Brian’s Comic Book Grab Bag:

Daredevil Volume 1 #336

Last Christmas my brother gave me a booster pack of random, non-sequential issues from a variety of popular comic book titles that syndicated in the late eighties to mid nineties. The nineties was a time of groundbreaking work in the comic community that gave birth to the age of modern comics. Sometimes, not so much. These are snapshots of the industry at its best and worst. This is Brian’s Comic Book Grab Bag.

Daredevil Volume 1 #336
“Resurrection of Duty”
writer: Gregory Wright
penciler: Tom Grindberg
inker: Don Hudson
letterer: Bill Oakley and NJQ

I would have not expected to find a quote from Elinor Wylie to grace the cover page of a Marvel trade paperback. It was little surprise to me however, to find the poem that it is derived from misinterpreted. The Eagle and the Mole was published within one of Wylie’s breakout works, Nets to Catch the Wind, which became her most famous collection of poetry in her short career. The Eagle and the Mole deals with particular social commentary particular to the era, primarily with mob mentality and a suspect awareness to social movements throughout Europe at the time, notably the 1917 October Revolution, marking the birth of modern expressions of communism. Here is the poem in its entirety for your enjoyment:

Avoid the reeking herd,
Shun the polluted flock,
Live like that stoic bird,
The eagle of the rock.

The huddled warmth of crowds
Begets and fosters hate;
He keeps above the clouds
His cliff inviolate.

When flocks are folded warm,
And herds to shelter run,
He sails above the storm,
He stares into the sun.

If in the eagle’s track
Your sinews cannot leap,
Avoid the lathered pack,
Turn from the steaming sheep.

If you would keep your soul
From spotted sight or sound,
Live like the velvet mole:
Go burrow underground.

And there hold intercourse
With roots of trees and stones,
With rivers at their source,
And disembodied bones.

The work was published in October 1921, only four years after the seize of power in Russia, and the fever of social change was fomenting throughout Europe as a result of the inconclusive end to the first World War. As described above, the poem deals with both positivism and cynicism. One can aspire to a greater cause, rising above the wayward, vitriolic masses that react to to change with hostility and uncertainty. Likewise, in response to turmoil and social upheaval, one can “go burrow underground,” avoid change by removing one’s self from society. Wylie’s commentary on the cynical response to change is, I think, misinterpreted in regards to this issue, because the final stanza asserts that, in comparison to the dynamic eagle, the mole finds comfort in irrelevancy, dying a slow death in obscurity. Actually, comparing this moving work of poetry to a serialized, mass distributed, comic book is a bit absurd in and of itself. I don’t believe a homeless community shlepping underground, afraid of the sun is a good contrast. Are Joshua’s transient followers disaffected members of contributing society, driven underground by the absurdity of being numbered among the throngs of nameless articles of statistics and awaiting a slow cynical death? Probably not, but this is a comic book after all.

Anything is possible.

The title of the paperback, Resurrection of Duty, is meaningful to Joshua’s sudden imbuement of responsibility, roused from his self imposed slumber to become the vigilante against injustice, but the event in the comic is hindered by the silly costumed antics that follow. The story, finding out what was going on, was a labor for me. Issue #336 comes at the penultimate conclusion of a five issue arc, spanning a slew of thematic elements, such as systematic disenfranchisement, false accusations, and splinter terrorist cells funded by dummy corporations. Daredevil, like a bumbling silent film era putz, finds himself smack dab in the middle of it all, and I can’t help but laughing. Marvel comes off to me as a party favor from a group celebration in this issue. Cyborgs from the future, paranoid Christian stereotyped assassins, and Mayan apocalyptic deities in a single issue is too much, even for my Jack Kirby loving self. I suppose it works, but then there’s a scene where Daredevil “reads” a computer screen detecting visual stimuli with his enhanced peripheral nervous system. My mind has, at this point, donned a bowler hat and has vacated my cranial cavity in pursuit of more pressing matters.

Despite these setbacks, Daredevil’s presence endures through the comic. He is visible and present amidst the cataclysmic fray that ensues when an “evil sewer king” introduces an ancient Mayan wrath deity to Matt Murdock’s face, all the while tangoing with cyborgs and assassins. It’s an impressive feat. Daredevil’s purpose of being down there helps make this mash up possible. He is trying to clear the name of two innocent victims that have been framed for acts of terrorism. Daredevil’s role, as an attorney, is maintained to establish his iconographic presence. He vouches for Joshua, he listens to Luther Manning, AKA Dethlok (not to be confused with fictional Death Metal act Dethklok, created by Brendon Small and Tommy Blacha), and performs his role as the true “blind” justice, in a dystopic society ruled by institutionalized corruption. Funny, then, that his role is completely undermined when he is depicted alongside a computer hacker who he berates and blackmails into extorting secure files from government databases.

The comic, however, deals with real issues: a shrinking middle class, the marginalization of troubled communities, and the enmeshed corruption in local business politics. These issues are given no real resolution, but this is because the final issue has yet to settle the problems that have been created from the start of the narrative arc. In comparison to the former analysis of Namor, The Sub-Mariner from this series, my apprehension of the story at hand is its inherent inaccessibility. If a comic is meant, at all times to grab the attention of a virgin comic enthusiast, there should be at least a little coherence in the plot at the outset. Without catering to this aspect of comic publishing and content proliferation, the powers that be are merely isolating a diminishing population of fans, while alienating prospective readers. Food for thought!

If we return to the original work of Elinor Wylie, the comic gains some clarity, albeit unintentional. Were the Eagle to represent groundbreaking publishing and intellectual property creation, and the Mole, likewise, a hopelessly introverted focus on promoting and culturing a diminishing niche demographic, Daredevil #336 would be far underground. Clearly, my only option is to feel dissuaded from making contact with the greater story going on here. It’s just too muddy to make sense of, and like a blind man I cannot see the light.

2 Smelly Sewer Kings (of 10)

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Stuart Warren is the former managing editor and webmaster for Sequart Organization. Stuart earned a BA in English with an emphasis in Early Modern Studies at University of California Santa Barbara. An avid reader and historian, Stuart researches Nordic mythology and paganism and is self-taught in the Norwegian language (Bokmål). He is a novelist and comic book writer. Spirit of Orn, his breakout Science Fantasy epic is now available for purchase via Amazon Kindle and iBooks.

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