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Jun 30

Daredevil Villains #29: The Tribune

Posted on Sunday, June 30, 2024 by Paul in Daredevil

DAREDEVIL #70-71 (November & December 1970)
“The Tribune” / “If an Eye Offend Thee…”
Writer: Gary Friedrich (#70), Roy Thomas & Lein Wein (#71)
Penciller: Gene Colan
Inker: Syd Shores
Letterer: Sam Rosen (#70) & Artie Simek (#71)
Colourist: not credited
Editor: Stan Lee

This is the third story in a row to deal with political radicals. In issue #68, Phoenix were so vague as to be meaningless; in issue #69, the Thunderbolts were a clumsy stab at social relevance. So a third extremist story might sound less than promising. And when you find that the first half is by a fill-in writer, and the second half has two credited writers, neither of whom worked on the first half… you could be forgiven for not getting your hopes up.

But this story has neither the timidness that sank the Phoenix story, nor the over-earnestness of the Thunderbolts. It’s absolutely mad.

The Tribune is movie star Buck Ralston. Despite being enormously famous, Buck likes to give soapbox speeches to passers-by on the streets of Hollywood. “It’s about time patriots like us stopped being a silent majority!” he says. Karen Page is up for a part in his next film, but to the horror of her agent, she tells Ralston to his face that he’s an extremist. Ralston naturally concludes that she’s a commie. “Gotta watch anybody that says you can be too patriotic!”

Meanwhile, in New York, a crowd of protestors have gathered outside Vice-President Spiro Agnew’s hotel when a bomb goes off, and the NYPD respond by attacking the crowd with riot gear. Criticising the forces of law and order was still technically against the Comics Code in 1970, but the story is completely clear that this is a violent overreaction. Walter Cronkite even pops up to compare it to the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The bombers are working for Ralston, but that doesn’t stop the NYPD from rounding up some random protestors and charging them with attempted murder – despite Daredevil protesting their innocence.

Ralston himself is still in Los Angeles, where he’s become the Tribune: a self-appointed masked judge. He’s going to punish commies and bring them into line. He wears a mock judicial robe, he has a picture of the statue of Justice on his chest, and he’s carrying a law book. Here’s his first speech as the Tribune:

“Yep, just like I figured! Those commie kids don’t even have respect for the Vice President! But all of that’s about to change! Yessir! America’s gonna be America again, with a little help from patriots like me! Everybody’s gonna listen to the government and stop all this rabble-rousin’ protest stuff! Unless they’d rather go listen to Kosygin for a while! As for those that don’t want to fight for this country, well, there’s ways to take care of the yella-bellied cowards! But to do that, we need a leader – somebody who can handle the traitors in this country, so that the government’ll have more time to concentrate on the war and the economy! We need a new kind of judge – to decide who’s a good American, and who’s a rotten red! And lucky for us, there is such a man! He calls himself the Tribune! God bless America! Bring in the accused!”

Well. This is certainly something different.

The Tribune’s henchmen are literally just hauling conscientious objectors off the streets and dragging them to “court” to be sentenced for treason. The Tribune then zaps them with a gavel and, it eventually turns out, brainwashes them into joining his followers. This seems to be more or less a hobby.

Weeks later, the “New York Three” are on trial for the bombing – they don’t get individual names. Matt and Foggy are both convinced that they’re innocent, but it’s their duty to prosecute. Apparently. It’s not as if there seems to be much evidence against them, and shouldn’t this be Foggy’s decision, him being the District Attorney and all? But that’s what the story insists – for some reason, the prosecution must go ahead. Unfortunately, the defence have cited Daredevil as a witness, posing our hero quite the dilemma! Some odd sequences tease that Foggy might go down with the flu (which goes nowhere) and Matt openly tries to find evidence for the defence, but all of that is window dressing.

Eventually, the Tribune himself arrives in New York with his men in tow. His plan is deranged even by the standards of the Silver Age: he beats up the trial judge in his chambers, then simply takes the judge’s place. Not, mind you, by using his acting skills to impersonate the judge. He just marches onto the bench in full Tribune costume, with one of his costumed henchman as usher, as if he was a proper judge, and starts the trial.

Roy Thomas is back writing by this point, but he seems just as willing to lean into the concept. “Those who stand before you,” Tribune says, “have conspired to destroy our great nation, and we are here to make certain they receive a fair trial and proper justice before we condemn them to death!”

As it happens, Daredevil is in the court room in full costume waiting to give evidence. Obviously he’s not going to stand for this charade… Oh, no, hold on, he is. Foggy objects, but the Tribune knocks him out with sleeping gas. (“I find you in contempt of court and sentence you to unconsciousness!”) Daredevil decides that starting a fight in the courtroom would probably just get someone hurt, so he goes ahead and testifies.

Of course, Daredevil does eventually use his senses to figure out where the Tribune’s mind-control device is kept, and knocks it out of commission. Then he fights the Tribune – which I guess is meant to be safe now that the device is shut down? Tribune tries to escape in a helicopter with JUSTICE written on the side, but gets blown to smithereens by a bomb that he’d been planning to detonate in another false flag operation.

I can understand why nobody wanted to bring the Tribune back – a little of him goes a long way. He’s a Daredevil villain because of his legal theme, but it’s tempting to say that he’d be better off fighting Captain America. Really, though, he wouldn’t work as a returning villain for either of them. Not only is he relentlessly one-note – which is the joke – but if you tried to use him regularly as a conventional supervillain you’d just water him down. At best, he’d be the Americop. The Tribune would be more at home fighting Howard the Duck.

This is the final Roy Thomas issue, and even though the unusual collection of writers makes it more of a coda to his run than anything else, it still sends him out on a high. It’s a bizarre story by any standards, but all the more so for coming completely out of the blue. The book just doesn’t do things like this.

Bring on the comments

  1. Omar Karindu says:

    Despite the change in writers for part II, this seems to be very much a Gary Friedrich story. Friedrich also started his Iron Man run by doing a version of the Kent State shooting.

    More broadly, many of Marvel’s second-generation writers — Roy Thomas included — were very anti-Nixon. They didn’t think much of the radicals, but they really hated Nixon and Nixon’s more vocal supporters, like the people who participated in the “hard hat riots.”

    As alluded to in this story, the Chicago Seven trial also seems to have galvanized quite a few creatives. That trial was also satirized, if that’s the right word, in an issue of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, and Dick Giordano, and later still in Jim Starlin’s 1970s Warlock stories.

    As to the Tribune, in one sense, he’s a political caricature. In another, he’s an overly broad, “relevant” attempt at what should be a slam-dunk villain archetype for Daredevil: someone who thinks they’re pursuing justice, but is really turning the justice system into a vehicle for their distorted views.

    I’m not sure we ever quite get a villain like that. Roger McKenzie seemed to be setting that up with the minor supporting character Judge Coffin, but Frank Miller dropped him pretty quickly once he took over the book. Instead, Miller — and writers before and after him — tended instead to have Daredevil encounter ruthless vigilantes who were rejecting the legal system entirely.

  2. Skippy says:

    This is the one I have been waiting for.

    I can’t believe nobody has brought this guy back. He would have fit right in to the Nocenti run. Though Paul is correct that he seems best used sparingly; you wouldn’t want to produce another Arcade, where every story they appear in is the same.

    When I first read this story I described it as “Daredevil versus the Gipper”. Reagan was governor of California at the time of publication, and his crackdowns on protests in the name of law and order would have been recent news. I suppose there may be other conservative movie stars Friedrich had in mind, though.

  3. Michael says:

    I guess the Tribune was supposed to be a parody of John Wayne, who was right-wing and supported Nixon but didn’t serve in World War II.
    The ending is odd- the Tribune is seemingly killed in an explosion but “several days later” Foggy and Matt see Ralston making a speech. So was the Tribune unharmed in the explosion? Or was he a third party who mind-controlled Ralston into thinking he was him? (I think the idea was the former.)
    And yes, this was a Gary Friedrich story. In addition to the Kent State story Omar mentioned, Friedrich also did a parody of the court-martial of Eddie Slovik, the only American shot for desertion since the Civil War, when he was writing Holwing Commandos. The problem with that one was that in Friedrich’s story, the deserter was simply a new guy that panicked under fire and then came back, while in real life, Slovik tried to game the system to avoid serving by being arrested for desertion but had it blow up in his face. (Slovik had heard that deserters would have their sentences commuted after the war, so he tried to get convicted for desertion but when the army realized he was doing, he got shot.) The story made Nick Fury look like a jerk, since Fury decides to report the guy but recommend leniency, and the guy gets shot anyway. Nick is not a mindless rule-follower even when it gets people killed. In real life during World War II, officers avoided charging new guys who panicked and then came back, because it happened all the time. The way Nick was written back then, he’d have sympathy for someone who panicked and then regretted it- he wouldn’t them in a position to be sentenced to death. (He wouldn’t have sympathy for someone who was trying to game the system.)

  4. Omar Karindu says:

    The end of the story is also odd for another reason. Seeing the Tribune escaping in the helicopter, Daredevil realizes the justice statue is a bomb and chucks it at the chopper, which then blow up. So was Daredevil deliberately trying to kill the Tribune?

    Of course, it also reads as another example of Colan running out of space at the end. If so, the writers don’t handle it well by having a bystander think the Tribune is dead only to show Ralston is alive on TV.

    Tis also doesn’t make sense if the Tribune’s men were captured and confessed, as stated in the final panels. Since his men knew his identity, it’s hard to see how Ralston would have avoided going to jail in he aftermath.

    So is the implication hat the Tribune’s men went along with his “death” and never gave up is real identity, but did confess to the bombings? Or maybe the Ralston speech on TV is archive footage for a report on the recent events?

  5. Michael says:

    @Omar- But the Tribune’s goons were all mind-controlled. Once they’re freed, they say things like “Where am I?” and “What’s happened?” Maybe they didn’t remember that Ralston was the Tribune when they were freed from the mind-control.

  6. Chris V says:

    There was Incredible Hulk #153 also written by Gary Friedrich which opens with a quote from the song “Chicago” by Graham Nash and features the Hulk bound and gagged in a courtroom, an obvious reference to Bobby Seale from the Chicago Seven trial.

    This is my favourite DD story until Miller takes over. I have to have love for Steve Gerber, but let’s face it, outside of the origin of Moondragon issue, Gerber’s DD is a major disappointment. Miller’s writing and plotting make it a huge step-up from anything on DD before that point, but it wouldn’t be until Nocenti’s DD that I’d enjoy a DD story as much as this two-parter.
    Good old Gary Friedrich. He tried, and at his best, in this story and certain issues of Sgt. Fury, he managed to succeed.

    Next up, we really enter the 1970s and find out what all the hullabaloo about LSD was about as we enter Gerry Conway’s run. This book just keeps getting crazier.

  7. Mark Coale says:

    This guy would have been a great candidate for OHOTOHOTMU on the podcast, especially given the guys’ day jobs.

  8. Asteele says:

    In the modern MCU he should be an actor with a popular podcast who is always vocally supportive of superheroes when they make bad decisions. “I liked Tony Stark when he supported the superhero registration act”, “I agree with professor X, the mutants were better off on that Island.” Etc.

  9. I am surprised that Tribune hasn’t popped up as a She-Hulk villain. He’s just goofy enough to fit in there, and the law theme works just as well as it does for DD.

  10. Thom H. says:

    His henchmen are dressed like Flash’s foe, the Trickster.

    Also, why do they all get snazzy red gloves except the blond guy? I’d be miffed if I were him.

  11. Chris says:

    Did someone subscribe to THIS????

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