Golden Age showcase #5: Daredevil

Today we’re going to talk about Daredevil.

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No not him.

During the 1940’s one of the many companies to try to cash in on the superhero craze called Lev Gleason Publications asked one of their most prominent artists, a man named Jack Binder, to write a new superhero title.  What followed was an unprecedented 16 year run on one of the Golden Age’s most popular heroes: Daredevil.

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Origin and career:

If you take this Daredevil’s origin story out of context then it starts getting a bit…creepy. To put Daredevil’s origin in context it’s important to remember his premiere was a year after another, slightly more famous, superhero hit the shelves

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which helped create the idea of a hero having a troubled backstory and origin.  I would tell you what Batman’s origin story is but let’s not kid ourselves, most of us know it by heart.

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Since the Batman’s origin proved to be incredibly popular, and since the Golden Age of Comics was all about copying the latest fad, Daredevil had a similar tragic backstory.  The only difference was that it was so…much…worse.

The hero’s original name was Bart Hill and he had the unfortunate luck to watch his parents be murdered right before his very eyes by a gang of criminals who wanted something his father had invented.  To add insult to injury the same criminals decided to brand the poor boy on his chest with a hot iron that looked like a boomerang.

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The shock of his parent’s death, coupled with the pain of the branding, caused Bart to go mute and swear vengeance upon all crime and become a vigilante.  For some reason he used the boomerang shaped scar on his chest for inspiration and become an expert boomerang marksman instead of…using bats as a symbol to strike fear and terror into the hearts of criminal scum everywhere.

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While he was originally created as an eight page side story in another comic book called the “Silver Streak” Daredevil was pitted against the villainous “Claw” for a five issue story that made him a popular, if not a bit brutal, hero.

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Eventually Daredevil proved so popular that he was given his own series in 1941.  The issue was written and partially drawn by a new creator, Charles Biro and featured the hero doing what else, beating Hitler.

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Soon after Daredevil was introduced Biro gave Daredevil something to make him even more appealing to a large comic book audience: his own superhero team.  In Daredevil comic issue #13 the hero was given a group called “The Little Wise Guys”, a collection of children with wacky names like Curley, Jocko, Peewee, Scarecrow, and Meatball.

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This combination would prove to be incredibly popular and the team would embark on grand adventures such as:

engaging in a wild bicycle chase with desperate felons,

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rescue a damsel in distress from a gang of whip wielding masked strangers in a situation that isn’t reminiscent of BDSM at ALL.

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And, I swear to God I am not making this up, MURDERING AN ENTIRE SQUAD OF JAPANESE SOLDIERS BY CLUBBING THEM TO DEATH AND HANGING ONE FROM A TREE AS AN EXAMPLE!!

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A year later Biro would revamp Daredevil’s identity into a more kid friendly hero.  Instead of simply having his parents murdered Bart’s backstory claimed he had been raised by Aboriginal Australians in the Outback, and instead of being a mute he could now talk.

So what happened?

Despite Daredevil’s popularity he wasn’t popular enough to survive the comic book crash of the 1950’s and the decline of superheroes in comics.  Daredevil himself was written out of his own series in 1950, although his kid gang “The Little Wise Guys” continued to star in their own independent series which lasted until 1956 when Lev Gleason Publications went out of business.

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What’s really interesting about this title is that unlike everything else we’ve talked about in this blog series, Daredevil and his army of child soldiers have a solid and important legacy to the world of comics.  Charles Biro, the man behind most of the stories and the 16 year long run of the character, was one of the most important people in the Golden Age of Comics.

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Besides taking the reigns on one of the most popular heroes of the time, Biro is widely regarded to have crated the first crime comic,

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and the first adult comic

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so if you’re looking for one person who helped kick start the Comics Code Authority and censorship in comics you can blame him, although Biro’s legacy deserves far more praise than condemnation.

In fact, it is because of Biro’s legacy that the Golden Age Daredevil continues to exist today.  Like most Golden Age heroes he has passed into the public domain, which means that any company can use him as they please.  As a result, Daredevil and his arch nemesis the Claw have appeared in AC Comics “Femforce” as guests,

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Erik Larsen’s early Image series “Savage Dragon” first as a guest and then as a supporting character.

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and as a character in Dynamite’s “Project Superpowers” by Jim Kruger and Alex Ross.

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With one of comic’s greatest original creators at his helm and a legacy that enshrines him as one of the Golden Age’s greatest heroes, Daredevil is someone who’s legacy and story deserves the respect and admiration of comic book fans everywhere.

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