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DD Book Club - Death of a Nation?
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 13, 2020 8:53 am    Post subject: DD Book Club - Death of a Nation? Reply with quote

We haven't covered Steve Gerber for a long time. I thought I'd return to him with the introduction of Black Spectre.

Daredevil Vol. 1 #108 - Cry Beetle!

Quote:

DAREDEVIL RETURNS TO NEW YORK! Soon after his return to the city, Daredevil learns that Foggy has been investigating a group called "Black Spectre". Black Widow guest-stars!


Due 12/19
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Dimetre
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 13, 2020 5:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As the end of this issue explains, this story is a three-parter, continuing first in Daredevil #109 and then in Marvel Two-in-One #3. I'm reading this from Daredevil: Marvel Masterworks Volume 11, which contains all three parts, so I'm set.

This issue was released in March of 1974. It was a time of political and social upheaval, and Steve Gerber was someone in the comics industry with his finger on the pulse of this change. Here, he shines some light on the toxicity inside Daredevil and Black Widow's relationship.

The muggers at the beginning of this issue are particularly awful. They surround an elderly woman so they can rob her of her pension cheque. Daredevil and Black Widow make quick work of them, but the Widow seems intent on beating the life out of him. Daredevil tries to restrain her, but she shakes him off, and then he slaps her across the face which causes her to stop.

Of course, hitting a woman is indefensible. I think we'd all be more comfortable if Daredevil had used his billy-club cable to prevent her from hitting the guy anymore. But I think it was important that he not allow her to kill him. At the same time, this is another example of the cringey behaviour on display in these 70s Daredevil comics, where Matt treats Natasha like some piece of property he's allowed to manhandle how he pleases. We've seen him spank her butt before, now we see him slap her across the face. It probably played differently in 1974 than it does in 2020, but it was probably still shocking to see.

And the argument that follows barely deals with Matt's sense of entitlement to slap Natasha across the face -- the focus moves instead to Natasha's sense of entitlement to kill the mugger. That's certainly a valid topic of discussion, and it's interesting Natasha's murderousness has been largely buried in the decades since this comic. It's no longer a defining character trait. Still, it would have been a more interesting conversation if Natasha had been able to get Matt to own up about how inappropriate it was to hit her.

Then Matt finds out that Foggy has been shot, and of course he wants to go to New York right away. He assumes that Natasha will accompany him, but she corrects him about that, stating she doesn't consider Foggy her friend due to how the District Attorney sullied her reputation in court. I think that's fine. So Moondragon offers to take Matt to New York, and Natasha has problems with that, because Matt has admitted to having feelings for her as well. That can happen. It's not ideal. If Natasha can't deal with that, I think she's completely within her rights to end the relationship, but she doesn't. She waits and sees if he'll go to New York with Moondragon. He does, and she's upset. She complains to Ivan that Matt chose to go to New York without her, and that, to me, is pathetic. Matt and Foggy are such old friends, and Foggy's life hangs in the balance. People have got to be able to tend to their friends without their romantic partners getting in the way.

As far as I remember, the adventure with Terrex wherein Daredevil and Moondragon meet was an action-packed cracker of a story without very many deep character moments. In this issue they admit their mutual feelings for each other, and I'm more surprised at the depth of her feelings for him. She's been throughout outer space, so she's seen so many things, so for her to shed a tear speaking about how she's been drawn to him -- it's a bit hard to believe. But who knows? He's a very morally upright, heroic and handsome man. I know the Marvel Universe is filled with those, but we love him -- so why not her?

Matt arrives in New York and goes right to Foggy's bedside, and Foggy utters something about Black Spectre. Matt changes into Daredevil and goes right to work, and the Beetle attacks. The Beetle has got to be one of the least exciting and indistinct villains in all of Marveldom. Having said that, this was a pretty good fight. The Beetle's wings and suction fingers are a challenge for Matt, and I thought it was cool when Daredevil was able to grab back on to his billy club to drag the Beetle down. But it turns out that the Beetle was acting independently, and only at this issue's end are we introduced to Black Spectre, who immobilize our hero with some tear gas.

This issue is pretty good. Bob Brown's art here isn't great. I've seen more impressive work from him. His depictions of Natasha's angry face are a little weird to me, it might be the size of her eyes, or that strange hair puff on the top of her head. The relationship drama is kind of annoying, but once Daredevil gets to New York and the action kicks in, it's well done.

I give this issue a 3.5 out of 5.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 15, 2020 8:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

FYI, the plan is to go all the way to issue #112 since it still has Black Spectre. Let me know if that creates any difficulties.

The opening narration says that this takes place right before Christmas. That's a timely coincidence at least. DD and BW are still in San Francisco, but things aren't going well for them romantically. Luckily, crime provides a distraction so Matt doesn't have to talk about his feelings. Unfortunately, Natasha's more violent tactics continues the rift between the two characters. The fighting between them feels real. Matt is extremely judgmental, but he's not fighting over something small. It's hard to take sides in something like this, but it's also hard to see an easy fix - especially with Moondragon around creating jealousy.

When Matt hears that Foggy has been shot, his reaction is to leap to his rescue, but Tasha's reaction is reasonable too. Foggy was under duress, but his prosecution of her was probably his lowest point and forgiveness is hard. It highlights the differences between the characters. Matt is much quicker to forgive and focuses on protecting others. That's why he didn't want Black Widow to kill that mugger. Natasha is quicker to anger and believes in a little righteous vengeance. Regardless, this dramatic news takes us back to New York. We have another sentimental character moment as Matt sees Foggy in the hospital and meets Foggy's sister for the first time.

The action scene wasn't all that exciting. It's basically just Daredevil hanging from a rope while the Beetle flies around. Black Spectre's introduction isn't all that exciting. They come off as extremely well-organized, but not as clearly defined or catchy as AIM or Hydra. But it was a very short intro.

Four Stars. I like the soap opera this issue, but the action scenes left something to be desired.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 20, 2020 10:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Daredevil Vol. 1 #109 - Dying for Dollars

Quote:
As Black Spectre continues their streak of vandalism, the organization tries to (unsuccessfully) recruit Daredevil and Black Widow.


Due 12/26
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Dimetre
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 20, 2020 1:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Kudos to you Mike Murdock. I'm reading this on December 20th, and the first panel says that this story begins on Christmas Eve 1973. You're too good at scheduling.

I feel like Bob Brown's art took a big step upward in this issue. Perhaps that's due to a change in inker. While last issue was inked by Paul Gulacy, this issue was inked by Don Heck. While I'm not an art expert, I'm surprised by what a difference a change in inker can make.

The story structure in this issue is sloppy. We open where last issue closed -- with Daredevil and the Beetle in the midst of Black Spectre's tear gas attack. After Black Spectre gets away, we got a fun fight between Daredevil and the Beetle, and the villain forces our hero to save some innocent bystanders so he can get away.

But everything in that previous paragraph turned out to be a flashback from two months earlier. That was jarring, even if it was funny, because Matt almost accidentally told Foggy he was Daredevil about 250 issues too early.

Black Spectre uses Nazi imagery. That's something comics seemed way more comfortable with in decades past than nowadays, and I'm glad for today's restraint. While Nazis were (and are) certainly evil, the horror they perpetrated was all too real for far too many, and putting their iconography in superhero comics may work to remove them somewhat from reality. It's shocking to see a swastika on top of the Washington Monument, or Hitler's face on Mount Rushmore, but Nazism's presence here also lends it an air of cartoonishness, and I would rather that not happen.

After Matt finds out about the riot on Wall Street, there's a sense of urgency for him to spring into action and save the day, but Steve Gerber pauses the action for some flirtation with Foggy's sister Candace. It's a very odd choice, and I don't think it added anything to the story. Yes, it may plant some seeds for future issues, but that should come at the expense of the current story's flow.

The double page spread explaining Daredevil's costume and billy-club is gorgeous. Marvel should think about reprinting it, even though the billy-club has gone through many changes throughout the years. I think the position of the captions could have been rethought, because I read them in the wrong order at first, but those two pages are classic.

As cool as Black Widow is, it seemed she was around in the 70s to be captured. She's beautiful, and we're told how formidable she is, but she gets captured all the time, and Daredevil has to rescue her. Better days were far off in the future.

So I don't remember these issues very well, even though I know I read them before. Black Spectre is clearly all about racism and hate, and I'm guessing that their recruits are kids. I'm curious about the final revelation about this sinister organization.

I thought it was lame that the Beetle was able to catch Daredevil by surprise and knock him out. Matt should have focused on stopping the riot instead of yammering on and on about how unusual it was that he and the Beetle were teaming up.

The last page is a bit of a mess. Up until then we had a sinister organization using iconography from Nazi Germany stealing government plates to print American currency. Now, on this issue's last page, we're bringing Africa into this? Australia, Antarctica, do you want in on this? As for Shanna the She-Devil, I don't know much about her. She's mostly been used as eye candy for male readers, especially when Frank Cho drew her.

The best things about this issue involved finding out more about Black Spectre, through either Nekra or what Matt sensed when he was fighting them. Again, the Beetle was a pretty capable foe, but Gerber's story is way too sloppily put together. That one panel when Matt is swinging towards Black Spectre and he thinks about Candace -- that type of thing is inexplicable. It just jerks us out of the current story that is taking place. Gerber is trying to lay down too many narratives, and he can't handle it.

Brown and Heck rescue this issue from being too bad, so I give this one a three out of five.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2020 10:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dimetre wrote:
Kudos to you Mike Murdock. I'm reading this on December 20th, and the first panel says that this story begins on Christmas Eve 1973. You're too good at scheduling.


I wish I could entirely take credit for that. Honestly, I actually timed this with another event coming up soon, but this works perfectly as well.

The issue opens up where the last one left off with Black Spectre getting away and then a fight with the Beetle. It's not too exciting, but it does a decent job. After that, we learn more about what Black Spectre is doing. At this point, they just come off as pranksters defacing monuments and causing whimsical chaos. So far, it doesn't make them feel like Hydra. Honestly, they remind me more of the Jester.

I assume Foggy's sister Candace was being set up as a potential love interest. It's a shame it doesn't really go anywhere. I don't know if she would have been that interesting (she seems a more self-aware Heather Glenn), but I like Foggy and I like Matt becoming part of their family. Then again, maybe it was just to set up a love triangle with Black Widow since we cut to her next. She's fighting Nekra, a character I think has appeared in other Marvel comics (probably Shana the She-Devil), but this is the first I've seen her and the story gives no context.

The final bit of the story seems to spiral out of control for those without context. Black Spectre is connected to Shana the She-Devil who is connected to Commissioner O'Hara. It's all a lot to take in.

The story was fine until the last part. Three and a Half Stars.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2020 11:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mike Murdock wrote:
She's fighting Nekra, a character I think has appeared in other Marvel comics (probably Shana the She-Devil), but this is the first I've seen her and the story gives no context.

According to the Marvel Encyclopedia, Nekra debuted in Shanna the She-Devil #5 in August 1973. The entry mentions her teaming up with Mandrill a lot, since he's half-brother. It seems to me that she would go on to tangle with the Avengers, since she would later team up with the Grim Reaper, who wiould kill her, but Hellstorm brings her back. The she kills Doctor Druid, and she gets blown up real good by the Vision. Her daughter is known as Death Reaper.
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 27, 2020 3:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As a general rule, we cover Daredevil stories. However, every so often, we get to cover a guest appearance and can check out other books. So, thankfully, this crossover lets us check out this book featuring the ever lovin' blue-eyed Thing (with special guest, the Man Without Fear).

Marvel Two-in-One #3 - Inside Black Spectre

Quote:
Daredevil goes head-to-head with Black Spectre! Mister Fantastic makes an appearance!


Due 1/2
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 27, 2020 5:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This issue reminds me of what I loved about Marvel Comics as a youngster -- how cohesive the Universe was. If you got into just one Marvel series, like Fantastic Four, you were nudged towards an issue of Marvel Two-In-One, which would introduce you to other figures in the Universe. It just made the world bigger, and every story had a ripple effect across the entire Universe. Marvel hasn't operated like this in decades, and I feel bad for today's younger readers.

One thing I don't like is how Daredevil becomes less capable outside of his own book. Sure, his ability to survive a forty-storey fall is impressive, but here we see him unable to snag his line onto a blimp without the Fantastic Four's help. He's knocked out twice -- once by the Black Widow (who admittedly caught him by surprise) and the other time by a combination of the Widow and Nekra. I honestly think Daredevil is a formidable enough fighter that he should have been able to come out on top in that last one.

I'm a little surprised by how much Black Spectre dominated the plot in this issue. I know absolutely nothing about Wundarr outside of this issue, and while the first couple pages deal with Mr. Fantastic's scientific assessment of him, he only causes the explosion that brings Daredevil into the story, and that's it. I'm somewhat impressed that Daredevil didn't end up in a fist fight with Reed, considering how angry the explosion made him. I was only slightly interested in the Wundarr story, so I didn't mind. I'm not sure how curious a child version of me would have been reading this in May 1974. Would I have checked out Fantastic Four to find out more? I'm not so sure. I also think that Shanna's appearance in this issue was so brief and expository that no kid would have been clamouring for more from her. It was almost not worth it for her to appear at all.

I'm guessing, though, that more attention was given to the Black Spectre plot because Daredevil was the series in more dire need of readers at the time, and I think this issue serves as a pretty strong showcase for our Man Without Fear. Yes, I would have liked him to have been less prone to unconsciousness, but I think a lot of kids would have found Matt pretty cool and sought out more after reading this issue.

Did the rest of you find America Shall Endure as disturbing as I did? Why did Candace have tickets to this? Everything about the play was cringeworthy, from the stereotypical black slave dialect, to Captain America's tossing around of the "Commie" label, to the entrance of a Hitler character. The revelation that the performers truly died was very shocking, so shocking that I wouldn't have expected this in a Comics Code-approved comic book from 1974. Of course, I'm sure writer Steve Gerber wanted us to cringe at this play's content, and it was his opportunity to inject a dose of social commentary into the proceedings.

That is the darkest moment from a truly fun Marvel Comics adventure. I think Sal Buscema did a great job matching Kirby's Thing model and Bob Brown's then-current Daredevil style. Because this issue does such a good job advancing the Black Spectre story, making them more of a threat, as well as showcasing the cohesion of the Marvel Universe, I give this a four out of five.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 30, 2020 9:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Every so often, even Marvel fans of a certain character get to read crossovers. When they do, they get a book that features their favorite character but might have a different feel. This story certainly starts that way - feeling far more like a Fantastic Four story than a Daredevil one. But, a big explosion draws in our hero either way. The way it is handled is nice - it plays up his sightlessness, his human fragility, but also his acrobatic abilities.

After dealing with the Fantastic Four, Matt Murdock next goes to deal with Foggy's sister. Steve Gerber has had some uncomfortable racism things before in the name of progressive ideals of challenging expectations. He'll have more this story arc. The play definitely made me feel uncomfortable. The interesting thing out of all of it is the Black Widow's been brainwashed.

I really like the "superhero misunderstanding fight" in this issue - pretty much because it subverts all expectations in a good way. Daredevil has no time to explain, he kicks The Thing in the head, the Thing doesn't feel it so DD uses his words and then they team up. I also really got a kick out of Ben saying "It's clobbering time, so speaks the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing." It's such a nostalgic Marvel, but it works great in response to Nekra's posturing.

The ending is over too quick and in a very unsatisfying way - especially since this seems to conclude Ben Grimm's part in this story. But there were some good moments leading up to it - especially the banter in the fight. Three and a Half Stars.
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 02, 2021 10:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Daredevil Vol. 1 #110 - Birthright

Quote:

Following a fight, Daredevil unveils the truth behind the Black Spectre gang and affirms the theory that its members are all women with mysterious facial tattoos. But where does the mutant Mandrill factor in?


Due 1/9
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 03, 2021 1:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Even though I've obviously read this story once before, I'm surprised how little I retained from it. I find that to be true of most post-Lee/pre-Miller Daredevil. (Things like Bullseye's first appearance are an exception.) Still, I found this issue strangely interesting.

While typing my commentary for the previous installment of this story, I incorrectly guessed that the Black Spectre agents were kids. They all turn out to be women. I find the way Daredevil deduced this to be somewhat questionable; I don't know if women's heartbeats are generally faster than men's. That's why I guessed as I did. Still, I find the notion of a terrorist organization whose army is exclusively female an interesting one.

I found the few pages of Nekra leading Black Widow to the Master's Den a waste, since we find out who the Master is just a few pages later. Why introduce a mysterious identity for just a few pages? I'm guessing this issue was coming up a bit short since artist Gene Colan halfway through the issue started laying out two rows of large panels rather than three rows of smaller ones.

The Mandrill's flashback to his and Nekra's origins are easily the best part of the issue. It's a compelling story, rooted in the intolerance of Western society. However, there is absolutely nothing that prompts the Mandrill to start telling it. He later says he hoped that telling the story would sway Daredevil to his cause, which is to overthrow the U.S. government. Of course that would never work, especially with all the terror Black Spectre has wreaked over the last few issues, along with all the Nazi iconography.

And then the issue rushes to an end, with a brief fight between Daredevil and the Mandrill, with the villain getting away. Couldn't we have gotten to Mandrill's story quicker so we could have had a longer battle at the end? I suspect, since Black Widow was the co-star of the series at this point, Steve Gerber and Gene Colan had no choice but to find a few pages on which to feature her. It's a shame though, because the ending of this issue is really rushed.

This issue reveals some truly interesting things about Black Spectre, but it's hurt by some bad pacing. I don't know whether that's the fault of Gerber or editor Roy Thomas, but I can easily see how it played to the disadvantage of the story. Still, now that I know more about the Mandrill and Nekra, I can see how they had a lot of potential that went unrealized (unless they've been hanging around in comics I don't read.)

I give this issue a 3.5 out of 5.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 05, 2021 8:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This issue is immediately noticable with Gene Colan returning. I'm wondering if I should list credits with each issue. Regardless, it's good to see him. I really like the way he draws The Thing. It's very much in his style but melds in a unique way with that unique characte

Also very early on, Daredevil discovers that Black Spectre were women. I like that he didn't need to unmask them to figure it out (frankly, it wouldn't make sense that he would need to). That being said, I don't know why he didn't figure it out earlier. I suspect Steve Gerber just figured it out himself. I also like that blindness was a disadvantage as well.

The boss is the Mandrill. I have no idea why he was masked before this, but he turned Black Widow and she revealed Matt's secret identity. At this stage, I think only Larry Cranston (who is ostensibly dead) knew, so this is a dramatic reveal.

The backstories of Mandrill and Nekra are messeed up. I get what Gerber is going for, but it was poorly thought out. I'm fine with the idea of mutation leading to a white baby being born looking black and vice versa. But he wasn't born black, he was born with an ape's head and Gerber talks about it like it's the same thing. There's also a bit of "both sides are equally racist" in his treatment of Nekra's story. To the extent that black culture isolates itself from white culture is an overstatement, imo. At a minimum, it doesn't compare to the systematic oppression towards black people in this country. At most, other kids would have thought her different. Also, I don't even want to begin to comment on a "black man" causing women to be his "slaves." I just think this whole thing was a bad idea.

On a side note, Black Spectre returns during Waid's run. Based on this story, that doesn't really make much sense. It seems they were just mind-controlled victims of the Mandrill. Regardless, this story suddenly ends after that on a very disappointing note.

Three Stars. The only real redeeming qualities were Colan's art (which arguably contributed to the rushed ending) and the fact that Mandrill knows Matt's identity. Most of this wasn't very good.
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 10, 2021 2:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Daredevil Vol. 1 #111 - Sword of the Samurai

Quote:

The fight against Black Spectre continues as Daredevil faces their new ally, The Silver Samurai!


Due 1/16
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 10, 2021 6:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm glad last issue wasn't the end of the story. That would have been lame.

Here we get the return of Bob Brown on pencils, and I think he did a good job.

I have to admit to not knowing too much about the Silver Samurai. According to The Marvel Encyclopedia, this is his first appearance, and his most notable battles have involved Wolverine. He certainly seemed like a credible threat in this issue, slicing through walls and able to withstand a combined attack from Daredevil, Shanna and two wildcats. I don't like it when a hero allows a foe to get away too easily, but given how much Steve Gerber was able to sell me on Matt's fatigue, I allowed it this time.

I found the recap on what's been happening in the pages of Shanna's comic very sloppy and hard to follow. There were events that had nothing to do with the Black Spectre plot, like the adventure with Ka-Zar, that we could have done without. I suppose this may have been an effort to stoke more interest in Shanna's book, but I doubt it was a successful one. She also comes off as very incapable in this issue, getting captured instantly by the Silver Samurai when Black Spectre attacks the hospital.

It's incomprehesible why Daredevil was taken captive by Black Spectre in that attack, but it allowed for him to catch up with them at the TV tower for the cliffhanger, which promises a battle royale to close this tale.

I don't think this is a bad issue, but I don't think it's a great one either. To it's benefit, the Silver Samurai comes off as a genuine threat, but since he's always been in Black Spectre's employment, it doesn't make sense that he hasn't appeared before now. I also feel like this Black Spectre story is dragging on longer than it needs to at this point. Really, the only thing of consequence that was added to the narrative was they now have Shanna in captivity.

I give this issue a three out of five.
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