Daredevil and the Man He Feared (and Those He Didn't), Up for Auction

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It's probably been about 20 years or so since I've read the early Marvel Daredevil run, and doing so again in preparation for this post has given me a renewed appreciation for their importance and place in the Marvel Universe.  With the Marvel line already developing its share of global concerns and even cosmic menaces by 1964, the series conveyed a street-level perspective in a way that even Spider-Man could not.  The notion that characters ranging from the Owl (Daredevil #3) to the Sub-Mariner (Daredevil #7) sometimes needed a lawyer provided the Marvel Universe with the kind of reality check that it has always needed, for example. And when you look closely enough, you'll see that these stories are reflective of the real concerns of their moment in time.  There's a very nice assortment of early, high-grade issues of Daredevil up for auction in this week's 2021 July 11-12 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122128 from Heritage Auctions.

Cover details from Daredevil issues #6, 7 and 16 (Marvel, 1964/65).
Cover details from Daredevil issues #6, 7 and 16 (Marvel, 1964/66).

Like most early Marvel series, Daredevil pitted the Man Without Fear against a wide variety of antagonists from legendarily powerful to those who have been nearly forgotten. Typically, artists like Wally Wood, Bill Everett and Joe Orlando were well capable of making ordinary characters extraordinary.  For every antagonist like the Sub-Mariner and Spider-Man (Daredevil #16 and #17) from these early issues, there's also the likes of Stilt Man (Daredevil #8) whose debut I still remember vividly from reading Daredevil back issues as a kid.

Re-reading these issues, I'm struck by what a perfect foe that Mr. Fear was for the Man Without Fear in Daredevil #6, which hit the newsstands in December 1964.  The character utilized his "Fear Gas" to make any enemy he happened to tangle with afraid. It seems such an obvious fit for Daredevil that I'm very surprised to find that there just might be a little more to it than that.

Notably, Mr. Fear's Fear Gas predates the DC Comics character Scarecrow's usage of his similar Fear Toxin or gas by about two years.  That character would also have faded into obscurity by the time of Daredevil #8, having only appeared twice during the Golden Age, the last time in 1943 (Detective Comics #73).

But the tidbit from Daredevil #8 that made me even bother to dig into Mr. Fear is Stan Lee's blurb on the title page of that issue:

Remember "The Purple Man" in D.D. #4? Well, we have a hunch that this month's villain will remind you of him in some ways! But, though their methods may be somewhat similar, you'll find find that our "Mr. Fear" is far, far different than you first suspect!

It wouldn't necessarily have occurred to me that the Purple Man from Daredevil #4 was particularly similar to Mr. Fear.  The Purple Man was a spy for a foreign power who broke into an Army Ordnance depot in an attempt to steal a "strange purple nerve gas". He was accidentally doused with the nerve gas, and subsequently found that he could "command men's wills."  On the other hand, Mr Fear had been a sculptor and model maker who was trying to find a way to bring his models to life when he accidentally created his Fear Gas and discovered its effects. As an aside to the point at hand, it's worth noting that the most famous nerve gas, VX nerve agent, had a Rainbow Code designation as "Purple Possum."

So the common theme here is the usage (and even the weaponization) of mind control or mind-altering chemicals, which was indeed a matter of great public concern in exactly this era.

While the notion of something called Fear Gas seems obvious in the context of such times, the history of the period takes another weird turn on that point.  As it turns out, Daredevil #8 was far from the only place that something called "Fear Gas" showed up in fictional stories in late 1964. Two television shows which aired just one week apart late that year also featured Fear Gas as a plot point: Episode 3 of Man from U.N.C.L.E., which aired October 6, 1964 and the episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea which aired September 28, 1964.  While the timeline is a little tight, we know that Stan was a big fan of Man from U.N.C.L.E., so that was likely the inspiration for the usage of Fear Gas for a Daredevil villain.  As for the coincidence of two TV shows using Fear Gas just one week apart, perhaps we'll circle back around on that at a later date, though one suspects that this too is a historically interesting story.

An underrated series with a fascinating history behind it, there's a very nice assortment of early, high-grade issues of Daredevil up for auction in this week's 2021 July 11-12 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122128 from Heritage Auctions.

 

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About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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