Wednesday, July 13, 2005

DAREDEVIL #172 Marvel Comics, 1981

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.


Anonymous said...

Dynamite! Goddamn that's a good comic. I gotta tell you, the whole Miller run on DD is pure fricking GENIUS!!! When he left it was sad, but when he came back for Born Again, he was EVEN BETTER!! Dear GOD, those were awesome comics. Those are some of my most read of all time.

Also, that Thor comic truly sucketh. Now how about some DEATHLOK, baby!

John said...

It's so minor, but check out that final panel of the fight page you posted...notice how DD's billyclub and Bullseye's Mauser are lying on opposite ends of the panel, matching their owners' locations.

I mean, that Miller guy was GOOD. Is good? Sure.

David Campbell said...

Deathlok is in the queue. I know, I promised...

Anonymous said...

That comic is "the poo."

Greg said...

I always dug Bullseye, but the problem with him is he never actually kills the people he's paid to kill. I mean, he's always getting thwarted! How did he get this rep? Marvel should have him kill off some loser heroes (coughSpeedballcough) so that people have a reason for hiring him.

Points for pyrrhic - you got 'em!

Vaklam said...

Klaus Janson’s inks are like spandex: they make any ass look good.

I suspect you'll revise that theory (regarding spandex, not Klaus "The House") after a couple of hours at SDCC.

nobody actually calls him Frank "The Tank." I'm trying to start a trend

Damn. If only I'd been quicker on the draw with my "Miller the Killer" campaign. "The Tank" it is.

Brian Keene said...

I second that call for the Death of Speedball. Maybe they can get Frank the Tank to write it.

Will Pfeifer said...

I remember reading those comics when they hit the stands, way back when, and there was NOTHING else like them. Still isn't! I've never forgotten that bit where Bullseye hits the fly with the paperclip. Talk about action revealing character.

kelvingreen said...

Klaus Janson’s inks are like spandex: they make any ass look good.
I echo vaklam's statement; with that attitude, you're in for a rude awakening at San Diego...

Stan Sakai also uses many of those Miller techniques. Excellent visual storyteller, Sakai, but I think he gets overlooked because he does a "furry" comic, whereas Miller's a tough crime writer. That's not to say that Miller's not a great storyteller, of course.

Cove West said...

Y'know, I love "Born Again." LOVE, dammit! In the truest, most sell-out-your-boyfriend-for-crack way. I read it, and despite my best efforts to eruditely explain the encompassing emotions (look! I alliterated!), I usually just end up in the floor, head between my hands, rocking back and forth and muttering "Damn. Damn. Damn," until my ass is raw.

But I've never read Miller's original run.

Well, not entirely true. I've read the first three or four issues of the second Daredevil Legends TPB. And for some reason, I just stopped reading (gasp not, noble fellows! If memory serves, the reason was the first Morrison ANIMAL MAN trade, so at least it was a good reason). And I've not since gone back. Now, I'm sure there's some deep psychological reason for this, probably leading back to some childhood trauma I never actually had, but the simplest, most word-baloonable explanation? I think I'm scared.

I'm sure every one of us, at one point or another, has uttered the universal truth: "George Lucas raped my childhood!" How this quiet-spoken man from a sleepy California town lured us into a darkened room with the promise of candy-colored weaponry, to listen to the Holy Word of a small green hobo. And how the Word was not True, but instead the ramblings of an apparently drunk undersea Jamaican. "Bu--but, the quiet-spoken man..." our parents would stammer, "he was always so plaid! We trusted him!" while we children wandered aimlessly through our lives, not even fully aware of our trauma, at last falling exhausted into the lap of a much shorter, much fatter, much hairier, less plaid Kiwi who would from time to time call us "precious."

Well, that's how I feel about Frank Miller. He kissed me twice gently upon the cheek on a Dark Knight. He said his name was Martha Washington. He said I would be Born Again. 300 times he proved my worth to him. And so I followed him into Sin City... Do I dare go further, back to the very beginning, where his passions are raw? Will it be a grand love, the kind one only reads of in storybooks? Or will he reveal himself to be just a man, a man of nothing but want and lust and silver tongue, to leave me abused and broken on a street corner in Hell's Kitchen, hoping that someone might think Speedball's secret identity is worth a little crack...

DEAR GOD! Where did all that come from? Beer, football, trucks, NASCAR, beer, John Wayne, guns, and beer!!!

Ahem. So tell me, O wise and pre-Mazzucchellied ones: is Miller's original run really as good as reputed? Not that I'm expecting "Year One" or "Born Again," but is it something you can look at and say "Yup, that's superstar Frank Miller" or is it nothing more than a prelude to greater things?

David Campbell said...

Holy shit, cove...

Yeah, they are really that good. There are a few missteps, but overall I'd say Miller's run is one of the best stretches of regular monthly comics ever. Ever! He made The Kingpin into the true monolith of crime that he should be. He punched me in the gut with the Elektra saga. He made me care whether Ben Urich lived or died. He made ninjas cool. He even had an issue guest starring Power Man & Iron Fist. And then there's the Klaus Janson factor...

The Miller DD run just rules, and this is coming from a guy who thought Give Me Liberty was just OK and DK2 was like a practical joke or something, so I am capable of some critical thought re: Frank Miller. Not a lot, but some.

Chris said...

Wow, that's some deep 'poo'

I must third the motion for killing Speedball. Although it would be a pyrrhic victory (cuz, who could really be all that proud about killing a chump like speedball?), it'd up the price on Bullseye's head and rid us of the crappiest New Warrior of all.

SW said...

Major Villain: "I heard you're the best. Prove it."

Bullseye: "Well, look what I can do with this paper clip" (Throws clip, shatters marble statue)

MV: "Hmm, that's cool I guess. But have you killed anyone, y'know, that I've heard of?"

B: "Yeah, I took out Speedball."

MV: "Excuse me?"

B: "Speedball"

MV: "...that was his name?"

B: "Yeah."

MV: "Someone paid you money to kill a mook named 'Speedball'?"

B: "Well....yeah. See, thing is, this Speedball guy is really annoying. He bounces around, and ..and he makes these bubbles and ..."

MV: "Whoa whoa whoa...."

B: "No, really! Listen, it was a lot harder than it sounded"

MV: "Oh, I can imagine it's hard to kill somebody who makes bubbles.."

B: "Seriously now! This guy bounces around ..."

MV: "Like Bouncing Boy from the Legion?"

B: "**Sigh** Sort of. But, he's got these bubbles...."

MV: "Look, the next time my criminal empire is threatened by Mr. Bubble, what say I give you a call, huh? But until then, get out of my face."

B: "Hey..."

MV: (to his henchmen) "Boys, show the world's most dangerous bubble killer the door"

David Campbell said...

OK, both SW and Cove need their own blogs, and I'm not saying that in a stop-posting-long-and-funny-comments-on-my-blog way. I just think you guys should spread your love around like mayo.

And look - comments by Brian Keene, who wrote the wicked cool zombie novel "The Rising", AND Will Pfeifer, who is currently kicking ass on Catwoman! Both highly recommended. We get all the big shots here at DLB. Thanks guys!

Oldsmoblogger said...

The other thing about Born Again I really liked is that it was one of the best renditions of Captain America I ever read anywhere.

Anonymous said...

I second that.

Chris Arndt said...

Roger MacKenzie.....

Chris Arndt said...

I always wondered... but the names involved kepts switching, why is Bullseye a Daredevil villain?

Daredevil doesn't have that many cool villains of his own and Bullseye is a cool villain on his own. But Bullseye throws things. Just like in the panels you show, once Bullseye is out of things to toss or has no place to toss stuff to.... what good is in a slobberknocker against a guy like Daredevil (boxer, acrobat, martial artist)?

Or if Bullseye is really all that... why and how does DD get close enough to engage him physically if Mr Blindy is getting lots of stuff thrown at him by a guy who never misses.

Heck, check out Bullseye in DC vs Marvel... it's written in character. The guy tosses stuff... once he stops tossing lethal crap at heroes he IS a bullseye.

kelvingreen said...

Actually, Kevin Smith did a neet thing with that; Bullseye was out of ammo, DD thwacks him, knocking out some of his teeth, which Bullseye then uses as weapons against DD. Yup.

Of course, I've just realised that DD blocks them and says something along the lines of "those were meant for my eyes" but it really wouldn't matter if they did hit him, would it?

Brad Curran said...

I... like Speedball. I don't know. I have some affection for any Spider-Man derivative wise ass who appeared in any comic I read from the time I was 5 years old on. I will second love for Miller and Janson's Daredevil run, though. From Elektra's first appearence to her death, at least. Haven't read the last part of it. But that's some really tightly written, well drawn comics that we just don't see these days. I read them in trade form, mind you, and other than the plot he was setting up with the Punisher, reading the whole Gang War/Elektra solid in one go makes for a pretty satisfying self contained story.

Cove West said...

Yeah Dave, I don't know where the hell that freaky post came from. When I went back and read what I wrote, I almost didn't post it, but it was just too weird not to. An Ode to Frank Miller by way of Chris Claremont and Grant Morrison, I guess.

Gotta agree that someone needs to write a story where Bullseye actually kills a bunch of people. He's got that dangerous, anything-in-his-hands-is-a-weapon shtick, on top of a crazy/deadly personality like DC's Mirror Master. He's almost a perfect mirror to the Punisher, actually. A "Bullseye Kills the Marvel Universe" type thing would be awesome.

And don't feel bad, Brad. For all the crap, I do have a soft spot somewhere for Speedball. He's a fun character. I mean, the guy bounces around on bubbles like a life-sized pinball. Honestly, I think that would be a blast if I could do that. It's almost like high-speed zero-gravity. Give someone like Diggle & Ferry a Speedball book to go all ADAM STRANGE on? I'd pick it up. The guy just needs a good portrayal.

One last DD note: someone needs to pull the Kingpin out of the DD/Spidey ghetto. He's Marvel's Lex Luthor; let him go up against the Avengers or FF once in a while.

Brian Keene said...

"And look - comments by Brian Keene, who wrote the wicked cool zombie novel "The Rising", AND Will Pfeifer, who is currently kicking ass on Catwoman! Both highly recommended. We get all the big shots here at DLB."

Wouldn't miss this Blog for the world (even if I am consumed with jealousy that you get to go to the con while I sit here and try to beat a deadline...)

Brian Keene said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kelvingreen said...

"One last DD note: someone needs to pull the Kingpin out of the DD/Spidey ghetto. He's Marvel's Lex Luthor; let him go up against the Avengers or FF once in a while."

Did the Kingpin get to scrap anyone during that crossover when all the villains swapped over? I seem to remember that DD got to fight Ultron (yikes!), so who was DD's arch-villain at the time, and who fought him?

Shane Bailey said...

Anyone read the Bullseye miniseries with Daniel Way and Steve Dillon? I enjoyed the hell out of it myself.

Cove West said...

"Did the Kingpin get to scrap anyone during that crossover when all the villains swapped over?"

A quick Google search turns up very little on Kingpin's activities during the "Acts of Vengeance." He is one of the Prime Movers, the group Loki assembles to lead the whole shebang (along with Doctor Doom, Magneto, the Red Skull, the Mandarin, and the Wizard). But as far as I can tell, all Kingpin seems to do is send the various villains against the heroes. It seems very behind-the-scenes, and I don't think any of the heroes are even aware of his involvement. So basically, he's pointless to the story.

Dan Coyle said...

Kelvin- the teeth thing is used to great effect in Bullseye: Greatest Hits.

kelvingreen said...

I seem to remember some kind of Bullseye vs Hawkeye contest somewhere, but I might be making that up.

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