Essential Daredevil Volume 5 by Syd Shores, Don Heck, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema, Gene Colan, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman (graphic novel review).
‘Essential Daredevil Volume 5’ could more honestly be titled ‘Essential Daredevil And The Black Widow’ because the lovely Natasha Romanov features heavily. Her loveliness varies slightly according to which artist is drawing her but she always looks pretty damn good in her skin-tight black leather. Of course, Matt Murdock/Daredevil is a right-on seventies man here and would love her just as much if she was a one-eyed hunchback because it’s the character that counts. Luckily, this is never really put to the test but he does agonise a lot over hurting her feminist feelings by giving orders and occasionally keeping things from her. He also agonises over falling for Moon Dragon when he is meant to be with Ms. Romanov. Men! They’re nothing but brutes in human form. At least, they thought they were back in the seventies.
All those battles are over and we are all feminists now, which is why the television screens are filled with one-eyed hunchback older women reading the news and doing the weather forecasts. Still, it is interesting to read seventies comics and see the hippie writers take on the issues of the day. Steve Gerber, who wrote most of this volume, was one of the hippest.
Apart from the undercurrent of war-between-the-sexes, there is some pretty good action, too. The book covers from Daredevil And The Black Widow # 102 through to Daredevil # 125. The Widow was dropped from the cover title after #107 which is odd because she features heavily in almost every issue. Criminal conspiracies abound because, if you have to produce an issue every month, it’s easier to have a big story arc backing it up. So for much of the time there is an evil Moriarty-like figure sending minor henchmen to do in our hero. The minor henchmen include Ramrod, Kraven the Hunter, Angar the Screamer, the Beetle, the Silver Samurai, Blackwing, El Jaguar, Dreadnaught and a few others. The crime organisations sending these devils are Black Spectre, Hydra and a nameless one for the first six issues. In between the Black Spectre and Hydra storylines, there are a few shorter tales featuring favourite old villains like the Gladiator, Death Stalker and the Owl.
‘Daredevil’ is a minor league Marvel title compared to some and it was given to less well-known writers and artists at times. Often they came up trumps. Steve Gerber is always interesting and Tony Isabella delivered a good Hydra yarn. The art by Don Heck and Bob Brown is competent or better. The glorious Gene Colan stops by to pencil a few issues as well, which is always a pleasure. Bob Brown was a comic artist with a long career – beginning in the 1940s – and this was practically his last work. I read on-line that it is considered a low period in Daredevil history between two long spells of Colan. That’s unfair. He was a good storyteller who turned in a professional job, often excellent, and he was well served here by the inks of Vince Colletta. The first issue features pencils by Syd Shores with inks by Frank Giacoia, a rare combination. Issue # 108 has Bob Brown inked by Paul Gulacy(!) a very rare combination. As so often with these cheap bumper volumes, the black and white production actually highlights the artists’ skill.
A surprisingly good book. Furthermore, the stories have twenty pages and there are lots of words on all of them so it will probably take you twice as long to read as a modern comic.
(pub: Marvel Comics. 496 pages graphic novel black and white softcover. Price: about £ 7.27 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-0-78514-454-0)
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