Welcome to the beginning of Daredevil. Although not one of the top tier Marvel characters, DD can nonetheless be considered as one of the major ones. And it all starts here in the very first issue published in 1964. Stan Lee writes, Bill Everett draws and Sam Rosen does the lettering.
Daredevil is part of the second wave of Marvel heroes introduced during the early sixties - the Silver Age of Comics. If we look at the middle right section of the cover of Daredevil No. 1 we see this:
And when we turn the cover, the lower left part of the splash page has this:
Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four are part of Marvel's first wave of superhero comics. They have been fairly successful and here Marvel is trying to link those successful books to Daredevil; obviously in a bid to make this new offering successful too.
It is worthwhile to note two things as we read Daredevil No. 1. First, this new character is a commercial risk for Marvel. The success of Daredevil was in no way assured. Second, the Daredevil mythos, character, and style - by now, so well developed - was still very much a work in progress in 1964 when Daredevil No. 1 came out. It will be interesting to see how Marvel 'grows' this character, and the direction Daredevil takes, based on the input of early creators like Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Wally Wood, and Gene Colan and the reception and feedback of early fans.
One of the most striking things from issue no. 1 is the costume. The relatively unfamiliar early costume of Daredevil.
Since Submariner creator Bill Everett is the artist I assume he must have designed this; but I also hear the name Steve Ditko being mentioned as the designer of this short-lived yet attractive garb.
On to the story . . .
Daredevil does not begin at what should be it's logical beginning. The tale begins in the middle. Starting at Fogwell's Gym.
What a dingy hole-in-the-wall it is. That's just part of it's charm. We all know this as Matt Murdock's gym. As much part of the Daredevil mythos as Asgard is of Thor's.
And inside the Gym we have our first look at Daredevil. Indeed, Daredevil's first public appearance.
The other four people in the panel with Matt are all thugs that Matt is planning to interrogate. As you can see, the Daredevil costume is not intimidating at all. Quite the opposite, Matt is being subjected to jeers. No matter, a devilish costume it may be but Matt is not wearing it to intimidate anybody. He's simply wearing the costume to conceal his real identity.
Matt promised his father that he would never resort to violence. When he gets into costume Matt believes he isn't Matt Murdock anymore. He is Daredevil and not subject to any promises made to Jack Murdock. It's a convoluted way of thinking but what can I say? Matt's a lawyer.
Back to the scene in the gym. Matt is obviously looking for trouble so the thugs oblige him. The strongest one attacks him first but his strength can only be used if he's able to lay a hand on Daredevil but Daredevil is both fast and agile.
He's so fast that none of the thugs can touch him.
For the first time we also see the billy club in action. Witness the accuracy of Daredevil's aim.
A billy club is also known as a nightstick, baton, or truncheon. It is simply a heavy stick commonly used by police and has become something of a symbol of authority for law enforcers. Vigilante though he may be but the law is very much a part of Daredevil's image. That said, DD's billy club isn't really a billy club, it's a segment of a blind man's cane - we'll see more of this later.
Unable to catch their colorful assailant, exhausted from their efforts, and sporting some bumps and bruises, the thugs give up. At which point Daredevil informs them that he is looking for someone called the Fixer.
And with that, the comicbook leaves Fogwell's, temporarily, and goes back to the beginning of the tale. The very beginning of Daredevil.
We see the young Matt Murdock with his father Jack.
The year is 1950 and Matt is 8 years old. The scene at Fogwell's was in 1964, making Matt 22 years old when he first puts on the Daredevil outfit.
Jack Murdock is an ageing man forced to keep playing a young man's game - boxing. We don't know if he was a successful boxer during his younger years who was unwise with his prize money or whether he was just a so-so fighter. Whatever he was in the past, Jack's current situation finds him worrying about money for himself and his young son.
Regarding Matt's mother, she is no longer around, it is not mentioned whether she died or simply left. She is mentioned just once in the issue; in connection with her desire for Matt to 'amount to something'.
As the panel shows, Matt wants to go out to play ball but he is required to study instead. I get the impression that the advice to study and do nothing but study is an oft-repeated admonition from Jack to Matt. Jack is absolutely obssessed that his son not end up like him - a struggling, washed-up boxer. Therefore he wants Matt to study constantly, and in time to go into a profession like Medicine or Law.
And what is Matt's reaction to all of this?
Drop the baseball mitt and the baseball bat and obey.
This could have gone on differently. Matt could have rebelled against his Father's heavy-handed and unfair request. But he doesn't. He obeys; not just for today but for all the days that follow until he graduates from college as a lawyer, top of his class.
And the request is unfair isn't it? And unhealthy. Jack is imposing a routine with no balance. Just study, study, study. Why does Jack do that and why does Matt obey?
I think the answer lies in the discipline of the boxer. The wake-up-at-dawn, train and repeat discipline necessary to be a pro fighter. The focus, the dedication. Jack knows that this is the way to get results. Do one thing again and again with discipline. So he wants Matt to follow the same approach, but this time with studying, not boxing.
The big question at this point is how could someone who focuses exclusively on academics become the athletic Daredevil?
Well, there came a time when Matt simply got his full of always hitting the books, being the butt of jokes because he won't play sports, and just feeling left out because he was always inside studying.
The right panel above points to Matt's discovery that in spite of his sedentary lifestyle he has strong athletic potential - good genes from his Dad.
Matt decides to use his Dad's equipment to train. Doing it on the sly, which isn't so hard since Jack Murdock was always out on fights.
Personal training alone could not possibly account for the prowess and acrobatic ability that Daredevil displayed at Fogwell's. Fighting like that means martial arts lessons and sparring sessions. This will be addressed in the future when Marvel revisits this origin story in such works as Daredevil Yellow and Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. But for now, here in Daredevil No. 1 we are just shown this in-house training routine.
With Matt's college tuition looming in the horizon, Jack knows that he needs more money coming in. Against his wishes he is forced to sign on with a man of ill-repute, the Fixer - the man Daredevil was looking for at Fogwell's. It's an unsavory deal with a shady fellow but Jack needs the paychecks to come in. For a while it looks like things are smoothening out for Jack and Matt Murdock. But fate reaches out and disturbs the calm.
Okay, let's say you were out walking and you see this.
"Ajax Atomic Labs Radioactive Materials DANGER" - I don't think this truck would even be allowed on the streets; certainly not with a sign like that, the public simply won't have it. Anyway, you all know what will happen. The truck's brakes malfunction and it is headed for that old gentleman. Young Matt Murdock will save the guy but radioactive material will spill on his face blinding him.
Just as a little sun was shining on the Murdock's, it's raining again.
The next two panels are telling of the kind of "culture" or "family attitude" the Murdock's have.
A family of literal and figurative fighters, the Murdocks instinctively will not stay down no matter how hard life hits them. It is what it is, you play the game as best you can with the hand you're dealt. What an attitude.
Also, it is noteworthy that Matt's blindness might be temporary as Jack states in the rightmost panel above; Matt can have an operation in a few years.
Matt not only decides to pursue his studies in spite of his handicap, he continues to train as well, leading to an amazing discovery.
Now we get a breakdown of Daredevil's powerset. First, all of Matt's senses have been enhanced.
This is a degree of enhancement that rival's even Wolverine's or the Beast's.
More than that, Matt discovers an additional ability - an uncanny 'radar sense'.
The years go by, Matt graduates from High School, goes to college for his undergraduate degree and on to Law School. The whole thing paid for by Battlin' Jack Murdock.
What about that eye operation that Jack was talking about which could restore Matt's vision? The one Matt could have "in a few years after the tissues have healed"? Matt never did have that operation. My guess is that father and son knew that they simply could not afford for Matt to have that operation, their money situation being what it was. Also, I'm guessing that Matt never pressed the point since he discovered his other abilities.
Getting back to Jack "Kid" Murdock or Battlin' Jack, the day he signed with the Fixer he knew he would be going to bed with a crook, so a rigged fight should come as no surprise.
The scam is a simple one: Fake several consecutive wins then take a dive. The Fixer makes money on the odds.
The day of the final fight comes around and Jack Murdock DOES NOT take a dive.
Why did he not follow the Fixer's instruction? Why? Jack should know that at the very least the money would stop coming in. At worst, the Fixer would get back at him for this betrayal. All this so that Matt could see his old man win? Anyway, what's done is done and the worst thing happens.
You know what I think? I think Jack checked out. He knew he was going to get killed by the Fixer and that was ok with him. This guy has been fighting in and out of the ring ever since Matt was a toddler. His wife died or left him, his career was literally and figuratively in the ropes. He was tired, exhausted. Matt was about to graduate from Law School. Jack did it, he saw his son through. Jack refused to throw the fight, he knew what was coming, and it was ok. It was rest, at long last, it was rest.
Matt is devastated. His father was his entire family. As we will see, this is not the end of this affair for Matt Murdock- but more on that later.
For now. Matt graduates top of his law class, passes the Bar and this:
Nelson and Murdock, Attorneys At Law. As Jack exits Matt's life, he is replaced by two others who will be like family to Matt: Foggy Nelson and Karen Page.
In spite of his new life, his Father's death continues to bother Matt. Surely, Murdock has heard of Spider-Man, maybe the Webslinger has given Matt an idea, maybe not. But just like Peter Parker, Matt does some sewing, and then . . .
The billy club bears some looking into.
It's simply Matt's wooden cane divided into two segments and put into a holster at Daredevil's hip. The most elaborate feature is the flexible handle that can be straightened and bent. We all know that this utility tool/weapon will evolve but here we see it in it's earliest form.
Let's go back to Fogwell's Gym where Daredevil has been patiently waiting for the Fixer. The man arrives with his enforcers.
To the left of the Fixer is Slade - the guy who pulled the trigger on Jack Murdock.
When Matt mentions the name "Jack Murdock" things take a violent turn. We get a demonstration of just how skilled Daredevil is with his billy club.
The first move is a disarming throw followed by a skilled catch as the the billy club ricochets back to him.
The panels below show the use of the billy club as a handheld truncheon to disarm an attacker and as a cane to trip up one of the thugs as he tries to escape.
Daredevil's thought balloons give us a detailed account of how he utilizes his enhanced senses in battle.
As a further showcase that DD is not dependent on sight he knocks the phone receiver from somebody's hand while his back is turned.
Daredevil can't allow that phone call. They were about to call the cops and Matt still has some questions to ask.
Quite by accident, Daredevil discovers that he has a built-in lie detector.
So far Daredevil's first outing has been going on very smoothly. Try as they might the criminals cannot get the upper hand and Matt is on the brink of getting to the bottom of his father's murder.
Unfortunately, Matt does encounter some setbacks. For example he gets pushed out the window at one point in the scuffle.
Using a horizontal flagpole directly below, Daredevil is able to use his acrobatic skills to get himself back into the room.
At one point the Fixer is able to pull the rug from under him.
This wrenches DD's arm, allowing both the Fixer and Slade to escape, much to the consternation of our slightly overconfident vigilante.
The Daredevil we are familiar with would simply swing out and use his hypersenses to track the villains. But remember, Daredevil can't swing anywhere just yet - his billy club doesn't have the cable line and grappling hook during these early days.
So Daredevil changes back to his civilian clothes and Matt Murdock hits the streets were he does use his hypersenses to track the Fixer and Slade.
Seeing that they are about to go down to a subway station, Matt gets there first and changes into Daredevil.
The pair separate and make a run for it. Daredevil chooses to pursue the Fixer first. All the action proves too much for the Fixer.
By this time all the ruckus has summoned the NYPD. They catch up to Daredevil and Slade in time to hear the latter's confession.
It is the first time the police encounter Daredevil, so New York's newest crimefighter introduces himself.
Hmmm. "...You'll be hearing it again", says Matt. Going into this, I had the distinct impression that this was a one-time caper that Matt was undertaking to give justice to his Dad. But now, he seems intent on continuing as Daredevil. I think Matt did mean for this to be just one time but having gone through it, the bookish and studious Matt Murdock got the adrenaline rush of his life and he wants more.
Another thing worth looking at is the dichotomy of Matt = lawyer and Daredevil = vigilante. How could Matt reconcile the fact that his real identity and his masked alter ego are on the opposite sides of the law? It is possible that being a lawyer, Matt knows the limits of the law and that beyond those limits justice needs to be served by someone beyond the law - someone like Daredevil.