Daredevil is one of those characters that I find myself unable to talk about too often here on Marvel Madness. He’s my favorite superhero of all time, but for whatever reason he just doesn’t lend himself very well to the types of goofy stories I love to talk about. Modern Daredevil has been fantastic, but nothing too silly, and a lot of the original run was just kind of bland and inoffensive. Yeah, I occasionally get to find stories where Daredevil fights aliens or psychotic robots or Doctor Doom, but by and large the stories just don’t lean into that Marvel Comics insanity I hold so close to my heart. But, every now and then, I come across a story that delights me to the point where I just have to talk about it. And, while this maybe doesn’t stack up to some of the more insane stories I’ve shared with you all over the years, there’s just something delightfully strange about seeing Daredevil fight supervillains on an impressively fancy airplane. Who doesn’t want to see Matt Murdock join the superhero equivalent of the mile high club?
The story begins with Matt Murdock and Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, returning to New York from a trip to Switzerland to fight some forgettable villains. Because, in case you weren’t aware, Daredevil and Black Widow were an item for a while in the early seventies, functioning as romantic and professional partners to the point where Black Widow was kind of Daredevil’s sidekick. They succeeded in their adventure in Switzerland, and are now returning to the United States by taking a shockingly fancy plane, which seems to have some sort of lounge above the normal seats, which is the type of thing I’ve only seen in movies and am not a hundred percent sure was ever a real thing. But, regardless of that, Matt and Natasha are cuddling in the lounge, under the creepy watchful eye of Natasha’s father-figure Ivan, Matt just kind of starts scoping the place out, judging everyone and assessing any potential threats, all while dealing with a loud American who just wants to chat with him.
For the most part, this low-level superhero paranoia doesn’t lead to much. He doesn’t care for this brash Mr. Taggart, he looks at some grumpy teenagers, and watches two old ladies catch up. But, he does notice a bald man in a large overcoat trying to keep to himself and read a newspaper. Which, on its surface, is not very strange. But, Matt’s super-powerful hearing does seem to recognize the man’s heartbeat, implying that the two have interacted at a time when he may have been Daredevil. But, the face doesn’t seem familiar, so he just tries to put it out of his mind, and enjoy his time with Natasha, which he’s still been having some doubts of.
Unfortunately, Matt’s suspicions actually are about to pay off. Because as he’s busy silently judging everyone in this lounge, the three unruly young men that Matt had picked out pull guns from their jackets, and take a flight attendant hostage. She does try to fight back, but one of the men knocks her unconscious with his pistol, which earns him some scolding from the man in the trenchcoat, who actually does seem to be the brains of the operation. Which means it’s time for the various heroes in the lounge to spring into action. But, since that would be a little suspicious for Daredevil and the Black Widow to suddenly show up, Ivan decides to take point and leap at the men, giving Matt the time he needs to at least slip into a bathroom and make a quick change, just in case, while Natasha starts getting some action for herself.
And, while Matt is busy changing, Ivan really is taking care of business. He beats up all of the men in the lounge, acting like a tough guy and trying to keep Natasha safe, until one of the guys gets a hold of his gun once more, and ends up taking one of the old ladies hostage. And, when he’s in a position of power, the thug starts to spill his beans. He explains that they intend to hijack the plane and fly it to Mexico so they can sell it to some sketchy sources south of the border. But, after laying out the whole plan, the guy starts to get a little cocky, and starts threatening the old lady, just to get her more flustered.
Which is a perfect time for the Man Without Fear to show up. Daredevil comes barreling out of the bathroom and hucks his billy club right into the hand of the punk, causing him to drop his gun. And, from there, Daredevil makes quick work of the guy who has been left behind to watch the people in the lounge, knocking him out. And, while Matt and Ivan tie him up, Black Widow notices that the loud guy Mr. Taggart has spotted Matt’s billy club, and is inspecting it. So, she snags it away from him pretty quickly, not wanting him to put too many pieces together, and they then prepare to head down into the larger passenger section to stop the rest of the hijackers. Daredevil leads the charge, and they start taking down the two other thugs, before coming across the actual ringleader, who has removed his trenchcoat and revealed his true identity.
Oh boy everyone, it’s the Gladiator! Now, in case you’re unfamiliar with this character, or just know him from his rather obtuse appearances in the Netflix Daredevil show, the Gladiator is a villain who never really gained much traction. He came from Daredevil’s early days, when they were just trying to throw weird villain ideas at the wall to see what would stick, and he was basically just a crazy guy who ran around with buzz-saws strapped to his wrists. Which, isn’t exactly something I’d expect from a gladiator, but whatever. He really hadn’t been in the comic that much around this time, having been designated a character too goofy for this changing Daredevil character. But, it makes perfect sense that when you’re dealing with a very important and stealthy mission like a hijacking to involve a guy whose only weapons are spinning buzz-saws mounted to his fists. Because that’s great for an airplane fight.
And, since they have a history together, Daredevil and Gladiator just lunge at each other and start fighting, ripping through several seats while terrified passengers flee for their lives, trying to hide from an impending disastrous decompression after an errant buzz-saw cuts through the fuselage of the plane. And, even though Daredevil probably could use some help, Ivan hold Black Widow back, wisely deciding that she maybe shouldn’t be fighting a guy with saw-fists, especially since she doesn’t even have any superpowers. So, it’s all up to Daredevil. But, as he gets ready for another attack on the Gladiator, our helmeted villain has a revelation to make. Because it turns out their plan didn’t fully revolve around a few pistols and some implements from a hardware store, they had something a tad more extreme in mind.
Yeah, apparently all the punks that Gladiator brought along have plastic explosives strapped to their chests, ready to blow the plane up if need be. And, because Daredevil doesn’t want to play around with an unhinged lunatic and three human bombs, he decides it’s time to play ball. So, Daredevil, Black Widow, and Ivan surrender, and are tied up and placed in some of the passenger seats so that Gladiator can complete his mission. Which gives Gladiator plenty of time to start showing off to Black Widow. He just starts chatting her up, telling her what a badass he is and how she should be impressed with him. You know, psychopath stuff.
And, while Gladiator is busy showboating, Daredevil notices something surprising. Mr. Taggart, the blowhard American, has somehow managed to avoid detection from the hijackers, and is lurking around in the shadows, looking for some way to help. But, Taggart clearly isn’t going to be able to do anything himself, so he manages to sneak over to Daredevil, where he starts whispering. Apparently he saw Matt go into the bathroom, and Daredevil come out, and he promises to never tell anyone. He also unties Daredevil, giving the Man Without Fear the chance to take the villains down. Which, gets easier when Gladiator heads into the cockpit, leaving the regular dumbasses to hold down the passenger area.
Daredevil is able to take down the other criminals, all by himself, while purposefully not untying Natasha out of fear that she’ll get wounded by Gladiator. Daredevil then makes his way up to the cockpit, where he bangs on the door, and starts talking to Gladiator, pretending to be the thug that he knocked out. He asks if Gladiator would mind sending one of the other two guys back with him to help deal with an issue, and Gladiator agrees. Then, after promptly beating that guy up, Daredevil does the same thing again, and gets the other thug brought out, when he promptly beats the guy up too.
And, with no more backup, Daredevil knocks on the door once more, drawing the ire of Gladiator who just assumes the guys he hired are idiots. Gladiator burst the door open, and finds Daredevil and Taggart waiting for him, the other goons tied up. The two then begin beating the hell out of each other, while the pilots desperately try to get out of the way of Gladiator’s spinning blades. Eventually though, Daredevil is able to knock Gladiator out, and is even able to help the pilots land the plane, something you’d think Daredevil’s radar sense wouldn’t be able to help with, but whatever. The plane has a rough landing, but they survive to get drawn into some ongoing drama with Karen Page. But, none of that matters for now, all that matters is that Daredevil fought sky pirates.
Listen, this issue maybe isn’t quite up to the weird bar I’ve set for these Marvel Madness posts, but there was just something about this issue that I really enjoy. I love Daredevil, and it’s always a joy getting to talk about him, and this is such a strange era for the character. It’s in between his weird swashbuckling era that the character originated in and the darker period that came to prominence with Frank Miller, when they were still trying to figure out how to make the character work. And, for whatever reason one of the ideas was to make Daredevil hang out with Black Widow, travel the globe and fight weird crimes. It didn’t end up sticking around too long, but I have a weird affection for this era of Daredevil, and I think this issue is kind of a perfect encapsulation of it. We have a classic Daredevil villain, brought back and given a strange new twist that featured the then current rash of plane hijackings, and did its best to involve Black Widow and Ivan. It maybe wasn’t a complete success, but it at least gives me something I haven’t seen too often, a superhero having a fight with plane pirates. All while giving us a really fun Daredevil story featuring that stunning Gene Colan art that I love so much. I know people really only have an affection for Daredevil once Frank Miller reinvented the character, but I always encourage people to give some of the older stuff a chance. It’s different, to be sure, but I still find a lot of classic Daredevil to be fun.
Daredevil #85 “Night Flight!” was written by Gerry Conway, penciled by Gene Colan, inked by Syd Shores, lettered by John Costanza, and edited by Stan Lee, 1972.
Categories: Marvel Madness