Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rumble On The Rooftops

A comic book reader's delight about seeing two heroes slug it out with each other must say something about the human race--some message in there that we ought to be paying more attention to. Something like, "We don't care who's fighting--we just want to see a good fight!"  I'm shamed to admit I'm one of those bloodthirsty people--at least where comic books are concerned. The "who's stronger?" argument can come later--I just want to see the battle.  And when it comes to a superhero battle, I want to see both contestants be in peak condition and give it all they've got.

One of the earliest such battles in Marvel comics was actually a pretty good one--the matchup between Spider-Man and Daredevil. Spider-sense against radar sense. Billy club against web shooters. Spider-strength against--well, regular gym workouts. These two in battle, despite only one of them being able to pick up a car and hurl it, obviously made for good sales for the Daredevil title--and it made far more sense to hold the fight in Daredevil's mag, since he was the underdog.

Though the proper venue was chosen only after their first fight was held in Amazing Spider-Man #16:

Despite their meeting being so strongly billed on the cover, the issue simply had Spider-Man being hypnotized by the Ringmaster and commanded to battle Daredevil, who was trying to stop the Ringmaster's Circus of Crime during a heist. So the fight wasn't really no-holds-barred; it was also fairly brief, because Daredevil soon found a way to break the hypnosis and the two then joined forces to take down the Ringmaster. "The Tussle Under The Big Top," I suppose you could call it.  Pfah.

Well, get ready to rumble, kids, because in Daredevil #16 we get the real thing:

(Note the similarity in issue numbers?)

Thanks to the Masked Marauder, who is setting up a big heist, Spider-Man is pissed and gunning for Daredevil because the Marauder has been sending out Daredevil impostors to make hit-and-run attacks against Spider-Man, in order to have Spider-Man wrongly blame the real Daredevil and thus keep the two heroes distracted and out of his way while he commits a carefully planned crime. It's a classic "mistaken identity" approach by Marvel--two heroes engage in battle with each other under false pretenses, before finally coming to their senses and teaming up to nab the bad guy. We saw that on a very limited scale in the previous meeting between Spidey and DD--but this time, the fight spans two issues. Even more surprising, Marvel doesn't gimmick the fight by having it take place only in the second issue. It starts with a serious bang right here, with Spider-Man ready to vent on this elusive jerk:

As you can see, the Marauder's plan for these two is working perfectly. Alerted to the fight by a news bulletin, he puts all of his men and equipment into position and steals the plans for the XB-390 engine--or, as the Marauder puts it, "the newest, most powerful auto engine ever devised--plans which I'll then alter, for my own purposes!" And he knows that not only are Daredevil and Spider-Man out of the way, but also that their fight has drawn the police away from the area where the plans he's interested in are located.

Unlike their previous meeting in Amazing Spider-Man which was drawn by Steve Ditko, these two issues of Daredevil were drawn by John Romita and inked by Frank Giacoia (who at the time was inking under the name of "Frankie Ray," a name perhaps given later in tribute to a certain herald of Galactus). As a result, you're seeing a more dynamic looking fight than the prior meeting. And there are some interesting differences in Spider-Man's appearance here, vs. later renderings. For one thing, his eye slits are more narrow, showing less white and more black outlining. Also, the web pattern on his costume is more dense. Whether these alterations are due to Giacoia's interpretation is anyone's guess--but I don't recall Romita's work in Spider-Man's own book resembling the character's appearance here. (It's also funny how Spidey's underarm webbing disappears in certain panels for no apparent reason. But that was always its curse.)

Anyway, DD is about to ring the bell on part one of this little rumble:

(I was wondering if Spidey was ever going to remember that he carried webbing, weren't you?)

So we know Marvel isn't going to leave us hanging like this. Spider-Man trussed up by billy club wire is no way to end a fight. Fortunately, the rest of this issue serves as a build-up to their next meeting--both Daredevil and Spider-Man discover the circumstances of the Marauder's plan, leaving each wondering if the other was in league with the Marauder. Which means that--you guessed it--BOTH will be gunning for each other next time. Which is just how shameless, bloodthirsty readers like you and I like it.

Will Spider-Man finally land a solid blow and clean Daredevil's clock? Will Daredevil demonstrate that more bench presses are all he needs to pound Spider-Man into the roof, underarm webbing and all? Tune in next time!

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