Sunday, December 05, 2010

Retro-Review: Daredevil #9, Part 1!

daredevil09_001April 1942, Lev Gleason Productions

This month's Retro-Review feature is Daredevil Comics #9, edited by Charles Biro and Bob Wood.

The first feature is Daredevil in “The Champion of Crime,” by Biro and Wood. The splash page basically goes on and on about chivalry throughout history, with a dedication signed by Biro about how this story was dedicated to “Those gallant warriors of the past and to all the boys and men who will fight fair in the future.”
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The story proper opens at the McGuire household, where young Mike McGuire is complaining about the lack of variety in their meals “Hash and stew! That's all ya ever got in this dump! I'm sick of it!”). His mother tells him he should be grateful, as his father is out of work. Mike throws his plate at the wall, and his father walks in asking what his son is up to now. Mike demands that Pat get a job fast, but when Pat tells him to get back in their apartment, Mike responds by kicking his father in the shin before delivering a roundhouse right that sends Pat falling down the stairs. Mike's mother tells him that the law will get him for this, but Mike is unconcerned as he leaves the apartment. On the street, Mike occupies himself first by stabbing automobile tires with a knife. Soon, he comes upon a group of neighborhood kids playing marbles who flee when “Mighty Mike” approaches. Mike then stops at a local fruit stand, where he proceeds to kick away a support, sending apples spilling into the street. The proprietor starts to chase him, but Mike leaps over a fence and starts fleeing, but he's stopped by Bart Hill (aka Daredevil).

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Bart points out that bullies are all alike, and he gets the neighborhood kids to gather around him so he can tell them a story that Daredevil supposedly told him! His story takes place when Daredevil was a junior in high school and a reporter for the school paper. Daredevil asked his professor if he could go to see Flash Farnum, an Olympic Decathalon champion, to get a story for the paper, but when he arrives at the pier to snap a photo of Farnum as he disembarks, Farnum grabs the camera and smashes it to the ground. In return, Daredevil grabbed Farnum's suitcase and tossed it in the water.
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Farnum then grabs the young Daredevil, and the two of them begin to brawl, with the younger man at a disadvantage. Eventually, the police show up and drag Farnum off of the kid. Several years pass, Daredevil assumes his costumed identity, and a new costumed villain makes the scene called the Bolt, who's stumped the police. We see an encounter that Bolt has with the police, with one officer killed in the battle. Meanwhile, Daredevil (in costume) is reading the newspaper accounts of the Bolt's exploits, specifically about the athleticism that the Bolt demonstrated, which makes Daredevil think of Farnum. He then realizes he's not alone!
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Of course, it's the Bolt, AKA Farnum, and the two costumed men fight! At first, Farnum seems to have the advantage, but Daredevil soon turns the tables, and Farnum runs down the stairs while Daredvil shimmies down a drainpipe to head him off. It looks like DD's put Farnum down for the count...
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...but soon discovers that Farnum was just playing possum! Farnum manages to slam Daredevil's head into a fire hydrant, and when the police show up, he tells them the Bolt ran off (I should've pointed out that during the battle, his mask and cloak came off, so he's just dressed in civvies). As the police start to run in the direction Farnum pointed them in, Farnum steals the police car they arrived in! Another patrol car arrives, and the officers and Daredevil catch a ride in pursuit of the stolen car and Farnum. Farnum manages to keep far enough ahead that the police machine guns can't reach him, and then Farnum notices a train approaching a crossing. Farnum manages to get his stolen car across the tracks just before the train crosses, cutting off his pursuers, and somehow manages to get on the train.
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Realizing that he'll need cash, Farnum decides to rob the train's passengers, but one of them, Tonia Saunders, grabs the emergency brake, stopping the train. Farnum grabs Saunders and leaves the train, but then he sees Daredevil and the police approaching! Again, Daredevil and Farnum fight!
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Of course, Farnum's the one whose foot is caught. Daredevil pulls the girl off the tracks just before the next train passes. Farnum meets a no-doubt grisly end. We get back to the present, where Bart is stelling the kids that Saunders and Daredevil became very good friends, and that if Farnum hadn't been a bully, he wouldn't have turned criminal. This whole story changes Mike's perspective, but then after Bart leaves, one of the kids asks him if he's really changed. Mike responds, “What! On account of that fairy story? I don't believe there is a Daredevil!” But to his surprise...
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Overall, this was a fairly enjoyable tale, although it was the kind of tale that Will Eisner could (and did) do much better in The Spirit with fewer pages. One would think that with the larger page count available that more substance could've been added to the tale. Indeed, by spending so much time setting things up before Bart appears on the scene (never named in the story, by the way), it's not until the end of the tale that we find out what it was that drove Farnum to crime in the first place (his bullying wouldn't allow him to keep a job, sometimes being fired the same day he was hired). Personally, I would've rather had this shown rather than told. But then, not everyone was an Eisner, were they?

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