Gimmick or Good? - Daredevil #321

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence "Gimmick or Good?" Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1993's glow-in-the-dark cover for Daredevil #321...

Daredevil #321 (published October 1993) – script by D.G. Chichester, art by Scott McDaniel and Hector Collazo

In the world of 1990s comics, pretty much every major “big two” superhero had been through a major status quo change by the latter half of 1993 and Daredevil was no different. The “Fall From Grace,” arc marked the 90s extreme makeover edition of the “Man Without Fear.” In this storyline, Daredevil readers were ambushed with a new costume, the full-fledged return of a long-lost lover and adversary (after it had been teased many issues earlier), the outing of the titular hero’s secret identity and then eventually the faking of the death of Hornhead’s alter ego Matt Murdock’s. All in the span of six issues.

Daredevil #321 was the second chapter of the arc (and third issue if you include the #319 “Prologue”) and it featured a wrap-around glow-in-the-dark cover. The glow-in-the-dark components also are slightly raised and bumpy, giving the cover an almost sandpaper-like feel.

But what about inside the comic?

Actually, like I did with X-O Manowar #0 last time, I want to spend one more minute on the cover since I think there are some details worth mentioning as it pertains to the story. What’s actually pretty cool about this cover is the glow-in-the-dark affect projects Daredevil’s “radar” senses perspective while blacking out the villain Hellspawn. This is significant since Daredevil was unable to use his radar senses to track Hellspawn throughout this issue. So, in a total change-of-pace from other gimmick covers from the era, this one actually ties-in to a major plot point.

Unfortunately, the cover may be the most creatively designed element to this comic. Daredevil #321 functions as a snapshot for a lot of the things that frustrated readers during the early 1990s. First, there’s the big costume change, where Daredevil ditched the all-red attire for a red, grey and white get-up made of biomimetic materials, along with shoulder pads and other protective appendages. There’s nothing offensive about the new costume, but there doesn’t seem to be any real reason for such a dramatic change. Sure, Daredevil got his threads tattered an issue earlier, but why after years in his classic red suit does he need all of this new technology and padding? It just comes across as forcing readers to “pay attention” since the events of the arc are going to be “important.”

Then there’s the comic’s villain, Hellspawn, who was Daredevil’s doppelganger produced during another early 90s gimmick, “Infinity War.” I’m yet to find a storyline where one of these dopplegangers was used in a positively memorable way. Speaking as a Spider-Man fan, I know his doppelganger was a groan-inducing character during “Maximum Carnage.” My biggest issue with Hellspawn is the character’s voice. All of these Marvel dopplegangers seem to have pretty weak genes and Hellspawn’s dialogue, filled with “dees” and other incoherencies, is a bear to read. It grinds things to a halt as I’m trying to figure out exactly what this thing is trying to say. I understand in the world of comics there’s a range of characters, personalities and dialects but there’s an unmistakable difference between Gambit’s creole and Hellspawn’s gibberish.

In the midst of all this there’s a somewhat convoluted storyline about a pathogen dubbed the “About Face virus,” which can alter a person’s body to their wishes. The man behind this is Gen. Henry Kenkoy, a former U.S. Department of Defense guy who wanted to use the general public as guinea pigs for the virus. After a failed experiment, Kenkoy killed off his entire team except for a lone telepath Eddie Passim, who knows where the last remaining vial of the virus exists. So Kenkoy and Passim are looking for each other, and Daredevil is looking for both, and somehow there’s a shot of Elektra’s sai suggesting that SHE’S in the middle of all this …

If this next statement makes me sound too ignorant here I apologize but this is all WAY too complicated. You want to know why (in my opinion at least) Frank Miller’s first run on Daredevil is so celebrated? Because while completely reimaging the character and adding a ton of new layers to his characterization, he managed to keep the primary plot points very simple and straightforward. When reading those comics, at no point am I sitting there trying to figure out who knows who, what happened when, who’s a telepath and who has somebody’s “essence.” Daredevil #321 moves rapid fire between all of these characters without letting anything maturate. There’s a Nick Fury cameo at the end and even VENOM is shoehorned into this thing at one point (presumably because the Venom: Lethal Protector series had just been launched).

I shouldn’t need an index to track down every character and plot point mentioned in a single issue of a comic book. It makes Chichester’s script very frustrating to read and I think the ADD-nature of the comic doesn’t do McDaniel’s pencils any favors either, as the composition for a lot of his characters look rushed and slapdashed. In other words, just another early 90s comic from the “House of Ideas.”

Verdict: Gimmick

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