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Daredevil. Not that one. The other one. The unblind guy with a boomerang. – Daredevil #53

February 14, 2012

What’s that? You came in here looking for the horned Matt Murdock? Or, God help us, Mike Murdock? Sorry to disappoint. But perhaps you’ll be pleased to make the acquaintance of this red and blue togged gentleman. Myself, I was always a little curious about him. I always saw his title when I turned to the Daredevil section of the Overstreet guide, and got all confused by the seemingly inflated prices before the “oh, the Golden Age one nobody gives a fig about” realization set it. I vowed to one day purchase one of his books and peruse its old-timey pages. I have now done so. THIS IS A PROUD DAY.

For the equally uninitiated, the original Golden Age Daredevil, created by Jack Binder, was one of the earliest costumed superheros, making his Lev Gleason Publications debut as a backup in Silver Streak. His origin was revamped immediately after his introduction, and the change left him a costumed hero whose boomerang skills were honed by Aborigines in the Australian outback. Crocodile Dundee, eat your heart out. This particular issue, in the middle of his comic’s run, also featured his young sidekicks, the Little Wise Guys, a not-so-Little Rascally, Boy Commandoish group of kids who shared his “Illustories.” The Wise Guys’ popularity eventually led to them taking over the series, booting DD out of his eponymous mag (they have sole possession of the second feature in this book, which was a taste of things to come). Ouch.

Charles Biro, who carried most of the story and art water on the series and turned Daredevil into one of the finer titles of the era, tackled the art chores on this issue’s cover and the scripting on the Daredevil-infused feature within. Norman Maurer pitched in with the interior pencils and inks. And that Daredevil story? I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the read. Biro’s writing rolls along nicely, at the breakneck, golly gee-whiz speed that makes the Golden Age so (sometimes maddeningly) special. Where else can you go from a museum office to Egypt in the space of one panel?:

That’s like the graphic cousin of a 2001 jump cut.

The crux of the story is that they’re all off to find some lost treasure, so that it can find a happy home — away from its native land — in a North American museum. “White Man’s Burden, Lloyd my man. White Man’s Burden.” There are, of course, a number of lethal obstacles in their way, and Daredevil and his fellas tackle them with a mixture of cunning and brawn. (And as for their made up Pharoah’s tomb quarry, all I could think of was the Three Stooges when they’d go off in search of King Rootin-Tootin’s cache.)

Maurer’s art is the real star of the tale. It’s magnificently detailed, though perhaps it plays for favorites with me by employing my preferred 3×3 panel layout format. I LIKE ORDER. I was particularly taken with this page, which features Daredevil trying to rescue himself and the boys from the cover’s onrushing water predicament:

I love the last panel in the middle row. No dialogue. The shadows behind the Wise Guys. The detailed hieroglyphics on the tunnel walls. This is quality work, no matter the decade. I’d say it wipes the floor with most of the flash and sizzle of modern garbage. “How am I supposed to read a comic book without blood and cleavage? ANSWER ME!”

And there’s action, too — don’t go thinking that this is a dull archeological dig, or like the last half hour of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which had all-man Indiana Jones taking no positive action and simply fleeing assorted threats. Is it dull to root a scoundrel out of an armored truck by making a firebomb — MacGyver-like — out of a shirt, sand and gas? YEAH, I DON’T THINK SO:

Would I still rather read a Gene Colan Silver Age Daredevil book? Yes. But this material holds its own. It really does.

Daredevil and his companions have passed into the public domain, allowing current publishers to incorporate their into their respective universes. The most prominent of those modern appearances occurs in Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon, where DD and the boys may have crossed paths with Fast Willie Jackson. (And watch out, Dragon, because the Wise Guys have been known to boot people out of their own digs and move in like hermit crabs. You have been warned.) Also thanks to public domain, you can find full Daredevil issues on the internet without guilt or fear of SOPA persecution. Many Golden Age books are dated dreck, but I can’t say that about Daredevil. He’s worth a look.

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