52 Years Ago Today: Here Comes ‘Daredevil’ #1, Eventually
At the beginning of 1964, the Marvel Comics team were truly hitting their stride. Over the previous two and a half years, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and a half-dozen others had pioneered a whole new style of superhero comics, and turned the industry upside-down in the process. With just a handful of titles, they built a world that felt both intimate and infinite, a world where supreme sorcerers, space-age adventurers, millionaire industrialists, radioactive monsters, mythological figures, and nebbishy teenagers all coexisted, crossed over, and fought for the greater good against an endless succession of colorfully-costumed crazies.
Ideas were flying fast and furious, with new characters and concepts appearing constantly — in the first month of 1964 alone, Lee and Kirby had introduced The Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants in X-Men #4, unleashed the first proper Hulk Vs. Thing battle in Fantastic Four #25, and revived Golden-Age icon Captain America in Avengers #4, while Lee and artist Don Heck had given readers Black Widow’s first appearance in Tales Of Suspense #52.
So when the first issue of a new title went on sale on February 4th, it seemed like the next logical step in the Marvel’s expansion. The company had been running house ads trumpeting the book for a couple months, and the cover loudly declared itself to be in their best tradition of greatness and innovation.
But the truth of the matter is that Daredevil‘s genesis was difficult, and #1 was arriving a full six months after it was originally slated. The series had been fast-tracked by publisher Martin Goodman when he discovered that the name was up for grabs — there had been a successful Daredevil comic in the ’40s from Lev Gleason Publications, but the trademark had been allowed to lapse after going unused for the past decade.
Steve Ditko was originally approached to take on the project, and once he declined, it was assigned to artist Bill Everett. Everett had been one of the most popular creators of the Golden Age, creating Sub-Mariner and handling runs on titles including Marvel Boy and Venus, but he had since stepped away from comics, establishing a full-time career in advertising, and developing a drinking habit.
Before long, it became evident that the first issue wasn’t going to make it in on time, so Lee bought himself some time by rushing a different title into production, and Steve Ditko and production manager Sol Brodsky stepped in to finish Everett’s pages and patch together a splash page and cover using Jack Kirby’s original concept drawing.
What finally resulted is a bit of a mixed bag, even aside from the lead character’s eyesore of a costume. The story leads off with a three-page fight scene; cuts to a flashback that shows Matt Murdock’s childhood, the accident that blinded him and gave him enhanced senses, his father’s death, his college graduation, the launch of his law career, and the adoption of his costumed identity; and finally returns to the present for Daredevil’s confrontation with his father’s killer.
It’s not a bad issue by any means, it’s just jumbled and lacking in the giddy excitement that Marvel had made its stock in trade. Everett’s figures are nicely rendered but rather stiff, lacking the dynamism and energy that other artists in the company’s stable brought to their work, and though Lee’s script establishes Daredevil’s origin perfectly well, it packs in a bunch of characters that fly past without making much of an impression.
Daredevil would, in fact, need a few more months to find its feet. Artist Joe Orlando took over the series with #2, but quickly clashed with Lee over direction and storytelling style, and left after a trio of underwhelming issues.
Things finally started to gel once Wally Wood stepped in for #5 — Wood was one of the industry’s best illustrators and designers, and after taking some small liberties with the costume in his first two issues (replacing the original single-D chest logo with an iconic interlocking Ds symbol), he assured the series’ success with #7 when he revamped the character completely, creating the all-red outfit that has defined Daredevil ever since.
In ensuing years, many of comics’ top creators added to the mythos of Matt Murdock and company: John Romita Sr., Gene Colan, Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, Bob Brown, Marv Wolfman, Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, David Mazzucchelli, Ann Nocenti, John Romita Jr., Lee Weeks, Karl Kesel, Cary Nord, Kevin Smith, Joe Quesada, David Mack, Brian Bendis, Alex Maleev, Ed Brubaker, Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, Chris Samnee, Charles Soule, and dozens more have ensured the character’s continuing appeal and relevance to each new generation of comic readers.
Daredevil has starred in video games, cartoons, a big-budget 2003 film, and a critically-acclaimed Netfilx series. He’s appeared on countless licensed products, and been featured in numerous lines of toys. He’s one of Marvel’s best-known, most-loved characters.
And it all started with Daredevil #1, the comic that appeared on newsstands on this day in 1964, and introduced the world to Matt Murdock: the blind lawyer who’s secretly a swingin’ superhero.
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