Marvel Masterworks #17: Daredevil (reprinting stories from 1964-5)

I had an odd reaction reading Marvel Masterworks volume 17 featuring Daredevil. I enjoyed the first of the eleven issues reprinted here for its camp value, but by the time I finished issue #11 I was completely charmed. These comics, from 1964 and ’65, are a kind of time capsule from a world gine by, a look at the way people lived when times really were simpler. It’s a lot like the feelings I get sometimes watching an old episode of Star Trek where Captain Kirk manages to get in a good fight, kiss a pretty alien girl, and solve a centuries-old conflict all in the space of one hour. Good always triumphs over evil in these old stories. Heroes are forthright and brave. The system works. Cynicism has no plase in this old-fashioned world.
Sure the dialogue in these old comics is often laughable and the characterization in them is paper-thin. That’s part of these old comics’ charm. The 1964-5 Matt Murdock, Daredevil’s alter ego, seems absolutely unbelieveable to a reader in 2005. He’s a blind lawyer whose only cases come from super-villains using him for their short-term gain. He’s always coming and going from his office, hopping over roofs as Daredevil and neglecting his practice. Neither his law partner, Foggy Nelson, nor his secretary, "the gorgeous Karen Page", as she’s almost invariably referred as, notice any odor of sweat or see any bruises on his body from Daredevil’s adventures. One could go on and on finding faults in the material. But that misses the point.
Daredevil #1-11 present a world so forthright, so black-and-white in an old-fashioned way, that it’s wonderfully refreshing. Evil men (always men) exist, but they only want to rob banks, steal cars or rig elections. Only Namor the Sub-Mariner, the king of Atlantis, wants to rule the world. Heroes are real heroes, sacrificing their social lives, their professional careers, even their bodies, just to defeat an evil-doer in a silly costume. A book like this wouldn’t have a chance in hell of surviving today.
So far this sounds like a recommendation that would apply to all the Masterworks volumes. What sets the Daredevil volume apart is its art. The late great Wally Wood had a hand in illustrating seven of the eleven stories here, and his work is an absolute knockout. His use of dramatic angle shots, powerful renderings of action scenes, and spectacular panel compositions, help to enliven a story like "In Mortal Combat with the Sub-Mariner" from a basic hero battle into what Stan Lee in his introduction calls one of his all-time favorite stories.
This book has a tremendous amount of charm and some spectcular art. It’s absolutely not the finest of the Masterworks books – the Spider-Man and Fantastic Four volumes contain far better stories. But if you have the $50 to spare and love vintage ’60s Marvels, you could do worse. Or in other words, it’s not Frank Miller or Brian Bendis – but it is vintage Wally Wood.

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