My Misspent Youth — Daredevil #138 by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

I remember the first time I ventured into a comic book store. When I started collecting superhero comics, at the very beginning of the nineteen-eighties, the periodicals were still widely and primarily available in just about every supermarket, drugstore, and gas station. They were impulse buys, stocked haphazardly and somewhat indifferently. So a business that sold nothing but comics — with some related ephemera — was almost psychedelic in its dizzying, delightful strangeness. In particular, I remember the stacks upon stacks of back issues, beckoning with their bygone tales. The very presence of these older comics, slipped into plastic and adorned with prices that ticked above the handful of cents printed on the covers, was itself an argument that the comics were disposable. They were meant to be kept and cared for, like any book in a library.

One of the first superhero comics I bought and read — and flipped for — featured the red-garbed do-gooder known as Daredevil. Because many of the back issues with his logo on the front cover were more affordable than my other early obsessions, an copy of an old Daredevil comic was one of the first back issues I bought in that musty shop. I’m not sure what make me choose Daredevil #138 out of the multitudes available to me. It’s possible the absolutely wild cover was enticement enough: Daredevil being throttled by a ghoulish, screaming mummy-man riding a skeleton steed as a blonde woman gaped in the foreground and a flaming-skulled figure riding a motorcycle crashed through a window in the background. If a cover makes a promise, this cover was promising a lot.

If anything, this issue of Daredevil exceeds the promise of the cover. Written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by guest penciler John Byrne, a relatively newcomer to Marvel Comics who evidently believed he was trying out for a regular assignment on the title, Daredevil #138 starts with out hero in full-on fisticuffs with a muscled brute with the inelegant name the Smasher.

The Smasher is just one colorfully dressed titan in a stacked lineup. He’s under the employment of the villainous Death’s Head, the bandaged, craggy fiend from the cover, and longtime Daredevil foe the Stunt-Master rolls through the issue, too. That’s just in the main story. There’s a subplot in the book in which Foggy Nelson, the law partner of Daredevil’s alter ego Matt Murdock, investigates the disappearance of his fiancee and gets shot at while making a call from a phone booth. Wedging his way onto the already stuffed stage is the chopper-riding flamethrower known as Ghost Rider.

This issue was published in 1976, when there was an overtly realized principle of Marvel storytelling was treating every story as if it were some reader’s very first story. More famous characters on the company’s roster — such as Spider-Man and the Hulk — maybe didn’t need their fundamentals laid out in every newly printed periodical. The man with fear, though? That was a different matter. Further motivated by the issue’s status as a crossover, fishing for a few fans of Ghost Rider to sample Daredevil, Wolfman works hard to convey every last detail a newcomer might need.

At a time when my collection was still fairly meager, Daredevil #138 was so densely packed that it invited me to read it over and over again. It’s not really that I found greater nuance with every new flipping of the pages. This wasn’t a piece of fiction meant to be mulled over in search of motifs and veiled commentary. It’s blissfully pulpy entertainment, characterized by chunky dialogue, crashing action, and snarling cads being malevolent with little discernible purpose beyond regaling in their own nastiness. The issue gave me so much. What it didn’t give me was an ending. The last page was one giant panel that mirrored the scene on the cover, and the cliffhanger come-on to scour newsstands one week later for the the scintillating conclusion.

Clearly, my next trip to the comic shop necessitates some time rifling through the stack of Ghost Rider back issues. A comic reader’s mission is never complete.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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