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Jul 7

Daredevil Villains #30: Quothar

Posted on Sunday, July 7, 2024 by Paul in Daredevil

DAREDEVIL #72 (January 1971)
“Lo! The Lord of the Leopards!”
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: Gene Colan
Inker: Syd Shores
Letterer: Artie Simek
Colourist: not credited
Editor: Stan Lee

If you were feeling harsh, you might say that for Stan Lee, Daredevil was about the romantic triangle between Matt, Foggy and Karen; for Roy Thomas, Daredevil was about Matt and Karen trying to make their relationship work; and for Gerry Conway, Daredevil was about twenty pages long, once a month.

This isn’t entirely fair. True, Gerry Conway’s first year on the book has a lot of blatant filler, random crossover issues, and some decent ideas that would have been better suited to a different title. But he was clearly aware of the problem, given the drastic steps he took to re-tool the the book. And besides, right at the start of his run, we have a couple of stories that are unquestionably Daredevil-specific. They’re about blindness.

At first glance, this makes sense. Daredevil’s powers are his USP. Without them, he’s just a man with optimism and a stick. Some creators have focussed on his powers and made it work. But they’ve done it by taking a broader approach based on how he experiences the world differently. Conway focusses specifically on blindness. And you can do stories with Matt about how blind people are treated by others. But because of his powers, functionally speaking, Matt isn’t really blind at all. Sure, he can’t see through glass, he can’t read from across the room, he doesn’t experience colour, he can’t watch a movie – and you can build stories around those things. But is he really blind, at least in the same sense that other blind people are blind?

Issue #72 opens with a shadowy figure stealing a painting from the Metropolitan Museum. Here is how the narrator describes the scene.

“Midnight… the steady heartbeat of silence pulses unbroken… the shadows seep thickly ’round darkened corner… and in that darkness – movement! Lithe… soundless, he darts forward like a silken cat, whispering ‘cross marble floors, a shifting spot of black against the waning glow of pale moonlight…! Quietly, softly – a breath of midnight air, he runs… Until, penultimately, the shadow pauses… the night wind dies in the halls… and the thief steals!”

Welcome to 1971. Welcome to the Gerry Conway run.

Silver Age narration was always florid, but it was also more explicitly tongue in cheek. By comparison, the early 70s sees a turn towards histrionically earnest purple prose, something that never came back into fashion. “Penultimately, the shadow pauses”? What?

This isn’t a one-off. Here’s the next page:

NARRATOR: Light! Lancing crystal-white through the iron gray sky, twin spotlights knife open the twilight…!

VILLAIN (to himself): Down! Remember well your training – keep ever to the shadows – lest light’s revealing rays catch you unaware!

It’s going to be a long few years.

Anyway. This scene is meant to imply that the shadowy thief is Tagak the Leopard Lord, who debuts in this issue with much fanfare. Tagak is a costumed man with a trained leopard. Well, a more-or-less trained leopard – sometimes it takes a bit of yelling from Tagak before the leopard backs down from a fight. And on the surface, that’s pretty much Tagak’s whole gimmick. He’s got a leopard.

When Daredevil comes across Tagak, he and his leopard are in Times Square, looking for someone. Tagak gets into an argument with the police, no doubt because of New York’s famously strict anti-leopard laws. Daredevil steps in, but the leopard makes short work of him before Tagak calls it off. Then, Tagak just wanders off in search of whoever it was that he was hunting for.

This where we get to the theme, as Matt starts reflecting on the position of the blind in society. And Conway does hit on an interesting idea: that Matt is “so caught up in a sighted society” that he has things in his apartment that are completely useless to him both as Matt and as Daredevil. They don’t even make sense as part of a secret identity. What does he need a bathroom mirror for? Since 1971 was a very melodramatic time, Matt smashes the mirror in frustration. Look, a metaphor!

It turns out that Tagak is blind too; he “sees” thanks to his mental link with his leopard. What’s more, he comes from an alternate dimension where everyone is blind. Well, I think they are. It’s not entirely clear. At one point, Tagak says that the leopard thing is “a method employed when those of my world journey beyond our dimension”. That makes it sound like they don’t need the leopard at home. The leopard is only for special occasions. But later on, Tagak invites Daredevil back to his world, and says that “in this world, you are a misfit, but in mine…” Maybe Tagak thinks that all blind people regain their sight when they’re in his world? Who knows.

Don’t ask why Tagak’s alien dimension has leopards. It just does.

Tagak and his leopard have come to New York via their “Crysto-Mirror” portal – look, a metaphor? – to pursue Quothar, a “blasphemous thief” who has come to Tagak’s world from somewhere or other, stolen “the sacred Krill statue”, and escaped with it to Earth. This is literally as much personality as Quothar gets. He’s just a random bad guy for Daredevil and Tagak to team up against. He doesn’t even seem to be properly coloured – he’s shown in a bland light green in every panel. At first, it looks as if he’s meant to be in the shadows. But no, he still looks like even in plain sight.

Once located, Quothar is defeated in two panels. The story really doesn’t care about him at all. There’s a little subplot about how the museum director jumped to conclusions about Tagak. And that makes him the real blind man, you see. Feel free to sigh as deeply as you like.

Quothar is plainly an afterthought – he’s one step up from a macguffin, and he isn’t even set up as a potential recurring villain for Tagak, let alone Daredevil.  Tagak, in contrast, seems to have been intended as a potential recurring character. Perhaps Conway had plans for a hidden city of blind people that Daredevil could go and visit, but that’s more of a Superman idea than a Daredevil one. At any rate, if that was the plan, he thought better of it – Tagak never appears in this series again. His next appearance is the “Defenders for a Day” two-parter in 1978, and he’s also in a couple of issues of Contest of Champions in 1982. And that’s it.

You can see why nobody wanted to run with the idea, because this issue is painfully bad. Conway’s run does get better – it could hardly get worse – but this is a deeply unpromising start.

Bring on the comments

  1. Zoomy says:

    I have a great fondness for Tagak the Leopard Lord (mainly because I happened to have his Defenders appearance and a British reprint of a quarter of this issue among the earliest comics I owned) and always hope he’ll become a Marvel superstar some day. Maybe some kind of Revenge of Quothar super-epic?

  2. Joe S. Walker says:

    That buttock-straining Bronze Age overwriting is sometimes cringeworthy, sometimes enjoyable for its period flavour. I recommend Mike Friedrich’s run on Justice League.

    (But it irks me that people who thought that kind of thing was taking comics to a new level of maturity could be so disdainful towards Jack Kirby’s writing.)

  3. Chris V says:

    Tagak and his people really should have been the main antagonists in the DD comic. Marvel had finally hit upon a worthy arch-enemy for DD. They had seeing-eye leopards. What could be better than that? No, none of this is serious.
    Honestly, I enjoyed Conway’s run better then Lee or Thomas, simply because this is pure insanity. I find it a promising start because, suddenly, DD is a book where any crazy thing could happen. I don’t read Silver Age or early-Bronze Age comics in the expectation of seeing grounded stories. Sure, Amazing Spider-Man had better writing and characterization by Stan Lee, making the soap opera elements stand out as worth reading. Yes, a writer like Steve Gerber or Jim Starlin could actually write. Those are the stand outs and exceptions from that period of comics. What made any of the other comics from this period worth reading though? The fact that they’re crazy, and Conway brings that to DD which was missing from the book under Lee and Thomas. To be frank, DD tended to be boring prior to Conway. Under Conway, we have seeing-eye leopards and it only gets wilder from here.

    As far as Tagak, there was a short story written by Harlan Ellison titled “Catman” from 1974 (I thought that maybe Conway took ideas from the Ellison story and was shocked to see that Ellison’s story came after Tagak), which I found to have similarities with Conway’s Tagak character (minus the element of blindness). Do not tell me the influence ran in the other direction. I was thinking that maybe Marvel could revamp Tagak’s dimension as being the one from “Catman”. Yes, that is the story about cybersex.

  4. Michael says:

    Conway’s run is most notable for establishing Daredevil’s relationship with the Black Widow.
    As far as villains go, the most notable of Conway’s villains was the Man-Bull- hardly one of Marvel’s best villains. There was also the third Mr. Fear.
    Conway’s biggest mistake was the villain Mr. Kline, who also appeared in Iron Man, which Conway was also writing. The story ended abruptly because readers were quitting Iron Man and Daredevil and some have argued that the Mr. Kline mess damaged Iron Man’s and Daredevil’s sales long-term.

  5. Tobias Carroll says:

    I’m probably showing my age when I say that I cannot read this villain’s name without hearing “Quothar…..of the hill people!” sung again and again in my brain.

  6. CalvinPitt says:

    The thing about Tagak’s people needing the leopard when they leave their home dimension makes it me think they can see on their own world, but whatever form of light their eyes perceive doesn’t exist in Daredevil’s world.

    Don’t ask me what that “light” would be. Some visual equivalent to dark energy, which we’re pretty sure exists but as far as I know still can’t detect?

    And would that mean the leopards are blind in Tagak’s world, because their eyes somehow evolved to work with the types of light we have?

  7. K says:

    Now this is a concept that I hope some writer in the near future, digging through this blog, will come across.

    A leopard is a great visual if you can get an artist who knows how to draw them.

  8. Psycho Andy says:

    “LOOK, a metaphor!”, Paul writes in a story about blind people.

  9. Evilgus says:

    Sorry, but I love this overwrought prose. It’s so of the time, how can you not enjoy it?!

  10. Chris says:

    This prose is almost as purple as “Panther’s Rage”

  11. Si says:

    The more I think about this guy, the more I like the idea of a superhero vigilante who fights people with a jaguar that he can barely control. Especially the guy being blind, but can see through the cat’s eyes. So when he loses control of the beast, he has to watch it tear open a criminal, close up. You could run with the horror angle, it wouldn’t have to be a goofy story about an exotic pet sidekick.

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