Old-School Comic Review – DAREDEVIL # 183-184

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Written by Frank Miller and Roger McKenzie
Art by Miller and Klaus Janson
Published by Marvel Comics

Frank Miller’s original run on Marvel’s Daredevil title was a landmark run for both the author and the title character, who up until then was a C-level hero at best. As we have mentioned in an earlier article, Miller’s initial Daredevil run set the standard for how the character would be written and portrayed on the comics page for decades to come and stands out as some of the best mainstream comics of the 1980’s. This run is lauded mostly for introducing comics readers to Daredevil mainstays like Bullseye and Elektra and for completely reinventing the Kingpin as a credible and dangerous antagonist within the Marvel Universe, but few remember that Miller was also responsible for Matt Murdock’s first-ever encounter with Marvel’s favorite gun-toting vigilante, The Punisher, in a two-part storyline entitled “Child’s Play” that also dealt with the impact of drugs on the lives of children in the troubled New York borough of Hell’s Kitchen.

The main plot of this two-part storyline involves Matt trying to bring down a local drug dealer nicknamed Hogman after a young girl dies while under the influence of PCP and her brother Billy attempts to gain vengeance by killing the dealer. After Hogman’s partner is gunned down in the streets, Matt represents Billy in court and gets him acquitted. After interrogating Hogman as Daredevil and determining by his acute sensory abilities that he is not lying when he said he didn’t kill his partner, he then represents Hogman in court and gets his charges of murder dropped. Later on, he finds out that Hogman did in fact order the murder of his partner and that the steady heartbeat that he sensed was due to the work of a pacemaker. As Daredevil attempts to bring Hogman to justice in the streets, he frequently comes into contact with Frank Castle, who attemtpts to bring down Hogman’s drug empire in a far more direct, violent, and lethal fashion.

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The “Child’s Play” storyline is a fine sampler of Miller’s take on the title character, with its realistic, street-level violence and its ambivalent attitude toward Matt’s approach to justice. Daredevil’s battles with the Punisher are used within the story as a metaphor for Matt’s own attempts to save Billy from adopting Castle’s “eye for an eye” philosophy and show him that working within the system to obtain justice can work. While his attempts to stop Billy from killing Hogman are ultimately successful, the victory is a bittersweet one as shown on the final page of the story. The artwork by Miller and frequent collaborator Klaus Janson perfectly accentuates the dark and gritty nature of the story’s subject matter, which chooses to focus more on the impact that the illegal narcotics trade can have on an urban community than as a standard “drugs are bad” storyline. Their use of light and shadow during many of the action sequences and in a couple of particularly hard-hitting scenes in which two characters take drugs (which must have been pretty tough to get past the Comics Code Authority of the time) add a noirish flavor to the storyline, as it does with most of Miller’s best work.

While the Punisher would go on to have more direct impact in future Daredevil storylines, Miller’s use of him in this arc helps to drive home his central theme while adding an extra layer of ambiguity to the proceedings. At the end of the story, we as readers are left guessing whose philosophy of justice is really the best one, especially after how Daredevil’s final encounter with Castle ends in issue # 184. The use of the Punisher as a dramatic foil helps to distract from some of the story’s flaws, which could mostly be chalked up to early-80’s comic book silliness such as a scene in which Matt goes undercover in a dicey corner of Hell’s Kitchen while still wearing his mask and costume. The scene in which Daredevil discovers that Hogman wears a pacemaker is also rather clunky and makes very little sense unless Hogman is aware that Matt and Daredevil are one and the same, an issue which is never brought up before or after this scene. There is also a rather poorly-written subplot involving Matt’s rocky romance with a reluctant heiress who dresses like one of the Cosby Kids from the old Fat Albert cartoon that grinds everything to a halt whenever the story goes back to it. Despite these flaws, these two issues are still a worthy entry in Frank Miller’s celebrated early Daredevil run and a great use of the Punisher as a secondary character before he became a more prominent figure in the Marvel Universe. As the second season of the Daredevil TV show approaches, we’ll see just how much the writers of the new season will pull from this storyline as Daredevil and the Punisher will meet on the small screen for the first time. 4.5 out of 5 One-Handed Side Pushups.

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Ben Gilbert is an avid comic and movie fan, father of two amazing kids, and husband to one awesome chick. He resides in the hills of East Tennessee and still doesn't quite know what he wants to be when he grows up.

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