Friday, March 17, 2006

The Irishman Without Fear

It's St. Patrick's Day here at SSTOL. None of my biological heritage is Irish so far as I'm aware, but on March 17, everyone has at least a touch of the Emerald Isle in 'em. Besides, you should hear me recite the entire script from an early '80s commercial for Killian's Irish Red in a pitch-perfect brogue. You'd swear I was a son of the old sod.

Plus, I've seen The Commitments about a dozen times. Say it loud: I'm Irish, and I'm proud.

Being that it's St. Paddy's, what more fitting way to celebrate than with a piece of comic art featuring an Irish-American superhero? Enter Daredevil, aka Matthew Murdock, the Man Without Fear, here depicted in action by the unmistakable pencil of artist Trevor Von Eeden.

Daredevil holds a special place in my heart, because he's one of only two superheroes I ever dressed up as for Halloween. My mother, a skilled seamstress in her day, hand-sewed my DD costume entirely from scratch (no pun intended), horned cowl and all. Originally she intended to attach a tail to the seat, not understanding that I wanted the costume to represent a comic book hero, and not the popular image of Satan himself. Mom never quite understood my fascination with comic books, and would have preferred that I not read them, thinking they would somehow corrupt my brain, infest my soul, and keep the Allies from winning the war. Or something.

(Another Halloween, I got to be Spider-Man. That costume, sadly, was one of those shiny store-bought jobs with the plastic face mask. But I digress.)

Daredevil was a favorite of mine because I saw him as something of an underdog. He was blind, for one thing. (Though not the first blind superhero in comics. Doctor Mid-Nite, a member of the Justice Society of America in the 1940s, had DD beat by a couple of decades.) Second, DD was portrayed in Marvel Comics as something of a low-rent Spider-Man, only without any of Spidey's powers other than his navigational "radar sense." (In case you were wondering how a blind superhero got around.) He swung from buildings like Spider-Man, only with a spring-loaded billy club containing a grappling hook. His costume looked suspiciously similar to Spider-Man's. (The most familiar version of DD's fighting suit was designed by the great Wally Wood.) And his rogues' gallery contained a lot of characters that seemed like also-rans in the Spidey villain sweepstakes.

For a while in the '70s, Daredevil endeared himself to me further by picking up a hot girlfriend who was also a superhero — Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, seen below in a pinup by Garry McKee — and moving to my favorite city, San Francisco. Alas, neither the relationship (which resulted in the retitling of DD's book temporarily, to Daredevil and the Black Widow) nor the move West turned out to be permanent.

In the late '70s and into the early '80s, artist and writer Frank Miller took DD in a dark new direction, presaging in many ways the path down with Miller would later take Batman. The grim, gritty DD never really appealed to me — the real world is grim and gritty enough, without my fantasy life having to follow that trend too — but it's the Miller styling of Daredevil that has endured in the comics and in popular culture via the film version starring Ben Affleck.

Along the way, Daredevil picked up a new girlfriend-slash-adversary, the assassin Elektra. She turned out to be one of the early avatars of the "bad girl" genre of comics, focusing on beautiful women with a darker edge. As a character, Elektra was beautifully designed by Miller and intriguingly conflicted. She continues to be popular today, despite the lackluster portrayal given her by Jennifer Garner in both the Daredevil film and its sequel Elektra. Here, the woman wielding the twin sais is given a minimalist treatment by the fantastically talented Brian Stelfreeze of Atlanta's Gaijin Studios.

Daredevil's perseverence despite long odds — his book hovered on the brink of cancellation for many years at Marvel — proves that Matt Murdock possesses the luck of the Irish. And on St. Patrick's Day, isn't that what we all hope for?


0 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Post a Comment

<< Home