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Feb 18

Daredevil Villains #16: The Boss

Posted on Sunday, February 18, 2024 by Paul in Daredevil

DAREDEVIL #29 (June 1967)
“Unmasked!”

Writer, editor: Stan Lee
Penciller: Gene Colan
Inker: John Tartaglione
Letterer: Sam Rosen
Colourist: not credited

As Daredevil¬†approached issue #30, Stan Lee was getting downright sluggish when it came to new ideas for villains. Last month was little green men. This month is “the heartless hood they call… the Boss!” The Boss is just a regular old crime boss, with no particular hook. Often characters like this represent Daredevil toying with the sort of stories that will eventually make the book work. Less so in this case.

The issue opens with Matt pondering a dilemma. He’s decided to ask Karen to marry him. No, you didn’t miss an issue. It’s all or nothing with Matt. The dilemma is: should he marry her as Matt, or as Mike? Yes, this sounds like an excellent foundation for a healthy marriage. As Colan draws him, Matt at home looks like a genial English professor, with a nice cardigan and a tweed jacket. For some reason he also has a signed photograph of Karen Page. Seems like an odd gift for Karen to give to a man she believes to be completely blind, but it keeps showing up in later issues.

Meanwhile, we check in on the Masked Marauder’s men. The Marauder died two issues ago, and his men have been waiting patiently for “over a month” for further orders. Finally, they decide that he’s really not coming back, and so they open his last instruction. It tells them to go after Nelson and Murdock, find out who Daredevil is, and then avenge the Marauder’s defeat. The Marauder certainly has a lot of faith in his men to carry out this vague instruction from a man who is, presumably, no longer paying their wages. But follow it they do, heading to the Nelson & Murdock offices in the Marauder’s customised truck that very night.

But one of them sells the group out to the Boss. “I figger… with the Marauder gone – that you’re the only one big enough to fill his shoes!” All the Boss needs to do is show up tonight, round up the Marauder’s henchmen, and seize control of the group. Colan makes this scene look a lot better than it deserves to be, with the Boss as a cheerfully confident, relaxed figure, stretched out on his chair and seeming to find the whole thing very diverting. As he often does with Karen, Colan gives the Boss a level of charisma that really isn’t there in the writing.

The Boss and a car full of ordinary gangsters show up to attack the Marauder’s hi-tech gang and defeat them handily in less than two pages. Having thus seized control, the Boss decides to go on with the “fight Daredevil” plan anyway. So they kidnap Karen and leave a message telling Daredevil where to find her. (This, of course, will prompt Matt to decide that he can’t marry Karen after all because his life is far too dangerous. You know how it goes.)

Matt duly heads to the spooky house “on the outskirts of town” where Karen is being held. Obviously, the villains’ plan is just to kill Daredevil when he shows up. Daredevil has a plan to outwit them, but it’s one of those mystifying ideas where you just have to shrug and say, hell, it was the sixties. He shows up in costume, but he pretends to be blind Matt Murdock pretending to be Daredevil. Why? Well, because then the gang will capture him rather than shoot him on sight… apparently?

And it work. Matt is captured, and then he does precisely what you’d expect: he escapes the cell, goes back as Proper Daredevil, and beats up all the baddies. Why couldn’t he have just done that in the first place? Because then the story would be even more generic than it already is! The Boss’s mixed crew of underlings, now made up of both conventional mobsters and costumed supervillain henchmen, completely fail to get along. Their lack of teamwork lets Daredevil to beat them all singlehandedly, and the Boss simply surrenders rather than fight. And that’s the issue.

So let’s be fair to Stan. Yes, the Boss is completely off the peg. But the story hook here is probably meant to be the culture clash between two different styles of villain – the regular mob and the supervillains. If that’s the idea, then it makes sense for the Boss to be a standard issue mob boss. But the story never really gets into the tension between the groups. They’re just two gangs who don’t get on – the Marauder’s group are at least visually distinct, but nothing else really turns on where they came from.

After this issue, Lee goes into a long stretch where he just recycles cast-offs from the rest of the Marvel Universe. The well of inspiration is so obviously running dry at this point that you’d think Lee surely had to be on his way out, but in fact he sticks around through to issue #50. Fortunately, things pick up again towards the end of his run. But at this point he was really starting to struggle.

Bring on the comments

  1. CalvinPitt says:

    I definitely remember someone blogging about an early issue of FF where Reed tries to explain to the readers all the times Sue had been helpful so far, and the Thing wanting to beat them up, but I can’t find that blog post, and trying to look up plot summaries of early issues didn’t help.

    While Cassandra Cain was able to speak fairly early in her ongoing series, she still struggled to read or write (Oracle attributed it to Cassandra’s language centers being scattered throughout her brain instead of localized, no idea if that’s accurate) through the entire series. I don’t think that’s still in play now, either.

  2. Michael says:

    @Alexx kay- It was Fantastic Four 11, by Stan and Jack.

  3. neutrino says:

    @Luis Dantas:
    Byrne got it from an early FF issue where the Thing destroyed a cure that would have permanently turned him human because he wasn’t sure if Alicia would still love him.

  4. Omar Karindu says:

    @neutrino:

    Are you thinking here of Fantastic Four v.1 #79? That’s a really interesting issue, and almost certainly what solidified Byrne’s view of Ben’s psychology, along with some dialogue from Alicia’s very first appearance in FF v.1 #8s he “feels” Ben change back and forth during their first meeting.

    But it does seem to mostly stem from FF v.1 #79. There, Ben has been turned human by Reed’s latest method, apparently for good. He meets Alicia for lunch. He goes in worried about how she’ll react, and he thinks she’s colder and more distant. Kirby’s art kind of makes her seem distant with her atypically wearing a large-brim hat and sunglasses.

    In thought bubbles, Ben attributes this to his not being the Thing; he’s sure plain Ben Grimm doesn’t appeal to her the way the super-powered Thing did.

    Then to fulfill the issue’s fight scene quota leftover Mad Thinker robot attacks them, following up on the arc where Ben is cured.

    Ben uses the Wizard’s wonder gloves — captured in the previous issue — to undo his “one time only” cure and become the Thing again. (The gloves are what attracted the robot in the first place.)

    It’s not very clear whether Jack Kirby and/or Stan Lee were thinking of all the psychological themes here, but there’s a lot in the story to support Byrne’s retcon avant la lettre.

    Byrne’s innovation — and retcon — was tying this to two things: first, Ben’s earlier transformations from the first twenty or so issues of Fantastic Four.

    Why would Ben bring along something like the Wizard’s gloves to what’s supposed to be a nice, normal lunch date with his girlfriend? Why not just use the gloves as weapons instead of undoing his cure?

    Why does Ben feel he must revert to the Thing rather than, say, using the FF flare gun to bring the others running? y’ve just added the extraordinarily powerful Crystal to the roster, after all.

    So the Silver Age story does make it seem as if Ben takes the first opportunity /excuse to revert to to being the Thing, as soon as he suspects his “cure” will cost him Alicia’s love.

    For his part, Byrne never quite clarifies if Ben is right about Alicia, though I think his storytelling hints against it. Following the retcon, it’s Ben who starts to close himself off from Alicia, who notices it, is bothered by it, but ultimately does nothing to stop Ben — still the Thing — from drifting away from her emotionally. She’s implird to be hurt and upset when ben calls “time out” on their relationship.

    He eventually leaves her behind entirely, and rather spontaneously, when he decides to stay on the Beyonder’s Battleworld after the first Secret Wars. This is ostensibly because he can become human again there. But he eventually confronts and sacrifices the Ben Grimm identity once and for all, which he’s externalized as a deadly enemy.

    As for Alicia, she gravitates towards the Human Torch, and ends up marrying him.

    So it seems like, for Byrne, this was mostly down to Ben’s self-loathing.

    The dynamic s less clear now, after so many years of retcons — the Alicia that Ben breaks up with is a Skrull impersonator; there have been lots of changes to the FF’s origins and powers that come and go with new writers; and Ben and Alicia eventually just get married. Vutit’s a fascnating story.

    In comparison, Matt Murdock’s weirdly dissociative tendencies are a lot more straightforward. Mike Murdock isn’t much different than Daredevil (or the later Jack Batlin identity), in that they are all ways for him to run away from the emotional trauma and social strictures he experiences as Matt Murdock, and both end up having him act out in self-destructive ways.

  5. neutrino says:

    @Omar Karindu:
    No, Byrne was thinking of #25. https://marvel.fandom.com/wiki/Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_25
    In Byrne’s story where Reed announces he can finally cure Ben, but it reverts him back to his dinosaur hide form, Ben thinks he detects some hesitation from Alicia before he gets into the machine.

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