Daredevil #166 (1980)

It blows me away that it’s been a quarter century since Frank Miller burst onto the comics scene on Daredevil. It’s fair to say that Miller’s era on that comic was explosive. Heck, explosive is an understatement. His work felt positively revolutionary, at least for me.
I was exactly the right age for Miller to come along. His first issue of DD was #158, in 1979. I was 13 years old at the time, yes, a geek even at that age, and I felt that I had found the perfect artist to fit my new *ahem* maturity as a strapping teenager. His pencil style wasn’t the slickest, but the way that Miller lay panels on the page and the way he constucted action scenes – there was a real revolution there!
DD #166 is actually a pretty rotten comic book, as comic books go. Miller is credited as co-plotter on this issue, in collaboration with Roger McKenzie. Issue 166 was McKenzie’s last work. The following issue was a fill-in, and issue #168 was the historic introduction of Elektra. Miller started writing the comic with that issue, and it was then that the book really took off. Issue 166, though, feels rushed and uninteresting. With his pal Foggy Nelson’s wedding in the background, Daredevil tries to stop the villainous Gladiator from killing a group of schoolkids.
Gladiator’s motives don’t make a ton of sense, and his rants seem to come from Super-Villain Rants 101, but Miller does his best with this weak material. He consistently tries to create interesting tableaux for the characters, using interesting panel arrangements to make things lively. Even there, though, the book is a bit blah. Page 14 might feature Miller’s very last nine-panel grid of his entire career. The best bit is attached to this message. Isn’t that a cute panel arrangement?
Of course, as they say, hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy now to miss what’s so special about this book. At the time, Daredevil was near death. It was close to being cancelled, so Marvel entrusted the art to a guy who could cut his teeth on the book. Little did they know that they had one of the most important comics creators of the last 25 years working for them. We kids knew, though. When Miller took over the book from the great Gene Colan, I expected the worst. Expectations were very low, but what the heck, the comic only cost 50¢, why not stick around. But we sophisticated teenagers could tell right away that Miller was special. There was a verve, an energy, a spirit to his work that was impossible to resist.
Miller might be as responsible as anyone for my lifelong obsession with comics. Along with Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, John Totleben and Rick Veitch on Swamp Thing, Miller showed that the medium wasn’t just kid stuff. There was more to life than a nine-panel grid. Daredevil #166 might not be a great comic, but it was an important link in a chain.

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