Matt Murdock adjusts to the changes in the lives of his friends. Foggy Nelson is elected District Attorney of New York City, and hires Matt as his assistant. Now Matt works as a state prosecutor instead of a defense attorney. He finally reveals his double life as Daredevil to Karen Page. But instead of bringing them closer together, it drives them further apart. Karen moves to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. As if this wasn’t bad enough, mad scientist Starr Saxon discovers Murdock’s secret; leading Daredevil to kill off Matt Murdock! As a bonus, we also get Daredevil #1, redrawn by Gene Colan, and slightly rewritten by Roy Thomas.
The more of these old comics I read, the more I realize how much comic writers recycle the same plots over and over again. Matt Murdock “dies” so Daredevil is free to fight crime and find Saxon. J.M. DeMatties had Matt do the same thing in his “Fall From Grace” story arc. Saxon steals the identity of Mr. Fear to publicly humiliate Daredevil. Another “Mr. Fear” would later steal the costume from Saxon. He dies in a similar manner. At this point, it’s less about the story than the craftsmanship.
The art is the best quality of this collection. Not only do you get the perpetually excellent art of Gene Colan, you also get a rare glimpse of Barry Windsor-Smith copying Jack Kirby. BWS does a good job of it, but the style’s not right for Daredevil. The series has predominantly had naturalistic art styles. Bill Everett, Wally Wood, John Romita, and especially Colan successfully created created the look and feel of the real world. The action-driven cartooning of Kirby is great on its own, but it’s inappropriate for the crime-noir stories of Daredevil.
If you bought the Essential collections of Tomb of Dracula or Howard the Duck, you’re already familiar with the work of Gene Colan. He has the realism of Neal Adams, with the dramatic blocking of a movie. Colan’s figures move, leap, and breeze from page to page; panel to panel. The inkers do an excellent job underlying the scenes’ emotions. This is a dark work, filled with crime and heartbreak. And yet, it’s a very human world capable of joy, triumph, and hope. Frank Miller and Klaus Janson are the spiritual successors to this team.
The stories themselves can be described as "business as usual." But it’s a new business. Murdock faces every hero’s nightmare when the woman he loves makes him choose between her and his costume. Even after she learns to accept both of his lives, she can’t leave the life she’s made for herself. It’s a fairly complicated relationship for comics. Matt and Foggy find themselves prosecuting men they know to be innocent. If Matt returned to his law practice, he’d face Foggy as an opponent. Daredevil fights gangs, a new crimelord, Nighthawk, and a desperate stuntman. Sadly, Daredevil’s luck with lame villains continues in these issues, with the return of Stilt-man and the Gladiator; a phony Mr. Fear; two crazy guys in costumes; and a growing robot with numbers on his chest. I’m looking forward to the return of the Purple Man.
One thing I like about these old comics is how they provide a window into pop culture past. Old catchphrases and references to forgotten movies and TV shows date the work now. But when these comics were first published, it made them seem fresh, new, and even hip. (Well, as hip as a comic by middle-aged white men who talk to teens can get.) Today’s books are written for collectors and trade collections. Writers, whether consciously or unconsciously, are thinking about these stories being read 10 years down the line. Today’s books lack the zeitgeist found in Silver Age books.
Essential Daredevil Vol. 3 is another great collection for us DD fans. Our hero deals with personal issues more complicated than normally found in comics. It also shows a country in transition, with racial and youth issues sparking debate and conflict. Ultimately, it’s one groovy trip baby!