The first thing that strikes me about this issue is the title. I guess “When Strikes the Gladiator!” is supposed to be Marvel’s way of adding some kind of Shakespeare twist to the otherwise dull “When the Gladiator Strikes.” Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the “Gladiator Strikes Back!” banner on the cover is not actually the title of the issue as it appears on the first page of the story. Unless it is and someone somewhere goofed up. Let’s move on.
This issue features a wide variety of players, including the Deathstalker (who appears for the cliffhanger ending), the Gladiator, Man-Thing, the FBI, and Foggy’s sister Candace Nelson. While the premise of the story – which I’ll get to shortly – is a little goofy, it’s a good fun ride with a plot that actually holds together quite well.
This also happens to be a groundbreaking issue of sorts, as we see Matt bid Natasha farewell in San Francisco to return to New York where then district attorney Foggy Nelson is recovering from a gunshot wound. You can tell that Marvel editorial is testing the waters here because it appears to be completely open at this point whether Matt will return to San Francisco when Foggy recovers or stay put in his native city.
The issue starts with Daredevil brooding on the top of a building back in New York, thinking about the recent events of his life. We follow his thoughts through caption boxes that run for pages, but at least we get a nice recap of what he’s been up to. He contemplates both the state of the country, which was recently very nearly overtaken by the Mandrill (now that’s a politically incorrect character if there ever was one), and that of his own life. If it weren’t for the rather pretentious tone of the writing, and the bizarre events remembered, this almost reads like a post-Miller version of Daredevil. As an airplane passes overhead, Daredevil revisits another memory from the recent past: having to say good bye to Natasha, aka the Black Widow, at the airport in San Francisco.
Returning to his apartment, Matt just barely misses a call from Candace Nelson who has just received an unwelcome visit from the FBI. Just as they are about to take her off to headquarters and start talking about impounding some papers – “the Sallis papers” as we’re about to find out – the Gladiator crashes through the window (these villains and their stealth manners…) and takes off with both the hapless journalism student and her secret papers.
The next day, we see Matt and Foggy contemplating the situation in Foggy’s apartment. Matt decides to get right on it by going to visit Candace’s journalism professor at Emerald State University, a Dr. Charles Laing. Foggy, meanwhile, laments his condition and complains to himself that he can’t even keep up with a blind man.
In his office, Dr. Laing explains to Matt that the papers Candace stumbled upon had to do with the relationship between the military and the university, specifically a project called Operation: Sulphur (hey, throw some brimstone in there and you’re all set), which was the work of a chemist called Theodore Sallis. Sallis had developed a serum that could turn men into pollution-breathing monsters, which would allow humans to continue to pollute the environment. Sallis himself disappeared in the Florida Everglades after the project was abandoned. Matt is basically being told the origin of Man-Thing (whose solo title Gerber was writing at the time).
Matt sets off to the Everglades and manages to talk a local radio newsman into driving him out to the shack Sallis used to rent before he went missing. The Gladiator is at the scene, holding Candace hostage in the shed, and the newsman is conveniently knocked unconscious which lets Matt go into action as Daredevil. Three pages of fighting follow, ending with DD tacking a knock to the head. While DD is unconscious, the Gladiator is joined by the Deathstalker and Man-Thing and… Nope, that’s the end of the issue. To be continued and all that.
One thing that occured to me while I was reading this issue was the idea that developing life forms that are able to digest environmental toxins would be a bad thing. I mean, it would be if you had to create these beasts out of other organisms, but these days using micro-organisms to aid in the processing of sewage is seen as a good thing. Yeah, I used to work in the life sciences, and apparently it affects how I read 35-year-old comic books. 😉
Anyway, this is a fun issue. It’s very rough around the edges, and it’s not “good” in the way that modern DD is good – they’re like two different animals – but in terms of entertainment value, I give this a solid 3 out of 5.