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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 54: Daredevil #172

Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to a single artist. This week: Frank Miller! Today’s page is from Daredevil #172, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated July 1981. Enjoy!


Once Miller started drawing Daredevil, he was paired with inker Klaus Janson, and comics history was born. It’s interesting to read these stories now, because we think of “Miller on Daredevil” so much that we forget that Miller slowly pulled back from drawing these issues, leaving much of it to Janson. Even issue #181, the famous “death of Elektra” issue, features Janson’s “finished art,” not just inking. It’s fascinating because Janson was pencilling the run by the end, and one wonders how much of the artwork was shaped by his inks early on. Miller’s non-Janson art is much looser and abstract than when Janson inks him, so it’s fun to speculate how much of Daredevil is Miller’s art. This page, for instance, clearly lists Miller as the penciller and Janson as the inker, and it’s much more in the style of Miller’s Springer-inked page we saw yesterday and isn’t as rough as when Janson is finishing Miller’s layouts or pencilling the issue himself. (We see this more clearly in Miller’s final issue, #191, which he actually pencilled and which Terry Austin inked – it’s much looser and less harsh than Janson’s pencils or inks are.)

Miller pays homage to Will Eisner a bit on this pseudo-splash page (technically it’s two panels), with the title of the story integrated somewhat into the cityscape, the truck rolling by with “Featuring Daredevil the man without fear” on its side, and the cut-away cross-section of the pipe with the street level forming the panel borders. Miller’s words are mostly unnecessary – Matt could have easily simply said the last line – “I wake up in the strangest places” – because we can see all the rest of it. This was still early in Miller’s writing career, and Marvel comics of this time were heavy on the exposition, so perhaps he was just following the trend.

Because it’s just Janson inking, we can see the difference between Miller’s art and Janson’s. Miller’s background characters drift closer to abstract forms, especially the person walking behind the truck’s exhaust in the center of the first panel. The street people are a bit more defined, but they’re definitely “Miller-esque” in that they’re composed of basic shapes with not a lot of definition. As he gets older, Miller will rely on very basic shapes to convey meaning, and we’re seeing a glimpse of that here. Obviously, he can be detailed if he wants to be, and the cityscape is done well, as is Matt in his predicament. When Janson takes over full pencils, however, the work becomes a bit more detailed. Miller might have been laying the pages out (in one issue later in the run he’s credited as “writer/storyteller,” whatever that means), but Janson drew in much more concrete figures.

Miller moved on from Marvel without Janson for his next project, and we can see the wide difference not having those inks will make. But that’s for tomorrow. For now, perhaps you’d like to check out the archives. Don’t be afraid!


It’s exposition, true, but it’s exposition about DD’s powers for a supposed first time reader. The dialogue is showing how Daredevil, whose gimmick is that he’s blind, figures out where he is using his various super senses.

I’d say Daredevil is a character who is allowed more internal exposition than most, because he gets so much sensory input from other senses but does not see, so the process of putting together what is happening is more important to him than to other characters. We see where he is but he doesn’t for those people whose first Daredevil book this is, the mental process needs to be shown (of course most other characters in the similar position would only notice that it is completely dark and underwater so DD actually has an upper hand here).

That truck did and does bug me, it feels too unrealistic and metacomic that there is a truck with “starring Daredevil” written on its side. Which is kind of odd, I have no problem with GANGWAR written all over the cityscape, or things like putting the creator credits as graffiti in panel (as was done in the X-Men pic you showed last week), but that truck is wrong.

I don’t have a huge problem with the internal narration, but I’m not sure it explains his powers as well as you think it does, Omar. Yes, it tells you how he uses his senses to perceive things, but I’m not sure it’s so important that Miller need it. But I do agree with AS that Daredevil can get away with more internal narration than most characters.

I agree with Omar. Also I think we’re all too well-acquainted with Daredevil to objectively judge whether the exposition carries across the nature of DD’s powers to new readers. It would be interesting to show this splash to a newbie and see what they can grasp from it.

T.: That would be interesting. My point is that if the rest of the page is intriguing enough (and I think it is), we don’t need the narration explaining DD’s powers right away. That can be brought in at a different point once the reader is hooked. I agree, though – perhaps we’re too familiar with his powers already.

As this is from a collection we cant check, but didn’t these issues have a description of the character in text at the top? Something like “Son of a boxer, young Matt Murdock was blinded by a Blah Blah Blah. Now he stalks the Blah Blah as Daredevil.”
If so then some of the text on the page really is pointless.

Ah, good point, Michael. I don’t know – the page I scanned yesterday (the Spectacular Spider-Man one) had that description even though it was reprinted in the trade, so I don’t know if this page had that kind of thing at the top. Does anyone have the original issue?

There was no description at the top of the page at this time. Can’t wait to see which Ronin issue you choose. (?) Great choice on Daredevil #172.

Thanks, Wally. And you’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you? (And yes, it is Ronin, in case there was any doubt.)

Great choice here Greg, this is one of my favorite opening pages from this run, with 176 and 178 also up there. And this is my 3rd favorite run ever, after Moore Swamp Thing and Claremont X-Men.

To answer a few questions people had…

The text at the top of the first page that Marvel used to do back in the day appeared on Miller’s first 10 issues, but 168 was the last time it appeared. 168 was also Miller’s first issue as writer, so it makes me wonder if it disappeared at his behest, or if that’s just pure coincidence, like the January 1980 cover dated issues were the last ones to have it, and Marvel got rid of it across the line. I happen to have the Layton/Michelinie Iron Man issues handy, and they still used the text blurb at the top of the splash page fairly regularly throughout the whole run, which ended about a year after DD 168. But I don’t have access to any other Marvel comics from that era without digging through the long boxes. Even still, if Iron Man is an indicator, it looks like DD got rid of it because Miller wanted it gone. Which is an interesting level of faith in a young writer after only one issue (though that faith ended up paying off).

As for the Miller/Janson art division of labor, The art really was mostly Miller throughout the whole run. Even when Janson starts being credited as penciler with #185, Miller was still doing layouts so detailed, they were basically full pencils. Greg, I’m not sure what trade editions you have, but if you have the ones called “Daredevil by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson” Volumes 1-3, they reprint the art process of #190 at the end of volume 3. Miller’s layouts even have shading and inking guides.

And that’s why DD 185-190 still look more like Miller than Janson. Miller isn’t an artist that creates his stamp through detail (the way someone like Barry Windsor Smith or Art Adams does). Miller’s unmistakable look comes from the way the story is told, and the fluidity of motion in the characters. And that’s all stuff that comes through in the layouts, to the extent that someone else can pencil and ink the stuff, and it still looks more like Miller. On the other hand, if you look at Janson art on non-Miller books, like The LOTDK story Gothic that he did with Grant Morrison, the art is a far cry from his “pencil” art on DD 185-190. I don’t mean to discredit Janson, as I do think his inks looked great on this run, but he was never really more than an inker. Even on the issues Janson is credited as penciler, it’s basically Miller art you’re looking at. And the storytelling shows it.

Third Man: Good information to know. The volumes I have do not have the process of #190, so I was just going by the credits, and the artwork looks different enough from when Janson is listed as “inker” to when he’s listed as “penciler” to the final issue, when Terry Austin inks it, that I made some assumptions. I wonder why Marvel would keep changing the credits if Miller was doing the layouts. They didn’t have a problem listing Janson doing finished art in some issues, but in some, he’s clearly listed as doing the pencils and inks. That’s kind of annoying!


If I remember correctly, back in the discussions from the Greatest Runs poll a few years back, you weren’t the biggest advocate of Miller’s Daredevil stuff. Has that stance changed at all?

Third Man: Ha! Good memory, there. No, I haven’t changed very much. I still like it but don’t think it should have been as high on the list as it was. That was my main complaint – it was in the Top Five, I think, and I believe that was because of its influence more than the actual run. Don’t get me wrong – these are very good comics, but Top Five? Man, that’s pushing it.

“The text at the top of the first page that Marvel used to do back in the day appeared on Miller’s first 10 issues, but 168 was the last time it appeared. 168 was also Miller’s first issue as writer, so it makes me wonder if it disappeared at his behest, or if that’s just pure coincidence”

The “top copy” was removed following EiC Jim Shooter’s edict that every information necessary to understand the story was to be found in the actual story (Sources : http://www.byrnerobotics.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=37123&PN=1&totPosts=45 ; http://www.jimshooter.com/2012/01/wonder-woman-1-4.html).

Greg, I totally agree. When I read the run as an adult in trade paperback I was shocked at how much of it was just “okay.” Especially disappointing was Elektra. The character was practically a cipher, and didn’t do or say much. Not very compelling at all outside of the visual. I felt no connection to her and I didn’t feel like her relationship and history with Matt felt at all authentic. It’s definitely above average and influential, but not top 5 material.

I found this bit by John Byrne over at one of Spike’s links pretty relevantt:

Shooter got rid of the top copy, and it was one of his moves I fully endorsed. All that information, he maintained correctly, should be contained in the story itself. Putting it off to one side like that tended to make writers lazy and forgetful of the information they needed to be expressing every issue. And, of course, that kind of thinking led to the insane inside-front-cover pages of “recap” that became the vogue a while later.

When I was doing FANTASTIC FOUR, as a f’rinstance, I made it a point of retelling the origin at least once a year, and dropping little references the rest of the time. (Which led to some readers complaining that “every issue” began with the FF sneaking aboard their rocket! It was around that time that I began to realize there was a deep pathology in some corners of fandom, a tremendous resistance to being told “what we already know”. Consideration of new readers was not an issue!)

So it seems spelling things out was an editorial edict. I personally think it works and makes the punchline better. I mean in noir movies a lot of the narration is just saying info we already know but we enjoy it because it’s punchy and catchy. For me the preceding sentences make the “I wake up in the strangest places punchline” funnier as well as conveying DD’s powers. Another thing to consider is the average reader back then was much younger and less sophisticated and may not have appreciated the joke as well if it just said “I wake up in the strangest places.” They may have arguably needed it spelled out a little more and walked through it.

And I bet the last page of the Miller phase would be from SIN CITY.

It’s interesting to see how some artists evolves (or de-evolves) over time.

Man, T., there’s so much dickery packed in that second Byrne paragraph. Ah, those stupid fans with their “deep pathology.” What did they ever do for him?

To be fair, he did say “in SOME corners of fandom” not even “most.” I don’t think when he qualifies it as an extreme minority the paragraph is as dickish.

Wait a second…John Byrne actually agreed with something Shooter did at Marvel?!? :P

I’m a big fan of Miller’s run on DD, both as artist and as writer. This opening page is a really good one, and you don’t often see something with this combination of description, action, whimsy, and skill all that often these days. It’s a very well-composed opening page that’s a lot of fun. Of course you’d turn to the next page!

Let me say that I’m grateful and happy that anyone has any interest in any work that I’ve done whether it’s recent or, in the case of some of the material referred to this week, older. So thanks for the attention and comments everyone. Let me make a point about something that The Third Man said in his LOC: “…but he was never really more than an inker”. The work I did on DD has always been very meaningful to me for a variety of reasons, too many to get into here, but I’d like to point out a few things: Frank did an amazing job on the series and I would never take anything away from his writing or drawing. Just to set the record straight, though, Frank went to 8 and a half inch by 11 inch breakdowns on issue #179, not #185. And he was doing breakdowns on the boards for a handful of issues before that. It is absolutely true that the overriding characteristic of Frank’s art is his amazing storytelling, and it is absolutely true that my approach to laying out a story differs from Frank’s. But I feel strongly that my contribution as both inker (or finisher or whatever the particular credit was on any given book), combined with my coloring, made my contribution a bit more than “just an inker”. It is the synthesis of pencils, inks and colors that I believe provided some of the best looking books in the run, and indeed, gave the book it’s very distinct look. Check the credits, Third Man, take a look at the issues that I colored and the ones that I didn’t and I would think that you might agree with me on that point. And if you need further proof on this, please refer to Greg’s earlier column from this week where he talks about the first page from World War Hulk. I think that, for whatever reason, and it may have been a case of over saturation as this was still a period of time when the industry had not yet reached a level of expertise in coordinating digital coloring with the actual look of the book in print, but you can’t even see the inks under the colors. The ability to fulfill a specific, particular vision instead of having three or four disparate ideas conflicting with each other, was a rare opportunity on DD. The chance to control the art to the degree that we did provided a very specific look to the book that was unique. I’m really proud of the work that Frank and I did on DD. It stands as one of my favorite runs on a character that I loved since I bought DD #1 as a kid. It means a lot to me. Try to understand that the opportunity I had to make the contributions that I did, rises a tiny bit above being “just an inker”. There’s a reason why the material holds up 30 years later, you know.
Thanks for your time and really, thanks for your interest, I appreciate it enormously!

Klaus: Thanks a lot for stopping by and explaining what was going on. As I noted, Marvel kept changing the credits for you and Miller, and I’m glad you let us know how it broke down. I’ll be returning to one of your future collaborations in a few days – I’m sure you can figure out which one!

Janson Rocks! Check out Daredevil #186, where DD fights Turk in a Stiltman suit while losing control of his sensory powers. Pencils, Inks, and colors are by Janson, it’s every bit as good as any of the Miller DD run, and maintains consistency with the graphic style of the Miller penciled issues. This was my first issue of Daredevil as a kid, and it was years later that I realized that Miller stopped doing full pencils.

For all the explosive fun of Miller experimenting in the early issues, I think Janson’s trademark gritty style is more effective in the long run and I definitely think the Miller stories improved immensely artwise as Janson took over the art duties, giving the book a rough hardboiled edge that the early issues lacked.

Klaus Janson-

Thank you for taking the time to talk about your contributions to this series. I certainly didn’t mean to belittle any of your work, and I probably should have chosen my phrasing more carefully. Your work with Frank Miller on that original DD stretch of 158-190 is not only one of my three favorite comic book runs ever, but I also think it’s objectively one of the five most influential runs of the post-Silver Age. So I really do mean it when I say I’m grateful for your work. What I was trying to get across in my earlier post was simply that your working relationship with Frank Miller in the latter half of the run wasn’t as simple as calling Frank the writer and calling you the artist, in the way that people might apply those terms to comics of today. I still think it’s fair to say that the art was coming heavily from Frank even when he stopped being credited as the official artist. Which, again, is not to diminish your contributions to the look of the book, which I think are fantastic. And the color palette you used on the later issues really was ahead of its time, and looked forward to the work of John Higgins and Dave Stevens. So, I hope you understand that I wasn’t trying to knock your work. I was only trying to clear up the confusion caused by the way Marvel listed the credits in several of those issues.


I’m still surprised this run doesn’t quite do it for you. I don’t have the benefit of having read it when it came out, as I didn’t even begin reading comics until 1992. But when Miller wrote Spawn #11 and the 12-year-old me asked who he was, I ended up leaving the comic shop that day with a copy of DD 181 (I think I paid $4 for it), and it was one of those rare times in life when you immediately know something is the best you’ve ever seen. DD 181 was my favorite single comic issue for several years, until I finally tracked down a copy of Swamp Thing 21, which has been my favorite issue ever since (DD 181 is still #2). Between the ages of 12-15, I gradually tracked down every issue of the run, and I thought it was infinitely better than anything new that was coming out at the time. And even though those issues were fifteen years old at that point, they seemed fresher than anything on the stands. The art seemed more advanced, more sophisticated, like it had a better handle on how to tell a story. Even now, I can look at a fight scene in a Miller/Janson issue of DD, and it just looks leaps and bounds more fluid than anything that existed before it, during it, or even most of the stuff that came after. It’s almost like watching Star Wars and knowing what special effects looked like in movies before that. Just night and day. And I do think this run heavily contributed to the death of the insane amount of exposition that comics were dealing with in the early 1980s. It was one of the first runs (Steranko Fury is the other) that really let the art tell the story more than the thought balloons.

I also think it’s the first comic book “run” to meet what we now think of as the definition of that term. To most people now, a “run” is when a writer takes over, installs a plan and a direction, tells the story he wants to tell, wraps it up, and then leaves. Prior to Miler’s DD, writers came and went on major characters, and the best of them certainly put their stamp on the characters, but the bru-ha-ha of writer X taking over character Y, and you better get the first issue to see where he goes with it, that really began with DD 168. The way we now think of first issues of runs (Doom Patrol 19, Swamp Thing 21, New X-Men 114, Stormwatch 37, Supreme 41, Hellblazer 41, FF 232, Thor 337, etc.) where a new writer swoops in with the major retcon/revelation/status quo change or whatever began with DD 168. And it also used to be that a writer leaving a title wasn’t an occasion. DD 191 changed that by being one of the first ever “wrap up the run” issues. Since then, issues like Swamp Thing 64, JLA 41, Thor 382, DD 81, New X-Men 154, etc. have become major departure points. And the general idea that a run would take a character/team on a journey that had a specific beginning/middle/end and then the writer would leave is also something that didn’t really exist prior to the Miller/Janson DD. It was the first of a new kind of “run,” where the term meant more than simply a writer’s tenure on a title.

Third Man: I can totally see why people love it, but for some reason, it doesn’t resonate with me quite as much (when we did the top runs, I know it wasn’t in my top 20, but it would probably be in my top 30). Your contention that it defined what we think of as a “run” is true, which is why I think it’s more influential than great. But they’re good comics, I agree. For me, though, just not as great as others.

Greg & Third Man:
I can understand why Claremont’s X-Men or Kirby’s Fourth World might not be the originator of the modern run, but why something like Ditko’s Spider-Man, Englehart’s Detective Comics, Starlins’ Captain Marvel and Warlock wouldn’t count as a run?

Alin: I think with those comics, it was either that the creator didn’t have a long-term mega-arc in mind (Ditko on Spider-Man) or the arc evolved in a seemingly secondary fashion (which is how it feels with Englehart’s short “run” on ‘Tec), or the dude just liked the character (Starlin’s work with those two characters feels like that, although he did have some grander stories in mind). I think we can argue about what constitutes a modern “run” and where it began, and I shouldn’t have said it was definite that Miller’s work on DD is the first one, because I meant it was ONE of the first, and probably one of the more influential ones. I think Third Man defined it very well – I’m not sure those other creators had an actual plan in mind when they started, and I think Miller definitely did. But I could be wrong!

I can see what you mean, and you might be right. I’m not that familiar with north-american comics, and I wasn’t there to see these things enfolding, and most of my opinions derive from reading those stories almost three decades after they were published.

But there are a few things that are nagging me. I don’t think that whether the writer started with a greater picture in mind, or if it evolved while the stories were told matters all that much in determining if something is a run or not.

This, and from what I have read, the tendency in the industry already leaned towards more layered and interwoven stories, with structured story-arcs and so on. I believe it was more of a case of Miller beating other guys(Simonson, Moore, the First Second guys) to the finishing line, than really influencing them. Also, was the marketplace (in terms of distribution, audience age and regulations) really ready for this types of stories until that moment? Isn’t it more the case that creators couldn’t do this kind of thing, rather that they wouldn’t or haven’t thought of it?

(I’m not a native speaker of English. I’m really sorry if I sound brash or aggressive. I’m just curios about this stuff.)

Alin: Don’t apologize – you don’t sound brash or aggressive. I tend to think that the companies wouldn’t let creators do this, because the emphasis was on single-issue stories due to the fact that newsstand distribution was so spotty. Once comics moved into the comic book stores and one could easily find back issues, I’m sure it became much easier for creators to do that sort of thing.

Brian did a big thing a few years ago about the best runs in comics, and when I posted mine, we got into a whole thing about what constitutes a “run.” Many people think of it as a writer and/or artist working on a book for a long time, whether there’s a through-plot or not. I disagree, but that’s why we have free will!

"O" the Humanatee!

February 25, 2012 at 9:41 pm

By sheer coincidence, I just got a notice from TwoMorrows about the next issue of their Draw! magazine – which will feature an interview with “FRANK MILLER about his career and working methods, including samples of Miller and KLAUS JANSON’s working process, showing examples of their work from thumbnails and pencils to finished inks.” You can download a preview of the issue at http://www.twomorrows.com/media/Draw22Preview.pdf; it includes a number of pages from the Miller article – including matching pages of Miller breakdowns from DD #190 and Janson’s finished inks. Looks like the complete article would be quite enlightening about the issues people have been discussing here.

I should’t have said that the industry was leanind towards longer stories, but that creators were trying or wanting to do them.

I know about those lists. In a way they are the reason I read and like comics.

Thank you for your time.

“O”: Very cool. Thanks!

Alin: No problem. It’s always fun to debate comics!

Ditko’s tenure on both Spider-Man and Dr. Strange would qualify as “runs” in my estimation, even if no one thought in those terms until much later, because of the way Ditko, to a far greater degree than Lee, shaped the title characters and their advancements as heroes. By the time he completed his final issues, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange were far more mature and confident in their abilities than they had been when Ditko drew their first stories less than 4 years previously. Under too many comics storytellers, the characters tend to stand still, not really developing or changing in positive ways at all.

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