especially solid for the Bronze Age but not spectacular, except for isolated issues. Heck doesn’t get as much respect as some of his Silver Age contemporaries at Marvel. But he does an excellent job here in his five issues as penciler (he also inked some issues); he’s outstanding in the non-action scenes, with extremely expressive faces. His action scenes can be a little stiff, however. Brown is the real surprise. I’d never heard of him before — or maybe I didn’t remember him. His action scenes are a real step up from Heck, and even if he isn’t quite the equal of Sal Buscema (who drew the Marvel Two-in-One issue included) or Gene Colan (who did a couple of Daredevil issues), he’s still pretty impressive. He can get across emotion through the faces and bodies of the characters as well as Heck, although sometimes his conceptions of the characters — especially Black Widow — seem a little off compared to Heck. Then again, Heck did co-create the Black Widow, so he’s got a slight advantage here.
There are more than a few things that aren’t quite right about Essential Daredevil, v. 5. But that’s what happens when a writer tries hard to do different things with a title — big things, in the case of Gerber. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. It’s different from just about everything else with Daredevil in it, which isn’t nothing.