Sunday

OMU: Daredevil -- Year One

The last superhero franchise of Marvel’s initial creative explosion was Daredevil, billed as “The Man Without Fear,” who debuted in his own title early in 1964. The character was distinctive in that, along with the requisite superhuman powers, there was an additional gimmick: he was blind. Stan Lee recalls that he had some trepidation about how a handicapped hero would be received, and was relieved when the response from disabled children was enthusiastic.

However, though the book got off to a stylish start under veteran artist Bill Everett, it stumbled out of the gate when Everett was unable to meet deadlines. The book was quickly handed off to another industry veteran, Joe Orlando, but he was out of his element with superheroes, and his issues lack the dynamism of the emerging “Marvel style.” Within the year, the book changed hands again, passing to the legendary Wallace Wood, who designed DD’s now iconic all-red costume and got the book back on its feet. Unfortunately, his tenure would also prove to be short-lived, as, like Everett, his personal problems prevented him from continuing. This revolving door in the artistic department, which would continue into 1966, certainly hurt the book, and Daredevil was considered a second-tier title for many years.

Still, I find Daredevil’s early years interesting because he has one of the most protracted origin stories of any of Marvel’s heroes, as well as having had major elements added to the story decades later, primarily during Frank Miller’s groundbreaking run.

Note: The following timeline depicts the Original Marvel Universe (anchored to November 1961 as the first appearance of the Fantastic Four and proceeding forward from there. See previous posts for a detailed explanation of my rationale.) Some information presented on the timeline is speculative and some is based on historical accounts. See the Notes section at the end for clarifications.


Here comes… The True History of Daredevil, the Man Without Fear!


1937 – Matthew Michael Murdock is born in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in New York City to professional boxer “Battling” Jack Murdock and his wife Grace. The economic crisis of the Great Depression has hit the couple hard, and their marriage is strained by constant stress and worry. Plus, when Jack gets drunk, he can become violent. Finally, while Matt is still a baby, Grace Murdock can stand no more. She abandons her family and disappears, leaving Jack to raise their son alone.

1942 – Jack Murdock is approached by a crooked manager named Roscoe Sweeney. Knowing Sweeney’s reputation for fixing prizefights, Jack tells him to get lost. Sweeney mocks him, knowing the day will come when “Battling” Jack Murdock’s not so proud anymore. Though it’s a constant struggle, Jack manages to make an honest living as a boxer.

1945 – Jack realizes that young Matt is already an exceptional student, and has the potential to grow up to have a lucrative professional career. As such, he insists that his son put schoolwork ahead of everything else, including playing with the other kids in the neighborhood. Knowing Hell’s Kitchen is overrun with violent Irish-American street gangs, Jack fears the local kids would be a bad influence on his son, and he makes Matt promise never to fight. Thus, Matt becomes increasingly isolated from his peers. He becomes an easy target for teasing, and the kids mock his sedentary lifestyle by calling him “Daredevil” Murdock.

1947 – While Matt is walking home from school one day, he is accosted by some local bullies. One of them begins tearing pages out of an expensive book that Matt’s dad struggled to buy for him. The bully’s taunts cause Matt to lose his temper and lash out in a rage. He manages to give the kid a black eye and breaks the nose of another. Finally, Matt returns home bruised but triumphant. However, he finds his dad drunk, and Jack is enraged that Matt would fight like a common thug. Without thinking, Jack smacks him hard, drawing blood. He is horrified by what he’s done, but Matt only glares at him and runs out of the apartment. Matt wanders the streets of New York until finally arriving at the Brooklyn Bridge, where he spends the night pondering the nature of right and wrong, of rules and laws, and his own future. It is this experience that sets him on the path to become an attorney.

1948 – When Matt’s out of school for the summer, Jack takes him to Fogwell’s Gym, where he’s working with his trainer, “Pop” Fenton. There, Matt befriends a boy named Johnny Squarejohn, the son of another fighter using the same facilities. They enjoy playing together in and around the gym, and Matt enjoys being more active. “Battling” Jack Murdock, on the other hand, realizes he’s past his prime and struggles to get enough prizefights to pay the bills.

1950 – Now a teen-ager, Matt decides he’s tired of getting picked on, and starts working out at home when his dad’s not around. At first he only intends to get in shape, but the more he trains, the more he enjoys it. His fitness regimen only improves his performance in school, and his self-confidence soars. Matt sees Johnny Squarejohn less and less, especially after Johnny joins a notorious street gang.

1951 – Johnny’s gang accosts Matt in an alleyway, and Matt begs Johnny to help him. However, Johnny is loyal to his gang and stands by doing nothing while the others give Matt a savage beating.

1952 – “Battling” Jack Murdock finds his career is on the skids, and, seeing no other option, he finally agrees to sign with Roscoe Sweeney, the notorious “Fixer.” Sweeney sees to it that Jack starts earning more money, and Jack is glad he’ll be able to manage sending Matt to college, knowing he can retire once Matt graduates. However, tragedy strikes when Matt tries to save a blind man from an out-of-control truck on a crowded Manhattan street. The truck is carrying radioactive materials, which burst open during the crash and hit Matt in the face, leaving him permanently blinded. In the hospital, Jack tells his son how proud he is of Matt’s selfless act, and vows to one day make Matt equally proud. Soon after, Matt begins a slow, difficult period of rehabilitation. He begins to notice his remaining four senses seem heightened to an uncanny degree. Learning to use Braille books, Matt works hard to catch up on the schoolwork he missed during his convalescence.

1953 – Matt begins working with a crusty old martial arts master known only as “Stick,” who is also blind. As they train, Stick helps Matt develop a “radar sense” that gives him full awareness of his physical surroundings despite his lack of eyesight. Additionally, Stick teaches Matt how to take his gymnastic abilities to a much higher level, and trains him in a variety of fighting techniques. Matt proves to be as adept at these studies as with his book-learning, but, being naturally introverted, he discusses his new abilities with no one other than Stick.

1955 – Matt graduates from high school and enrolls in Columbia University, where he meets his new roommate, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, who is also in the Pre-Law program. Stick summarily decides that Matt’s training is done and disappears. Busy adapting to college life, Matt accepts this and the two see no more of each other. A week or two into the semester, Matt meets a new student named Elektra Natchios, daughter of a Greek ambassador. Smitten, Matt works up the courage to ask her on a date, and reveals to her the secret of his hypersenses and gymnastic abilities. Elektra falls for him and they soon become lovers. It is the first time for both, and for the next year, they are happy.

1956 – Early in their sophomore year, Elektra and her father are taken hostage on campus by a group of terrorists. When Matt’s super-sensitive hearing reveals they are planning to kill Elektra, he disguises his face with a red scarf and leaps to the rescue, using his blind man’s cane as a weapon. However, his plan goes awry when he accidentally knocks one of the gunmen out the window, causing the police outside to think the hostages are being killed. A police sharpshooter opens fire into the window, mistakenly killing Ambassador Natchios. Elektra is traumatized by the incident and her relationship with Matt falls apart. Finally, she decides to drop out of Columbia and leave the United States. Matt is heartbroken.

1958 – “Battling” Jack Murdock’s career continues its upward trajectory as Roscoe Sweeney starts setting him up as a champ by arranging for his opponents to throw the fights. Jack, now in his mid-40s, is billed as “the middle-aged sensation.” During this time, while Matt is walking through the old neighborhood one evening, he happens across Johnny Squarejohn getting shaken down by a couple of thugs. Matt casually beats the two thugs senseless, pulling his “clumsy blind man” routine. Johnny is flabbergasted, and Matt, feeling he’s achieved a moral victory as well as a physical one, continues on his way.

1959 – Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson graduate from college and enroll in Columbia Law School to pursue their Juris Doctor degrees.


February 1962 – On the Columbia University campus, Foggy reads Matt a newspaper article announcing that “Battling” Jack Murdock will face Rocky Davis at Madison Square Garden next month, with the winner getting the chance to fight world heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson. Thrilled that his dad has made the big time, Matt tells Foggy he’s already gotten a pair of tickets.

March 1962 – On the night of his father’s big fight, Matt takes Foggy to the Garden, located in his old neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen. Knowing his son is in the audience, “Battling” Jack Murdock gives it everything he’s got. However, Davis manages to knock him down, and as he struggles to rise, Sweeney reminds Jack that he’s been ordered to throw the match, just as all his previous bouts had been fixed. Matt’s hypersensitive hearing picks up the exchange, and he is stunned by this revelation. But Jack refuses to give up, believing it may be his last chance to make Matt proud of him. With a surge of adrenaline, Jack Murdock gets up and beats his opponent senseless. Matt and Foggy visit him in the locker room afterwards to celebrate his victory, and they decide to meet later for a drink. However, as Jack leaves the Garden, he is gunned down in the street by Sweeney’s enforcer, Slade. When Matt learns his father has been murdered, he is distraught. He immediately suspects Sweeney, and his suspicions are supported by Jack’s old friend and trainer “K.O.” Unfortunately, the police investigation goes nowhere, and Matt fears justice will not be done.

June 1962 – Both Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson graduate from Columbia Law School. Matt has been named class valedictorian, and he gives a stirring speech at commencement. Meanwhile, he continues to quietly investigate Roscoe Sweeney and the operation he runs out of Fogwell’s Gym in Hell’s Kitchen.

July 1962 – Matt and Foggy take the New York State Bar Exam. Foggy tells Matt that once the results are posted and they have their licenses, his wealthy father has promised to help set them up in their own law offices. In the interim, they take entry-level positions at the Public Defender’s office.

September 1962 – Inspired by the numerous “superheroes” who have appeared on the scene in recent months, such as the Fantastic Four, Ant-Man, Thor, Iron Man, and Spider-Man, Matt realizes that by adopting another identity, he can circumvent the promise he made to his father not to solve problems by fighting. Thus, he develops a red-and-yellow costume with a mask. Deciding to call his alter-ego “Daredevil,” after his childhood nickname, he adds a large “D” to his shirt and small “horns” to the cowl. Then, remembering how useful his cane was when fighting the terrorists at Columbia years before, he converts it into an all-purpose “billy club” weapon.

October 1962 – Matt continues to train for his new role as Daredevil, learning how to use his billy club effectively in a combat situation. He finally concludes his investigation of Sweeney when he becomes convinced that the evidence needed to bring “the Fixer” to trial just doesn’t exist. Therefore, he decides, he will have to take matters into his own hands.

November 1962 – Matt and Foggy learn from the New York State Board of Law Examiners that they passed the bar and are now fully-licensed attorneys-at-law. True to his word, Edward Nelson rents them some office space and advances them the money to hire a secretary. Foggy selects a pretty young blonde named Karen Page and introduces her to Matt. Though he is instantly attracted to her, Matt is so obsessed with bringing his father’s killer to justice, he can hardly concentrate on anything else. When he finally feels ready, he dons his Daredevil costume, storms into Fogwell’s Gym, and brawls with Sweeney’s henchmen. When Sweeney and Slade enter, Daredevil attacks them as well, and they make a run for it. Using his hypersenses, it is an easy matter for Daredevil to hunt them down, even in the crowded streets of the city. After beating Slade to a pulp, Daredevil chases Sweeney into a subway station, where the crook suddenly suffers a massive heart attack and dies. Intimidated by Daredevil, Slade confesses to the police that he shot Jack Murdock. Satisfied that his father has been avenged, Matt returns to the offices of Nelson & Murdock to begin his career as an attorney.

December 1962 – Finding he enjoys the thrill of action, Matt continues to take on the city’s criminal element as Daredevil. His reputation grows rapidly, though no one suspects the new hero is blind. He soon turns his attentions to a ring of car thieves, which he captures for the police. This brings him to the attention of the ringleader, the costumed menace known as Electro, who escaped from police custody following his recent battle with Spider-Man. Then, returning to work, Matt learns that the firm has been retained by the Fantastic Four to check over the lease agreement on their Baxter Building headquarters. Matt goes to inspect the premises while the team is out of town and discovers Electro, who is attempting to take advantage of the FF’s absence to steal their secrets, which he plans to sell to a hostile nation. Matt switches to Daredevil and attacks the villain, but Electro easily knocks him out. When he regains consciousness, Daredevil finds himself aboard the Fantastic Four’s Intercontinental Passenger Missile, rocketing into orbit. Using his hypersenses, he is able to change course and bring the ship to a rough landing in Central Park. He races back to the Baxter Building to confront Electro, and a chase through the city ensues. Daredevil pursues the villain into a palatial theater, disrupting a musical stage revue, where Electro is finally defeated. The police, having figured out a way to deal with Electro’s powers, take him back into custody. Daredevil has defeated his first super-villain. However, the Fantastic Four are upset upon their return since, in addition to their headquarters being trashed, Matt has not gotten around to working on their lease. They decide to take their business elsewhere, much to Foggy’s consternation.

When the accountant of an unscrupulous financier commits suicide, the police discover papers that implicate his employer in illegal activities. The financier, one Leland Owlsley, nicknamed “the Owl” for both his financial wisdom and his odd appearance, is so certain he’ll beat the rap that he hires the inexperienced firm of Nelson & Murdock to defend him. Foggy is at first reluctant, but Matt is intrigued by the case and accepts it. When Owlsley fails to appear in court the next morning, Matt switches to Daredevil and goes to hunt him down, but is unsuccessful. However, after closing up the office for the evening, Matt senses Owlsley in the building, along with some mob muscle. It turns out that Owlsley, having lost the veneer of respectability, has decided to set himself up as a crimelord, and has brought some thugs to intimidate Murdock into fronting for his fledgling criminal empire. Donning his Daredevil costume, Matt crashes through the window and fights them. Things go awry when Karen Page re-enters the office, having forgotten her purse, and is grabbed by the Owl. Daredevil surrenders, and the two captives are taken to the criminal’s outré owl-shaped mansion on the New Jersey Palisades, where they are imprisoned in giant birdcages. The Owl then summons the leaders of New York’s criminal gangs to a meeting, at which he plans to make himself their “overlord.” However, Daredevil escapes, frees Karen, and fights the Owl. A booby trap sends Daredevil careening into the Hudson River, but he manages to disrupt the villain’s speedboat escape by jamming his billy club into the propeller. The boat capsizes and the Owl disappears beneath the waves. Karen has summoned the police, and when the mob bosses arrive, they are all arrested. The Owl, however, is not found, and Daredevil is frustrated that he got away. Resuming his civilian identity, Matt escorts Karen back to her apartment in Manhattan. Though his hypersenses suggest that Karen is attracted to him, Matt refuses to believe a girl as lovely as Karen would be interested in a blind man.


Notes:

1937 – Grace Murdock re-enters Matt’s life in Daredevil #229–230. Matt’s date of birth is based on his academic career.

1945 – Matt’s childhood is revealed in flashback in Daredevil #1 and revisited in Daredevil #164.

1947 – Matt’s dad smacks him around in Daredevil #191.

1948 – “Pop” Fenton is introduced in Daredevil #68. Johnny Squarejohn appears in Daredevil #209.

1953 – Matt’s history with Stick is revealed in Daredevil #176.

1955 – Matt’s relationship with Elektra is detailed in Daredevil #168.

February–November 1962 – Matt’s superhero career begins in Daredevil #1. His origin story is somewhat revised in Daredevil #164. The numerous re-tellings and re-workings published since 1992 are not part of the Original Marvel Universe.

December 1962 – Out of all the law firms in New York City, why did the Fantastic Four hire a couple of novices like Nelson & Murdock? It’s possible that their leader, Reed Richards, who earned a degree at Columbia University himself, read Matt’s commencement speech in the alumni news and was impressed enough by it to give him a chance. The battle with the Owl brings us up to Daredevil #3.


OMU Note: Daredevil’s final canonical appearance is in Daredevil #300.






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