Issue(s): Daredevil #120, Daredevil #121, Daredevil #122, Daredevil #123
Tony Isabella was supposed to be the regular writer for Daredevil but it turns out that he only wrote last issue and the four parts of this Hydra story. I'm kind of disappointed by that. I almost don't have an opinion of Tony Isabella's writing; if you look at his career at Marvel he's barely on any title long enough for you to form an opinion (for example, after he gets bumped from this title, he moves to Captain America only to get bumped a few issues later by the return of Jack Kirby). But these issues show a lot of potential. I joked a little last issue about the fact that Isabella had re-read his Daredevil comics to prepare him for his writing assignment, but both last issue and this arc show that he really did put in a lot of research, and he puts it to good use. Issues #120-121 also replace the lettercols with a two-part essay about the history of Hydra, referencing even their origins in the obscure Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders, and coming up with an interesting theory about different branches of Hydra and which versions appeared in which comics. He also has some comments about some of their more "uninspired" and "ludicrous" endeavors. Isabella sets up Hydra as a significant threat in these issues and i imagine he might have explored more of the background he developed in the text piece in future issues. I never thought of Isabella as a continuity guy in the Thomas/Englehart/Gruenwald tradition but from these issues he definitely comes off that way.
Isabella also surprises me with some decent handling of the Black Widow in these issues.
I haven't been counting but it feels to me like the Black Widow has been brought back just to break up with Daredevil again like three times now. But i do think there's value in doing it this time, the way that Isabella does. Because it's not just another "i love you, i love you not"; the Black Widow is making an active decision to not be the book's sidekick character. At least one letter writer considers the treatment of the Black Widow here to be sexist, stating that the Black Widow has been married before and is no shrinking violet, so she should be able to assert herself, not get overwhelmed by Daredevil's personality, and be a true co-star. But for whatever reason, that was not happening. Even this arc starts with the Widow having to be rescued by Daredevil and her chaffeur Ivan while fighting run of the mill airline terrorists. So it makes more sense to let her see that and bow out with dignity. This allows us to see her departure as a positive step towards the Widow asserting her independence as a potential lead character instead of just being a failed romance for Daredevil.
The Black Widow's final decision and departure doesn't happen until after this arc is over, giving Daredevil plenty of time to demonstrate what a jerk he is.
He brings the Widow to a party, not telling her that it's hosted by Foggy Nelson, who the Widow knows as the District Attorney that tried her on a trumped up murder charge. Foggy tries to break the ice in a way that probably would have gotten him killed if it wasn't for the attack by Hydra.
This Hydra squad is being led by by a new villain. One characteristic of Isabella's that i did have an opinion of prior to these issues is his willingness to try and write in a way a little more reflective of real life 1970s America. That results in a lot of cringeworthy dialogue, like the "Shoot! He ain't nothin' but a jive cop in long johns" line i called out last issue, but it does show Isabella trying to add more realistic dialogue. In this arc that means the inclusion of a new Latino villain called El Jaguar (that translates to "the Jaguar" in case you don't know Spanish). At least i assume he's Latino. He's said to be "Spanish", but jaguars are from the Americas.
The only problem with El Jaguar is that everything about him is awful.
From his lack of shirt to his cheetah print pants (i know, it's jaguar print) to his absurd medallion to his adorable kitty mittens to his need to pepper every line of dialogue with Amigos! and Carembas!, he's just terrible. Regular letter writer Dean Mullaney calls him "about as interesting as Kraven's third cousin", but that barely breaks the surface of this Scourge-bait villain.
He nonetheless manages to knock out Black Widow immediately, requiring her to be rescued by Daredevil, which he does by - ha ha! - grabbing his ridiculous medallion and throwing him around. Then SHIELD shows up.
We find out that Hydra attacked because they were after Foggy Nelson, and SHIELD wants him too. In fact, they want him to join.
It's not quite as awesome as it sounds. A decision has been made that SHIELD will no longer report directly to the president (er, i thought they were an international organization but i can never keep track) and instead they're going to report to a five-man (not "person") board of directors chosen from various areas of public service, and Foggy is one of the nominees.
After the initial excitement dies down, Daredevil and Black Widow leave to do some hard core "play for keeps" training, the idea being if they're going to wind up with a broken bone, better to do it during a training session than while fighting a supervillain.
Meanwhile we check in with Hydra and find that the current Supreme Hydra has the most awesome hat and chair combo that we've seen in a long while.
Supreme Hydra has also brought back the division wheel, first seen in Strange Tales #138. The problem with the first wheel was that it was hard to recruit soldiers into some of the divisions. No one wants to be in Beaver or Camel group, for example. So the new Supreme has instead placed super-villains in charge of each division.
This is a good move, and a long time coming. There's no reason why Hydra shouldn't recruit a ton of super-villains to deal with the constant attacks by superheroes that they deal with. The villains used here may seem a little lame, but there's actually a decent mix of classic and current. Mentallo and the Fixer were originally Hydra agents (sort of - see comments), and of course the Dreadnaught was as well, if you count him as a person. Then we have Man-Killer, Blackwing, and El Jaguar, all relatively new characters (Man-Killer debuted in 1973 but only had that one appearance so far) that could use the exposure. Balancing it out is Kraken, who of course sucks, but his only job is to drive the submarine. There's also Jackhammer, someone we haven't met yet. Of the two positions not clearly shown, Isabella's Hydra text piece says that a new villain called the Fox is in charge of the Administration division and an unknown agent is running Supply (See? They still can't get anyone to go into Camel).
Hydra makes another attempt on Foggy, releasing the "little engines of destruction" known as Hydra-pillers (and watch the trail of footnotes)...
...and the Dreadnaught.
Daredevil and the Black Widow have a lot of trouble fighting the Dreadnaught.
I'm not really sure what the effect of "an X-ray machine with a mad-on" would be except maybe cancer 10 years down the line. Also not sure about that "Morris Silverman" chatter.
Foggy surrenders himself to prevent the Widow from being killed.
Good for Foggy, and i like the way it increases the Black Widow's resolve.
That said, issue #122 opens with squabbling between Daredevil and the Widow.
DD doesn't want Natasha to be involved in the fight any more, for her safety. It really is incredible how quickly he reverts to chauvinistic form, despite having partnered with her for almost 40 issues and despite her explicitly telling him that she's going to leave if she keeps having to play second fiddle.
Oh wait. Wait wait wait. Sorry, issue #122 actually opens with a montage scene of SHIELD fighting Hydra at various locations, and i can't pass up this scan.
Ok, now back to our regularly scheduled soap opera, already in progress. Daredevil is supposedly trying to keep the Widow from going after Foggy because he's found out that Blackwing is the one holding him. And he knows how dangerous Blackwing can be, from that time a few issues ago, in Daredevil #118, when the two characters absolutely didn't fight at all.
By the way, the guy with that grey mustache in the image above is Dum Dum Dugan. His hair will be colored grey throughout this arc. It makes sense for a guy that was already one of the older Howlers during World War II, but i guess he goes back to dying it orange after this story.
Daredevil and the Black Widow do make up soon after this fight, in a bit of dialogue that i actually think is pretty good.
Before going to rescue Foggy, they stop to talk to Foggy's fiancee Debbie Harris and Foggy's sister Candace. A little bit of a romance had been developing between Daredevil and Candace, and i think Isabella uses that as a foil for DD's relationship with the Widow pretty well too.
I often have trouble distinguishing between Daredevil's macho bullshit as a character versus basic chauvinism by the writers (and so did the readers and writers at the time; see the letters and responses in Daredevil #95), but Isabella seems to be pushing us through a familiar trope specifically to get past it with these scenes.
Meanwhile, we get a hint that the current Supreme Hydra might be someone that we already know. Note the "accursed" adjective he reserves for Spider-Man.
He's also very old looking, something that manages to be both a clue and a red herring at the same time.
The fight against Blackwing allows him to demonstrate that he doesn't just have trained bats, he has trained trick bats. Bats that are super-strong...
...and bats that are super-big.
Daredevil is forced to break from his strict moral code of never killing giant mutated bats.
Meanwhile, Black Widow gets a rematch with El Jaguar and does a little better.
Daredevil loses to Blackwing, and it's revealed that the Supreme Hydra is Silvermane and Blackwing is his son (no, he's not just speaking figuratively when he says "My son").
Black Widow nearly manages to sneak up behind Blackwing and take him out, but she's stopped by Man-Killer, who has added an extra set of abs to her armored vest.
Man-Killer has not backed away at all from the hyper-"feminism" of her first appearance.
With all the good guys down, it's time to send in the calvary in the form of Dum Dum Dugan, Val Fontaine, and Ivan.
Hydra is based in a secret area underneath Shea Stadium, which you may recall was the location of the battle with the Circus of Crime during Blackwing's first appearance. In fact, it's explained that Blackwing only joined the Circus to keep them from learning about the underground base, and that's why he didn't actually participate in the battle when Daredevil showed up. Surely not Gerry Conway's intention when he wrote that issue and it doesn't make a ton of sense when you think about it (the Circus was only there as part of a televised event; they were less likely to stumble upon a Hydra base hidden beneath it than the janitors), but at least it addresses Blackwing's non-participation in that fight.
As for Silvermane, it turns out that he "snapped back" "like a rubberband" after de-aging into non-existence in his last appearance.
In fact, he's not even old anymore! He was just wearing a rubber mask to help readers guess who he was.
When SHIELD and Ivan get to the Hydra base, Silvermane triggers an explosion, seemingly killing them. This prompts Foggy to move into action. Wow, dude. Maybe you should be an agent of SHIELD. I'm most impressed with your ability to use a machine gun with such precision that you can blast off the Widow's chains without hurting her.
It also turns out that the SHIELD agents that we thought were killed were actually just LMDs. So things are looking up for the heroes. But that's without factoring in the new villain, Jackhammer.
Yeah, ok. So things are looking up, full stop. My only complaint is that Daredevil doesn't grab him by that convenient handle he's wearing on his head the way he tossed El Jaguar by his amulet. Daredevil is actually too busy beating himself up over his treatment of the Widow.
So i'll have to console myself with Dum Dum Dugan tossing around El Jaguar like he's yesterday's garbage.
The Dreadnaught is beaten thanks to a weakness built into the back of its head. Man-Killer is stopped with a SHIELD gadget that disables her exo-skeleton, and as far as i can tell Mentallo just decides it's time for a nap.
Silvermane and Blackwing manage to flee to the awaiting Commander Kraken, vowing to rebuild Hydra and attack again.
Kind of insane but also a lot of fun. A lot of lame villains, but you put a lot of lame villains together on a team and you potentially have something, and it almost works here. I think if Isabella had been able to stay on this (or any!) title a little longer, he might have worked out some of the rough spots. I'd also like to see a stronger artist than Bob Brown, although i know he was co-plotting. But it's a story that makes full use of Marvel's history while also attempting to raise the profile of some lesser underdeveloped characters. Add to that a deliberate attempt to avoid the worst aspects of the Daredevil/Black Widow relationship from past issues (we'll see the culmination of Isabella's efforts next issue, which is not written by him) and you've got a decent story here.
Here is Isabella's text piece on Hydra. As Michael notes in the comments, one major thing it does is write off the Red Skull's claims in Captain America #148 about having always been behind Hydra, saying instead that what the Skull was in control of was a separate branch that was never part of the main organization.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 161,190. Single issue closest to filing date = 172,475.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: I'm following the MCP in listing the Dreadnaught appearing here as the Dreadnaught as opposed to a Dreadnaught. Fixer and the new Fox never actually appear in this story, so i am not listing them as Characters Appearing (even though i'd love to be able to list this as another instance of the Mentallo & the Fixer partnership). Kraken doesn't appear either but he's said to be sitting outside in the getaway submarine so i'm counting that.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (4): showBlack Widow, Blackwing, Candace Nelson, Contessa Valentina Allegro De La Fontaine, Daredevil, Debbie Harris, Dreadnaught, Dum Dum Dugan LMD, El Jaguar, Foggy Nelson, Ivan Petrovitch, Jackhammer, Kraken, Man-Killer, Mentallo, Nick Fury, Silvermane
I'm pretty sure the Handbook (Deluxe Edition) said that the Fox from these issues was the Fox from Strange Tales Annual #2. Don't know if that's no longer continuity?
Posted by: James M | February 9, 2015 5:59 PM
Ah, thanks for that, James. Isabella's text piece lists the Fox as having "past unknown" as opposed to all the other characters that have had previous appearances. But for the Deluxe Handbook under the Hydra entry they do show the villain from Strange Tales. So it probably wasn't Isabella's intention but it was a good call by the Handbook authors. It would have been a good use of the character.
The Marvel Appendix has more.
He's still at best behind the scenes here, like Fixer, so i'm not listing him as Character Appearing.
Posted by: fnord12 | February 9, 2015 6:14 PM
One of the main purposes of the text pages was to explain away the "Red Skull founded Hydra" retcon in Captain America 145-148.
Posted by: Michael | February 9, 2015 8:33 PM
The Supply Division Chief's name begins with "Th" and he clearly has some kind of mask. I'm guessing he's an obscure Silver Age villain Tony found.
I'm not sure why the Dreadnought is listed as Heavy Weapons Division Chief--it's a programmed robot, and would actually be a heavy weapon.
"Him! He's far stronger than..." Uh, what?
I suspect "Neither Do I--Len" is an outright Jab at Tony rather than a joke. Tony's mentioned on his blog several times that he had, uh, difficulties with Len as EIC.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 10, 2015 2:56 AM
I've said it before but I'm gonna say it again. Do all pre-Frank Miller Daredevil foes just suck? At first I thought El Jaguar was just Kraven in a new outfit, but no, he's just another terrible DD villain.
Posted by: Erik Beck | March 8, 2015 12:55 PM
My fan fix for why Silvermane would be worried about the Circus of Crime stumbling on his base: Princess Python was working for another sometime wannabe Hydra leader, Viper, during the Serpent Squad affair. He had wanted Blackwing to make sure the circus wasnt being used by Viper as a front for uncovering his operation.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | April 14, 2015 1:09 AM
@Walter: Wow, my phrase (from my blog) has now entered the cultural zeitgeist:)
Posted by: Nathan Adler | April 14, 2015 4:54 AM
EL Jaguar has since moved forward in his Sidartha-esque journey to form an all Male dance troop entertaining middle aged Tupperware party throwers in need of hormonal stimulation
Posted by: RocknRollguitarplayer | May 30, 2016 1:00 AM
Mentallo and the Fixer were originally Hydra agents...
I thought they were S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
Also, maybe I'm too spoiled by "modern" sensibilities, but I can't ever imagine Daredevil acting that way, even "back then." I could see maybe Reed Richards or Tony Stark behaving like that, but I can't really see Matt doing it.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | October 23, 2016 1:36 AM
Mentallo's origin involves him joining SHIELD under false pretenses in order to try to take over, but they caught on to him and he fled. Fixer was never a SHIELD agent.
My claim that they were both originally Hydra agents is actually kind of tenuous, though. The Fixer's early connection to Hydra was established in Thunderbolts #-1, and Mentallo's per the identification of him being in the flashback scene in Marvel Spotlight #32. Neither of those had been published at this point, though.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 24, 2016 1:35 PM
This issue appears to be the first appearance of Daredevil's brownstone building home, the one the Kingpin blows up about a 100 issues from now.
Posted by: Rick | November 4, 2016 1:54 PM
"The way Natasha’s looking at us--it’s as if she were asking a question--" How can he tell that?
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | February 10, 2017 3:35 AM
@ Rick - Daredevil's brownstone apartment was shown at least as early as Daredevil #8. He actually had two apartments, one rented under his own name, plus a secret apartment directly underneath, which he rented under some unspecified assumed name. His hidden soundproofed gym and secret lab were in the hidden apartment, and he had a secret stairway leading down to it, hidden behind a sliding bookshelf upstairs. I think he might have eventually quit renting and bought the whole building, but I'm unsure on that last point. In DD #8 he was definitely said to be renting it, by the omniscient narrator. I assume he did all the work himself, using the same tinkering skills he used to gimmick up his cool combination blindman's cane / billy club / grappling cable device.
Posted by: Holt | February 12, 2018 10:06 PM
Comments are now closed.
|SuperMegaMonkey home | Comics Chronology home|