Blind lawyer Matt Murdock first made his debut in Daredevil #1 in April of 1964 and was co-created by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett, with input from the legendary Jack Kirby. While perhaps not as mainstream as characters like Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Daredevil has become one of Marvel Comics’ greatest creations and has featured in a number of ancillary media and merchandise, included a questionably-received big-screen adaptation in 2003 and a critically-successful Netflix series. Still, he’s one of my favourite Marvel characters so what better excuse to pay homage to the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” than by dedicating a few days to celebrating his auspicious debut.
Story Title: The Origin of Daredevil
Published: April 1964
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Bill Everett
The 1960s were a golden age for Marvel Comics; in collaboration with such legendary names as Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Stan Lee created some of the most iconic superheroes, including such names as the Fantastic Four, Doctor Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, and Spider-Man. At this point, Marvel were largely beyond introducing their new superheroes in the pages of other, unrelated or obscure comics and tended to debut them in a first issue devoted solely to Lee’s newest brainwave. Created by Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett (with some influence from Jack Kirby), Matt Murdock/Daredevil debuted on 1 April 1964 in his own, self-titled comic (which, judging by the cover, actually seems to be titled Here Comes… Daredevil – The Man Without Fear!) that blatantly leeches off the success and popularity of Lee’s other creations Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four on its front cover. Though Daredevil produced numerous challenges for Lee as a writer and editor since he was the first superhero Lee had a hand in creating with a physical handicap (in this case blindness), Daredevil would go on to be one of Lee’s most popular and enduring characters, featuring in numerous other media and adaptations over the years.
Daredevil #1 leaves nothing to the imagination by immediately proclaiming that Daredevil is destined to be the next big comics character in the same vein as Spider-Man and that his debut issue is sure to be as much a sought-after collector’s item as The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (of course, these boisterous and flamboyant claims turned out to be true as this issue is now worth up to several thousand dollars).
If you’ve watched the Netflix series, or only have a cursory knowledge of Daredevil, you might be surprised to find that the colourful masked crimefighter is on the hunt for a mob boss known only as “the Fixer” rather than Wilson Fisk/Kingpin. To that end, Daredevil interrupts a poker game being played by a bunch of the Fixer’s goons, easily taking them out with his incredible agility and physical strength, all while spouting exposition (comics characters loved to narrate what they were doing as they were doing it back in the sixties) and quips very much in the same manner as Spider-Man (only without the webs and constant referral to his superhuman strength and abilities).
After depicting Daredevil thoroughly trouncing his opponents and impressing the reader with his fighting ability, the story then flashes back to 1950 where a young Matt Murdock is basically ordered by his father, Jack Murdock, to put aside sports or other physical pursuits in order to dedicate his every waking moment to studying and books. Jack, an over-the-hill boxer who performs under the name “Battling Jack Murdock”, promised Matt’s mother before she died that he wouldn’t let Matt throw away his education as Jack did and, desperate to please his father, Matt heeds Jack’s advice, despite believing that he would be just as good as the school’s best players.
Watching with envious eyes from his bedroom window as the neighbourhood kids play and wrestle in the streets, Matt soon becomes frustrated when the local kids taunt and jeer at him, giving him the derogatory nickname “Daredevil”. In his anger, Matt strikes one of his Dad’s punching bags so hard that he knocks it clean off the chain and begins a vigorous training session involving both weight training and cardio in order to stay in shape when he isn’t studying. Because physical strength and aptitude can, apparently, be passed down genetically, Matt excels at his workout as well as he excels in his studies, developing both body and mind in order to both please his father and indulge in his desire to engage in physical activities. While Jack is proud of his son’s dedication to his studies, he’s facing hard times as he’s been unable to get a fight for some time due to his age; in his desperation, he signs a contract to become one of the Fixer’s hired fighters and is promised that he won’t have to throw a fight. Overjoyed at what he perceives to be his big comeback, Jack hurries home to share the news with his son only to find that Matt isn’t home.
Matt, it turns out, had been studying at the library like a good little nerd but, on his way home, spots an old blind (and, presumably, deaf) man wandering into the path of an oncoming truck! Reacting with “the speed of thought” (another common colourful statement of comics from this time), Matt rushes to the man’s aid, pushing him clear of the truck but is subsequently blinded when a canister of radioactive waste falls from the truck and splashes across Matt’s face. Though Jack is despondent at his son’s condition, Matt remains optimistic and cheerful; he’s even told (in a minor, throwaway line that I feel is often forgotten and overlooked) that an operation may be able to restore his sight in a few years’ time. Matt continues both his studies (by switching to Braille, which he apparently learnt to read with little issue) and his training unabated; in fact, while exercising, he notes that his remaining senses now seem to function at a near superhuman level.
After successfully graduating from high school, Matt ends up sharing his college dormitory with Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, who is in awe of Matt’s intelligence and ability. While Matt credits this to his father and his years of study, he also goes into a long internal monologue detailing how the radioactive substance may also have played a part since his hearing is now so acute that he can hone in on heartbeats, his sense of smell is so finely tuned that he can recognise and remember people on scent alone, his sense of touch is so keen that he can judge the weight of objects, read ink through skin contact, and perform all manner of superhuman acrobatics without fear, and his sense of taste is so augmented that he can tell “exactly how many grains of salt are on a piece of pretzel”. Perhaps most astounding, however, is that Matt has developed a kind of built-in radar, a sixth sense of sorts that allows him to be acutely aware of his surroundings at all times. Similar to Spider-Man’s spider-sense, Matt can tell where objects and hazards are and instinctively move to avoid them, meaning he’s far more aware and perceptive of his surroundings than fully-able people. This isn’t portrayed that well in this debut issue and would be refined over the years into something more akin to echolocation that effectively allows Matt to “see” through a sonar effect that registers movements and sounds to his mind’s eye.
Meanwhile, Jack’s many victories over the years have resulted in him earning a fight against the number two contender; although the Fixer orders Jack to take a dive in the first round, he is determined to make his son (who is in the audience with Foggy) proud and, spurred on by this motivation, he manages to overwhelm his foe and score the surprise victory. However, for defying the Fixer, Jack is killed by gunshot later that night, leaving Matt devastated but nonetheless determined to graduate as class valedictorian. Thanks to Foggy’s father, Matt and Foggy quickly set themselves up as attorneys at law in New York City, even hiring an attractive secretary, Karen Page. However, Matt is tormented by his need to see his father’s killer brought to justice but torn between the promise he made long ago to use his head, rather than his fists, to solve his problems. It’s then, in a flash of
madness inspiration, that Matt decides to put his superhuman senses to work in creating a costume and a masked persona through which he can put his skills to use while still honouring his promise to his father. Rather than constructing the iconic red suit that has long been associated with the character, Matt uses primarily yellow and black fabrics for his first suit and takes the name Daredevil to turn the jeers of his neighbourhood kids into a moniker to strike fear into evil-doers everywhere. If you thought Matt’s sewing skills were implausible, you won’t believe his ability to take something as normal and unassuming as a walking stick and turn it, with relative ease, into a versatile combat device. Thanks to just a few hinges and a flexible handle, Matt’s stick becomes an all-purpose weapon, doubling as a billy club, a hook to swing from, and to give him a bit more leverage when he’s jumping and flipping about.
The only lead Matt has is a name, the Fixer, so he debuts his new costumed persona at the gym his father frequented, which brings the story back to where we left it in the opening, with the Fixer’s goons all beaten up. The Fixer immediately and unceremoniously walks in and Daredevil demands answers from him about Jack Murdock’s death, which causes another fight to break out. This fight goes about as well for the Fixer and his mooks as the first fight did, with Daredevil using his uncanny senses and heightened physical abilities to easily wipe the floor with them all. It’s also in this part of the story that we learn that Daredevil’s radar sense is so acute that he can tell when a person is lying simply by listening to the changes in their heartbeat. As great as Daredevil’s senses are, though, his emotions get the better of him and he is abruptly (and hilariously) shoved out of an open window (…funny, I honestly didn’t realise/couldn’t tell that they weren’t on the ground floor). Luckily, though, he’s able to use his fast reflexes and trusty cane to swing back up into the room from a convenient flag pole. Having identified that the Fixer’s goon Slade was the gun man working on the Fixer’s orders, Daredevil shoos out the other goons and attempts to get one (or both) of the men to confess to the murder of Jack Murdock but, in his overconfidence, is completely felled when the Fixer suddenly (and literally) pulls the rug out from underneath him!
Although the Fixer and Slade escape out on to the streets, and Daredevil has “wrenched” his arm in the fall, Matt is easily able to track them from the smell of the Fixer’s cigar smoke. Quickly switching back into his Daredevil costume, Matt confronts the two one last time down in the subway, tripping Slade with his billy club and using a trash can to race after the Fixer. However, the stress and excitement of it all is too much for the Fixer, who collapses from a fatal heart attack…which Daredevil is surprisingly nonchalant about. Daredevil then leads the transit police to Slade and tricks him into spilling his guts, finally ensuring that his father’s death won’t go unavenged and making his debut as a costumed crimefighter before (a division of) New York’s finest. I, personally, love how the cops are immediately accepting and trusting of Daredevil upon sight; the Marvel universe is really weird like that in that cops and the public are fine with guys like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four but cannot stand Spider-Man and the X-Men half the time, as though there’s anything about them that’s really different enough to warrant such a response.
Satisfied, Matt returns to his office and his friends where Foggy reveals that he’s already turned down an offer to act as Slade’s defence attorney since he (as in Foggy) was convinced that Slade is guilty. Matt is, obviously, perfectly fine with this but it seems a bit unethical to me; surely lawyers are duty-bound to represent anyone and everyone to ensure that they get a fair and just trial? Plus, the implication seems to be that without Matt or Foggy acting as his council, Slade will definitely be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, which is a bit of a stretch when we haven’t even seen these two in a court room yet!
“The Origin of Daredevil” is a pretty sub-par and by-the-numbers story, if I’m brutally honest. It’s bright and colourful, as comics tended to be back the, and full of near-endless exposition, dialogue, thought- and speech-balloons, and long-outdated slang and clichés but it’s appealing enough. I guess, at the time, readers hadn’t really seen anything quite like it as, while Daredevil acts and even looks, to a degree, like Spider-Man (even borrowing one of Spidey’s most recognisable abilities), he’s still a distinctive and unique character in his own right. Daredevil is, clearly, the stand out character of this story (and rightfully so given it’s his debut and origin issue) but I can’t say that I actually find Matt to be that appealing or interesting a character. Thanks to his Dad, he’s a massive swot, a well-read bookworm who thus excels at almost everything since he’s so smart. Not only that but he’s immediately fantastic at boxing, weight-lifting, and other exercise, attractive and charming enough to appeal to and win Karen over after barely sharing a panel with her, and is seemingly infallible in every respect.
Obviously, you probably don’t want to debut your new character as a flawed or unlikeable individual but Daredevil only makes mistakes when the plot requires it and that’s purely just to show off his quick reflexes and physical aptitude. It does help separate him from his closest counterpart, Spider-Man, who is also a massive nerd who loves to flip all over the place dropping quips and one-liners, though. In that regard, Murdock seems like a more adult character since he is a little older than Peter Parker and has an actual, stable job and Daredevil seems to be his way of releasing all of his tension and pent-up adrenaline. There’s a lot of unique aspects to the character thanks to his blindness affording him near-superhuman abilities but, to be honest, that’s not really focused on all that much in his debut issue; blindness seems to be little more than an inconvenience for Matt as we never seem him struggle to adapt to it and, instead, he revels in the heightened abilities it affords him. Again, this does little to endear me to his character as it just makes him seem like a braggart and an annoyingly foolproof, flawless character but, thankfully, later writers would bring a dark, gritty edge to Daredevil that helped to make him far more appealing while still retaining his more impressive attributes.
Have you ever read “The Origin of Daredevil”? Do you, perhaps, still own a copy of Daredevil #1 and, if so, could you sell it and send me the money? What did you think of Daredevil’s dynamic debut and how do you think the story has aged after all these years? What do you think of Daredevil as a character and which storyline of his do you think is the best, or the worst? How are you celebrating Daredevil’s debut this year? Whatever you think about Daredevil, drop a comment below.