Old Comics Wednesday: Gruenwald, Ditko & Janson’s Daredevil #234
In 1980s Marvel, fill-in issues sometimes made for strange bedfellows: In the gap between the conclusion of Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli’s “Born Again” and the next regular team (originally to be Steve Englehart and Louis Williams but ultimately Ann Nocenti and a revolving cast of pencillers before John Romita, Jr. settled in) coming on board, Daredevil featured some curious writer/penciller/inker combinations, but none as odd as Mark Gruenwald, Steve Ditko (credited as “Guest Breakdown Artist”) and Klaus Janson (“Guest Ink Finisher”).
This is one of those comic books that’s virtually review-proof — not because there aren’t things in it worth examining, but rather its authors have imbued it with a level of professional apathy that guarantees that anyone who goes anywhere near it will probably take the rest of the workday off until the idea fades from memory that the seven people credited with contributing to this piece of shit’s existence got paid for it. It’s the kind of bad idea that probably has a good story behind it but the numbing reality of the results are so discouraging that, y’know, who cares.
Gruenwald is clearly much more excited to play with his character Madcap outside of his regular gig writing Captain America; this could have been a Madcap one-shot for all that Daredevil is involved.
Steve Ditko is one of the greats in American comics, and a man of substantial integrity. He is also a grandmaster of making sure you know it when he knows that he’s drawing a bunch of bullshit. (Howard Chaykin being his heir apparent.) The ’80s were not particularly kind to Ditko, and it shows in most of his freelance work of the time.
With the right pencils, Klaus Janson can be a brilliant finisher, wringing every drop of drama, character, depth and texture possible out of those inky puddles he likes to lay down. These are not the right pencils.
Someone I don’t respect anymore once insisted that Marvel screwed up when they didn’t install Janson as the permanent Daredevil inker, like how ’70s Joe Sinnott made everyone who pencilled Fantastic Four look like Joe Sinnott FF with little bits of any personal style occasionally sticking out, or how Tom Palmer’s Star Wars inks stayed perfectly on-model, no matter who pencilled it. Anyway, Janson does his best to finish these DD pages like it’s 1981, and it really doesn’t do anyone any favors.
I sometimes imagine Janson inking these pages, getting more and more misty-eyed until he bursts out sobbing/Harvey Keitel-howling and then wailing “Oh …. Frank!!! Why did you leave??? We coulda had it all!!!”
You know you’re reading quality all-ages sequential art when the top tier of a page depicts a man taking an axe to his torso, then someone describing what that sounds like. “Like a bat striking mud” is far too vivid/nauseating a piece of writing to be buried in a hack job like this:
This is a surprisingly bloody story, considering it is a comic book for children, but then the coloring rarely reflects that — even when it’s referenced in the captions. It’s a story where an insane man giggles while he’s tortured with an axe and then burned down to charred meat; could the Comics Code Authority have objected to a little red ink on the axe’s blade, in some so-besides-that-what-did-you-think-of-our-play-Mrs.-Lincoln moment of prioritizing gone mad?
Apparently Madcap’s blood is invisible ….
… and sometimes it seems to have a pink corona
Again, I know this comic was (theoretically) made for kids, but why mention blood and then show no blood? This is not a very well-made comic book, my friends.
Here is a panel I think is well-made, except that it just reminded me that the gangsters in this comic come from some retro-alternate universe where ’80s comics writers used Rocky & Mugsy cartoons for reference. Still, I like this panel: