It’s Frank Miller time!
To wash the taste of bad comic out of our collective mouths, I thought I’d serve up some old-school Daredevil. I’m setting the Wayback Machine for the year 1981, when Frank “The Tank” Miller* was still a hot up and coming writer/artist making a name for himself in the trenches of monthly comic books. Miller started off as the artist on DD, but in short order had taken over writing duties as well – and a comic book legend was born!
This is a great comic book. Now, I know that some of Miller’s work isn’t appraised as critically as it should be, simply because, hey, it’s Frank Miller – it must be good, right? However, I can say with absolutely no reservations that this is a great comic book. You are a communist and/or an enemy of freedom if you don’t think this is a great comic book.
Here’s the story: Daredevil #172 is a super-dense, plot-heavy gangland drama written and penciled by Frank Miller with inks by Klaus Janson, the Team Supreme. Miller’s pencils and sequential storytelling are top-notch, but those Janson inks are icing on the cake, baby. Klaus Janson’s inks are like spandex: they make any ass look good.
In this comic, appropriately titled “Gang War,” the Kingpin and Daredevil are embroiled in a plot by the Kingpin’s lieutenants to overthrow the Big Bald Bad-Ass. The mob lieutenants hire DD’s arch-enemy Bullseye to kill the Kingpin, but their plan goes horribly wrong. Kingpin cleans house and gets revenge on the underling responsible for the alleged death of his beloved wife Vanessa. She’s not really dead, but Kingpin doesn’t know that. After a lot of underworld-scouring and subterfuge, the issue culminates with a brawl between Daredevil and Bullseye in one of Kingpin’s secret vaults. Daredevil wins, but it’s a pyrrhic victory, because although he can bring Bullseye in, he can’t touch the Kingpin, as usual.
Okay, before I go on, I want points for using the word “pyrrhic.”
"You are a communist and/or an enemy of freedom if you don’t think this is a great comic book."
The plot is ambitiously complex, almost too much for a twenty-two page comic. There is an average of 7.78 panels per page, and some pages have as many as twelve panels, yet the book flows beautifully and never feels cramped. If this storyline were published today it would be “paced for trade,” would take eight issues, and four of the eight issues would be late.
Miller’s layouts are clever and effective; for instance, establishing shots of new locations in the story are done in tall rectangular panels on one side of the page, and then Miller uses horizontal panels to show the action that takes place in the location. If I had thought about it, I would have scanned a page to show you what I mean, but trust me, it’s an effective motif.
In keeping with the noir feel of the book, Miller uses a lot of black in this book. It wasn’t printed on the best paper, and frankly my comic isn’t in the best shape, but hopefully you’ll get the idea. Here’s Bullseye showing off in front of the mob lieutenants who hired him to kill the Kingpin:
Bullseye! It’s shit like that that made Young Dave love Bullseye. Dude can kill you with a playing card or blind you by spitting a pill at you. Bullseye rules.
Speaking of kick-ass villains, here’s The Kingpin taking out his frustrations on Lynch, the underling he holds responsible for the alleged death of his wife. Note the brilliant use of zipatone in the third panel:
Finally, here’s Daredevil and Bullseye brawling (below). I liked the fact that the early version of Bullseye carried a Mauser pistol, because why not? Seems like something he’d do. Miller lays out the fight in big all-horizontal panels for a few pages – it helps visually distinguish the fight from the rest of the comic, which has a tight claustrophobic feel to it. Once we reach the big climax of the book, Miller breaks away from the small, tight panels and opens it up for “wide-screen” action:
Fight like apes!
I don’t know what else I can say; if I haven’t convinced you at this point that Daredevil #172 is a work of art, either I suck, or you should move to North Korea.
*Again, nobody actually calls him Frank "The Tank." I'm trying to start a trend.