Friday, 16 June 2017

Daredevil: Hooray for Wally Wood

THE VERY FIRST DAREDEVIL comic I ever saw - around Easter 1965 - was Daredevil 5 (Dec 1964), with its striking Wally Wood cover and interior art. It was also Wood's first work on the title, and for Marvel, taking over from his old EC colleague and occasional inker Joe Orlando.

Daredevil 5 was Wally Wood's first work for Marvel since the four stories he'd done for Atlas around the middle of 1956, shortly after the tragic collapse of EC Comics, and uncredited pencil job under Colletta inks for Love Romances 96 (Nov 1961), coincidently the same month that Fantastic Four 1 came out.
At the time I was mesmerised by the idea of a blind superhero and - not knowing Wally Wood from Adam - Stan's cover blurb trumpeting the arrival of "the brilliant artistic craftsmanship of famous illustrator Wally Wood" completely passed me by. This may not have been the first time Stan puffed up an artist on the cover of one of his mags, but he'd never done it with this much hyperbole before.

However, as much as I loved the very idea of Daredevil, I wasn't mad about Wally Wood's art in this issue. Admittedly, at the time, I certainly wasn't aware of the brilliant work he'd done on the EC science-fiction titles, but my sensibilities were more in line with the work of Kirby, Ditko and Heck, and this new guy, with his tiny figures and crowded pages, just wasn't ticking any boxes for me.


WHO IS WALLY WOOD?

Wallace Allan Wood was born in Menahga, Minnasota on 17 July 1929. As a child he devoured the great newspaper strips, like Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant and Terry and the Pirates. In love with drawing, he once dreamed he found a magic pencil that could draw anything. Wood graduated from high school in 1944 and enlisted in the Merchant Marine. In 1946, he transferred to the US Army Airborne 11th Paratroopers and was posted to occupied Japan. After demob in 1948, Wood found work as a waiter, and lugged his bulging portfolio around New York, trying to get drawing work from any publisher who'd let him in the door.

Wally Wood
Wood's luck began to turn when he met John Severin in a publisher's waiting room in October 1948. Wood visited the Charles William Harvey Studio where Severin was working and was introduced to Charles Stern, Will Elder and Harvey Kurtzman. Learning that Will Eisner was looking for artists, Wood hurried over and was hired on the spot to draw backgrounds on The Spirit. The following year, Wood became an assistant to George Wunder, who'd taken over drawing Terry and the Pirates.

A George Wunder Terry and the Pirates daily from 1949. This would have been the period that Wood was working as one of Wunder's assistants, inking backgrounds and perhaps lettering.
Also during 1949, Wood got a foot in the door at Fox Publications, doing lettering on romance comics. He quickly graduated to backgrounds, then inking. Towards the end of 1949, Wood was contributing illustrations to the pulp magazines Six-Gun Western, Fighting Western, and Leading Western, for Trojan Publishing's Adolphe Barreaux, as well as getting actual comics work from Fox. His first Fox art was a ten-page story, "My One Misstep", in My Confession 7 (Aug 1949). More stories followed in My Experience, My Secret Life (he did his first Fox cover for issue 23) and My Love Affair.

While at Fox, Wood turned his hand to any kind of comic ... romance, classics and crime.However, it wasn't long before his varied work for Fox caught the eye of other publishers in the field ...
Pretty soon, Wood was branching out into other genres, doing comedy (Judy Canova), crime (Martin Kane, Private Eye) and jungle (Frank Buck). "For complete pages, it was $5 a page ... Twice a week, I would ink ten pages in one day," Wood later recalled in a 1981 interview for The Buyers' Guide. It was inevitable that others would notice Wood's talent and with new art partner Harry Harrison, Wood started contributing art to the blossoming EC comics - at first on Pre-Trend titles like Modern Love 5 (Feb-Mar 1950) and Saddle Romances 11 (Mar-Apr 1950), and on the very earliest New Trend titles, starting with Crypt of Terror 18 (Jun-Jul 1950) and Weird Fantasy 14 (Jul-Aug 1950).

Wally Wood's first work for EC was good (Weird Science 5, Jan-Feb 1951), but within a few short months, his art style transformed into something phenomenal (Weird Science 13, May-Jun 1952). And at the very same time, his old boss, Will Eisner, hand-picked Wood to take over the art on The Spirit (27 Jul 1952) for a brilliant (but ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to update the strip for the Space Age.
Very, very quickly, Wally Wood went from being a jobbing artist to a master craftsman. The speed of his improvement was simply astonishing. And even more incredibly, despite the ever-increasing amount of detail in his pages, he turned out art faster and faster. He would be one of Harvey Kurtzman's go-to artists for the new MAD comic (which would become vitally important later on in his career), where he'd craft pitch-perfect parodies of the great comics strips he'd loved as a kid, like Superman, Terry and the Pirates, Flash Gordon and Prince Valiant. And in his spare time, he managed to find time to draw a couple of classic comics for Avon ... 

Even while working almost flat-out for EC Comics, Wood moonlighted at Avon, producing high-adventure, science fiction and horror stories with equal ease. The quality never faltered ...
By mid-1952, Wood was working exclusively for EC, earning a princely $50 a page (by contrast other publishers were paying $15-20 a page). For the May-June 1952 issues alone, he contributed:
  • seven pages to Two Fisted Tales 27
  • cover and seven pages to Shock Suspenstories 3
  • a six-pager and an eight-pager to Weird Fantasy 13 
  • a cover plus an eight-pager and a six-pager to Weird Science 13
  • And, of course, four weekly eight-pagers for The Spirit newspaper strip. 
That's 76 pages - pencils and inks over an eight week period ... 38 pages a month ... all of it finished to an incredible standard. No artist today could complete with that schedule. Wood was like an unstoppable machine. 

His value to EC was cemented by Editor Al Feldstein, who wrote a love-poem to Wood, "My World", illustrated by Wood himself, which ran in Weird Science 22 (Nov-Dec 1953)

No other artist at EC was treated with the level of respect that Wally Wood enjoyed. His work got better month-by-month and Wood ultimately became the star of his own strip in the last issue of Weird Science.
In his mid-twenties, Wood was having the time of his life. He was earning an eye-watering amount of money. His work jags lasted for days until he collapsed at his drawing board. His marathon art sessions were fuelled with alcohol. But he was young and his body could take the extraordinary punishment.

Even when EC crashed and burned in 1955, after the the Comics Code killed the horror books, and Bill Gaines' attempts to do the sanitised New Direction books (including Aces High, Extra, M.D. and Valor) failed, there was still MAD. Gaines turned his comedy comic into a 25c magazine, raised the page rates even higher than they were on the EC colour comics, and for the next ten years, Wood cruised straight on as MAD's star artist, winning "Best Comic Book Artist" two years in a row at the 1957 and 1958 National Cartoonists Society Awards. But even that wasn't enough ...

For about 12 glorious months, Wally Wood inked Dave Wood and Jack Kirby's Sky Masters newspaper strip, selected for the job - no doubt - because of his stints on the Weird Science/Fantasy comics for EC and of course "The Spirit on the Moon" for Will Eisner.
In 1958, Jack Kirby asked Wood to join a space-oriented newspaper strip project as inker. The strip had begun life as "Space Busters" devised by Kirby and scripter Dave Wood (no relation), but they'd been unable to find a home for the strip. Early in 1958, DC editor Jack Schiff was approached by an agent, Harry Elmlark, who was looking for a syndicated space strip for the newspapers. Kirby and Dave Wood showed Schiff Space Busters, but he wasn't that impressed. But he did encourage Kirby and Wood to take another swing at it, very likely offering some ideas of his own. The project morphed into Sky Masters of the Space Force and that was when Kirby asked Wally Wood to ink the strip.

In the late 1950's, Wally Wood was still MAD's busiest artist, and was creating gorgeous illustrations for science fiction market-leader Galaxy. It was probably the very pinnacle of his career. But trouble was just around the corner ...
By this time, Wally Wood was working almost exclusively for MAD, but was also providing high quality illustrations for men's magazines and science fiction magazines like Galaxy. It all went well for a while, but then Kirby had a falling out with Schiff over payments and the whole thing turned legal. So Wally Wood left them to their squabbles - and dumped Challengers of the Unknown, which he'd also been inking over Kirby - and once again concentrated on his MAD work and his science fiction illustrations. But as the 1950s drew to a close Wood was feeling restless and a bit put-upon. He was suffering from chronic headaches and was drinking ever-more heavily to dull the pain. This, coupled with the crash of Sky Masters, led to him becoming tetchy and in 1964, as his art was beginning to suffer, MAD rejected one of his strips, Wood's first rejection since around 1950. Making matters even worse, the editor who rejected his art was Al Feldstein, the same guy who'd written "My World" ten years earlier. Feeling crushed, Wood phoned the editorial offices and quit MAD.

Artist Russ Jones, who'd been assisting Wood at that time recalled in a later interview, "MAD sent Woody a rejection slip on a comic strip lampoon, and it about killed him. Yes, the job was covered in liquid paper, but it was great compared to what Bob Clarke produced. I think the guys at MAD were just kidding around, but it backfired! I stood rooted when Wally called Bill Gaines and quit. Poor Bill ... he called many times to try and talk Woody back ... but no go. Poor Wally ... he threw out his biggest client. The whole affair was sad. No winners."

For Monster World 1, Wood wrote and drew an adaptation of the 1932 Universal horror, The Mummy. The next issue of the magazine continued the Mummy adaptations, but Wood was conspicuously absent, turning the work over to assistant Russ Jones and former EC stablemate, Joe Orlando.
With all his bridges burnt, Wood had nowhere else to go, so he returned to four-colour comics, first working for the lowest payers in the field, Charlton, on war books like D-Day 2 and War and Attack 1 (both Fall 1964), then a quick eight-pager for Warren's Monster World 1 (Nov 1964) - an adaptation of the Universal horror movie The Mummy, with assistant Russ Jones. It was at this low ebb that Wood - probably on Joe Orlando's advice - turned to Stan Lee for work and was assigned Daredevil. And that's why Stan was trumpeting the arrival of Wood on Daredevil as though it were the Second Coming ...


THE ARTIST WITHOUT FEAR

With his second job on Daredevil - issue 6 (Feb 1965) - Wood seemed to have a better grasp of what Stan Lee was looking for, but for my money, the pacing was still off. Too many pages in the story are covered in speech balloons, making me think Wood hadn't devoted enough space to the character exposition that Stan liked to include in his books. On the other hand, the action sequences were very well thought-out. Wood had wisely cut back from the amount of detail he would have included in his EC science fiction strips, rendering his fight scenes in a clean, spare style that far better suited the material.

Wood's work on Daredevil 6 was a slight improvement over the previous issue, but the civilian scenes were still way too wordy and the fight sequences, while well crafted lacked variety.
But something wasn't quite right. It was as though Wood didn't get the Marvel way ... Was he just phoning the work in? Probably not, though long-time collaborator Dan Adkins said of that period, "[Wood] got the highest rate in the industry. $200 per page at MAD magazine where he was the most popular artist. When he quit MAD magazine and went over to Marvel Comics, Marvel's starting rates at the time were $20 per page to pencil and $15 per page to ink. Out of respect to Wally, they paid him $45 per page to pencil and ink, but not the bonus money he was looking for."

When viewed as single units the Daredevil pages looked, well, same-y. Where Kirby or Ditko would mix long-shots and close ups depending on the needs of the scene and the emotion to be conveyed by each panel, Wood framed everything at the same distance.

Some time later in his career, I wasn't able to determine when, Wally Wood created the legendary 22 Comic Panels That Always Work ... but I wasn't seeing any evidence of that thinking in Wood's Daredevil stories.
The story itself united two b-class villains - The Ox from Amazing Spider-Man 10 & 14 (Mar & Jul 1964), and The Eel, last seen battling The Human Torch in Strange Tales 117 (Feb 1964) - with a new villain, Mr Fear, whose "fear gas" can turn anyone into a nervous wreck. It's an interesting idea, pitting The Man Without Fear against Fear itself ... but what should have been a definitive clash of opposites ends up being a fairly pedestrian filler issue. Fortunately, the title would move up a gear with the next issue.

Daredevil 7 (Apr 1965) was where Wally Wood took hold of the character and began to make Daredevil his own. First, he redesigned DD's costume, using the devil part of the character's name to inspire a more streamlined approach, and giving the hero a satanic look.

Daredevil 7 introduced a new costume for DD and demonstrated that the hero's will was almost as powerful as The Sub-Mariner's sea-born super-strength.
Next, Wood's story breakdowns and page design seemed much more confident. Yes, he was still using sequences of mid-distance shots for most of the fight scenes, but there was a much more concerted effort to mix up the long-shots, close-ups and splash panels.

The plot has Sub-Mariner return to the Surface World to bring a civil lawsuit against the air-breathers for depriving his people of the right to live on land. And he decides that Nelson & Murdock are the lawyers for him. But the attorneys tell him that there's no one to sue, as no individual, company or nation represents the entire human race. So Namor decides that causing a bit of mayhem and getting arrested will get him his day in court. This part of it sounds very much like a Lee plot device.

No sooner has The Sub-Mariner surrendered himself to the police and is arraigned for his crimes than word reaches him that the craven Warlord Krang has instigated a rebellion against Namor in their native Atlantis. The Sub-Mariner decides the needs of his realm are more pressing than his legal case against the humans and leaves the jail as though the bars were so much cardboard. The final battle, in which a hopelessly out-matched Daredevil fights Namor until he passes out, pretty much defined the hero's character for the next couple of decades.

But already, Wood was feeling he was being taken advantage of. The Marvel Method used by Stan, which worked pretty well for his other artists at this time, was rankling Wally Wood. He felt that he was doing at least half Stan's job without getting the credit of the payment that deserved. Later, in an angry editorial in his self-published Woodwork Gazette, Wood described an editor he called Stanley, who "came up with two surefire ideas... the first one was 'Why not let the artists WRITE the stories as well as draw them?'... And the second was... ALWAYS SIGN YOUR NAME ON TOP... BIG."
Here's something interesting ... Wood's original layout for Daredevil 7 page 4. You can see that Stan has asked for changes and the finished art is slightly different from the first pencil rough.
Nonetheless, Wood sucked it up and carried on as, at this point in his career, he didn't have that many options open to him. 

Daredevil 8 (Jun 1965) introduced a new villain who, though a little bonkers, I always quite liked ... The Stilt-Man. It was also the second cover in a row to feature a newspaper headline as a way of explaining what was going on. Maybe Wood wanted that to be a thing, but it didn't pan out, or perhaps it was just coincidence.

Daredevil 8 gave us a cut-away plan of Daredevil's billy club. Later in the issue, it's also revealed that Daredevil's cowl contains sophisticated radio equipment to monitor police wavebands. Later in his career, Daredevil's powers would let him do that without the need for electronics. During the battle, Wood gives us some nice images of Stilt-Man towering above the city skyline.
The story has Matt Murdock engaged by a scientist who says his invention has been stolen by his employer. But as Murdock investigates the claims further, it becomes apparent that whoever has the invention is also The Stilt-Man. No prizes for guessing who the real baddie is ...

At the same time, Stan (I'm sure it was Stan) is planting seeds, suggesting that it might be possible to restore Matt's vision. In fact, Karen Page is shown suggesting that Matt consults an eminent Boston eye specialist, Dr Van Eyck. But Matt is reluctant, fearing it may compromise his powers, and Karen gets angry with him and storms out. And this sets up the situation for the next issue ...

Daredevil 9 drafted in Giant-Man artist Bob Powell to help Wally Wood by doing finished pencils over Wood's layouts. I'm not sure how that helped Wood, given that he was still (to his mind) co-writing the comic without credit or payment. The tale itself is fun, pitting Daredevil against knights in armour, a common Wood trope.
Some changes were in effect with Daredevil 9 (Aug 1965). Even though Wood was a proven speed-demon, he's assisted on this issue by Bob Powell, with whom he'd worked on the notorious Mars Attacks gum-card series. Powell had also stepped in when Joe Orlando found himself unable to work with Stan Lee on the Giant-Man strip a few months earlier.

The plot contrives to send Matt Murdock, at Karen Page's instigation, to a European dictatorship, run by an old college acquaintance of Murdock's Klaus Kruger, the Duke of Lichtenbad, whence eye specialist Dr Van Eyck has emigrated. Once there, Daredevil is caught up in a peasants' revolt and battles Kruger's palace guards, who are all togged up in medieval armour. It's quite a fun issue, and I was always a sucker for knights in armour ...

Issue 10 brought more changes in the creative duties. With Wood increasingly disgruntled with Stan Lee's way of working, Stan credited Wood with writing as well as drawing the story, with Bob Powell providing layouts. But the way Stan did it only served to enrage Wood further.

It seems likely that Wood was agitating behind the scenes to be given proper credit as co-writer on the Daredevil comic. And with this issue he gets his wish. Continuing his fondness for cutaways, this time round Wood gives us a diagram of The Organizer's headquarters.
The intro of the splash page of the issue says, "Wally Wood has always wanted to try his hand at writing a story as well as drawing it, and Big-Hearted Stan (who wanted a rest anyway) said okay. So what follows next is anybody's guess. You may like it or not, but, you can be sure of this ... it's gonna be different!" It's not the most gracious announcement I've ever seen, but there's another caption box at the end of the story that might give further insight into Stan's tone.

Apparently, after campaigning to be credited with writing Daredevil, Wood declined to script the second half of the story, leaving Stan to sort out the plot threads as best he could. "Now that Wally got writing out his system," says Stan's closing caption, "he left it to poor Stan to finish next issue. Can he do it? That's the real mystery! But while you're waiting, see if you can find the clue we planted showing who the Organiser is! It'll all come out in the wash next issue when Stan wraps it up. See you then!" So I can begin to see why there might be some growing acrimony between Stan and Wally. It's likely this is the point where Wood had told Stan that he was quitting

All that aside, Daredevil 10's not half bad ... there are a few stylistic differences, but broadly Wood does a pretty good job of making the characters all sound like themselves. And with Bob Powell doing the layouts, there's much more variety in the framing of each panel. 

The plot has a mysterious character, The Organizer, recruiting a quartet of crooks and giving them animal costumes and powers to carry out a series of crimes. They are Cat-Man, Frog-Man, Bird-Man and Ape-Man. Given Stan's penchant for animal-themed villains, I suspect he may have had something to do with the casting. Curiously, though there is an Ape-Man featured as one of The Owl's henchmen in Daredevil 3, Ape Horgan, this one appears to be a different person, Monk Keefer. Even more confusingly, the Cat-Man character in this tale has the civilian name of Townshend Horgan. Was he intended to be a relative of the first Ape-Man? Or did Wood (and Stan) just get a bit muddled with their characters' names? It's the sort of continuity glitch that Roy Thomas would obsess about fixing in Marvel's later years.

There's further dissension in the letters column. One reader, Larry Brown, complains that Daredevil is turning into Gadget Man and that "all these gadgets detract from the credibility." In the response, Stan says, "Want us to let you in on an inside squabble, Larry? Sturdy Stan agrees with you - he is also opposed to so much gadgetry. But Winsome Wally really digs those hoked up appurtenances, and - being Wally's the guy who has to draw them, Stan went along with him. But we'll see how the future mail goes." Thus were the battle lines drawn. There probably wasn't any walking back from this point.

We probably shouldn't be that surprised to see Stan taking potshots on the Daredevil letters page. He must have been pretty ticked off with Wally Wood. And while it's not like Stan to be anything other than gentlemanly, he couldn't have been best pleased at Wood's attitude, considering Stan likely saw himself as trying to help out an artist he admired who was going through a bad patch. And given the circumstances, Wood's tetchiness is not that surprising either, as from Wood's point of view, Stan was getting him to co-write the comic - perhaps more than co-write - take all the credit and pay him just $45 a page. After all, at MAD they gave him full scripts and paid him $200 a page.

Daredevil 11 was plotted and scripted by Stan, pencilled by Bob Powell and inked by Wood. In the circumstances, the most surprising thing is that Wood stuck around long enough to ink the story at all. In the event it's not a bad issue, and benefits from some of Powell's characteristic touches, like the cinematic four panels across the top of page 17 (above right).
Daredevil 11 (Dec 1965) left Stan trying to finish a story begun by Wally Wood. He actually does a pretty fair job, though at times there looks to be a bit to much text on the page. The pacing of the hectic story is much helped by Bob Powell's layouts and pencilling, as he is more adept at bringing variety to the panel framing than Wood had been. 

The issue closes with Matt announcing he's taking a leave of absence from Nelson & Murdock and Stan announcing that next issue there'll be new villains and a new artist, though he give no hint as to who either might be.

Meanwhile, though Wood had inked this issue of Daredevil, he had already planned his escape route. A former Archie Comics editor, Harry Shorten, had approached Wood during 1965, trying to recruit him for a new venture, Tower Comics. Tower Publications had been a publisher of erotic and science fiction paperbacks from 1958, established by one of the co-founders of Archie Comics, Louis Silberkleit, and now, seeing the success of Marvel, wanted to get into the comics business. Wood called Shorten's offer "a dream set-up. I created all the characters, wrote most of the stories, and drew most of the covers. I did as much of the art as I could... But it was fun."

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents 1 (Nov 1965) was the first of the Tower Comics line. Much of the interior art was by Wood, and it betrayed the same limitations I saw in his Daredevil work, with nearly every panel being framed as a mid-shot. Most of the scripting in this issue was by Len Brown, though Wood co-scripted the Dynamo story in the back of the book.
Wood hired old colleagues from his EC days - Al Williamson and Reed Crandell - to help out with the art, and commissioned his own wife Tatjana Wood to colour the covers. He created the characters T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, NoMan, Menthor and Dynamo. Pretty soon, Gil Kane, Steve Ditko, George Tuska and Mike Sekowsky joined. Scripts were by Len Brown (who had worked with Wood on Mars Attacks and had helped conceive the THUNDER Agents), Larry Ivie and Wood himself. And the comics were mostly 25c, 64-page giants.

The only problem was ... the stories were just dull.

Tower Comics lasted from 1966 to 1969, when distribution problems cause Tower Publications to fold the line.


NOW WHAT?

To me it seems quite apparent that Stan was angry and disappointed with Wood's behaviour. It was highly unusual for him to contradict or criticise any of his team in print, but he did - however mildly - with Wood. You can see that, for Stan, the prospect of Wood joining the Bullpen was a big event. Though as my esteemed fellow Marvel blogger Nick Caputo mentioned in the comments last time, Stan did namecheck artists on Marvel covers before this, I think we can agree that line on the Daredevil 5 cover, "under the brilliant artistic craftsmanship of famous illustrator Wally Wood", goes a bit beyond the customary Lee hyperbole.

Add to this that many have said that Stan would often give work to those who needed it, whether Stan (or Marvel) needed it. There's a story that one day during the 1950s, Marvel publisher Martin Goodman found a stack of "inventory" stories that Stan had commissioned to help out freelancers financially, but hadn't published. Goodman got angry and told Stan he had to stop commissioning until the backlog was used up. In the early Sixties, Stan had given Joe Siegel, creator of Superman, work scripting Human Torch stories for Strange Tales, but that hadn't worked out so well. By 1968, it was getting hard for Siegel to find work, so Stan hired him as a proofreader in the Bullpen.

What would the Sub-Mariner solo strip in Tales to Astonish have looked like if Wally Wood had drawn it instead of Gene Colan? And why wasn't Everett asked to draw Sub-Mariner? After all, he created it. Or had he blotted his copybook (at least temporarily) with his deadline issues on Daredevil 1?
Stan probably saw Wood as being in a similar situation in the late summer of 1964, right after Wood had recklessly quit MAD magazine. So he gave the guy a job. This wasn't just charity. Stan knew a legendary artist when he saw one. And not only did he want Wood drawing Daredevil, but legend has it that he was going to give Marvel's new Sub-Mariner strip to Wood as well. In his Alter-Ego magazine, Roy Thomas said that, “Wally was slated to go from Daredevil onto the then-up-coming Sub-Mariner solo series in Tales to Astonish [#70, Aug. 1965].”

So it must have stung that Wood was so disgruntled with Lee and Marvel from the get-go, and by the time Wood quit, I'm fairly sure Stan wasn't that sorry to see him leave.

However, in the end, it didn't work out so bad for Stan and Marvel. The very next issue of Daredevil featured the art of John Romita - albeit over Kirby layouts - and that association worked out pretty well over the years.

Next: The Fab Four




Sunday, 28 May 2017

Daredevil ... and other disabled defenders

LATE TO THE PARTY in the mid-1960s was the final addition to Stan Lee's classic superhero lineup, Daredevil. And with this one, Stan took his concept of "a hero with a flaw" even further and gave Matthew Murdock a disability: he made him blind.

I've mentioned in an earlier entry in this blog that in 1965 I marvelled at the idea of a blind superhero. Maybe because losing one's sight is one of our great primal fears - often the cover subject of the more extreme 1950s horror comics - and certainly something that scared me silly when I was a kid. Perhaps because of that, that issue of Daredevil, where he battles the Matador, made quite an impression on my ten year old self.

Nowhere on the cover does it mention Daredevil's Unique Selling Point. However, Stan does mention that the interior art is by Wally Wood. Is this the first time Stan cover credited an artist?
Though I'm quite sure that Daredevil 5 (Dec 1964) was the first issue of that title I saw, I don't really remember the order of the issues that led me to being a fan of the character. Certainly, the guest appearances in Fantastic Four 39 and 40 (Jun & Jul 1965) are in there somewhere and there's little doubt that Daredevil 7 (Apr 1965) is one of the great superhero stories of the 1960s ... but what I hadn't realised back then was that, as astonishing as the idea of a disabled superhero was, it was by no means unique in the history of comics.


BATTLING TOUGH ODDS

In fact, the concept of a blind superhero was first used back in the pre-comic days of the pulps. The Black Bat (the second character to bear that name - the first was a plain-clothes, Saint-style detective debuting in 1934) was the alter-ago of crusading district attorney Tony Quinn, who is blinded when acid is thrown in his face in a revenge attack by mobsters. Quinn puts on a bat-like costume and fights crime, beginning in the June 1939 issue of Black Book Detective. It seems likely that DC's Batman, who hit the stands shortly afterwards, bore just a coincidental similarity, as Thrilling Publications and DC entered into an amicable arrangement where both characters could exist on the newsstands side-by-side.

The Black Bat's costume bears more than a passing resemblance to Batman's, though in fairness it should be pointed out that both characters appeared on the stands at around the same time.
Actually, more similar to The Black Bat than Batman was DC's later hero Dr. Mid-Nite, both attacked by vengeful gangsters - both rendered blind in the attack, both becoming masked vigilantes waging a war on criminals. Dr. Mid-Nite's special ability is that though essentially blind in daylight, he can see perfectly in pitch black. 

Though he was very much the second attraction in the long-running All-American Comics, after Green Lantern, Dr Mid-Nite never rated a cover appearance. The first time he was cover-featured was on All-Star 8 when he was inducted into The Justice Society of America.
Dr. Mid-Nite enjoyed a long run in All-American, lasting until the title was cancelled with issue 102 (Oct 1948), and was a long-serving member of the Justice Society, appearing in most issues of All-Star Comics, from 8 (Dec 1941), his first appearance, through to the end of the Justice Society's run in the final issue, 57 (Feb 1951).

Another Golden Age character who battled against tough odds was the original Daredevil, who first appeared in Lev Gleason's Silver Steak Comics 6 (Sep 1940) and went on to have a long and successful run in his own title, Daredevil Comics, starting in July 1941. Though the character was created by Jack Binder for editor Jack Cole, it was legendary creator Charles Biro who took over and wrote and drew the character for the rest of his ten year run.

Though Daredevil started off in Silver Streak Comics in a yellow and blue leotard, by the time he got his own title, the costume had transformed into red and blue and his inability to speak had been dropped without explanation. Comics, eh?
Bart Hill became Daredevil after a childhood trauma, where he witnessed his father's murder by criminals and was himself branded. The boomerang-shaped scar drove the youngster to develop his facility with boomerangs, though the experience left him mute. Adopting a blue and red costume and the name Daredevil, he waged a vigilante war against crime and criminals.

By the January 1950 issue, with superheroes in a sharp decline, Daredevil had been edged out of his own book by his kid side-kicks, The Little Wiseguys, and there was little scope for any further disabled heroes until super-characters made a return towards the end of the decade.


AND ... YOU'RE BACK IN THE SIXTIES

At the beginning of the 1960s, in response to DC's burgeoning line of superheroes, Stan Lee had bucked boss Martin Goodman's trend and done something different rather than just copying what was selling. He created a line of superheroes with flaws, the first of which was the ever-popular Ben Grimm, also known as The Thing, who viewed his enormous strength and orange, lumpy skin very much as an affliction.

Ben Grimm saw his transformation into the Thing in Fantastic Four 1 (Nov 1961) as a disability, and Tony Stark's life-threatening heart condition, shown here in Tales of Suspense 40 (Apr 1963), would certainly class him as disabled. It wasn't immediately clear in X-Men 1 that Professor X is wheelchair-bound, and Stan and Jack don't show him in his wheelchair until page 8 - though given that he changes from armchair to wheelchair mid-sentence, this may have been a mistake on Jack's part. (Click image to enlarge)
Right behind him was Tony Stark, who in Tales of Suspense 39 (Apr 1963) took some shrapnel in the heart and was cursed to wear an iron chest plate to keep him alive and which also turned him into the superhero, Iron Man. Then, not six months later, Professor Xavier, wheelchair-bound leader of The X-Men debuted in X-Men 1 (Sep 1963), though the similarly afflicted Chief, leader of the Doom Patrol, had appeared three months earlier in My Greatest Adventure 80 (Jun 1963). I'm not including Dr Don Blake here, as his disability disappeared when he transformed into Thor, much like the earlier Freddie Freeman/Captain Marvel Jr.

So it's not like it was a giant step to introduce Daredevil in 1964, as the accidently-blinded Matt Murdock whose other senses are greatly enhanced by the radioactive cannister that struck him across the eyes. If, like me, your were unfamiliar with the unsighted heroes who had gone before, this was pretty radical concept.

All through the first issue of Daredevil (Apr 1964), Stan Lee plays cat and mouse with the reader, hinting that Daredevil is Matt Murdock, and suggesting that his blindness might be cured somehow some time, until finally revealing that Daredevil is, indeed a blind superhero.
Stan Lee cleverly withheld the secret of Daredevil's abilities until very late in the story. So we readers see the yellow and red costumed hero beat up on some shady gangster types, then we cut to Matt Murdock's back story. Where we learn that as a young boy, Matt idolised his father, a fading heavyweight boxer by the name of "Battling" Murdock (we never do learn his real name in this first issue). But Murdock senior wants to make sure his boy studies hard and makes a real success of his life, and so struggles to keep his son in law school, signing with a very shady promotor known as The Fixer. It all comes to a head as Murdock Sr rushes home to tell Matt of his newly "revitalised" boxing career, and at the same time, Matt is injured while trying to saving an elderly blind man from being run over. In the ensuing accident, Matt is struck by a container of radioactive material that tumbles from the truck, blinding him.

Stan throws in a red herring on page 9, where Murdock Sr suggests to Matt that his eyesight might be restored in a few years time, "after the tissues have healed". And of course, Battler Murdock has success after success in the ring, little realising that The Fixer has arranged for his opponents to take "dives". Finally, Murdock Sr has a shot at the title but is told by the Fixer that it's the end of the line and this time he'll be losing. A basically honest man, Murdock can't bring himself to deliberately throw the fight while his son is watching, and somehow manages to win. But The Fixer doesn't like not getting his own way, and has Murdock murdered right outside the boxing arena. And it's this that spurs the blind Matt Murdock to become a superhero and avenge his father's murder.

Bill Everett, pictured at the 1970 New York Comic Convention.
What is kind of curious is that Stan hired Bill Everett to draw the first issue of Daredevil. Everett had worked for Marvel on and off since 1939's Marvel Comics 1, creating, then writing and drawing, The Sub-Mariner for this and other Timely titles. 

As the Timely superheroes wound down at the end of the 1940s, the Sub-Mariner vehicle Marvel Mystery Comics became the horror title Marvel Tales and Everett switched seamlessly from one to the other. Everett also drew stories for Marvel's growing line of romance comics, and took over Timely's last stab at a superhero, Marvel Boy, from Russ Heath. Though he'd be a regular contributor to the Atlas mystery titles throughout the 1950s, Everett also drew briefly for Eastern Color (New Heroic Comics, Personal Love) and Orbit-Wanted (Wanted). 

Marvel Tales was a retitling of the Sub-Mariner vehicle Marvel Mystery Comics, and Everett provided the cover for the earliest issues. In the mid-1950s, The Sub-Mariner had a brief revival, still drawn by Everett and right at the end, there was Everett turning in one of the very last covers of the Atlas era.
Right up until the Great Atlas Implosion of 1957, Everett was one of Stan Lee's main artists, drawing mystery, romance and war tales with equal facility, reviving The Sub-Mariner for a short run between 1954 and 1955, turning in around 20 pages an month as well as two or three covers.

Once the Atlas work dried up, Everett left the comics field and took a managerial job at a paper company in Massachusetts. In an interview with Roy Thomas for Alter Ego in 1970, Everett revealed how he came to pencil the first issue of Daredevil: 

"I must have called Stan, had some contact with him, I don't know why. I know we tried to do it on the phone. I know he had this idea for Daredevil; he thought he had an idea ... With a long-distance phone call, it just wasn't coming out right, so I said, 'All right, I'll come down this weekend or something. I'll take a day off [from his job as art director at Eton Paper Corporation] and come down to New York' ... I did the one issue, but I found that I couldn't do it and handle my job, because it was a managerial job. I didn't get paid overtime but I was on an annual salary, so my time was not my own. I was putting in 14 or 15 hours a day at the plant and then to come home and try to do comics at night was just too much. And I didn't make deadlines – I just couldn't make them – so I just did the one issue and didn't do any more."

It seems that Bill Everett's art for Daredevil 1 was so late that it caused problems getting the book ready in time for press, according to latter-day Marvel publisher Joe Queseda: [Marvel Production Manager Sol Brodsky and Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko inked] "a lot of backgrounds and secondary figures on the fly [and] cobbled the cover and the splash page together from Kirby's original concept drawing."

The splash page of Daredevil 1 was pasted together in the Bullpen by Sol Brodsky, using a Jack Kirby drawing of Daredevil. It's not clear why Bill Everett didn't provide a splash page himself, as I'd have thought that would have been, for many reasons, the first thing he drew. Or perhaps he did and Stan Lee didn't like it.
And the idea that Jack Kirby designed the Daredevil costume was remembered by Mark Evanier in his blog, News From Me: "[Jack Kirby] seems to have participated in the design of Daredevil's first costume. ... Everett did tell me that Jack had come up with the idea of Daredevil's billy club ... Jack, in effect, drew the first page of that first Daredevil story. In the rush to get that seriously late book to press, there wasn't time to complete Page One, so Stan had Sol Brodsky slap together a paste-up that employed Kirby's cover drawing ... Everett volunteered to me that Jack had 'helped him' though he wouldn't – or more likely, couldn't – elaborate on that. He just plain didn't remember it well, and in later years apparently gave others who asked a wide range of answers."

When Everett returned to The Sub-Mariner in the mid-1950s after a five-year hiatus, his art style was even more polished than it had been - certainly one of my favourites of that era.
In the end, Bill Everett's art for that first issue is curiously old-fashioned and more than a little cartoon-y, quite unlike anything else Marvel was doing at the time. It was a world away from Everett's classically rendered Sub-Mariner art, especially the smoothly-polished style he was using in the 1950s. So I'm not sure it was such a bad thing that, with the second issue, Everett was replaced by EC mainstay Joe Orlando.

Behind a Jack Kirby/Vince Coletta cover, penciller Joe Orlando brought some creative and modern-looking storytelling to his first work for Marvel Comics.  The scene in which he breaks up the car-theft ring (centre) is dynamic, and Orlando's scenes of Matt Murdock's civilian life have the look of a romance comic.
Daredevil 2 (Jun 1964) was again written by Stan Lee and placed the character firmly in the burgeoning Marvel Universe, with a guest appearance by The Thing and the rest of the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man's old foe Electro for a villain. It's a pretty good second issue and, though Stan hasn't quite worked out what Daredevil's U.S.P. is, there's still a good balance between action and drama with a bit of comedy provided by Ben Grimm's guest appearance.

I'm sure Stan thought getting Joe Orlando on-board as penciller was a bit of a coup, but saddling the EC great with Vince Colletta  as inker was a body blow that Orlando's pencils just couldn't recover from.


ORLANDO'S HIDEAWAY

Joe Orlando got into comics after being discharged from the US Army in 1948, when he started working on "Bob Brown of Notre Dame" in Charlton's Catholic Comics, a religion themed anthology, beginning with issue v3#1 (19, Jul 1948) and various strips for the same company's Cowboy Western. Then, for whatever reason, the work dried up at Charlton and Orlando didn't work for a few months, until he fetched up at Fox, where he contributed to the Jungle Lil (Apr 1950) and Jungle Jo (May 1950) one-shots, met Wally Wood and worked with him for the first time.

Joe Orlando's earliest work was for Charlton. Cowboy Western 23 (Jul 1949) featured his art on the cover. Jungle Lil 1 (Apr 1950) had one story pencilled and inked by Orlando. Avon's Rocket to the Moon one-shot (1951) was entirely pencilled by Orlando and inked by Wally Wood.
Orlando would continue to work with Wood at other companies, Orlando pencilling and Wood inking, first at Avon, on the one-off title Rocket to the Moon (1951), then at Youthful Publications on Captain Science 4 & 5 (Jun & Aug 1951), and Space Detective 1 & 2 (Jul & Nov 1951). But all this was just a prelude to a life-altering transition for both artists.

Captain Science 1 and Space Detective 1 were pencilled and inked by Orlando and Wood, covers and interiors. Then, mixing it up a little, Space Detective 2's cover was pencilled by Wood and inked by Orlando.
Wally Wood had already been working for Bill Gaines' legendary EC Comics. His first story for Gaines had been "The Living Corpse" in Crypt of Terror 18 (Jun-Jul 1950), followed very quickly by "The Black Arts" in Weird Fantasy 14 (Jul-Aug 1950). So it seems highly likely that it was Wood who introduced Joe Orlando to the EC editors. Orlando's first job for EC was "Forbidden Fruit" in Haunt of Fear 9 (Sep-Oct 1951), a grisly tale of the terrible fate awaiting a couple who fail to heed warnings and steal the food of a fellow desert island castaway.

Joe Orlando's art for the EC line, even in his debut story, "Forbidden Fruit", is slick and confident, with a gorgeous smooth inking style and strong pencilling and storytelling.
From there, Orlando worked almost exclusively for EC, becoming one of their mainstay artists and contributing to almost every EC title: Haunt of Fear, Panic, Shock Suspenstories, Vault of Horror, Weird Fantasy and Weird Science, as well as the later "New Direction" titles: Impact, M.D. and Valor, and the short-lived "Picto-Fiction" magazines: Crime, Confessions and Terror Illustrated.

Joe Orlando drew for every phase of EC Comics, right up to the end, contributing many classic stories for the line, but curiously few covers.
If Orlando deserves to be remembered for one stand-out EC story, then that must surely be "Judgment Day" in Weird Fantasy 18 (Mar 1953). At a time when comics were under scrutiny for being "subversive", Al Feldstein wrote a story where an interstellar ambassador from Earth, Tarlton, visits a planet of robots, and notices that the robots are divided into those with orange casings and those with blue. Yet while observing the manufacturing process of the inferior blue robots, he notes, "The internal units, my friend, the same designs, original designs. No improvement. No difference. Exactly like yours." One of the blue robots then comments, "The [blue] sheathings make that difference to the orange robots, Tarlton. It limits us to the rear of mobile-buses ... places us in different recharging stations ... forces us to live in a special section of the city."

At the end of the seven-page story, a saddened Tarlton tells the orange robots that they're not ready to join the Great Galactic Republic yet. Until they learn to live together as equals, as mankind has done, only then will real progress be possible. Then he boards his space craft and takes off his helmet, "... and the instrument lights made the beads of perspiration on his dark skin twinkle like stars."

Astonishingly, when Gaines and Feldstein sought to reprint this story in Incredible Science Fiction 33 (Jan 1956), the Comic Code administrator Judge Charles Murphy wanted the black astronaut changing to a white man. Gaines refused, saying that it would make nonsense of the story. The Judge then wanted the beads of sweat removed from the artwork, presumably because a black man's sweat may somehow give offence. Gaines again refused, threatening this time to sue the Comics Code. Judge Murphy backed down.

But it was the last colour comic Gaines would publish.

Probably the bravest thing I've ever seen in comics. Back in the 1950s, racism was a daily way of life. Anyone who railed against that risked being branded a "pinko" or worse. Yet in Weird Fantasy 18, of all places, Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando took a stand against discrimination, more than a decade before anyone else really dared to. And they were all white guys.
After the ignominious collapse of EC Comics in 1956, Orlando packed up his portfolio and moved across the street to Martin Goodman's Atlas Comics, where he cranked out stories for such titles as Astonishing, Battle, Journey into Mystery, Marvel Tales, Spellbound and Strange Tales for a much lower page rate, for the next two years. At the end of 1957, the great Atlas Implosion again left Orlando out of work, so he found pencilling work at Prize Comics, on All For Love, Black Magic and Justice Traps the Guilty, as well as contributing an increasing number of features to Mad Magazine. It was when Prize published its last comic book in 1963 that Joe Orlando washed up on the shores of Martin Goodman's Marvel Comics.


HE WHO DARES ...

Quite how Joe Orlando ended up at Marvel at the tail-end of 1963 isn't very clear. Stan Lee has always been very open about wanting artists who knew how to break down a story with minimum supervision, or even input, from him. Some artists liked that approach and some didn't. Some felt  the "Marvel Method" gave them enormous freedom to develop their strips that they wouldn't have had elsewhere, and some felt - wrongly in my opinion - that they were doing all the work and that Stan was getting paid for doing nothing. So Joe Orlando, with his enormous storytelling experience and artistic reputation must have seemed like an excellent recruit for Marvel Comics. And putting Orlando straight onto a new character like Daredevil was a big vote of confidence from the Marvel editor.

For his third outing, Daredevil faced The Owl, a Wall Street financier whose dodgy deals finally catch up with him. Rather than face court and disgrace, he becomes a fully paid-up supervillain and hides out in an inconspicuous owl-shaped house on a cliffside overlooking the city.
Daredevil 3 (Aug 1964) was Stan's chance to start giving the character his own style and identity. For a start, Daredevil wasn't up against any old Spider-Man castoff. He had his very own super-foe to play off, The Owl, another in Stan's long line of animal villains. And Stan had Orlando design a weird little napsack for the hero to carry his civilian clothes in, which unfortunately looked a bit daft.

After years of crooked deals and tax dodging in the financial industry, "The Owl" finds himself arrested and indicted. Seeking a lawyer at random to defend what he thinks is a flimsy case, The Owl, engages Nelson and Murdock. But The Owl doesn't bother turning up for court the next day, and is now a fugitive. The Owl hides out in an owl-shaped building a couple of miles outside the city to plot his next move ... which is recruiting a couple of thugs - "Sad Sam" Simms and "Ape" Horgon and underlings. Inexplicably, the next time we see The Owl and his henchmen, they're lurking in the office next door to Nelson and Murdock, in some kind of bizarre attempt to retain the services of Matt Murdock. Daredevil discovers them and a fight ensues. The noise attracts the attention of Karen Page and The Owl captures both of them, and places them in giant bird cages. Of course, Daredevil escapes and another battle ensues which ends with The Owl plunging into the waters of the Hudson and sinking without a trace.

It's all a bit creaky and the story has a couple of holes you could drive a truck through, but it was still a big improvement over issue 2. For me the biggest let-down was still the inking of Vince Colletta. Stan must have felt that putting a long-time Marvel inker like Colletta was just an insurance policy to make sure Orlando didn't go off in any unexpected directions ... and there was the problem.

Orlando had mostly inked his own stuff, apart from his very earliest pencils which were inked by Wally Wood, and his own inking style was polished and very smooth. Colletta either didn't understand Orlando's style or didn't care, and his scratchy style refused to mesh with Orlando's pencils, giving a very unsatisfying result. There are flashes of brilliance from Orlando, but for the most part his art is lost in a murky swamp of "hay".

Daredevil 4 (Oct 1964) had a better story, even if it was one of Stan's old plots recycled. But sadly, the art wasn't getting an better, with Orlando's delicate pencils being hammered by Colletta's ham-fisted inking.
Things got a bit better with the fourth issue of Daredevil, an issue I wouldn't see until much later as it had fallen victim to the great Thorpe & Porter distribution snafu of 1964. This time, Stan and Joe put Daredevil up against a more cerebral villain, Killgrave, The Purple Man, who has the ability to make people do what he tells them to.

Stan had used the idea before - most notably in the Ant-Man story in Tales to Astonish 44 (Apr 1963) and also in the Iron Man story in Tales of Suspense 41 (May 1963), where Dr Strange (no, not that one) takes mental control of Iron Man. But in DD4 it's done quite a bit better, with a more interesting resolution, as Daredevil figures a way to block The Purple Man's power because he's virtually immune to it himself.

But for whatever reason, the Orlando-Colletta team wasn't firing on all cylinders. I've not found any reasons given in any of the interviews I've read, but whether Orlando left or Stan wasn't happy has gone unrecorded anywhere. But I can make a best guess ...

In the new letters column in issue 5, "Let's Level with Daredevil", Stan explained that Bill Everett had drawn the first issue of Daredevil "as a personal favour for Stan. Then, another buddy of Stan's, valiant Vince Colletta, offered to ink the mag for a few issues if jovial Joe Orlando would pencil it. Both these guys gave up lots of their own free time to help out until we could find a steady artist."

That may well be true. If Stan had pushed Orlando out, then it's unlikely that his immediate successor, Wally Wood, would have accepted the gig, given Joe and Wally's history together. So it probably was a case of Orlando pinch-hitting for Stan until a permanent artist could be found.

In any event, Wally Wood's tenure on the title wouldn't be much longer that his EC stablemate's ... and the  split between Wood and Marvel would be a mite more acrimonious. But that's a story for next time.

Next: Hooray for Wally Wood