This is the oldest comic from my collection that I have readily available, and as soon as you open it, you know that you’re in a totally different era of comics. This story actually flowed from Smilin’ Stan Lee himself, which means we’re going to see humor and humanity. Let’s begin the journey.
We open with The Jester, wearing a Venetian mask, breaking into a jewelery store. His big downfall is vanity, as he is in love with his own brilliance: he has used a tiny robot to do his dirty work, thus he is easily able to evade the security system. All of this is communicated in one panel. This is economy story-telling at its best.
Turn the page:
We get an awesome, dynamic set of panels that are like tiny spash pages. They communicate the action clearly and dramatically. The Jester’s self-narration of the sense of sound is slightly campy, but it works with the villian nicely.
The Jester’s tiny emissary nabs the jewels, but the robbery is foiled after its completion. The cops arrive and the Jester escapes by lobbing the stolen jewels (inside a briefcase) at the policemen. The Jester makes good his escape, proud that he was able to get the jewels. It seems like his mindset is that the actual process of commiting the theft is what he loves. Getting past the security system and getting the jewels in habd were enough for him, so he views this as a success.
Very pragmatic approach for a masked villian.
We shoot across town to find Daredevil swinging above the city streets, bemoaning breaking up with a girl named Karen. Apparently, he didn’t think that being a masked vigilante wouldn’t be condusive to a good family life. I’d agree with him. He is upset because he broke her heart, and wonders if he made the right decision. Then, in the words of Stan Lee “Soap Opera time’s over” and we arrive at the police station on the next morning.
Jonathan Powers, a mostly failed Broadway performer is at the precinct wearing a purple suit that would make the Joker cringe. If you hadn’t considered that The Jester is the bastard child of Toyman and The Joker and was subsequently banished to the Marvel dimension, now’s the time that you should.
Jonathan makes an announcement that he intends to reveal Daredevil’s secret identity at midnight on the George Washington bridge. No one’s sure if it is a publicity stunt, but everyone takes it seriously: they don’t want to miss out if it is the real deal. Daredevil suits up after hearing the news of Powers’ announcement on the radio.
As Daredevil embarks on the journey over to the bridge, Jonathan is in a small submarine. He intends to fake his own death so that Jonathan Powers would cease to exist, and thus only The Jester would remain. Jonathan scales the bridge and prepares for Daredevil’s arrival. Promptly, Daredevil appears before the crowd gathers. Evidently, he runs on geek time.
Jonathan yells for help, and Daredevil unwittingly comes to his aid. Jonathan pretends to be teetering on the edge of the bridge, and Daredevil tries to give him a hand. However, Jonathan seems to be resisting rescue. Soon, the rescue devolves into a brawl once Daredevil recognizes that Powers’ voice is the same as the Jester’s, who he had fought in the past.
When the crowd arrives, Daredevil is kicking the crap out of Jonathan Powers. The crowd instantly assume that he’s trying to fill the failed performer’s big mouth with a knuckle sandwich. Soon after, Powers takes a dive off the bridge, framing Daredevil for his murder. The police present try to halt Daredevil’s escape, but he is too swift.
Suddenly, Daredevil is Spider-Man.
Back at Daredevil’s day-job, where he is Matt Murdoch, we find his law partner Foggy Nelson in a rage. First he is pissed that Daredevil is a murderer, then his rage is compounded when he sees footage of his fiancee, Debbie, at a protest rally.
When Debbie arrives at the office, Foggy gives her a piece of his mind: he is running for District Attorney, and he claims that her liberal politics will ruin his election. Debbie stands up for herself, no thanks to Matt, who arrives halfway through the fight. Foggy entreats him to “drum some sense into her” and Matt responds saying “How can you expect her to be sesible? She’s a female!”
Yes folks, this comic is a product of its time. It portrays a liberated woman in a fair light, but then shows how even a sensible male that swings around from a billy club while wearing red tights can still have a skewed point of view. I inferred that Matt was being jocular, but I know that not everyone would read it that way.
Anyhow, the conversation ends when Matt plays the single-guy card, saying that Foggy’s lucky and that, “I wish the girl I love were MY fiancee”! We segway to The Jester in fantastic Stan Lee fashion: “But since our hero can’t have the one he loves, let’s visit a cat who HATES him”.
The Jester has taken over a TV station and calls out Daredevil. Daredevil, kind of foolishly, takes the bait and finds that The Jester is well prepared for a fight. He throws a box of exploding, gas-filled popcorn at Daredevil, flooring him before a scuffle breaks out. Police arrive, and The Jester hands Daredevil over to their care. End of issue.
Overall, it was good, basic comicbook fare. The story wasn’t overly complex, but it was well-paced and kept you involved. I was particularly impressed with how clearly I could hear Stan Lee’s voice as I read his narrative text. I could hear his excited speech in every yellow box.
Speaking of yellow boxes, there was one in the Bullpen Bulletins section. Firstly, in case you don’t know, Bullpen Bulletins was the section where they hyped up-coming comics and informed the readership of various goings-on. Think of it as a printed website. Anyways, they usually have some sort of editorial piece, and this particular one dealt with the Vietnam War.
More or less, it was Stan stating the overall Marvel staff opinion of the war, civil rights, the war on poverty, and the upcoming elections. Stan simply said that the staff all had different opinions of most of the topics, just like any other cross-section of America. However, the one thing they were united about was:
“We believe that man has a divine destiny, and an awesome responsiblity – the responsibility of treating all who share this wonderful world of ours with tolerence and respect – judging each fellow human on his own merit, regardless of race, creed, or color. That we agree on – and we’ll never rest until it becomes a fact rather than just a cherished dream!” – Stan Lee
You can see this belief in almost all the Marvel Comics that Stan Lee had his hands on. If nothing else, having a body of work that espouses these beliefs is a great gift to our culture. Once in a while, it makes me consider what the responsibity a writer has, and what my legacy will be one day.