Monday, May 16, 2005
DAREDEVIL #115 Marvel Comics, 1974
Check out that cover.
They don't make covers like that anymore. Not to get all old-timer on you, but it seems like these days mainstream superhero comics are interested only in generic, iconic covers that don't really indicate what the interior contents of the comic are. The days of word balloons on the cover are long gone, my friend, and that's a damn shame.
Daredevil #115 is one of those comics that I clearly remember reading when I was a little kid. My family used to make the long road trip from Glendale, California all the way up to Yorkton, Saskatchewan, for a few weeks of summer vacation. I'm really quite fond of Saskatchewan and would recommend it as a vacation destination to anyone interested in grain elevators and mosquitoes.
One of the highlights of the summer trips to Yorkton was a visit to the cabin on Crystal Lake of our family friends, who had three daughters. My sister and our friends and I would go swimming and waterskiing and eat and play cards and pick leeches off our feet and it was great. There was this great old drive-in theater up the hill from the cabin where we'd watch bad 70's movies under a big northern sky full of stars. The whole thing was like a Norman Rockwell painting, only different -- Canadian. It was here, at the lake, that I found Daredevil #115 in a box full of toys outside the cabin.
I had never heard of Daredevil before. I knew who Spider-Man and The Hulk were, but who was this guy? When I was a kid I remember being a little scared by Marvel comic covers, and this was no exception. I mean, Daredevil is clearly in trouble on the cover above -- "Looks like this is the death-trap I don't escape!" All the Marvel covers of the 70's were like that; they all showed the hero about to get killed or otherwise being handled roughly. It kind of freaked me out. I think I wanted to see more upbeat covers, wanted to see the hero kicking some ass.
Having said that, I was hooked by the scary cover. So I sat down on the deck and I read it. I had to know if this Daredevil guy made it, who this Death Stalker guy was, and why that bald guy was shooting at him.
The Death-Stalker is one of the coolest villains ever. Let's just get that out of the way. My judgment is clearly swayed by the heady fumes of nostalgia, but I'm amazed that nobody has brought him back. Have they, and I missed it? Death-Stalker was this sinister guy in a hat who... you know what, this splash page says it all. (Click to enlarge for better reading.)
"He is the demonic Death-Stalker -- and his mission is murder!"
Man, Death-Stalker freaked my shit out! As a kid obsessed by Dracula and The Nazgul, I thought he was brilliant. Death-Stalker could become intangible at will, his touch was death, and he had a really evil laugh. Plus: cool hat. What more do you need?
This issue was written by Steve Gerber, with solid 70's art by Bob Brown and inks by the iron hand of Vince Colletta. Steve Gerber is best known for creating Howard the Duck (and Doctor Bong), but he's written tons of stuff. I'm not sure if he created Death-Stalker; I'm too lazy to look it up. Gerber's Daredevil is consistent with the pre-Frank Miller take on the character as a wise-cracking acrobatic swashbuckler. It's actually kind of funny; Daredevil doesn't seem to be remotely afraid of the sinister Death-Stalker in this issue and remains pretty upbeat despite his enemy's apparent invulnerability.
I read this comic dozens of times that summer. I poured over the letters page, the in-house ads, every panel of art - it was a fascinating glimpse into a vast fictional world that was apparently much more complex than just Hulk and Spider-Man. It kindled my interest in comics. Regrettably, that particular comic and I had to part ways, but as you can see, I tracked it down.
I did that with all the old comics I remember reading as a kid. I've pored through back issue bins over the years until I've collected them all. It's like capturing a certain smell or a sound in a bottle. Wouldn't you do that, if you could? Go back to that winter when it really dumped snow on your neighborhood and capture the smell in the air? Or go back to summer camp and capture perfectly the sound of the frogs at night and the snoring of the kid in the bunk next to you? Or capture the sound of traffic and the city drifting in through an open window as you try to sleep on a hot night in July? Well, I did it. I went back and captured all those memories, those feelings and now I have them in acid-free polybags.
There are only about six of them, comics that I have that connection with. The rest are just comics. But when I open Daredevil #115, I can smell the sunscreen and Deep Woods Off, I can feel the warm prairie breeze, and I'm back at Crystal Lake, Saskatchewan.
Oh! Added bonus! Check out this in-house ad for their wild new character - Wolverine! But is he hero -- or the most dangerous new super-villain ever? That makes me feel very old.