Or – “You May Not Have Realized That Matt Murdock Wasn’t The First…”

The debut of Superman in 1938 led to a virtual flood of superhero pretenders, from Captain America to Captain Zephyr, most of whom were little more than a (Captain) flash-in-the-pan.  Not so, Daredevil, who headlined his own book for most of a decade and darn near made it through to the Silver Age.  You may have seen him floating about (AC Comics, Dynamite Entertainment and Erik Larsen have all revived him in recent years), but you’ve never seen him quite like this…

DAREDEVIL BATTLES HITLER #1
Writer: Charles Biro/Bob Davis
Artist: Charles Biro/Jack Cole/Bob Davis
Colorist: Uncredited
Letterer: Uncredited
Editor: Bob Wood/Charles Biro
Publisher: Lev Gleason Publishing
Cover Price: 10 Cents (Current Near-Mint Pricing: $20,000)

Previously, on Daredevil Comics: Lev Gleason Publications was named after its founder Leverett Gleason, and was primarily known for creating the concept of the crime comic, thanks to it’s cornerstone title ‘Crime Does Not Pay.’  But their other major hit came in the form of Daredevil, a character who was one of the most high-profile superheroes in the spandex storm that was the Golden Age of comics.  Known for his boomerang, his bi-color uniform and his pals The Little Wise Guys, Daredevil went though a number of different origins and setups in his time, and outlasted most of his peers, appearing well into 1950.  (His book actually went several years longer, starring the Little Wise Guys in comedic adventures.)  But all of that is in the relative future here.  By 1941, his few backup appearances in Silver Streak Comics led DD to get his own one-shot, a comic that takes the lead of Captain America Comics #1 a few weeks earlier and ups the ante in a very real way…

Daredevil, aka Bart Hill, starts this issue deep in enemy territory, seeking out the head of the Third Reich himself!  (If you’re not a history buff, please note that July 1941 is a full six months before America entered World War II.)  Daredevil’s skills apparently include mastery of disguise and the German language, as he waltzes right into the Fuhrer’s stronghold and punches Hitler innaface!

I apologize for the quality of my copy of this issue, as I have an ancient microfiche copy of a book that was probably in tatters by the time it was photographed…  There’s a lot of open mockery of Hitler, from his using a crystal ball to decide on strategy to his silly mustache, showing that the writer (believed to be Charles Biro, the creator of Airboy and Crime Does Not Pay) was somewhat ahead of his time.  Returning to England, DD hooks up with not only Winston Churchill, but his former co-star, the Silver Streak.

It’s also interesting to watch Silver Streak getting the rub from a character who used to be nothing more than his backup…  After only a few months of battling the Claw, Daredevil had already become the breakout star, Lev Gleason’s own Spider-Man.  After hearing the plan for a blitzkrieg on Britain, Daredevil and the Streak go into battle with the British fleet…

Golden Age Comics are full of these kind of moments, where our heroes take up arms in wartime and slaughter enemy troops (Captain America machine-gunned more than a few soldiers in his time) and it’s always a little jarring to read in a modern context.  But amazingly, after all the shooting and the sinking and the glayvin (as well as 40’s-era mockery of the Nazi upper-management), the first story ends with a remarkable touch…

Seeing Biro write a sympathetic German citizen (and implying the existence of many more) the story goes further than your average propaganda tale, refusing to dehumanize an entire nation as a horde of butchers.  Our second tale features Hitler realizing that fighting heroes is beyond him, causing him to team up with Daredevil’s nemesis The Claw to stop the hero cold.  Again, the fuhrer’s ego is played up, as the twosome takes the battle to the Pacific, only to be stymied by Daredevil again…

I laughed at that last panel for about five minutes because the phrasing implies that Adolf and The Claw will be having children with one another, which really cracks me up for no reason at all.  Daredevil continues his trip around the world with a visit to Africa, joining forces with jungle-man Lance Hale to take on Axis forces there, getting in his SECOND punch on the leader of the Nazis before adding insult to injury…

For those keeping Joe Bob Totals, that’s haymaker #3 for the Austrian paper-hanger, and the Germans are forced to retreat from at least Lance Hale’s portion of the jungle.  I’m also happy to report a complete lack of insulting stereotypical African characters in this story, making a second victory for what we might call political correctness in a seventy-year-old comic book.  Hitler isn’t the only Nazi official to take his lumps in this book, either, as Josef Goebbels (the Nazi minister of propaganda) gets beaten not only by Daredevil, but by Dicky Dale: Boy Scientist!

And things don’t get any better for Herman Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe (Air Force), as Daredevil leaps out of a plane in MID-FLIGHT, wing-walking up to Goering in order to give him his own Daredevil Punchinnaface (Patent pending, collect ’em all!)

Not content to just physically assault Goering, Daredevil (with guest star ‘Cloud’ Curtis) outfly him, causing the former flying ace to crash-land into pig-feces, destroying both his reputation and his dignity at the same time…

It’s a weirdly aware comic, even given Biro’s tendency to throw everything but the kitchen sink into his plots and taking each wild scene to it’s inevitable conclusion.  The use of real public figures is interesting, leading to an interesting moment as Daredevil’s next target is Diether Von Roeder, an admiral whom I think died in World War I.

Daredevil kicks his @$$ anyway, time-paradox be damned!  The issue ends with a relatively factual retelling of Hitler’s history and rise to power, with the clear message being a call to arms for the United States to enter World War II.  The art (by Bob Davis, a name I only know from the backup stories in ‘Blue Bolt’) is really awesome/disturbing all at once, making the story particularly effective…

Golden Age anthology titles tend to be a mixed bag, but this issue is strong across the board (probably due to being mostly written by Biro) and the art is more consistent than I usually expect from a Golden Age book.  This issue was really designed to be a one-shot, but a number of elements (including the popularity of the character and a sudden opening at the printing house) caused Daredevil #2 to be assembled over a SINGLE WEEKEND by Biro and a group of his fellows, starting the ongoing series that would last over 150 episodes, outlasting Captain America, All-Star Comics, and pretty much every superhero that isn’t Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman.  Daredevil was also the inspiration for many heroes to come, lending his name to Matt Murdock’s identity, inspiring Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt from Charlton Comics (who in turn inspired Watchmen’s Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias) as well as turning up pretty much everywhere after entering the public domain.  Daredevil Comics #1 is beginning of a fifteen-year run that is sadly forgotten in this day and age, and still holds up 7 decades down the road, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★★

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: What is it about these Golden Age stories that the creators can never seem to replicate in modern comics?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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4 Comments

  1. Antonio Sanciolo
    June 27, 2011 at 12:29 am — Reply

    I want a spin-off titled “Hitler’s Chum, Mars”!

  2. June 27, 2011 at 7:05 am — Reply

    Unabashed fun. They don’t involve complex stories or character arcs. It’s about heroes doing what we wish(ed) we could do.

  3. TaZ
    June 27, 2011 at 10:01 am — Reply

    One of my favorite Golden Age heroes. I believe that the modern appearances call him the “Death-Defying Devil” since horn-head’s now trademarked by Marvel.

    • June 28, 2011 at 7:30 am — Reply

      One of my favorite Golden Age heroes. I believe that the modern appearances call him the “Death-Defying Devil” since horn-head’s now trademarked by Marvel.

      That’s the Dynamite version. AC Comics calls him RedDevil, whereas Erik Larsen uses him in Savage Dragon and just calls him ‘Daredevil.’

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