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Would Mark Waid’s Daredevil Just be an Average Superhero Comic Book Back in the Old Days?

by  in Comic News Comment

An interesting criticism I’ve seen levied at Mark Waid’s Daredevil is that, while it is good, it is essentially “just” an old school superhero comic book and therefore the praise given to the title is more a matter of it being compared against worse comic books nowadays and that if it were around back in the old days, it wouldn’t stand out as much. My issue here is that I think people are either underrated Waid’s Daredevil or overrating your average old school superhero comic book when they make that argument. It seems like folks are thinking that books like Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ Batman were the average superhero comic book back in the day when they were very much the exception. So I thought it’d be interesting to compare the last five issues of Daredevil against the equivalent five issues of what were ACTUALLY the “average” superhero comic book titles at Marvel and DC forty years ago. I had some ideas of which books would be considered the “average” from each company, but I didn’t want to risk any selection bias on my part, so I instead asked a fellow whose opinion I respect and who is more than well versed in the comics of that era to name the average superhero comic of 1973. That fellow was Mark Waid. Mark’s choices were the Superman titles for DC and Daredevil, Fantastic Four and Iron Man foe Marvel. The Waid Daredevil issues I’m looking at are #25-29, the June 2013 issue through the September issues (the last two issues double-shipped). Back in 1973, the cover dates on comics were three months ahead of time instead of two, so I went with the July 1973-November 1973 issues of each of the titles (I had to go to November to make it an even match, numbers-wise, because of Daredevil double-shipping the last month).

Let’s begin!

Let’s start with Action Comics. We’re dealing with issues #425-429.

First off, the art for all of these issues is done by Curt Swan. Now I happen to be a huge Curt Swan fan, but even as a huge Curt Swan fan I have to say that by the 1970s I do not believe that Curt Swan (still doing BOTH Superman titles every month) was at the same level that he was during his heyday of the early 1960s. Swan was far too great of an artist for the work to be BAD but at the same time Swan was not exactly being innovative or dynamic with his storytelling. You were getting steady results and none of the stories were being hurt by the art, but nor were they being particularly HELPED by the art either. 53-year-old Curt Swan drawing two Superman comics a month and seemingly never missing an issue? What more could you really expect?

Anyhow, the first issue is Action Comics #425, written by Cary Bates with art by Swan and Frank Giacoia, “The Last Moa On Earth!”.

In it, a hunter happens upon perhaps the world’s last living Moa bird. He then accidentally kills it…



The egg hatches a new Moa bird, the last of its species. However, it was exposed to some exotic gases before it was born so that when it was hatched, it had SUPERPOWERS! In addition, it is somehow linked with the hunter’s life force. The longer the Moa is on the loose, the sicker the hunter gets…


Superman then fights the super-powered Moa for a few pages before returning it to its habitat (which is all it wanted – when it got back it released its hold on the hunter and he got better).

This was not a very good story, although I guess the sight of Superman fighting a giant bird IS kind of cool.

Next we have Action Comics #426 by Bates, Swan and Murphy Anderson, “Master of the Moon Rocks!”

The conceit of the story is that the Anti-Lunar League has stolen some moon rocks and plan on destroying them.


Yes, that’s right. The Anti-Lunar League. But who is manipulating them?!


Yes, that’s right. Terra-Man. The dreaded desperado himself.

He and Superman fight and it is pretty uneventful, although I do like this one bit where Superman kicks his boot at Terra-Man.


So far, this has not been a very good run of Action Comics issues. While not bad, this was about as by-the-books as a super-villain encounter as you could get.

Luckily, Bates, Swan and Anderson make up for the previous two issues with a strong issue in #427, “The Man Who Never Lived!”

The issue opens with a trip to the future where a young man awaits his fate as an assassin…



He goes back in time to where a prisoner, Wade Bartox, is being released from prison…


Bartox suddenly transforms into a green monster and battles against Superman. The monster was something that Bartox had drawn as a child. His prison therapist, who was clearly digging him, is now a bit scared of him.

Bartox and Superman battle in outer space where Bartox reveals that he is from the future and that he took control of Bartox’s body for a bit…


Superman defeats him and Bartox reverts to his normal self. Did the future man’s plan work?


That is some messed up stuff right there. But a really powerful story by Bates.

The next issue, Bates, Swan and Anderson ask “Whatever Happened to Superman?”

A crook is up to no good with a satellite in outer space…


And soon, no one on Earth can see Superman. They believe he has been gone for ten years. No matter what he does, no one can see him. Everything he does gets explained by something else, like if he puts out a fire everyone instead sees a cloud show up out of nowhere and rain on the fire.

Clark Kent needs to get away to investigate, so we see one of the earliest examples of Clark messing with Steve Lombard by pretending to be killed…


It continues, even with OLD stories, so Superman figures it must be Lex Luthor…


Superman seems to doubt himself…


But in reality it was all a plot to make Luthor believe that the device had been used on LUTHOR, as well!



While not as good as the previous issue, this story was a step up from #425 and 426. I always love it when Superman has a convoluted plan involving disguises.

Action Comics #429 was written by Elliot S! Maggin with art by Swan and Bob Oksner. It is a weird one called “The Man Who Wrote Superman’s Obituary!”

Superman is in the section of the Daily Planet where all of their background information is kept and he discovers Superman’s obituary (newspapers obviously have to prepare obituaries for famous people ahead of time in case they suddenly die) and it not only has all of his secret identity information but it is even written in Kryptonian!

Superman naturally freaks out…


I love Green Lantern’s pissy answer.

Superman goes back to his Fortress of Solitude and decides to go write in his giant Super Diary.


His latest adventure is really cheesy…



However, we discover that it was SUPPOSED to be cheesy!

As it turns out, it was all a trap to see if writing in his diary would cause the information to end up in the Daily Planet’s files…



Now, on the one hand, I love the sort of meta-fictional element of Superman intentionally telling a cheesy battle against an alien creature. On the other hand, an “electronic fluke” connects Superman’s diary to the Daily Planet’s file room? And the ending where apparently just some random dude knows Superman’s secrets and can speak Kryptonian? That’s pretty weird. On the whole, though, I think it was a good story.

On the next page, we take a look at Superman #265-269!

Superman #265’s story, “Attack by the Army of Tomorrow!” was written by Elliot S! Maggin with art by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson.

The story opens with Perry White feeling under-appreciated…


Was “I’m blowing you” really an expression back in 1973?

Perry rambles on for a bit before deciding to follow the kids with the gloves…


He discovers that they are mutants (they have two thumbs, one one each end of their hand).

This is the second appearance of Steve Lombard, sports anchor at WGBS and resident jerk to Clark. This begins a string of recurring gags where Steve tries to be a jerk to Clark only for Clark to turn the tables on him. I don’t know, though, what exactly was the prank here…


Steve secretly turned off the faucet so Clark couldn’t use it and then Steve was going to turn it back on to show that HE could use the faucet, right? So why, then, was he surprised when the water turned on?

In any event, Perry White has been following the kids to a secret military base, where he uses ordinary bathroom items to make himself look decades younger. Because, you know, that is a thing…


We eventually get the info-dump to inform us what the deal is with these mutant kids…


Superman shows up and the battle is pretty straightforward, with Superman ultimately explaining to the kids that they’re being used. They then teleport to outer space to find their own planet to live on. And Perry White is there to get the story!


I liked the Perry White spotlight, but the mutants and the evil Calixto were bland as all get out.

The next issue (by the same creative team), “The Nightmare Maker!” opens with the latest in a series of Steve Lombard is a jerk to Clark but Clark uses his powers to get Steve back gags…


The concept of this issue is downright bizarre. A creature who seems to be the Abominable Snowman was woken up by Superman being on Earth (for some reason)…




I really don’t like how many of these stories seem to be based on “This happened for some inexplicable reason.”

Anyhow, Superman and the Snowman do battle in an admittedly “so weird it is awesome” fashion…


Can you guess the Snowman’s weakness from that page?!?

Why yes, you guessed it, the Snowman doesn’t like getting hit in the face! His only weakness, getting hit by things in the face!!



I do admit that the final solution was clever but overall, this was not a very compelling story.

In the next issue (same creative team), “World beneath the North Pole!” strange natural disasters are occuring around the world. Steve Lombard gets caught in one.



Clark doesn’t get to get revenge on Steve in this issue, so we had to settle for Lois kneeing him in the chest.

Superman investigates this theory explored by Steve Lombard’s doctor brother…


I don’t know how Superman got through that info dump with a straight face.

Anyhow, shockingly, everything Superman described on the previous page comes true in the issue…



This was a weak story with a really weak villain.

The next issue adds inker Bob Oksner for “Wild Week-End in Washington!” This one was a notable step up from the previous issues.

Superman and Batman are finishing up a case…


It is weird to see Batman talk about Babs like that…


And even weirder (but cool) to see him talk about Superman that way…

I also enjoy the way that Barbara and Clark’s thought balloons belie what they actually say when they talk to each other…


Nicely done by Maggin.

Oddly enough, though, Clark Kent spills an important secret at a party!!!


He gets kidnapped and Batgirl comes to rescue him (with surreptitious help from Superman). In the end, we learn why Superman blurted out the classified info…


This was an enjoyable romp with an interesting set-up for a future story.

Cary Bates, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson were the creative team for the next issue, “The Secret of the Eighth Superman”

Check out the “hint” on this first page…


We’ll come back later to see if it was REALLY a clue.

The issue introduces us to our villain in an odd fashion…



“I know you’ll use my life’s work for evil and I can stop you by simply NOT letting you do it, but eh, a promise is a promise.”

Clark in the issue is assigned to cover a day in the life of Steve Lombard. Naturally, he needs to get out of it. But how?


Ten years later, Steve Lombard will enter a room and not know why he entered the room. His doctor will explain to him it is from all the concussions he received. “They must have come during your football career,” the doctor will say, not knowing that most of them will be from Superman-inflicted brain damage.

So the bad guy is sending puppets who suck out Superman’s powers (how this happens is also not explained, but I guess if you concede that the guy can turn puppets alive you can concede that he can make puppets that can suck out Superman’s powers)…


Finally, the puppets deliver all of the powers to their master…


But wait, it is NOT their master!!


You also have to love “giving me the super powers returned them to regular puppets…for some reason.” Way too many Superman stories of the era involve “This happened…for some reason.” So, do you think the first page clue was playing fair? I tend to think no, but I could be wrong. The story on the whole was pretty decent. I like the idea of a bunch of Superman puppets messing with Superman.

On the next page, we take a look at Daredevil #101-105!

For the most part, I think people misunderstand just how “out there” Steve Gerber’s Daredevil run was. It definitely DID get way out there at times, but for the most part it was surprisingly down-to-earth.

A long-running plotline during his run was a mysterious man in shadows who was working against Daredevil by introducing new villains. The mystery man was pretty clearly the mysterious head of Matt Murdock’s San Francisco law firm, but for some reason the story went on for nearly a year before the big bad was revealed (and it was, in fact, obviously the mysterious head of Murdock’s San Francisco law firm).

I will give credit to Gerber for the introduction of Angar the Screamer. That character was definitely a unique contribution to the Marvel Universe…



A disaffected hippie protester whose rage is now just a tool of “the man”? Come on, that’s brilliant.

The story in the issue, “Vengeance In the Sky With Diamonds!” was drawn by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia, who do an okay job but nothing to write home about.

Angar decides that he does not want to work for “the Man” anymore, but that device I showed you before could kill Angar, he agrees to try to kill Daredevil and Black Widow. Widow, though, has other ideas…



They don’t really follow up on the whole “Widow is willing to kill but Daredevil is not” angle in the next few issues, but it is a good idea by Gerber to introduce it. This was a very solid start to this run of issues.

The next issue, though, “Stilt-Man Stalks the City!” is a fill-in written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Syd Shores and Frank Giacoia. This was Claremont’s first solo writing assignment in comics (I featured it awhile back in my spotlight series on comic creators’ first works).

It is a testament, I believe, to Claremont’s talents that his very first story is a serviceable tale…




A little overly dramatic, but that was pretty par for the course for Marvel titles at the time. Not a standout story, but decent enough.

The next issue saw Gerber’s return to the title, along with new penciler Don Heck (inked by Sal Trapani). However, unlike Angar, Ramroad, the villain from “…Then Came Ramrod!” is awful.



Just a dreadful issue, even with a neat guest appearance by Spider-Man!

The following issue, “Prey of the Hunter!” opens with some outstanding good girl art by Heck and Trapani…


We finally get to meet the mysterious Kerwin Broderick, even as a mysterious man (who almost certainly had to be Kerwin Broderick) was hiring Kraven the Hunter to mess Daredevil up…


I didn’t like how Black Widow ended up as a damsel-in-distress…


but otherwise, the battle scenes between Kraven and Daredevil are well done, if a bit rote. The book ended on a strong cliffhanger…


The following issue, “Menace From the Moons of Saturn!” finally sees Gerber really just go all out crazy on Daredevil and I loved it! Heck’s inks are provided by Don Perlin this issue, which is a step down from the Heck/Trapani pairing of the last two issues, but check this out…


Daredevil is abruptly teleported to Titan!! That’s hilariously bizarrely awesome.

There, he meets the then-newly introduced Moondragon (she gains the name in this issue).



Her creator, Jim Starlin, actually shows up to give her origin. I skipped it because, well, it was just her origin.

Then we discover that it was MOONDRAGON that was behind all of these new villains Daredevil has been facing! But did she KNOW that she was doing evil?!


Who is her ally?!


You have to love how Gerber just embraced the obviousness of Broderick being the bad guy. “Yeah, yeah, I know it was obvious. I’ll even concede as much in the comic!”

What a cool comic book. I know Gerber pulled back pretty soon after this issue after Marveldom did not react kindly to his turning the book into a sort of sci-fi book, but I really appreciate his brashness.

On the next page, we look at Fantastic Four #136-140!

The first story, “Rock Around the Cosmos” has a very clever idea by Roy Thomas (the issue was written by Gerry Conway based on the Thomas idea), which is that after a battle against a bad guy, the Shaper of Worlds shows up and mistakes one of the bad guy’s henchmen for somebody that the Shaper should give a crap about (due to the henchmen being close to the energy given off by the bad guy’s son, who was ACTUALLY an interesting fellow).


So imagine the world being re-shaped by a no-good moron. Pretty interesting concept, right? The henchmen’s basic idea was to have the world go back in time to the 1950s, albeit a twisted version of the 1950s…


From the Wild Ones above to a twisted take on Joe McCarthy below…



Including an “of the times” treatment of black people (are we sure that this isn’t Rogue’s dream world?).

John Buscema and Joe Sinnott (Buscema doing breakdowns, Sinnott doing finishes and then inks) do a good job with the heavily Kirby-esque designs of the people in the 1950s world.

In the following issue, we get some more information about what exactly is going on…



However, besides an inspired bit where the “invisible” black community decides to take matters into their own hands…


Conway really doesn’t do a whole lot with the concept that was set-up in the previous issue.

Ultimately, the story ends with the Shaper of the Worlds just showing up to stop it all…


I like the “Was this all for no reason?”

“Uhm…yes and no, human…but more yes than no.”


Yep, the whole thing was just a goof-up on the Shaper’s part. Oopsies!

I also dig that the FF are cool with the Shaper just taking the kid and going off with him. Plus, you have to love Thing’s views on how the 1950s were better than the 1970s. “Well, you know, unless you were a minority or a woman.”

Conway takes over as the full-time plotter and scripter next issue for a pretty forgettable introduction to a story where the old Fantastic Four villain Miracle Man shows up, only now instead of having the ILLUSION of having great powers, he actually DOES have great powers thanks to scamming some Native American gods. The Fantastic Four run afoul of him when they are with Wyatt Wingfoot and his people celebrating Wyatt’s graduation from college.

While the issue is pretty forgettable as a whole, there is one page that was so over-the-top that I figured I had to share. It was showing Alicia Masters’ worry over the Thing contrasted with Mister Fantastic’s problems with the fact that Sue is still out of his life (this was during a point in time when Reed and Sue were separated)…


That’s some heavy-duty captioning!

The following issue continues with a pretty “by the books” fight against Miracle Man, although I did enjoy this interesting usage of the Human Torch’s powers…


It reminded me of early FF issues where Lee and Kirby gave Johnny new applications of his power every other issue.

But otherwise, the rest of the issue was pretty bland, although with some nice Buscema/Sinnott artwork…



And then, just like the last storyline, the issue abruptly ends when a powerful force just decides to end it…


Kind of weird to have back-to-back stories end in the same fashion.

The final issue in this little run is a story that involves Annihilus. First, Sue tries to reach Reed after something is seemingly going wrong with their son. Something interrupts her phone call and Reed freaks out. Medusa then hilariously brains Reed with a wrench…


What the what?!

Anyhow, before Sue can reach the FF, Annihilus shows up!


We then get the origin of Annihlus, and amusingly enough, it is also “some powerful being just showed up and I got to become powerful”…




A whole lot of “a wizard did it!” in these FF issues.

Not a great quintet of issues.

On the next page, we take a look at Iron Man #60-64!

In the issue right before Iron Man #60, Iron Man met the idealistic sister of the villainous Firebrand. She has a lot of the same anti-establishment views of her brother, but she is a pacifist. She is almost killed by her own brother in #59 and in #60, we see Iron Man saved her but she is still not a fan of either Iron Man or Tony Stark…


Nice character work by Mike Friedrich (art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito).

I like to read the next panel in the voice of Will Ferrell’s character from Anchorman…


“What’s that The Space Shuttle…stolen?! You ate a whole brick of cheese?”

Beyond some nice artwork by the great Tuska and Esposito, Iron Man’s battle against the Masked Maruader and his henchmen Steele are pretty boring…




To spice things up a bit, Friedrich was working in a plotline about Happy Hogan being a dick to his wife for wanting to go back to work as Tony Stark’s secretary and actually (GASP!) go on business trips with him…


The following issue continues with the pretty boring fight with the Maruader (while still very well drawn by Tuska and Esposito)…





mixed with some over-the-top sub-plot work with Pepper and Happy…


Man, Happy is such a jerk in this storyline.

The next issue has a young P. Craig Russell on pencils with inks by Esposito and Frank Giacoia. The old Iron Man villain Whiplash is back, only now he has secretly gone to work for Stark. I like that after we see Happy acting like a jerk to Pepper for working, we then see Whiplash do the same in his secret identity…


If that doesn’t make it clear what Friedrich thinks of Happy’s views, then I dunno what will.

Whiplash goes into action…



The battle is actually a pretty clever one, especially Iron Man’s solution to stopping Whiplash…



The next issue sees Tuska return, along with Roxie Gilbert (the pacifist woman Tony is now obsessed with)…


Friedrich continues his strong work with this relationship.

This story also saw the re-introduction of Eddie March, a boxing friend of Happy Hogan’s who had filled in for Iron Man in the past. Here, he meets a mysterious African fellow…


The issue features the villainous Doctor Spectrum. We learn a bit more about him, including the fact that he apparently has a symbiotic relationship with his power gem…


The major event of the issue, though, comes in the end, when little Tony gets big Tony into trouble…


The two former friends have it out in the next issue…



And then the mysterious Dr. Obatu shows up with Eddie March…


This new bad guy can read Tony’s mind and can tell he is thinking about Roxie, so it goes to kill her…




In the end, there is a decent twist with this new villain. After starting a bit weakly, this run of issues picks up with the last three, especially this Doctor Spectrum arc.

Finally, we get to Waid’s Daredevil #25-29!

We begin with #25 by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez…

To recap, Foggy Nelson is in the hospital for cancer treatment and some mysterious bad guy is experimenting, trying to give other people Daredevil’s powers. Suddenly, one of the homeless experiment people show up…



I love the way that Waid plays with conventions like that.

He then meets the final product of the experiments in giving other people Daredevil’s powers…


This leads to the following brilliant sequence where Samnee really shines…




What a twist!!

Ikari leaves Daredevil, telling him that DD will never know when they will strike at him next, but it will be soon.

This naturally leaves Matt as a total wreck in the next issue, even as he tries to take care of normal duties. This leads to the following amazing sequences (this run is filled with amazing sequences)…




Okay, come on, be honest, that was freakin’ awesome, right? Samnee and Rodriguez NAILED it.

The paranoia brings him to Foggy’s side…


And once again the paranoia is TRUE!

Daredevil eventually figures out that it is his old enemy Bullseye, revived but paralyzed, now having to use his brain to attack where he once used his own body…


Clever stuff.

This leads to a stand-off in the next issue….or IS it?




Very cool reveal.

I won’t spoil the rest of the issue.

I wanted to go five issues because I wanted to show some issues that didn’t have Chris Samnee, because I figure you could argue “Hey Brian, unfair! These issues all have Chris Samnee in them!” So here are two issues by the awesome colorist Javier Rodriguez as he takes over on pencils, as well, where first we see Waid add a great touch about Matt’s powers as well as the power of his friendship with Foggy…




The issue also introduces the grown bully who coined the name “Daredevil” years earlier…


I love how Waid adds context to Matt’s childhood…



In the end, Matt agrees to help his old bully but finds that the bad guys are out to get him as the JUDGE in the case shoots his old bully!

This leads Matt to be stuck in a courthouse that has been infiltrated by the Sons of the Serpent!




Rodriguez is no Chris Samnee, but he does a solid job on these two issues.


Nice sequence.

All in all, Waid’s Daredevil issues strike me as being on a much higher level than the other stories I examined. This is not just an example of a book being praised because we’re so desperate for good superhero comics that we’ll overpraise one, this is a legitimately very good comic book series with an amazing artist in Chris Samnee, a great colorist in Javier Rodriguez and a top notch writer in Waid who is on the top of his game here.