Midlife Crisis: Daredevil’s Dorky Beginnings

Nick Peron

Your favourite superheroes are over 50 years old! Before they got dark and gritty, they did some goofy things. Welcome to Midlife Crisis on Infinite Earths where we look back at the less than illustrious adventures of some of the biggest heroes in comics. In this edition, we delve into Daredevil’s somewhat forgettable beginnings.  

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Daredevil is a hot property right now thanks to the hit Netflix series, but the character has had some hits and misses over his career. Most people remember the awful movie starring Ben Affleck or the amazing run by Frank Miller. However, let’s take a look back even further to the early days of Daredevil.

The year was 1964, and Stan Lee was trying to replicate the success of the Amazing Spider-Man. He teamed up with Sub-Mariner creator Bill Everett to create Daredevil. The premiere issue was rife with production delays and, according to Joe Quesada, cost Marvel thousands of dollars in lost revenues.

Daredevil ping-ponged between different artists as Stan tried to recreate the type of narrative that made Spider-Man so popular. It didn’t turn out so hot, here are some reasons why.

A Costume Only a Blind Man Would Wear

"This will strike fear into the heart of criminals everywhere!"
"This will strike fear into the heart of criminals everywhere!"

If you think Daredevil’s original costume was a jogging outfit and a stocking, you’d be wrong! In 1964, Daredevil fought crime in a yellow and black costume with a big red D on the chest. At first glance, it looks like Matt Murdock’s disability got the better of him when it came to costume design.

As a lawyer, Matt Murdock had expensive outfits that he wore to court. This posed a problem when it came to being a superhero. While other heroes had it so easy, the Man Without Fear was not so lucky. His solution? A hood.

As he leapt out to battle his villains, he looked like he had a bath pillow wrapped around his head. Needless to say, they don’t tend to mention this short-lived gimmick anymore.

Stickin’ It to Crime

Another one of Daredevil’s trademarks is his weapon of choice, the billy club. It also doubles as Matt Murdock’s walking stick when he’s not beating up crooks. That’s some great multi-purposing with a practical everyday application.

But, in the ’60s, writers wanted to cram Daredevil’s billy club full of all sorts of gadgets and gimmicks to help him fight crime.

For example, Daredevil used to have a miniature tape recorder hidden in his billy club. This was to assist him in recording confessions from criminals to use against them in court. Which sounds like a novel idea, but if you look carefully, it’s based on ’60s reel-to-reel recorder technology.

I’m no electronics wizard, but when I was a kid in the ’80s, dropping your Walkman was as catastrophic as dropping your iPhone is today. I suspect putting your tape recorder in the same object you use to bludgeon criminals would probably void the warranty.

In 1964 that tape recorder needed 25 D cell batteries and ran for 2 minutes.
In 1964 that tape recorder needed 25 D cell batteries and ran for two minutes.

In the very same story, Daredevil also rigged a plastic sheet that rolled up into his billy club. He used this to wrap up the Purple Man and prevent him from using his will-sapping powers on Daredevil. The ’60s were such a different time, apparently bludgeoning a super-powered rapist must have been some kind of a faux pas.

Thankfully, the writers saw sense and decided that the only things Daredevil should use the billy club for were tapping the ground and bouncing off a crook’s head.

Laughable Rogues Gallery

Years before clashing with iconic foes like Bullseye and the Kingpin, Daredevil’s rogues’ gallery was less than stellar. When he wasn’t getting sloppy seconds from Spider-Man’s foes, he was fighting villains who could double for the most unimaginative cosplayers ever.

Leland Owlsley/Owl

If you think this is impressive, you should see his bathroom.

For example, Daredevil’s first original villain was the Owl, a fat guy whose most dastardly crime was tax evasion. He later developed leg paralysis that required a pacemaker that regularly short-circuited. Writers probably felt he wasn’t useless enough and made it so he needed braces to move around. In one of his less than illustrious defeats, police busted him for selling drugs while his kids were waiting in the car. A crippled tax debtor with poor parenting skills, what a triple threat!

Wilbur Day/Stilt-Man

Stilt-Man using a vacuum is very telling.

Then there’s Stilt-Man, whose gimmick is being really good at stilts… most of the time. He later got blown up by the Punisher. Stilty has a legacy of sorts, being succeeded by Lady Stilt-Man, who regularly gets trounced by Deadpool and/or Spider-Man.

Manuel Eloganto/The Matador

"Please, no! Anything but Justin Bieber!"
"Please, no! Anything but Justin Bieber!"

Let’s also talk about the Matador – a bullfighter gone bad. Credit where credit is due, the Matador discovered that Daredevil’s weaknesses included a bullfighting cape and his dislike for loud parties. After a few humiliating defeats at the hands of Daredevil, the Matador had enough self-respect and dignity to retire.

Vincent Patilio/Leap-Frog

Lastly, there’s the Leap-Frog, who was your typical under-appreciated inventor-turned-criminal. His spring loaded boots made him really good at jumping. The Leap-Frog was so pathetic that Stilt-Man made fun of him and the Matador beat him up – all in the same story.

He Was Terrible at Secret Identities

(And his friends are really stupid)

Daredevil has always been bad at keeping his identity a secret. He employed ridiculous schemes to keep people from guessing he is really Matt Murdock. Recently, Daredevil erased common knowledge of his double identity using some One More Day-level hocus pocus, but early on in his career, he wasn’t that great at it.

In those days, Matt Murdock and his partner Foggy Nelson were both interested in their secretary Karen Page. Foggy tried to convince her that he was really Daredevil, going so far as having a costume made. Matt didn’t correct anyone, and it wasn’t until Foggy was almost killed and a newspaper revealed he wasn’t Daredevil did that issue get resolved.

"How could this possibly backfire?"
"How could this possibly backfire?"

Eventually, his co-workers were getting wise to the fact that something wasn’t adding up. To cover for himself, Matt made up a previously unmentioned twin brother named Mike Murdock. Murdock dressed up in goofy clothes and pretended he could see. Karen and Foggy are easily bamboozled with three different people that they never saw in the same room together, instead of the usual two. Murdock soon found maintaining the “Mike” identity was too hard, so he faked “Mike’s” death. Matt then reassured his friends that Mike trained a successor that was absolutely not Matt Murdock. For reals.

He might as well be wearing a "Music Band" t-shirt.
He might as well be wearing a "Music/Band" t-shirt.

Another time his identity was compromised was when Starr Saxon figured it out. He promised to make Daredevil’s life a living hell. Murdock’s logical course of action was to fake his death in a plane crash. Later when Saxon seemingly died, Murdock revealed his identity to Karen and then revealed to the world he faked his death. Also, the super-duper wasn’t Daredevil, honest!

Letting Karen know he was Daredevil eventually came to bite him in the ass years later. Karen later became a drug addict and sold Daredevil’s secret identity to the Kingpin. Oops!

Usually a drug deal like this would leave a bad taste in her mouth.

Well, that concludes our premiere edition of Midlife Crisis! We’ll be back again soon, taking a look at some of the silliest moments in comics.

How does Daredevil season two stack up against the comics? We took a look at all of the similarities and differences.

Nick Peron
Stand-Up Comedian from Ottawa, Canada. Long time contributor at the Marvel Database Wiki. Banned in China.