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DD Book Club - A Quiet Night in the Swamp

 
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Mike Murdock
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Joined: 08 Sep 2014
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 09, 2019 7:52 am    Post subject: DD Book Club - A Quiet Night in the Swamp Reply with quote

I don't have a ton of reason to do this now. I needed a three issue arc before Spider-Man: Far From Home, so this fits in. I also wanted to get around to doing the premiere of Deathstalker. If I had to pick an arbitrary reason, I guess I could say that DC Universe's App is doing a Swamp Thing show right now and we have Marvel's answer to the character.

These issues are conveniently available on Marvel Unlimited. If you want a physical copy, the best choice right now is in hardcover through The Marvel Masterworks series or the black and white Essential Daredevil.

Daredevil Vol. 1 #113 - When Strikes the Gladiator



Quote:
Matt Murdock investigates the disappearance of Professor Ted Sallis, and gains intel on the Floridian swamp creature known as the Man-Thing.


Due 6/15
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Dimetre
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Joined: 16 Feb 2006
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 09, 2019 3:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think this was only the second time I read this issue. Daredevil: Marvel Masterworks Volume 11 was published a couple of years ago, and that would have been the first time I read this. Now that the political climate has become more fraught and turbulent, maybe I'm picking up on more of the messages Steve Gerber was dropping into this tale from September 1974, and I'm more receptive to them this time around.

The first five pages are dedicated to the fallout from the previous saga involving the Mandrill. Mary Skrenes, a long-time comic book writer and close friend of Gerber's, wrote the forward to Masterworks Volume 11, and she explains how a lot of Matt's monologue in this issue's first pages reflects Gerber's attitude to a lot of the political unrest of the period.
Quote:
Mandrill and Nekra were mutants, a white boy born black with fur and a mandrill's face, and a black girl born with albinism and vampire-like fangs. As children, they were loathed and feared on sight because they were, to say the least, "different." DD bemoans the discrimination they suffer. Even after the Mandrill has been defeated and DD had moved on to the next threat, Steve continues with his message:

"The Mandrill's hate, his lust for power... were spawned by fear, repression, mistrust... by the loathing he inspired only because he was different."

Then, because Gerber's characters generally have a conscience and tend toward soul suffering, Daredevil reflects:

"But would the General have believed that?

"Still... I should have tried to make him understand... But right then... I felt as if all we'd accomplish had been a waste. The old 'We have met the enemy and he is us routine.'"

Daredevil then discovers that the government was experimenting with germ warfare. They succeeded in creating germ-warfare resistant soldiers, but with a destructive side-effect:

"-- [a] formula to turn humans into pollution-breathing monsters... to let industry expand, unrestrained by environmental considerations."

(This serves to debunk comics fans who say that the medium shouldn't be political, and that Marvel has been poisoned by "social justice warriors." All media is always political. If it's created by people, political commentary can't help but get in from time to time.)

Normally I remember Gerber's Daredevil comics being wacky, but the passages Skrenes points out help give this issue more weight. Bob Brown's art, which is scratchier and rougher than the work Colan was providing the previous issue, also lends some moodiness to the proceedings.

Matt's line about how he should have tried to make the General understand hit me particularly hard this time around. Lately, with political discourse being so polarized as to be an online powderkeg, I have found it particularly important for people to engage each other respectfully in person-to-person political discussions. Of course, this has the danger of getting ugly, but how else do we move ideas forward if we are afraid to discuss them one-on-one?

I did feel like Daredevil's soliliquy could have been cut back. We probably didn't really need another few panels of him overlooking a rainy New York City, only to miss a phone call in his apartment.

As for the rest of the story, it moves along at a great pace. Once the Gladiator smashes into Candace Nelson's apartment, we're off to the races.

I liked the little references to storylines happening in concurrent Marvel titles. This is something I miss from when I was a kid. Like a lot of people my age, my first Marvel comic was an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. However, because of Marvel's constant practice of including captions like "See Tales of the Zombie #6" or "First mentioned in Fear #16," no kid in my school collected Spider-Man exclusively. Everyone branched out and discovered other titles. Such captions acted as a guide to further explore the Marvel Universe. I wish this was still as common a practice today, but as we can see from Chip Zdarsky's Daredevil and Jason Aaron's War of the Realms, there doesn't seem to be much cohesion in the Marvel Universe today.

Anyway, I thought this was a very strong issue for Gerber and Brown. Gladiator comes off as a dangerous threat, and I enjoyed how Matt followed the clues to the Everglades. I give this a four out of five.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 10, 2019 6:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's been a long time since I've read Steve Gerber and an even longer time since I've read this issue. But, for fairly arbitrary reasons related to the upcoming Jessica Jones series, I ended up reading a Steve Gerber Man-Thing issue with the Foolkiller in it and I'm hoping it gives me some context for this character, although it won't be until next issue.

One thing I noticed right off the bat is Daredevil is very dark and melancholy at the moment. You could have confused this for an Ann Nocenti issue in some ways. He's fairly depressed about everything and, in particular, losing Natasha. The art and the rain echo that sadness. I also enjoy the political commentary it offers, which, once again, is very much something you'd expect from Nocenti.

A lot of the focus is on Foggy's sister, Candace, and how she got kidnapped. She doesn't have much of a role here beyond that, but I'm always interested by these side characters who get introduced but rarely appear again and she seems like she would be a fun character to see.

The Gladiator is essentially a force of nature in this. He's ferocious and very hard to stop. Aside from that, he doesn't really have much personality. Obviously, Deathstalker and Man-Thing are being saved more for next issue.

I thought this was well-paced, but a pretty standard superhero fare. The opening was probably the best part with its efforts at being introspective and with trying to say something greater, but I have no complaints about the rest. Four Stars.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 16, 2019 8:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Daredevil Vol. 1 #114 - A Quiet Night in the Swamp



Quote:
The Man-Thing proves a silent stalker when he helps Daredevil take out Gladiator. The full barrage of Death-Stalker's powers incapacitates both Man-Thing and Hornhead!


Due 6/22
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I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
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Dimetre
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Joined: 16 Feb 2006
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 16, 2019 11:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Take a look at the difference between the Death-Stalker's design on the last page of #113 and this issue. It's as though Bob Brown and editor Roy Thomas immediately regretted the costume they initially gave the villain, and hastily redrew it. So instead of the belt with the skull belt buckle, the pointy pale blue boots and hood and light purple unitard, we are given a much simpler design with a wide-brimmed hat shrouding the Stalker's features, while the rest of him is covered in a billowing cape. The Death-Stalker should be all mystery, so I much prefer this design.

He is a villain from the 70s that I would love to see return. His power makes him such a threat, and Matt has to be at his very best to avoid defeat. This was a great introduction to a very promising villain, and for a few years Death-Stalker was one of Daredevil's most frequent adversaries. Here, he showed that not only was he not scared of the Man-Thing, he was able to subdue him effortlessly. A reader can't help but ask, "Who is this guy? Is he really death itself?"

Even though this is only the 114th issue of Daredevil, the way Gerber built up Death-Stalker, it's easy to believe that Matt actually died. Bob Brown draws Daredevil's unconscious body like a lifeless corpse -- like Jesus in the Pieta. It almost takes a full page before Gerber lets it slip that the Stalker didn't kill him.

So the introduction of the Death-Stalker is easily my favourite thing about this issue. However, I have no idea why he cares so much about Ted Sallis' formula. If he's so obsessed with it, it's somewhat funny that he has no suspicion that Man-Thing has any involvement with it. Doesn't Man-Thing seem like a "pollution-breathing monster"? He's also comically indecisive about whether Daredevil and Rory should live or die. Death-Stalker is good in this issue, but he will be better later on, especially under Roger MacKenzie's pen.

The two pages with the Black Widow seem to exist simply because the cover (kind of) promises her presence. She's nothing more than a lovelorn wilting flower here, pining for her Matt, and acting powerless to do anything.

I thought Daredevil's escape from the burning cabin was very well done. The roof caving in added one last obstacle, and raised the tension nicely.

As for the Man-Thing, yes, he is earily similar to DC's Swamp Thing, but Man-Thing's comics debut was two months earlier than Swampy's. However, I don't know if Man-Thing works that well as a guest character in superhero stories. He seems better suited lurking in the background as evil folks devise their schemes, until he emerges from the marsh and guides them to their terrifying end. I'm used to seeing "those who know fear" being engulfed in flames when he touches them, not just getting a third-degree burn. I'm sure Melvin was terrified when the Man-Thing was burning him, but I'm used to something much more severe happening. I'm sure the Comics Code Authority has something to do with the mildness, including with Death-Stalker's non-lethal touch of death, but it does make for a puzzling read. Man-Thing and Death-Stalker are two particularly lethal characters, yet this issue is remarkably death-free.

I also found it somewhat odd that Gerber went out of his way to tell us that the Man-Thing is Ted Sallis, which I already knew. I think that was unnecessary. Sure, there would be readers who would go into this story knowing that, but I think holding that knowledge back would add to the mystery. Daredevil doesn't know that, and neither does Death-Stalker. In fact, there isn't a single character in this story aware of the Sallis/Man-Thing connenction. Why not hold that information back from readers until they solve the mystery?

This is an enjoyable issue, and a great introduction to Death-Stalker, but it's also sloppily executed. I give this a 3.5 out of 5.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 17, 2019 6:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I mentioned last week that I recently read some Man-Thing issues. Honestly, I hoped it would give me greater understanding of the character, but I don't really get him. He's got a great catch phrase, though. He also can be a fun Deus ex Machina. But that's really about it. I get the impression I have to accept that he probably doesn't have agency but someone acts as a force for good.

Either way, he saves Daredevil by confronting the villains. The contrast between the villains can't be more pronounced. Gladiator cowers in fear while the Deathstalker is coldly amused. We see quickly why when Matt tries to attack him. It's a great introduction. He's terrifying and relentless. He seems nothing like that which Daredevil has faced before. My only complaint is there seems to be an inconsistent change between last issue and this where he spares Daredevil rather than kills him. They don't address the problem, but I'll give Gerber credit for lampshading it. He too noticed the inconsistency and he'll at least acknowledge it to make it seem like less than a plot hole.

I'm also not sure if the solution is good. It feels too easy when, once again, Man-Thing comes out of nowhere to save the day. But the cliffhanger is a solid one that makes me anticipate how this will end. Still, Deathstalker himself was great. Four Stars.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 22, 2019 11:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Daredevil Vol. 1 #115 - Death Stalks the City



Quote:
Daredevil returns to New York to rescue Foggy and Candace, and once again finds himself facing Death-Stalker!


Due 6/29
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I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
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Dimetre
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Joined: 16 Feb 2006
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 23, 2019 4:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

So opening this issue to the first page already brings a massive disappointment. The last issue ended with Matt talking to Foggy on the phone. Matt was in Florida and Foggy was in New York. The reveal at the end of the issue was that the Death Stalker had Foggy and Candace hostage. This issue's opening splash page shows Daredevil outside their New York window. That's impossible and it makes no sense. It shows zero respect for your faithful readers.

Now to calm down and actually read this sucker. I've read it once before when this Masterworks volume came out, but not since.

So, even though the issue started off in the worst way possible, Death Stalker remains an awesome villain. He is a big threat to our hero, and that just helps to raise our investment in this story.

Another thing I enjoyed is Daredevil's soliloquy about cynicism.
Quote:
Lord, I'm getting cynical! I can remember when I used to enjoy this line of work!
Not anymore. Not these days.
Lately, every case I've been involved in just convinces me more and more how sick we are.
We -- the people -- the society -- the whole blasted human race!
Even the one thing I always had real faith in -- the law --
-- even the law seems to work backwards these days.
And Matt Murdock has devoted his life to preserving the sanctity of the law, the system of due process, the ideal of equal justice for all. I'm beginning to feel very alone in that devotion.

Soon, Candace tells Matt why the Death Stalker is involved in the Sallis papers, and why the "Monster Project" was never abandoned.
Quote:
...Most people don't realize it, Matt--
--We "good guys" are still experimenting with germ warfare, the most dangerous kind of all. And if we had an army immune to it...

But Matt cuts her off.
Quote:
... We might feel a little more confident about using such weapons, is that it?

Daredevil ends up destroying the Sallis papers, and he says why in this issue's final panel.
Quote:
I had to destroy those papers! No nation should have that secret -- including my own!

I realize that there is a whole segment of comics readership that resents any political message in their books, but I'm firmly outside that segment. I would much rather comics creators try to tell me something. I would much rather they have a point of view. Otherwise, why are they bothering making anything?

As for the the things in this issue I didn't enjoy...

Black Widow's picture is still featured beside the title on the cover, as if she's still co-headlining the book, but she is relegated to a single page here. It's incredibly lame. Ivan is reading the classifieds on a park bench, and Natasha is doing acrobatics on the other side of the bench while she whines about having nothing to do. She clearly wouldn't have appeared in this issue if she weren't forced to be here. I'm embarrassed for her.

Secondly, there is a big vat of corrosive acid in this issue. There is only one reason for a big vat of corrosive acid to be in a comic, and that is for someone to fall into it, and 99% of the time, it's a bad guy. In November 1974, Gerber and company didn't seem to be stretching their creative muscles too hard.

But this issue's biggest sin is Daredevil teleporting from Florida to New York at this issue's start. Further inside the issue, Gerber tries to make this work, but I don't think he succeeds. In a segment recapping the previous two issues, Matt admits that he was in Florida when Foggy called, and he says he came back to New York expecting trouble, "but nothing like this!" Sorry, but no. You expect me to believe that Death Stalker, Foggy and Candace maintained their positions inside that apartment in the hours it took Matt to travel from Florida to New York? No.

That's pretty bad. It speaks to a lack of standards on the part of Gerber and editor Roy Thomas. Part of the reason why the previous issue's cliffhanger worked as well as it did was because Daredevil was in no position to save Foggy and Candace. Why would you set up a cliffhanger just to rob it of most of its impact a month later? Is it because the book wasn't a hot seller, so why bother?

It's sad because Gerber and Brown created a great villain, and Gerber takes the time to include some political commentary here. I just wish a higher work standard was on display.

I give this a three.
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 10:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

^ I'll be honest, the teleportation from Florida to New York didn't even occur to me, but that's a good point.

It occurs to me that Death Stalks the City would have probably been a pretty good thread title for the arc since it's the Deathstalker arc. I guess the only problem is the last two were in the Florida everglades rather than a city.

As far as opening splash pages go, this is a really cool looking one. I've never been a huge fan of Bob Brown's art or Vince Coletta's inks, but this is just very dramatic with Daredevil and the city in the background. Deathstalker continues to be very intimidating - especially when he leaps out of the seventh story window. Of course, Daredevil does the same thing a moment later. Still, we start to get some more concrete rules for him. He's not a phantom because Daredevil can sense him. He can be touched, at least on his hands, at specific points in time. I'm glad they're giving him some weaknesses (to the extent they are) because I'm annoyed at him having every advantage and then choosing to leave anyway.

The cut to Black Widow is weird. It doesn't seem to contribute much, but she sure is moving around a lot. I wonder if the plan is to stall for time until this story ends in order to bring back Black Widow in full or if Steve Gerber didn't really know what to do with the character. There's only two more issues after this and then Gerber and Black Widow are out of the book. I'm also assuming the goal was to set up Candace as a potential love interest. I like the character - she seems fun.

The fight at the end was OK. Like I said, Bob Brown's art isn't great. I like that Matt has figured out how to beat his foe, although the foe is still a threat. Maybe the whole thing is over too quickly? They make the point that Matt destroys the evidence. The art makes it look like he managed to kick the guy to cause both the evidence and the gun to go straight into the hydrochloric acid. But you get the impression he thinks it was the right thing to do either way. At a minimum, it gives them a reason for Deathstalker to take a break since they make it clear he isn't dead.

I'll go Three and a Half Stars here. There are some nice moments, but there's not a ton special here besides Deathstalker himself.
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