I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.
Last time out, I wrote this:
With Jessica Jones coming up from Netflix and Marvel soon – a show I’m personally really looking forward to, btw, especially considering how well they did with Daredevil – I thought it might be a good time to take a look back at some of the covers from that predecessor show. Why not do Jessica Jones covers? Well, because to be honest I just don’t find those covers compelling, and considering that the character is actually a recent retrocon (okay, I’m not sure if that’s a real word or not, but what I mean by it is that she was conceived fairly recently then given a backstory that fit her into the larger Marvel universe proper even though she had never been seen in a comic before), she doesn’t really fit into what I consider to be the purview of this column. Plus, Daredevil has always been a favorite character of mine, so any excuse to go back and revisit some of his earliest stories and the covers that drew me and so many others into his books is welcome.
This time I thought I do something a bit different yet again. Frank Miller is rightfully acclaimed as the person who changed Daredevil and pretty much single-handedly saved the character’s book from cancellation. Now, of course, nothing in comics is really done alone. First off, comics, especially the comics that come from “the big two” – Marvel and DC – are by design collaborative, sometimes moreso than others, depending on the situation of the company at the time. There are times, such as now, when it seems as though the comics being out out by those companies are more editorially driven so that they fit into a specific design that has been drawn up to bring them in lign with corporate plans for the present and future of their respective “universe. At other times in their histories, creators on individual books have been given much more leeway in what they do with the characters and the stories they tell.
Of course, a lot of this has to do with the status of the book in question at the time. In late 1979, Dardevil was on the verge of cancellation. The book had been reduced to bi-monthly publication which was one of those “the writing’s on the wall” signs. Remeber, this was a time when the distribution system was quite different than it is now. There were no (or at least very few) “comics shops”, and most comics were sold in drug stores, on news stands, and at other places like that. And there was no direct market. Instead, comics were fighting for rack space with each other and with other magazines and everything else for reader’s dollars (or actually, at that time, reader’s 40 cents). At the same time, the companies were less likely to be so qick to cancel books or restart them with new ##1’s than they are now, with the prevailing thought being that for the new/casual reader, a higher issue number indicated the kind of longevity that would appeal to them.
Anyway, it was into this kind of atmosphere that Frank Miller was brought onto Daredevil, first as artist, the as writer. In a lot of ways it was kind of a “Why not? It can’t get any worse.” move on Marvel’s part.
As we all know now, this became a major turning point for the character as Miller added new dimensions to the Scarlet Swashbuckler, brought The Kingpin – formerly one of Spider-Man’s main villains – into DD’s world, introduced new characters such as Electra, Stick, and The Hand, and ushered in a new era not only for Daredevil, but for much of the Marvel Universe which would follow his lead, both for better and for worse. As it turned out, Marvel’s gamble was exceedingly successful.
Just to show what a contrast Miller’s work was with what had previously been published, let’s start with a look at the issue before he came onto the title. Issue #162 was written and drawn by Steve Ditko, and as I think is quite obvious from the cover the legendary Spider-Man co-creator simply wasn’t a good match with the sightless superhero.
Okay, from here on out, I’m mostly going to just post the covers with synopses of what happens in each issue taken from the Grand Comics Database. That way you can follow along as the story develops. Of course, that does mean that there will be spoilers, but in a situation like this that’s inevitable. I will add a few notes of my own along the way, mostly noting creator changes, and I’ll mark those off through the use of italics.
Issue #163 was the first to feature a Frank Miller cover and interior pencil art. I should note that while the majority of the inks in this issue were done by Joe Rubenstein, the first two pages were inked bu Klaus Janson who, with the next issue would become the full-time inker and Miller’s artistic collaborator until he eventually took over the full art chores as Miller poured himself more and more into the writing. This story was written by Roger McKenzie with some plot input (mostly the idea of having DD face off against the Hulk) from the incoming artist.
DD tries to help Bruce Banner out and gets himself badly beaten by the Hulk for his trouble. Ben [Urich] hears Heather [Glenn] call DD “Matt” during the battle.
Ben confronts a hospitalized Daredevil with his origin and identity, and DD tells him the whole story.
Issue #165 was the first to be credited as a Frank Miller plot, though McKenzie is still the credited writer on the book.
Heather finds out that her company is doing business with Doc Ock, and DD has to come to her rescue when she is captured; The Widow realizes her relationship with Matt is through and leaves New York.
Gladiator holds a group of kids hostage in a museum, and DD has to take him down in time to make it to Foggy’s wedding.
Issue #167 saw David Michelinie take over the scripting chores for one issue.
DD tries to figure out why the Mauler is after his old boss.
With issue #168 we see Frank Miller finally credited as writer, and it is immediately apparent that he is going to be taking the book in a different direction, as this is the issue which first introduces Elektra. (Or, as her named is unfortunately misspelled on the cover, Elecktra.)
Matt is after an international criminal being protected by Eric Slaughter when he runs across his college sweetheart turned bounty hunter.
Bullseye has a tumor in his brain that makes him see every day people as Daredevil, and he starts to kill them all.
Kingpin, retired in Japan, sends his wife to New York to hire Nelson and Murdock so he can turn states evidence against the East Coast crime bosses. Vanessa is captured by the mob so they can lure Kingpin back to New York so they can kill him. Daredevil gets in the way and has a confrontation with Bullseye.
As you’ll no doubt note from the blurb on the cover, issue #171 saw the book’s return to monthly status, a sure sign of its increasing sales and of Marvel’s renewed confidence in the title. Also, the issue is of note because it marks the first actual encounter between Daredevil and The Kingpin.
Matt goes undercover and joins the Kingpin’s gang so he can steal the info Fisk has collected on the underworld. Kingpin catches him in the act and beats him senseless. During the Kingpin’s exchange with the men holding his wife, Vanessa is apparently killed.
Thinking his wife is dead, Kingpin takes control of the mob and hires Bullseye as his assassin. DD comes calling and takes Bullseye down, but leaves the Kingpin in power to rebuild his organization.
With issue #173, Miller began being credited as providing “breakdowns” for the interior art and Klaus Janson was credited with “finished art”.
A lady killer is roaming the streets and he looks exactly like Melvin Potter; DD tracks down the man responsible for crippling Becky and clears the Gladiator.
Kingpin secretly hires the Hand to take out Matt Murdock, but Elektra and Gladiator get in the way. When the Hand blows up his law office, DD loses his radar sense due to the blast. 1st hand.
DD is without his radar sense and teamed-up with Elektra against the Hand and their master assassin, Kirigi. While Matt is off fighting ninja, Foggy is defending the Gladiator in court.
DD and Elektra hunt down Matt’s old teacher Stick. Turk steals the Mauler uniform to try and take down DD. Elektra has a final confrontation with Kirigi
Stick helps his old pupil face his demons and regain his radar sense. The Bugle publishes an expose on Kingpin’s candidate for Mayor of New York. Elektra is brought to Kingpin’s attention. FM breakdowns, KJ finished art.
Foggy hires Power Man and Iron Fist to help protect the stooge who is going to help Nelson and Murdock link Mayoral candidate Cherryh to the Kingpin. Kingpin talks to Elektra about employment opportunities.
Ben is warned off the Kingpin/Cherryh story by Elektra and Cherryh himself. When Ben and DD continue to dig, Elektra shows up and beats DD, right before she throws a sai through Urich.
Following the lead on a photo Ben took, DD hunts for the Kingpin’s missing wife in the sewers. Cherryh wins the mayoral election, but in exchange for his wife’s return, Kingpin makes him concede. Kingpin orders Elektra to kill Foggy in retaliation.
Bullseye breaks out of prison. Elektra hunts down Foggy and is about to kill him until she recognizes him as Matt’s buddy from college. Bullseye fights Elektra and kills her with her own sai. DD goes after Bullseye and ends up dropping him from a great height, breaking every bone in his body.
Severely distraught with grief, Matt begins to believe that Elektra is really alive and proceeds to dig her up. The Punisher escapes from prison.
DD and the Punisher hunt down Hogman for selling drugs to kids, but the two heroes clash over their methods. DD ends up shooting the Punisher with his own gun.
Foggy begins to investigate why Heather’s company is making bombs and this causes him to run up against both Eric Slaughter and the Kingpin. No problem for “Guts” Nelson and his partner Turk. DD is caught in an explosion that messes up his radar sense.
Matt begins gathering criminal evidence to sink Glenn industries. Turk steals the Stilt Man armor and tries to prove himself to the Kingpin (and fails miserably). DD’s hyper-senses start going wild. Matt pressures Heather into accepting his proposal of marriage.
DD’s hyper-senses continue to get worse and he seeks out Stick for help. In a fight with the Hand, the Black Widow is poisoned.
The Widow is dying of poison she got in a fight with the Hand and is desperately trying to find Daredevil to help. Matt is recovering his hyper-senses in an isolation chamber under the watchful eye of Stick and his ninja.
The Black Widow dies but is resurrected by Stone. DD and company have a free-for-all with the Hand in which Stick gives his life to save Matt. Widow and Foggy break up Heather and Matt. Stone tells DD that the Hand plans on resurrecting Elektra.
DD, Widow and Stone race to keep the Hand from resurrecting Elektra. Unbeknownst to Daredevil, Stone finishes the job the Hand started and Elektra lives again.
The infamous “Russian Roulette” issue where DD plays the deadly game with a hospitalized Bullseye.
Okay, so that’s the last issue of Frank Miller’s initial run on Daredevil, a string of issues which would see the very basics of the character changed for an extremely long time, and the repercussions of which are still being felt today. Almost the entirety of Marvel’s first Daredevil movie was based on this run, and if the information that has been released or leaked so far is any indication, the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil will see the introduction of Elektra into the series and probably will once again see a heavy influence on the entire series. Only time will tell on that point, however.
So I’m curious what you thought of this change-of-format column. I’ve got another similar one planned for the not-so-distant future, then after that, well, we’ll just see. Let me know how you feel about it, and also suggest any other comic runs or types that you’d like to see featured in the comments section below. Any and all feedback, both positive and negative, is appreciated and invited.