Monday, June 1, 2009

Spotlight on Daredevil Villains

Today I'm going to begin a brief rundown of one of Marvel Comics' most ecclectic rogues galleries; that of Daredevil, the Man Without Fear. Ranging from the absurdly silly (the Ani-Men) to the calculatingly cold (Bullseye), Daredevil's compelling archvillains occupy a unique place in Marvel Comics lore.

Arguably the most "street level" of Marvel's prominent heroes, Dardevil likewise spends his time facing off against villains that would almost feel at home in the panels of a Dick Tracy strip if they were less brutal, or an early Batman strip, if a little less colorful.

Daredevil started out fighting villains like The Fixer, and Electro, both of whom were originally enemies of Nick Fury and Spider-Man, respectively. It would be 3 issues before the debut of his first original nemesis, The Owl.

Oh, the Owl. He looks like Wolverine from the universe where everyone is a character in A Christmas Carol, but don't let that fool you. While his "powers" may as well consist of a hang-glider and some nice spectacles, the Owl is smart enough to a) know his limitations and let his henchmen do the fighting, and b) not keep trying to commit crimes right under his arch-enemy's nose. If Daredevil busted up his operation in New York, the Owl would move to New Jersey. If Daredevil showed up in Jersey, he'd head accross the country. Eventually, he attempted to form an alliance with Doctor Octopus (a team-up that would have been really very cool), although that ended with Doc Ock handing him all of his ass in his own hideout. After that, he moved back into the New York underworld and got very close to the top, informing on his rivals and having them all locked away, including Daredevil. If the Owl has one major drawback, it's that he's constantly willing to wreck his own body by trying to improve it. The serum he took to augment his natural gliding powers caused his legs to go lame. In trying to fix his legs and spine, he took an experimental serum that somehow made him even more owly than before. Most recently, he was shot to death by the Hood while trying to sell Deathlok.

After the Owl, Daredevil spent some time fighting the Purple Man, a character who rose to prominence a few years ago as an enemy of Luke Cage, and then moved on to a go-nowhere goofball called The Matador. Shortly after this, he fought Mr. Fear, the next prominent villain in his menagerie of menacing mooks.

No less than 4 people have occupied the role of Mr. Fear. Zoltan Drago, the first Mr. Fear, tried to use his advance knowledge of chemistry to develop a special chemical to bring wax statues to life, but instead all it did was give people the creeps. Correct me if I'm wrong here, because I don't have a degree in chemical engineering, but those seem like pretty disparate effects. That's like setting out to make chloroform and ending up with grape soda. In any case, Drago and his Fellowship of Fear (Ox from the Enforcers and the Eel) got pretty much demolished by Daredevil almost right away. Drago was later killed in prison by Starr Saxon, who became the next Mr. Fear.

Starr Saxon took a novel approach to villainy, by humiliating and defeating Dardevil in the public eye as often and as soundly as possible, while staging events to make himself seem like a hero. He eventually plunged to his death in battle, but his loyal army of robots preserved his mind (obviously) and he became the Machinesmith, arch-enemy of Captain America and Bill Clinton.

Next came Larry Cranston, whose first few appearances were not very special, except that he apparently died after jumping off a building because he assumed he was wearing a jetpack.

He assumed he was wearing a jetpack. What a tragedy.

Later on he came back with a whole slew of henchmen and turned Dardevil's life upside down by removing the fear of death from almost everyone in Hell's Kitchen, including Daredevil's wife. Eventually, he became the most effective Mr. Fear of the bunch.

The fourth Mr. Fear really only fought Spider-Man, so fuck him.

Next up came Stilt-Man. Everything that can be said about Stilt-Man has been said a hundred times over. He's a guy with stilts so he naturally decided to become a super-villain because stilts are the perfect weapon to blah blah blah there is nothing redeeming about Stilt-Man. After Stilt-Man came Klaus Kruger who was pretty cool, but I guess Stan Lee realized that he was really just a very not badass version of Dr. Doom and he never went anywhere. He fought the Ani-Men, a bunch of purple crime-furries, most of whom were (thankfully) killed in an explosion. He fought The Plunderer, brother of Ka-Zar, and the Masked Marauder who looked like a Christmas Cylon.

Then came the Gladiator, who, while a kind of a lame villain, had a very cool backstory in that he was a costume designer before becoming a villain. Pretty novel, but very unfortunate when you consider that this is the Gladiator:

He later retired, becoming Matt Murdock's bodyguard and really turning over a new leaf until Larry Cranston, the 3rd Mr. Fear drugged him up and sent him on a rampage which eventually led to his death.

Daredevil fought the Leap Frog, who, much like Stilt-Man, is a piece of crap. I am not threatened by Super Mario 3, and fortunately neither is Daredevil. Daredevil's encounter with Leap Frog did lead to him pretending to be his own twin brother Mike for a while though. Eventually "Mike" was outed as Daredevil and then died.

Daredevil and Thor teamed up to fight Mr. Hyde and the Cobra, two of Thor's old foes. He then fought The Beetle, who was primarily an enemy of Spider-Man. All of this harkens back to Daredevil's early career, facing off against the enemies of his fellow crimefighters.

Daredevil next faced the greatest challenge of his life (not) when he fought the Emissaries of Evil, a group comprised of Electro, Stilt-Man, Leap Frog, the Matador, and Gladiator. After beating up what essentially amounts to Electro's cosplay group Daredevil fought the Trapster, a Fantastic Four villain, and then fought Dr. Doom.

That's a hell of a progression.

In Daredevil #42, he fought The Jester, the next notable original Daredevil villain on our list. The story was entitled "Nobody Laughs At The Jester," which is an awesome name for a story. The Jester was a struggling actor who used weapons fashioned after gags and novelties, like exploding yoyos and fake hands and stuff. Really, he never did a whole lot of anything, but he was a very cool recurring villain who eventually was possessed by a demon that was summoned by a Ninja which is pretty damn awesome.

The Jester was really the last of Daredevil's nemeses who was introduced in the sixties, after which there was a long period of retreading older villains. The seventies introduced several major villains into Daredevil's life, two of which in particular warrant their own article. Tune in Wednesday, when I will discuss Kingpin and Bullseye, along with several more of Daredevil's latter day rogues.