Essential Daredevil volume 2 by Stan Lee and Gene Colan

This is mainly worth having for Colan’s lovely art. He doesn’t do the most dynamic and powerful action scenes, but he draws beautifully, and the quiet scenes are an absolute joy – although the inking in here is pretty undistinguished, so if what you want is great Colan art, you’re better off going for Essential Tomb Of Dracula 1+2, where he is mostly inked by the wonderful Tom Palmer.

But Daredevil is an interesting case study when assessing Stan Lee. Pretty much all of his other major work is with the world’s greatest superhero artists, who were also writers; Colan wasn’t a writer, so Lee is left to his own devices here, having to create all of the storylines and villains and so on all by himself. The stories here are pretty weak, especially the long-running one where Matt creates a groovy twin brother for himself to cover his secret identity – and no one ever seems to ask why Matt and Mike Murdock are never seen together. But an even more emphatic difference between this and Spidey, the Fantastic Four and so on is in DD’s foes. While the Ditko and especially Kirby titles got a great, memorable villain, who has stayed a major character for forty years, pretty much every other issue, Daredevil fought the feeblest and most unimaginative series of enemies any major comic has ever seen: Leapfrog (a man in a frog costume who can jump high), Frog-Man (another frog suit, less jumping, more swimming), Ape-Man (gorilla suit, strong), Cat-Man (cat suit, agile), Bird-Man (bird suit, flies), the Owl (looks a bit owly, also flies), the Matador (he’s a matador)… I’m not making these up. Stilt-Man (he has stilts) was probably the best of the megalame bunch, bar the odd second-rater borrowed from other superheroes (Mr Hyde, the Cobra, the Beetle, Trapster, Electro), and a dreadful Dr Doom tale, which shows how little grasp Lee has of this great character.

It’s impossible to read this and believe that Lee had anything much to do with creating all those great FF (etc.) tales and characters. Having said all this, the style is here, and I think that was a very important factor in Marvel’s success, all the groovy, palsy, swinging language that he added to all their titles, giving a consistency and a feel like nothing before them, making an audience feel special and part of it all. This contribution shouldn’t be understated – but it’s hard to stay balanced when Lee claims so much credit that plainly isn’t his.