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DD Book Club - Death of a Nation?
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Mike Murdock
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Joined: 08 Sep 2014
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 8:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A story where the villain wants to overthrow the United States government? I feel I have to be less timely with these things... That being said, when Daredevil said "he figures that hatred of anyone who is different is part of the way of life in America," I shuddered a bit. I don't like Gerber's lack of subtlety and I sometimes think he goes down the wrong path in the name of being edgy, but I do think his observations can be quite powerful as a reminder when you see that society really hasn't changed all that much.

This issue introduces the Silver Samurai. Along with Yuriko Oyama being Lady Deathstrike, people forget that the Silver Samurai (who is Mariko Yashida's brother) was not originally an X-Men villain. That being said, seeing this issue, there's no reason to think he would be. I don't think it's entirely clear that he's a mutant here.

Things get chaotic for a second as Black Spectre shows up and captures Shana the She-Devil. But then things oddly slow down for Matt to have coffee with Candace. It seems a bit odd since it seems like Matt's taking his sweet time to rescue her. On the other hand, it's building a sub-plot that keeps Candace in the story, which is nice. Then we get the final action scene as Daredevil leaps onto the airship.

This issue had a very whirlwind pace and frankly would have benefited from a few more pages. As is, it's a bit rushed. Three and a Half Stars.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 17, 2021 1:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

To be honest, I picked this story mostly because the White House appears and it was set around inauguration. No political allegory intended, although read in what you will.

Daredevil Vol. 1 #112 - Death of a Nation?

Quote:

With the Avengers and Fantastic Four stuck in a predicament that could threaten the entire city, and Daredevil guarded by a brainwashed Black Widow, Mandrill is able to carry out his plans and take over the White House!


Due 1/23
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I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
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Dimetre
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Joined: 16 Feb 2006
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 17, 2021 3:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There were number of things about this issue that surprised me.

First, as Daredevil dangles from a blimp's rope-ladder, the antenna of the Empire State Building snaps and falls onto the street below. Our hero is powerless to stop it, and "he can hear every bone that it crushes to powder... every heartbeat it causes to stop... every drop of blood that trickles from every wound to moisten the pavement's grime." That is grisly imagery for a superhero comic from August of 1974. Nevertheless, the seal of approval from the Comics Code Authority is there on the cover. I suspect that Daredevil was a low-selling enough title around this time that much of its contents was subject to less scrutiny. I just find it shocking how much horror Black Spectre was allowed to wreak in this issue.

As you pointed out, Mike Murdock, while reviewing #111, your timing for choosing this story has been uncanny. This issue's double-page spread showing Black Spectre taking over the White House carries more weight today than it possibly could have forty-six years ago. That double page spread carries some powerful words from Steve Gerber.
Quote:
All the machinations of Black Spectre have led to this. The systematic assault on the nation's landmarks, stripping them of their sacrosanct quality...
The money riot on Wall Street, laying bare the greed at the heart of the system, eating away at the public's already-shaken confidence in an officialdom which seems to thrive on corruption...
The crippling of the media, the last line of defense against demagoguery...
And now, the symbolic act of seizing the structure which is synonymous with power.

Gerber goes on to to muse about the power of optics and public relations in American society, and you can feel the passion in his words. This moment here is why he chose to tell this story, as crazy and mixed up as it's been before this. Gerber truly had something to say about the way his country was being run, and how society was allowed to operate in 1974.

As Mary Skrenes wrote in 2016 in the introduction to Marvel Masterworks Volume 11 (from which I'm reading), "I don't know if Steve's comics sold more or less than his contemporaries, but I know that he took the medium and made it his own vehicle. He used it to point out the elements of society, politics, crime, inter-dimensionality and absurdity that bugged or enchanted him. He ventured into other writing and editing but comics remained his true love. His influence on the the next generation of comic book writers -- guys like Grant Morrison, Alan Moore and Frank Miller -- shows that he was attracting the right kind of readers. Like Brian Eno said about the Velvet Underground, '[They] didn't sell that many records, but everyone who bought one went out and started a band.'"

Still, in the midst of all this, I have some concerns. First, we see "Ironguts" O'Hara discussing what's happening with Foggy. O'Hara says, "So when we wake up tomorrow, it'll be 'President Mandrill,' huh?" to which Foggy replies, "Unless Daredevil and your niece Shanna can stop him... that's how it looks, O'Hara." I don't think two intelligent American men would talk like this. Presidents are elected by the public, and anyone else who would assume power by other means would be called a despot or a dictator, not a president. I suppose I could chalk this up to Gerber and editor Roy Thomas not wanting to get too pedantic for their juvenile audience... except we've already seen the massive amount of death that opened this issue, and the double-page spread with Gerber's high-minded political musings is just a couple of page turns away. I'm also way too bothered by Thomas' failure to correct the following sentence on that double-page spread: "The bowl in the idol's lap is lighted." The past tense of light is "lit." That is all.

I found it somewhat disturbing that Gene Colan the rest of the art team only chose to show African-American woman in the Black Spectre's ranks, once they removed their costumes. It's been made utterly clear that the Mandrill is able to control every woman except for Shanna, so some other races would have been good to show on the White House lawn, if only to not exclusively demonize black people as the villains of this story.

I personally find the amount of times Daredevil has been rendered unconscious throughout this story excessive. Sure, it emphasizes how much of a threat Mandrill and Nekra are, but it also makes Daredevil appear incapable. Still, as ridiculous as Mandrill's appearance is, he was a villain with a ton of potential. He's highly intelligent, a physical threat and loaded with ambition. I can easily see how effective he would be in a modern story.

As cool as Daredevil was in his final fight with the Mandrill, this issue's ending is week. Shanna and the Black Widow beat Nekra off panel. (I don't know if this battle was shown in Shanna's own comic.) Daredevil's failure to verify Mandrill's death allows the villain to get away, which again makes him appear ineffective.

This story was a mixed bag. The Two-in-One issue was especially fun, showing how connected the Marvel Universe was at the time. As I typed, I find Mandrill and Nekra to be villains with a ton of potential that has mostly gone unrealized. The main problem is that Matt and Natasha aren't at their best in this story. Natasha spends the bulk of this tale as the Mandrill's captive, and Matt gets knocked unconscious over and over. While one of his greatest character traits is his insistence on getting up again after getting knocked down, I think we could have done with fewer comatose moments. There have also been bewildering pacing decisions that bogged down this story, but I have to show this story some respect because Gerber proved that he had something to say. I give this issue and the story as a whole a 3.5 out of five.
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Mike Murdock
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Joined: 08 Sep 2014
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2021 8:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sorry I took so long.

This story involves an attempted overthrow of the United States government. What's chilling initially is the organization involved. There's genuine thought into cutting off communication in order to isolate Washington. Since Mandrill both knows Daredevil's secret identity and is mind-controlling Black Widow, he just feels so completely in control that it actually seems genuinely helpless. It's also noteworthy that the seizing of the White House is explicitly described as a symbolic act. The real threat is apparently that he claims to have an Atomic Bomb in New York.

The way Matt breaks Natasha out of her trance is a bit weak, to be honest, but it leads to a really cool panel with them breaking through a window. Honestly, the fast resolution is my biggest complaint. It feels over almost immediately after. There's very little payoff with the threat on New York (technically there's no clear indication whether that was fake or not). There's no resolution whether the rest of the mind-controlled members of Black Spectre were ever released from control.

That being said, the fast pace of this story is part of its strength. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Four Stars.
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Not sure what to read next? Check out the Book Club for some ideas!

I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
Thomas More - A Man for All Seasons
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