This is the sequel to The cane and the billy club, which I posted on Wednesday.
Before getting to the specifics of Daredevil’s weapon of choice, I’d like to take you on a little detour to a different comic that few people have ever heard of. For those who don’t know it, I’m Swedish. That means that I have an unhealthy interest in ice hockey and can pronounce all the names of the furniture at IKEA. It also means that I grew up with a children’s comic book called Bamse. Bamse is a cuddly bear who lives with his wife and four children in a peaceful valley and combats evil in his free time with the aid of something called thunder honey, which makes him the strongest bear in the world. Don’t ask me what this is supposed to teach children about the unregulated use of performance-enhancing drugs. Anyway, Bamse’s two best friends are a jittery bunny called Little Hop and a turtle called Shellman (Swedish: Skalman). Shellman is one of those rational turtles who takes his time, but always comes prepared. Whatever he needs, he can just pull out of his shell. I contains the specially built alarm clock he uses to micro-manage his meals and his sleep cycle, as well as some really strange objects which you would never think you’d actually need. I’ve seen him pull inflatable helicopters out of that thing, as well as first aid kits and large tools.
This brings me back to Daredevil. Because early Daredevil actually reminds me of Shellman in a lot of ways. This includes some of the things Stan Lee insisted on shoving into the billy club as well as his whole attitude to the more mundane details of Matt Murdock’s life. Because fans won’t ask how it’s possible for Daredevil to land a rocket in Central Park guided only by the absence of heartbeats (as in Daredevil #2). But they will have questions about where he stashes his civilian clothes when in costume. Right? Consequently, Stan made sure to show us these details from time to time (many of them have been referenced in The life of a superhero category on this blog). In fact, some of the panels showing us the many features of the billy club read like an educational pamphlet aimed at school children. Let’s have a look, shall we?
Well boys and girls, here are the panels from Daredevil #1, by Stan Lee and Bill Everett, in which Matt conceives of the billy club. He takes that 1920’s style cane and “molds it” all night until it looks exactly as it did before, with the exception of a nifty hinge. When you think about it, the whole idea for the billy club seems a little far-fetched. “It’ll be the perfect all-purpose weapon!” Daredevil exclaims, but it does seem a little low-tech, even for the 1960’s. Oddly enough, the use of this kind of weapon seems like a better fit today when there’s a much stronger martial arts element to the character.
During the first few issues, the billy club doesn’t seem to be much more than a cane that folds in the middle and he uses the entire thing as a weapon, as we can see here in Daredevil #2 (artist for issues #2-4 is Joe Orlando). Am I the only one who is reminded of an old woman beating up a couple of thugs with her umbrella? Here, we also learn that it’s a non-conductor, which is great when you’re going up against Electro. It’s also what you would expect from something made of wood. In fact, it should probably catch fire.
In issue #3, below, Daredevil is captured by the Owl and locked in a cage. Once again, his cane/billy club comes to the rescue. It turns out that the pin Matt used to make the hinge is a perfect lock-picking device! If Karen needed a bobby pin to secure her lovely locks, I’m sure he could have pulled one of those out too. Maybe this is the moment Stan Lee decided that this thing could be full of all kinds of stuff. I mean, imagine the possibilities!
In issue #4, below, we set another use for Daredevil’s billy club – the boomerang! You see, it doesn’t just go from straight to folded, it can do something in between as well. Who would have guessed?
The real gem comes later in this issue, however. I’ll let the panels below speak for themselves. For me, Shellman carrying an inflatable helicopter in his shell suddenly comes to mind…
Nothing much happens in the billy club department for the next few issues, until Daredevil #7 (and artist Wally Wood) comes along and brings us a new costume and a grappling hook!
A few pages later we get another happy surprise in the form of a smoke screen! It was easy, thinks Daredevil, “just a few little gas pellets, a control button and presto–” Why you little genius, you! Of course, it doesn’t help much that the smoke screen is behind DD rather than in front of him, but now I’m just nitpicking. Besides, he does sort of swirl it around in the panels following this one, effectively blinding Namor for a few seconds.
In DD #8, below, and to the left, Stan is really getting warmed up. We are shown a schematic of the billy club, and it certainly has a bunch of stuff in it. It’s like the Swiss army version of everyone’s favorite bludgeoning weapon. I’m surprised it doesn’t come with a bottle opener. But we also get to see the famous snoopscope in action right away.
Nothing much happens to the billy club after this, but every now and again we see a flicker of the old “let’s stuff it full of cool stuff” attitude, perhaps in repsonse to the readers who wrote in asking what happened to all the gadgets. Yes, there were plenty of readers who loved the gadgets. I even seem to remember one fan from the letters’ column who wanted to see the microcircuitry hidden on the inside of the mask back, even though it was only featured once, in issue #8. Then again, there were also lots of readers who thought Stilt-Man was the coolest villain ever, so what does that tell you?
Anyway, below are some panels from Daredevil #25 (art by Gene Colan), where we learn that the billy club is battery powered. This really raises the question of just how high-maintenance you want your equipment to be. Can you imagine throwing a gadget full of expensive electronics around and expecting it not to break. In fact, can we get someone to volunteer to start using their cell phone as an assault weapon? If there’s anyone out there who’d like to try, I’d love to hear from you. (Disclaimer: No, I did not just advocate hitting people with cell phones.)
Perhaps this didn’t matter much to Matt, who seemed to really enjoy tinkering with his gadgets. In fact, I think that issue #7 when he reveals that he’s been working on his new costume for months, and stuffed his club full of stuff is when we see him cross the line from concerned citizen who fights crime in his spare time after avenging his father’s death to full-blown superhero geek. We see it all the time in real life. I starts out innocently enough with Dungeons and Dragons, and before you know it, you see people going off to re-enact the Dark Ages and speaking fantasy languages. When you spend more time thinking of new ways to pimp a piece of wood than spending time with friends or reading a good book, you know there’s a problem. I see a definite need for a Superheroes Anonymous here. Hey, maybe that’s what the Avenger’s Mansion was for.
From Daredevil’s monologue above, it does seem as if he has decided that simplicity is the way to go, and we finally see some recovery from gadget addiction here. Be strong, Matty! You can do it!
Okay, this post has run long enough. I was going to end this with the billy club as storage container for dubious nutritional tablets panel, but I can’t remember what issue that was. If anyone out there can find it for me, I’ll add it to this post in an update, because it’s really such a classic. I could have also filled this post with lots of modern billy club moments, but the early days were so crazy, I just ran out of steam. Another time perhaps…
I’ll see you around for random reviews tomorrow!