Comic House/Lev Gleason introduced a number of memorable comic book characters during the Golden Age. One of my favorites is Daredevil, who is not the same guy as the current Marvel Comics character. Stan Lee cribbed a fair bit from the original 1940’s version when he created his own Daredevil in the 1960’s (as we’ll see).

The original Daredevil made his debut in Silver Streak Comics #6 (September 1940). In another fine example of the lack of innocence exhibited in 1940’s comic books (contrary to present-day opinion), young Bart Hill is forced to witness the murder of his parents, and is then tortured by the murderers (a sequence which, by the way, would have been impossible to present after the introduction of the Comics Code in the 1950’s and which even today would be difficult for most publishers to pull off without encountering some vociferous objections and protests):

The trauma Bart suffers in this incident causes the child to become mute but strengthens his resolve to avenge the deaths of his folks. He practices for endless hours to become expert with the boomerang, then fashions a costume and an identity for himself: Daredevil, “the master of courage”.

Bart’s inability to speak presented a challenge to his chroniclers: how to let the reader know what’s happening inside his head. In most 1940’s comics, characters speak their thoughts aloud. Daredevil’s adventures utilize a then-unique device called the “thought balloon” which later became a staple of comics up through the 1990’s. I don’t know for sure whether or not Daredevil was the first comic to use thought balloons, but the development was recent enough regardless to merit the inclusion of an editorial explanation:

Our hero exhibits great strength and amazing agility throughout his first adventure:

Daredevil’s boomerang skills are so finely honed that he can disarm multiple opponents with a single toss:

…a move which should naturally put present-day readers in mind of another, more famous, costumed crimefighter — namely The Batman.

In just eight pages of pulse-pounding (and nearly non-stop) action, Daredevil brings the crooks to justice. What makes Daredevil a standout among comics of the early Golden Age? This story features several items which become “standard usage” in later comics:

1) The use of a first page “splash panel”, rarely seen in stories from this early in the Golden Age;

2) Thought balloons;

3) The boomerang, which presages Batman’s use of the “batarang” in his more popular title;

4) The hero portrayed as a “normal”, a non-powered adventurer who has trained himself to the maximum of human potential (another Batman [and, to a lesser extent, Silver Age Daredevil] trope).

5) The use of non-quadrilateral panels, as seen in the last illustration above. Many comics stuck to four-sided panels, but Daredevil makes creative use of the page’s space to illustrate “special events” such as Bart’s boomerang toss.

Another similarity between Daredevil and Batman during this period is the use of the word “The” as part of their names (e.g. “The Daredevil”/”The Batman”), a usage which is later dropped from the Golden Age Daredevil’s comic appearances, and which goes in and out of style over Batman’s decades-long life.

The publishers of Silver Streak Comics were apparently well aware that they had a winner on their hands; by the very next issue (Silver Streak Comics #7, January 1941), Daredevil (in a new, more appealing blue and red uniform) is now the book’s “star”, appearing on the cover and in the book’s lead story:

In a full sixteen pages (of the total sixty-eight pages in that issue), we see an early example of a “shared universe”: Daredevil fights the villainous Claw, who we’ve met before in this blog and who made a couple of prior appearances in the pages of Silver Streak Comics. Aside from his uniform, other changes were made to Daredevil by his second appearance: he’s no longer mute, and he now has a girlfriend, the lovely Tonia Saunders (who will become a regular fixture in Daredevil’s future adventures).

The Claw is, of course, just as evil as he was the last time we saw him:

“Death to America”??!!?? I’ll tell you true, I wouldn’t mind taking a crack at this guy myself. We’re already rooting for Daredevil right from the git-go. I won’t ruin this story for you in case you want to download this comic and read it, but I’ll tell you that the tale is action-packed to an insane degree seldom seen in present-day comics and is a whale of a lot of fun. Daredevil, master of the boomerang, turns himself into just such a weapon at one memorable point:

It's all fun and games until somebody loses an eye

Readers of Silver Streak Comics apparently thought quite a lot of the battle, because Daredevil fought The Claw five separate times, once each issue from #6 through #11. He then had several non-Claw-related adventures running through Silver Streak #17 (December 1941). The reason why Daredevil eventually disappears from the pages of Silver Streak is that he graduates to his own title in mid-1941, a move which is remarkable for a host of reasons which will require another blog post. I’ll spill a few of the beans, though, by telling you that the first issue of Daredevil’s own comic is, in my opinion, one of the coolest comic books of all time — no small praise coming as it does from a guy who has read literally thousands of comic books.

Before we close out this blog post, I should mention the connection between the Golden Age Daredevil and the later character of the same name. Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee was, by his own admission, a huge fan of the original Daredevil during the 1940’s/50’s. In the Marvel heyday of the early 1960’s Stan wanted to create a somewhat similar character with the same name. This new Daredevil was a blind lawyer named Matt Murdock who, through a chemical accident, received bat-like sonar powers which enabled him to “see” via echolocation. Murdock’s senses also became heightened and he found he also had uncanny agility (allowing him to perform stunts such as run on high-tension wires). Murdock’s white cane doubled as a special weapon: it could be reconfigured as a truncheon, a martial arts bo staff, or as nunchaku.

While not a direct copy of the original Daredevil, the newer character does share quite a few commonalities with his predecessor. Both have a disability (Bart Hill is mute, at least in his initial appearance, while Murdock is blind), both are skilled acrobats and fighters, both carry a unique weapon (Hill wields a boomerang while Murdock carries a convertible cane), Hill is called “The Master of Courage” as an additional sobriquet while Murdock is “The Man Without Fear”. The influence of the Golden Age Daredevil on Stan Lee is beyond merely “apparent”.

Unfortunately for publishers who wish to use the public domain Bart Hill version in modern-day comics, they’re not allowed to call him “Daredevil” (at least not on a comic’s cover; whether or not they can do so on an interior page is a matter of some hot debate recently): Marvel Comics has trademarked the name “Daredevil”. When Dynamite Entertainment resurrected a large number of public domain superheroes in their Project Superpowers series of books, they were forced to come up with a new name for the Golden Age version of Daredevil:

The character’s new name (at least for the magazine’s covers) is The Death-Defying ‘Devil. Note the apostrophe before the word “Devil”, indicating its abbreviation and which takes a nice little shot at Marvel’s lawyer-infested corporate culture. Alex Ross and Dynamite have taken other little cracks as well, promoting Death-Defying ‘Devil on one issue’s cover as “The Magazine That Dared to be Different!” More recently, ‘Devil has teamed up with a new character named “Dare”. Over the last couple of issues the character has been called Daredevil a couple of times in the narrative itself, possibly to test how far Marvel wishes to argue the bounds of “trademark infringement”.

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2010, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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