November 1, 2010

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Essential Daredevil Volume 1

Written by Stan Lee (with Roy Thomas and Wally Wood)
Illustrated by a lot of people, including Wally Wood, John Romita, Sr., and a touch of Jack Kirby
Marvel

I'm looking to see how essential some of my Essentials are, and this one is a big problem. It's the start of Daredevil's career, and I like the character. The problem is that in these early issues, Daredevil is a bargain basement Spider-Man. He's far less powerful but has the same voice as the webslinger and with the exception of the Owl and the Gladiator, his only good foes come from Spidey's rogues gallery.

The Matador? Frog-Man? A pirate? When you're up against that competition, it's hard to be taken seriously. Lee tries his best, but it's obvious that he's got a good idea for a character but doesn't know how to make Matt Murdock anything interesting.

Daredevil also suffers from being in the hands of a rotating cast of artists. Bill Everett, Wally Wood, Romita, Kirby, Colan, and others cycle in and out of this book, leaving almost no internal consistency. Quite a few guest stars are used to keep things going, but Spider-Man comes off as a jerk, Namor underuses his power in the mismatch of the year, and the Fantastic Four look grouchy in their cameo. Teaming Daredevil with Ka-Zar doesn't work, either, which seems to be something Stan was toying with.

This is a Daredevil who gets a pouch(!) at one point, does a lousy job of keeping his identity a secret, and generally seems often as lost on the page as his handlers are in writing him. Daredevil always comes out a winner in the end, but sometimes that feels more like it's because he has to than because of anything he's done.

Overall, I was pretty disappointed. For a book that has Stan's involvement for almost all of the 25 issues, his usual character magic is missing. This feels more like the Stan Lee who wrote those DC Elseworlds than the one who was still scripting Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. It's like Daredevil was an attempt to make an A-list character out of a B-list premise, and the hands at work just weren't up to the task. Comparing this to Frank Miller's time on the title is like comparing cave drawings to Van Gough.

I'm still not sure if I want to keep this book around. Part of me thinks I'll want to look at it again, part of me doesn't. What I can tell you is that if you're looking for good Daredevil stories, don't go back to the start. In this case, the original is not the best.