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Daredevil In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Three

Yet another one of the marvellous ideas of Stan Lee, Daredevil first appeared in publication in 1964 when Lee and artist Bill Everett introduced him in Daredevil #1. Lee states that the idea came when he realised that most of the audience liked the flawed heroes that he was producing as opposed to the square jawed crime fighters that DC was publishing at the time. ‘The Man’ believed that having a superhero with a disability would be a nice, original idea for a comic book superhero after he had already broken the mould with relatable Peter Parker as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four family.

Blinded as a young boy after saving an old man from a truck carrying a radioactive isotope, Matt Murdock was blessed/cursed as his remaining senses functioned with superhuman sharpness and created a new ‘radar’ power which allowed him to ‘sense’ the presence of things around him. After being teased by several children at school for being blind and helpless, Matt began using his powers to train himself to peak fitness to fight the bullies back, whilst also attended Law School eventually becoming a fully qualified lawyer despite his disability. When a dirty fight promoter killed his Father, Matt devised a disguise and avenged his Father by becoming the crime fighter known as Daredevil.

As a blind lawyer by day and vigilante by night, Daredevil was more a swashbuckling hero, - he didn’t (and probably still doesn’t) have the most interesting of rouges galleries and was never one of Marvel’s big players. As Frank Miller noted in the special features of the Daredevil DVD, he was “a poor man’s Spider-Man” at best.

Frank Miller became the artist on the book in the late 70’s before finally taking over writing duties and the book was revamped dramatically and improved upon exponentially. It wasn’t one of the annoying revamps we get now done for sheer shock value and sales increases, no, this revamp took place because the kids who read comics wouldn’t be interested in reading about a blind superhero – after all, to most kids, superheroes are characters to look up to and aspire to be – who wants to have their defining attribute to be a disability?

So instead of “wasting enormous amounts of creative energy look for kids who aren’t there” Miller took the concept and defined grim and gritty comics. Stealing The Kingpin from Spider-Man’s rouges gallery and making him the greatest crime lord in the history of comic books. Add in some ninjas, a newly introduced Elektra and arguably the coolest hitman of all time in the form of Bullseye and you have a run that could easily be considered the one of the top 5 in the history of the medium.

But this is an animation retrospective, isn’t it? Well, the sad fact is, we’ve seen so very little of Daredevil in animation. His first appearance was actually a cameo appearance as a student with fine taste dressed up as horn head for the Comic Book Costume Dance. A Daredevil costume would also appear in Spider-Man: Unmasked as Angelica takes Flash Thompson to Stan’s Costume Shop. Matt Murdock would get a full fledged animated appearance before DD at it was Matt who acted as Spider-Man’s lawyer Attack Of The Arachnoid, but don’t worry, Daredevil makes a came too, as narrator Stan Lee informs that Matt is secretly Daredevil. It’s interesting to note that among the three animated appearances of DD in the show, he looked different every time. Frank Welker voiced the lawyer/vigilante, which was probably solely done to keep the budget down, as Welker also voiced Iceman on the show. Welker is one of the voice acting greats in my opinion – he’s still working prominently today, but is probably best known for his work as Fred on Scooby Doo.

Daredevil would next appear in the opening of The Fantastic Four season two. The show’s opening season was beyond poor, it was ill conceived, juvenile rubbish that frequently defied logic and resulted in one of the poorest show’s I’ve ever seen. Marvel switched production houses and revamped the show in pretty much every aspect for season two and the first thing on the list was to make the show feel like the comic book it was based upon. The creative team from the show admit to being pure fanboys and the show is bursting with cameos from other characters in the Marvel universe and guest stars. The first being Daredevil in an episode entitled And A Blind Man Shall Lead Them. Unfortunately, the episode is based on an old Stan Lee/Jack Kirby story, which means we get the poor man’s Spider-Man rather than the kick ass Frank Miller version.

The episode in question sees a powerless Fantastic Four team up with Daredevil to stop Dr. Doom who has taken over The Baxter Building. Horn head is brought into the episode when Alicia Masters asks Matt Murdock if there’s anything he can do to help the powerless foursome, which means we get to see Matt Murdock animated too. Matt is a redhead here, much like the comic book version but it appears that he’s the sole lawyer in his company – there’s no sign of Foggy Nelson here folks! Sadly, none of Daredevil’s supporting cast have ever been animated, whenever he’s appeared he’s always been pretty much on his lonesome.

Daredevil takes a backseat to a powerless Fantastic Four in the episode. To be fair to the crew, they had an entire show to revamp to try and rid the memories of the terrible opening season but this show didn’t really do that as much as Iron Man – whereas The Iron Knight was revamped from the group up, this show was simply a Fantastic Four show but done a hell of a lot better. The art direction improved exponentially, the animation, although a little rubbery, still look worlds better than season one and the stories didn’t completely suck and actually made sense this time around.

Bill Smitrovich voiced The Man Without Fear this time around, and well… he’s a swashbuckler, so to me, it sounds off. It probably doesn’t help that I saw this episode years after I saw the Daredevil guest spot on Spider-Man and I had Ed Albert’s voice stuck in my head. He does get the odd corny line of dialogue (which was usually reserved for Johnny Storm) but he did get a great line. When Doom launches a missile at him, DD replies “Funny… a lot of people act that way to lawyers!”

The best thing about this version of Daredevil is his design – it simply looks stunning. I always like the models in this show and I think Daredevil is the best one in the entire show. It’s pretty much the costume from the comic but I’ve always had a soft spot of the suit – I’m not sure why but it’s something I’ve loved since the moment I saw it. The red and black go so perfectly together and there’s a few of the shots in the episode that are just so reminiscent of Miller’s pencils it’s an episode I simply love to watch even if I don’t find their interpretation of the character all that appealing.

Daredevil also made a quick, swinging cameo in a later episode, which is probably my favourite of all the cameos in the show, after Scarlet Spider. In case you’re not aware by now, I am a massive Daredevil fanboy. Imagine how thrilled I was when I learned he would be guest starring in Spider-Man!