1979 · The 70s

January 1979: Daredevil 158 In which we learn that for a it’s a bad idea to work for a guy with Death in his name.

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Synopsis: Daredevil 158 was written by Roger McKenzie with art by Klaus Janson with pencils from Frank Miller. Yup, it’s Miller Time. He started here as a penciller, but by the time he left, he had left an indelible mark. The story opens at the Hells Kitchen law storefront, with Matt Murdock being abducted by the Unholy Three, a trio of animal looking people, who look very much like the ani-men from the first post Giant Sized X-Men issues of Uncanny X-Men. It’s not them, but it looks like them. Anyway, Bird Man, Cat Man and Gorilla Man are kidnapping Matt (Daredevil) Murdock under the orders of a man called Death Stalker. In order to save the people in the storefront office (Matt’s best friend and legal partner Franklin (Foggy) Nelson, Heather (Matt’s GF) Douglas, Debbie (Foggy’s fiancée) Harris, Becky (Matt’s para-legal) Blake and Natasha (Black Widow) Romanov who happens to be Matt’s ex) Matt agrees to go with them.

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Heather tells Natasha to let Matt deal with it alone as Bird Man is taken down and the other two leave him behind to increase their own share of payment. They arrive at a local graveyard and meet with Death Stalker who pays Gorilla Man and Cat Man. He then relates his origin, that he was a villain called Executioner and was exiled to this ghost state by Daredevil. He turns his attention to his employees and just flat out kills them with his ‘death touch’. He demands that Matt dress as Daredevil, since that’s who he wanted to see.

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There’s then a pitched battle between the two of them, which takes up most of the rest of the book. It’s a fierce ballet of moves, each fighter using their advantages, Death Stalker phases through the gravestones, while Daredevil takes out the lights.

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The phasing proves Death Stalker’s undoing by his becoming tangible enough to grab Daredevil, but materialising half of his body in stone, killing him instantly. Matt gets back to the office, collapsing upon his desk, while Becky Blake gazes longingly, pining after him.

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Notes: This is a very by the numbers story, nothing too exciting or interesting, but this is the difference that Frank Miller made. Miller quickly created a mood of heavy noir, making Hells Kitchen a character in the comic in the same way Gotham had become in Batman. His action scenes are choreographed well and are visually interesting and a great example of what Miller could do with the medium, given a character that had the flexibility to be taken to new places. Miller’s eras of Daredevil were historic in both quality and consequence and informed most, if not all the writers and artists who followed. Miller would write Daredevil as much as draw and the creator/creation link was cemented in the same way that you have Neal Adams/Batman, Wayne Boring/Superman or Walt Simonson/Thor. Miller’s Daredevil fits in with that degree of iconic. It wasn’t a great story, but the look and feel of the art elevate it to something pretty special, which led to many more of the same, gaining in quality.

Next Time: A Human Rocket takes to the stars.

 

 

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