Editor: Stan Lee Writer: Stan Lee Art: Wally Wood
When fans discuss the classic titles put out by Marvel Comics during the Silver Age, Daredevil seldom comes up. For one thing, the lead character lacked the flashy super-powers of Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four. He didn’t even have the dramatic visuals of the Hulk or Giant-Man. Then, there was the fact that the title never saw any of the Jack Kirby art for Marvelites to ooh and ahh over.
Daredevil did pick up a few points when Wally Wood took over the art chores, starting with the fifth issue. Wood’s clean, photogenic style was a marked improvement over previous series artist Joe Orlando. Orlando’s art seemed murky and uneven, making it look like it had been drawn in a backroom someplace, over the week-end, on butcher paper. (To be fair, a good share of the blame has to go to Orlando’s inker, Vince Colletta, whose scratchy, broken lines always looked like part of the nib of his pen had snapped off.)
Less of a landmark, but perhaps more important, this was story in which Daredevil came of age. It was here that he transitioned from being a glorified acrobat with a gimmick to a real, honest-to-God super-hero.
The initial premise of “In Mortal Combat with . . . Sub-Mariner!” is much like something that Will Eisner would have come up with.
Will Eisner is legendary among comics creators, and in his case, legendary is no overstatement. Eisner’s long-running adventures of the Spirit are masterpieces of art and writing that comics professionals are still learning from, some sixty years later. One of his common devices was to set the derring-do of his two-fisted hero amidst some prosaic aspect of human drama, and it was this aspect that the plot twisted around.
Sometimes, Eisner took his “average joe” concept to a point which bordered on the absurd, but somehow, he made it seem like a perfectly normal event. Such as his story, “The Dictator’s Reform”, told a few months before America’s entry into World War II, in which Adolf Hitler makes a private visit to the United States. He goes on a walking tour of Central City, to meet the people and try to convince them that he’s not such a bad fellow. It’s a loopy notion, but under Eisner’s handling, you find yourself thinking, “Hey, why not?”
More down to earth, but no less dramatic was his “Taxes and the Spirit”, in which the blue-suited hero goes up against the Internal Revenue Bureau. This wasn’t a wild, over-the-top affair, as it was when DC’s Superman found himself in the same fix. No, Eisner handled it realistically, when two Internal Revenue agents discover that the Spirit has never filed a tax return. They aren’t starchy, persimmon-faced bureaucrats fixated on a petty notion. Eisner paints them as dedicated agents doing their jobs, simply looking for an explanation.
The story opens with Prince Namor in one of his usual humans-are-no-damn-good fugues. It doesn’t help his mood that his Atlantean warlords are insisting on going to war with us land-dwellers immediately. Namor realises that a war will devastate his people, as well as the air-breathers. Rather than do that, he settles on another way to get justice for the wrongs committed against the people of Atlantis.
Namor decides to take the human race to court!
A loopy idea, but, hey, why not?
In two shakes of a dolphin’s tail, the Sub-Mariner arrives in New York. Since an appearance by Prince Namor usually means bad things for the cops, the Army, and local property values, the bystanders give him a wide berth. Once in Manhattan, Subby heads for the nearest office building and selects a law firm from the tenant directory. Since this is decades before Angie’s List, he uses the ever-reliable pot-luck method . . . .
“Now for the first attorney I find! Ah! Nelson and Murdock! I’m certain they will do as well as any others!”
Namor announces himself at the offices of Nelson and Murdock, Attorneys-at-Law and states his case. “I wish to sue the entire human race for depriving us of our birthright!”
He’s not very happy when Matt Murdock tells him there are a couple of problems with that prospect. First, there’s no legal precedent for such an action, and second, there’s no jurisdictional respondent since no one nation represents the human race. But as a prince of the blood, Namor won’t be put off by petty details.
When Foggy Nelson explains that petty details are pretty much what litigation is all about, Subby leaves in a snit, leaving a smashed door, a shattered desk, and a demolished wall behind him.
Over the next few hours, Subby rampages through the city, leaving a nice wide trail of destruction so the police and the military can find him. He wants to be arrested, to force his day in court. Unfortunately, the authorities have a more permanent solution to the Namor Problem in mind, and they blast away at him with tanks and machine guns.
As soon as Foggy and their secretary, Karen, have gone home for the night, Murdock changes to Daredevil, showing off for the first time his brand new crimson duds. Snagging a ride from an Air Force spotter plane, DD finds the Sub-Mariner and tries to reason with him. However, in order to do that, like the old joke about the mule and the two-by-four, first the Man Without Fear has to get the fish man’s attention, which he does by a good jump kick to Namor’s solar plexus.
After that, the negotiations kind of fall through.
DD ducks and weaves the best he can, but Subby finally gets him in the water. Namor then pounds away at Our Hero. When he sees Daredevil sinking to the bottom of the river bed, he decides, “I cannot permit one so valiant to die---even though he is my enemy!” The Sub-Mariner snags DD by the wrist and hurls him back up to the surface.
Two panels later, the prince of Atlantis surrenders to a much-relieved shipload of sailors.
The next morning, using his one phone call, the Sub-Mariner retains Nelson and Murdock to handle his case. Foggy Nelson shows the command decision-making that makes him the senior partner. “You’d better handle it, Matt.”
Prince Namor finally gets his day in court, but things don’t go too well for him, or Murdock. Matt’s opening plea, at which he raises the issue of the Sub-Mariner’s civil suit, gets shot down by the presiding judge. And the tone with which the district attorney levels the charges against the Atlantean rankles Namor’s royal temperament.
Murdock smooths things over by pointing out that Namor is the supreme monarch of his people, where his word is law, and fellows like that just don’t play well with us regular folks. The judge agrees, and he calls a recess, so he can decide the most proper venue to dispose of the Sub-Mariner’s case.
While waiting for the hearing to resume, Lady Dorma, Namor’s consort, enters the courtroom and informs her prince that, during his absence, one of his warlords, the treacherous Krang, has launched a rebellion in Atlantis. That’s it, as far as Subby’s concerned, the trial’s over, and he scatters the half-dozen court officers who try to keep him from marching out.
Matt calms the Atlantean down and persuades him not to throw away his chance to be heard. Namor agrees to wait twenty-four hours, “but not one instant more!” The judge, however, postpones the trial for a week, and Murdock has to go down to intake and break the news to the impatient Sub-Mariner.
Subby decides that this legal stuff is all a bunch of hooey and bursts out of his jail cell. The Army hasn’t been caught sleeping, though. Armoured units and troops of soldiers line the streets for blocks around the jail, and the bullets and the bombs start flying. They barely faze Namor, so determined is he to get back to Atlantis and deal with Krang.
Meanwhile, Matt has changed back to Daredevil and locates the commanding officer of the troops. DD asks for time to handle the enraged Sub-Mariner himself, before anyone else is hurt. The C.O. thinks Daredevil is out of his mind, but agrees. Thus, begins one of the most dramatic man-to-man contests ever seen in comics.
Wally Wood’s sleek art depicts the combat in elegant snapshots. Daredevil somersaulting high over a charging Namor. Namor streaking high into the sky, towing DD, hanging desperately from his billy-club line. The Sub-Mariner wrenching a lamppost free from its foundation, swinging it at the toppling hero.
The Man Without Fear is hopelessly outmatched. He knows it. Namor knows it. But DD keeps coming. He hits the fish man with a wrecking ball, drops a steam-shovel full of boulders on him, then vaults out of his foe’s reach at the last instant when none of it makes so much as a dent in his Atlantean hide.
The Sub-Mariner’s contempt for his weaker opponent gives way to disbelief, and then awe, as Daredevil refuses to quit. “This is madness!” shouts Namor. “Does your own life mean nothing to you? Have you no sense of fear?”
Finally, fatigue brings Daredevil to his knees. Disdainfully, Namor turns his back and walks away. With his last ounce of strength, DD wraps Subby with an electrical cord, then---hoping his insulated gloves will be enough to protect him---attaches it to a live wire from the broken lamppost base. The very air crackles as enough voltage to power a city block courses through Namor’s body and blasts Daredevil off his feet.
When the smoke lifts, Daredevil lies face down on the pavement, nearly unconscious. But the Sub-Mariner is only dazed. The Atlantean shakes his head clear, then turns his attention back to the armed forces lined up against him.
Wracked with pain and exhaustion, unable to even lift himself up, Daredevil reaches out desperately and clutches one of Namor’s winged ankles---and then passes out cold.
Prince Namor looks down at his helpless adversary. Then he takes to the sky and heads seaward. The Man Without Fear has won his respect.
He won the respect of the readers, as well.
Up to this point, Daredevil had been a costumed character with a gimmick---he’s blind, but makes do with his other senses having been increased to the Nth degree. Most of the crooks he had fought, Rick Jones could have beaten after one judo lesson from Captain America.
But the Sub-Mariner was one of Marvel’s heavyweights, someone who had fought the Hulk and the Thing to a standstill. For the first time, Marvel fans saw raw courage behind DD’s lame wisecracks and glibness. The battle with Namor elevated him from a mere costumed adventurer to a genuine super-hero.
There wouldn’t be many moments like this for the Man Without Fear. His title would remain a second-tier one, and the plots would stay fairly lightweight, occasionally even drifting toward farce. And Wally Wood, whose art gave the series such a polished veneer, would be replaced before the end of the year.
But, for this one issue, at least, the man called Daredevil proved that he could hit in the big leagues.