Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Most would agree that Daredevil has a interesting, but not deep, rouges' gallery: DD has some classic, A-list villains like Kingpin, Bullseye, Elektra. I would add Typhoid Mary to that list, some might add Gladiator; a few might consider the Punisher a Daredevil villain, since they've had more than a few great fights.

But unlike Spider-Man, the Flash, or Batman; Daredevil doesn't have the deep roster, or B-list villains. Where Batman can sometimes get a good story out of second-stringers Black Mask or Killer Croc, Daredevil gets re-occurring punching bags the Owl, the Jester, or Stilt-Man. Well, you can't use the Kingpin every story, or least you shouldn't; and for a writer there has to be a little challenge to trying to get a good story out of say, Death-Stalker. (Well, I thought he looked cool.) Characters usually aren't fully realized from their first appearances. For example Bullseye's first appearances were terrible, yet he eventually became a classic.
How scary could Mr. Fear really be? I mean, Matt knows his name is 'Larry,' so...
This may explain why Mr. Fear keeps getting brought back: even though he's had several returns, I think he's still behind Leap-Frog in number of appearances and general name recognition. Moreover, a lot of blogs, and even Wikipedia's DD entry, dog out Mr. Fear as stealing Batman villain the Scarecrow's gimmick: fear gas. In Mr. Fear's defense, it seems fair since gas is inherently scary. (Imagine someone lobbed a grenade of mysterious gas into your room completely out of the blue. Seems like most of Scarecrow/Fear's job is already done, doesn't it?)

Fear's latest shot is courtesy of Ed Brubaker, and if anyone can make him a name, he could. In Daredevil #100, "Without Fear, part one," Fear has the classic Spider-Man goons the Enforcers as backup, for his latest attempt at revenge. He's a little fed up that Matt gets to hit the proverbial reset button and get his life back (over and over) while Mr. Fear is a snook who can't even use his real name anymore. It's an OK start to the storyline, although after Fear hits DD with his "new improved gas" most of the rest of the issue is hallucinations, but you get art from Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano, Marko Djurojevic, John Romita Sr. and Al Milgrom, Gene Colan, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alex Maleev, and Lee Bermejo.

Funny, I had thought Mr. Fear had shown up again sometime before this--my Daredevil issues are all over the damn place, so I wasn't sure, and I was thinking he was the bad guy for a spinoff like those Spider-Man/Daredevil limiteds or some such. So, we're all the way back to Daredevil #375, "With a Little Help from my Friends" Written by Joe Kelly, with an assist from Chris Claremont; art by Cary Nord, Mark Lipka, Ariel Olivetti, Pier Birto, John Paul Leon, Tom Lyle, Robert Jones, Brian Denham, Chris Carlson, Rick Leonardi, and Scott Hanna. (I like issues with lots of artists like this, even if this one is a little disjointed.)

This was the conclusion of a plotline Joe Kelly had been simmering for a while, and also his last issue. (Daredevil was less than a year away from a new number one and Kevin Smith.) Matt's girlfriend Karen Page was framed for the murder of a cop, who was secretly a serial killer and the pawn of Mr. Fear. During the trial, Fear continues pulling the strings and quickly has Murdock on the ropes, since he can cheat. Fear has stacked the deck by intimidating several witnesses (though that isn't immediately clear), and leads off by throwing another body into the courtroom during Matt's opening remarks. That's a bit of a cheat, since the 'body' isn't dead, but remains in a coma as to not contradict the evidence against Karen: it casts doubt on the cop being the serial killer Karen claimed he was.

As his case goes south, Matt has visits from Elektra, the Black Widow, and his mom (maybe); none of whom can help him directly. He refuses Elektra's help since she was a known killer, but Daredevil's morality seems overzealous later, when Karen asks if she gets convicted, would he spring her:
You. Unbelievable. Bastard.
Sniff. Smell that dickery. Let's forget about the multitude of crimes DD's committed in the past when he's needed to. Pretty sure he had broken himself out of jail before then, as well...

Eventually, Daredevil figures out Fear's secret hideout is an unused law library at Columbia University. Interesting, but would a school like that have an abandoned space that bored students wouldn't use for um, hijinks? If I was an aspiring super-villain, the last thing I'd want is a lair that co-eds use for hookups...DD also wisely brings a gas mask, rendering Fear virtually helpless, unless DD loses it somehow in the space of three panels.
Well, I guess you can't see him emote with that mask on...
Daredevil ditches the gas mask because:
A. He's not Batman, it's not like DD has a bigass belt to carry all that crap.

B. The mask, um, ruined the lines of his costume. Appearance is everything.
It's D. Wes did get a little jowly there.

C. You can't see it from this angle, but Mr. Fear was flapping his arms and making 'bawk-bawk!' noises until DD took it off.

D. It smelled like the Golden Age Sandman in there.

Mr. Fear, who looks really, really buff for a law professor; sets off the explosives he planted in his hideout...does anyone else think like that? Is there a Self-Destruct aisle at Home Depot?...and throws the evidence Matt needs into the fire, giving himself time to escape as Matt grabs it. Beaten, Fear is forced back to his day job: legal pundit, making increasingly snide commentary on Karen's case. That's great, but, um, Daredevil knows Mr. Fear's secret identity. Wouldn't be too hard to track him down. Well, Fear quits in a little hissy fit when Karen's acquitted.
Well, there's not three of me, so yeah, 'no hug.'
There's a few little subplots, like the cops at the women's prison conspiring for Karen to have a little 'accident,' the cops getting foiled by a disguised Elektra, and the Kingpin returning to New York to block Fear's jury-tampering: "Someone was playing in my sandbox...and no one gets to break you but me." And then there's a non sequitur 'Or is it?' style ending with the Triple Threat serial killer (that Karen had allegedly killed), being dug out of his grave. Did Joe Kelly think Triple Threat was going to be a reoccurring villain, the next Bullseye? He wasn't even the next Surgeon General...


The Fortress Keeper said...

I always liked Deathstalker myself ...

CalvinPitt said...

I was trying to think of some lower-tier DD baddies, and all I can come up with is the government killer, Bullet, from the Nocenti run.

Wait, what about Stilt-Man? Sure, he's dead now, but he used to fight Daredevil a lot! Fear the stilts!