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Jun 9

Daredevil Villains #26: Brother Brimstone

Posted on Sunday, June 9, 2024 by Paul in Daredevil

DAREDEVIL #65-66 (June & July 1970)
“The Killing of Brother Brimstone” / “…And One Cried Murder!”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Penciller: Gene Colan
Inker: Syd Shores
Letterer: Artie Smiek
Colourist: not credited
Editor: Stan Lee

Once again, we’ve skipped a couple of issues with returning villains. Issue #63 is a Gladiator story, and issue #64 is the return of Stunt-Master. There have been some developments in those two issues.

After months of pestering Matt to quit as Daredevil, Karen Page has lost patience and walked out. She was expecting Matt to stop her at the airport, but he was too busy being Daredevil to show up. So Karen is now living in Los Angeles with her old college roommate Sally Weston. And Matt has followed her out there, which means we get four issues in Hollywood. In issue #64, Daredevil fails to locate Karen, who is avoiding him. Instead, Daredevil gets sidetracked by Stunt-Master.

Now, obviously, Daredevil has pursued Karen to the other side of the country because he’s a romantic lead. It’s not like he’s some sort of stalker! So in issue #65, he breaks into Karen’s bedroom to find out where she’s working.

As it happens, Sally Weston is the assistant director on gothic daytime soap opera Strange Secrets, and she’s got Karen some acting work on the show. Readers at the time would have recognised Strange Secrets as the ABC daytime soap Dark Shadows, which ran from 1966 to 1971. Accordingly to Wikipedia, it “became popular when vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) was introduced ten months into its run. It would feature ghosts, werewolves, zombies, man-made monsters, witches, warlocks, time travel and a parallel universe.” By early 1970, the show was past its peak, which is in fact how Strange Secrets is presented here.

From his name, you might expect Brother Brimstone to be a satanic cult type figure. We’re only two years away from Tomb of Dracula, after all. But we’re still one year from the revision of the Comics Code that will make Tomb of Dracula possible. In 1970, if you want to push up against the limits of the Code, this story is what you get.

Brother Brimstone is Strange Secrets‘ main villain, played by actor Ross Archer. Karen’s role is to get attacked and strangled by him, which is of course a fake-out sequence to open the issue. Archer seems a bit overenthusiastic with the old neck-grabbing, but not in a way that seriously worries anyone. We’re also introduced to a whole bunch of characters who work on the production – director Bill Wheeler, make-up artist Lester (the story can’t make up its mind about his surname), writer and show creator Ed Lawson, lead actor Vince Sterling, and stand-in Jerry Jason.

It turns out that Brother Brimstone is being written out of the show. Ross Archer is not happy about his imminent unemployment. He accuses everyone of conspiring against him, yells some threats, and gets thrown off the set. Archer then decides that an excellent idea would be to dress up as his character and assault his stand-in in the car park. When Karen stumbles upon the scene, Archer gives chase, and naturally Daredevil steps in. Archer turns out to be an improbably good fighter – Daredevil has a lot of trouble with gifted amateurs at this point in his career – and so he manages to knock Daredevil over the head and make a break for it. Once Daredevil comes round, Karen tells him that she hasn’t decided whether she’s coming back to New York, and that Archer can be left to the regular police. So would Daredevil mind leaving her in peace?

The next day, Karen shows up for her deathbed scene to find that Archer has been bailed out by the network in order to act in his final episode. Daredevil is hanging around in the rafters. “No, Karen Page,” the narrator says, “you are not being watched from the stark shadows above… but your every breath, your every heartbeat, is being carefully monitored!” I reiterate: Daredevil is not a stalker.

Brother Brimstone shows up and attacks Daredevil by hurling a strangulated corpse at him. But wait! It’s the corpse of Ross Archer – so who is the second Brother Brimstone?

Part 2 opens with Daredevil sneaking in to Archer’s funeral in order to recap the plot and remind us about all the characters. This goes on for six pages. On the plus side, the show is so pleased with Karen’s acting that they’ve extended her part for another week. Remarkably, the cast and crew are asked to vote on whether they want to continue making the show given the high likelihood that one of them must be Archer’s murderer. Everyone agrees to continue, so work really must be scarce in Hollywood. Meanwhile, Daredevil finds that Lester has built a strength-enhancing exoskeleton, which is the new Brother Brimstone must be wearing.

All this builds to a final showdown with Brother Brimstone at the LaBrea Tar Pits, where Brimstone tries to murder Karen. Daredevil unmasks him as Vince Sterling, who then gets sucked into the tar pit and drowns. As so often in Daredevil stories of this period, we end with a last-minute race to explain the plot: Sterling copied Lester’s plans for the exoskeleton, and was… trying to cover his tracks or something?

It’s never clear what Sterling was trying to achieve with any of this. Daredevil claims that Sterling wanted to be a star. So apparently Daredevil’s theory of the case is that Sterling killed Archer in order to get rid of the more interesting character who had top billing in the show. But… Archer was being fired anyway. That was the plot. Maybe Sterling is trying to drum up interest in his flagging show by murdering some expendable people?

But his hazy motivations probably just boil down to “he’s a lunatic”. When in action, he seems to enjoy camping it up: “What’s this? You seem to have fainted! A pity… for that means you shall miss the final act of our macabre little melodrama!”

Give Brother Brimstone this: for the first time in Daredevil we have a story where there’s a mystery over the villain’s identity, and there are multiple candidates, with actual personalities and motives! Okay, it’s not solvable – there are clues that would let the reader figure out that Lester is a red herring, but there’s no real way to identify Sterling. Still, it’s nice to have one of these mystery stories that functions properly. The strength of this two-parter lies mostly in the fact that it does set up a respectably sized cast without seeming too cluttered. Maybe at the time the Dark Shadows references added something further. Who can tell any more?

Brother Brimstone himself, though, is not obviously built for further use. He’s a guy in a mask pretending to have supernatural powers – which is to say, he’s a Scooby-Doo villain. In theory, I suppose he could have been brought back as a disgraced actor turned theatrical villain, but given his roots as a pastiche, it’s understandable that nobody tried. Thomas certainly doesn’t set him up for a return bout; drowning him in a tar pit may not leave a body but it’s pretty emphatic by genre standards. Brother Brimstone is a one-off creation for this Hollywood visit, and while he’s not that great in himself, his story is quite fun if you don’t think too hard.

The final Hollywood story, in issue #67, is a Stunt-Master/Stilt-Man story, so we’ll be skipping it. But it ends with Daredevil reluctantly returning to New York without Karen, who continues to dither about whether she wants to be an actress in Hollywood, or a typist in New York. We’ll see her once more in the Roy Thomas run, but she won’t return as a regular character until Gerry Conway is on the book. More power to her. This Matt guy is awful.

Bring on the comments

  1. Michael says:

    It’s worth noting that Karen had an impressive career as an actress. Which is why it’s odd what Miller did to her. The last time we saw her she was a successful actress and now she’s a junkie porn star? It’s especially odd since relatively few “normal” actresses become porn stars. Miller tried to justify it on the grounds that we hadn’t seen her in years but you’d think Matt would have heard about her downfall.

  2. Luis Dantas says:

    This story is strongly similar to the origin of the Batman villain, Basil Karlo, the first Clayface. He gained powers much later, but for decades he was just an actor with hurt feelings that took advantage of his horror character to commit killings and never turned up again.

  3. Omar Karindu says:

    Ah, the Marvel Universe, where special effects guys skip all that “illusion for the screen” stuff and just build actual super-strength exoskeletons and robots (as with =the movie crew in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #2). No wonder Mysterio had such an easy time transitioning to supervillainy.

    Also: Sterling? Archer? Sterling Archer?

    @Michael: I think the idea was that she’d gotten addicted to heroin, tanked her career, and then fallen into pornography to support her habit during the eight years of real-world time between appearances.

    But ti is odd, since her last prior appearance — Marvel Two-in-One v.1 #46 — had her chosen for a multi-million-dollar role in an in-universe Hulk TV show get millions of dollars for a TV show. (She turns it down to go back to her old role, but still…)

    @Luis Dantas: It doesn’t help much that the two Golden Age Clayface stories were virtually identical. Indeed, he was brought back just to be killed off in a one-shot Detective Comics story decades later by a successor, horror director John Carlinger, but that story was quietly ignored or just plain forgotten when Karlo reappears post-crisis to gain those powers.

  4. Chris V says:

    Yes, it would have helped had Karen Page lost the money she paid to her blackmailer in that last Marvel Team-Up Annual appearance before the Miller story. Then, it could have been about poor choices; as she turned down the multi-million dollar role, got addicted to heroin, used up the last of her money, ended up having trouble finding new parts due to the severity of her addiction, and ended up spiralling down the ladder.

  5. Joe S. Walker says:

    Dark Shadows was a great show! Back in the late 2000s I watched the complete run on DVD. The special effects weren’t exactly the work of a genius though.

  6. Si says:

    Oh Paul. You didn’t watch three concurrent seasons of Dark Shadows to research? Today it’s not digging up a 50 year old American TV show to annotate, tomorrow it’s not bothering to buy the Wolverine/My Little Pony one shot. It’s a slippery slope.

  7. Thom H. says:

    “It’s not like he’s some sort of stalker! So in issue #65, he breaks into Karen’s bedroom to find out where she’s working.”

    Literally LOL.

    Also, I love that vampires are forbidden by the Comics Code, but chucking dead bodies at people is AOK. Totally makes sense.

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