Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Daredevil # 196

One of my all-time favorite superheroes is Daredevil.  DD has always had a strong following over the years, much of it having to do with introducing Elektra, international assassin and the forbidden love equivalent of Catwoman (or Talia al' Ghul, for that matter) to Batman.  Anyone who knows me knows I'm a Bat-freak, though I spent most of my younger years trailing Spiderman.  By the time I hooked up with horn-head, my number two comics hero took his place.  Mad love for you, always, Spidey, no worries.  A three spot ain't so bad.

Here's one of the coolest issues in Daredevil history, Volume 1, Number 196 from 1983.  You can tell by the cover alone this has the potential to be one bad mama jama and it is.  Writer Denny O'Neill, one of the all-time greats, conducts a hell of team-up story, "Enemy."  It's impressively self-contained, but "Enemy" marks the rambunctious prelude to a more encompassing plot bearing future explosive ramifications for Matt Murdock.  Naturally.

Back when Daredevil # 196 came out, superhero team-ups and crossovers were a little more special then, since they became a hopeless norm during the make-a-buck nineties.  Sure, Marvel already had Marvel Team-Up featuring Spiderman and a different character or even a full hero unit each month.  That meant you could get Spidey and The Fantastic Four in one story, then the webhead with only The Human Torch some odd time down the road.  Yet when characters jumped trains from their own pages to someone else's like Wolverine did in Daredevil # 196, it hardly felt like a gimmick.  Sadly, a decade later, crossovers were a norm and very much a profit-angled gimmick.

In this story, Wolverine is on the trail of Bullseye, who is seriously injured and about to be transported out of the country to Japan for specialized surgery in seclusion.  Protected by some anonyomous goons, Wolverine is momentarily taken out as he's gassed and shot while attempting to capture Bullseye.  As Wolvie recovers quickly to the awe of his attending physicians, Daredevil enters the picture as he too is keeping tabs on Bullseye.  Thus sets up for an uneasy alliance between Logan and Murdock, and "Enemy" is loaded with biting sarcasm, dark humor and a solid scrum against twenty of Kingpin's hired hands.

At this point in Marvel history, Wolverine was still coming into his own as a brand character, which means he's tougher, mangier and hedonistic in his handiwork.  The clash of ideals between Wolvie and Daredevil becomes the separation point that Denny O'Neill has a field day exploiting between them.  Some of Wolverine's more hilarious banter comes in this issue, such as "Every boy needs a hobby" after Daredevil comments on the former's brutal fighting techniques.  Shortly afterwards, Wolverine nyuks, "Try not to be too harsh on me, bub.  I got a delicate sensibility."

It gets funnier (and subversively ruthless) from this point.  Daredevil # 196 marks the first appearance of Lord Dark Wind, aka Kenji Oyama, a hooded Japanese mastermind who looks like Cobra Commander.  Ironically, there's an advertisement in this issue for a G.I. Joe Atari (Gen X'ers, clue the youngsters about Atari, if you please) video game with ol' snake breath and Duke featured in it.  Dark Wind is credited as developing the fusing of adamantium steel to bone, which of course, ties in to Wolverine.   Wolvie's entrance into Daredevil's world comes from a tip leading to the origin of his famous adamantium skeleton.  Dark Wind (not yet identified by name in this story) hires Kingpin to provide security for the transportation of Bullseye and thus the table is set.

The story throws in the subplot of a dying criminal named Tarkington Brown who receives a call from Wolverine tipping him off to his and Daredevil's upcoming throw down in pursuit of Bullseye.  Brown, who knows Matt Murdock's secret and harbors a major grudge, subsequently sneaks into the big brawl and attempts to shoot Murdock.  Wolverine saves the day by incapacitating Brown.  The reader should insinuate Wolverine has set up this little side drama to gain Daredevil's loyalty, if not his trust. 

Remember, Wolverine was part of a rogue ops team before joining the X-Men, and that sense of unscrupulousness is the crux of his character.  This before being reimagined into a gruff, claw-swinging antihero.  Denny O'Neill brilliantly extracts that nihilistic nuance out of Wolverine in this story as Bullseye is escorted to safety out of the country and Matt Murdock purchases a flight ticket to Japan.  He's already gone through hell with Elektra back in issues 189 and 190 and things aren't gonna get easier in 197 as he meets Yuriko, another figure who will lead Daredevil to the recuperating Bullseye and assured mayhem.

As serious and dark as comic books tend to be in contemporary times, Daredevil # 196 rode the line between the dark and light.  This is a test of mettle for Daredevil as it was for readers back in the day.  "Enemy" is a fun and often hilarious tale with all of the old school comics ethos intact, yet there's a pervading haunt to this tale that indicates comics would soon be losing its innocence at-large.  The Elektra saga changed the game, as did the first-time death of Jean Grey in Uncanny X-Men # 136.   

Glory days, these were.

                Listenin' to:  Johnny Cash - Out Among the Stars

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