In 1982 when the team of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson were pumping new life into Marvel’s blind superhero, a company called Fantaco Enterprises produced a oneshot magazine called The Daredevil Chronicles, about the Marvel hero, but Lev Gleason’s Daredevil was featured on both the first and the last interior pages of artwork. The second appearance, containing a comparison and contrast between Bart Hill and Marvel’s Daredevil, Matt Murdock, revealed that Gleason’s Daredevil Comics achieved a peak circulation of six million copies per month. By way of comparison according to G.B. Hecht’s 2003 “Marvel Circulation Analysis”, the House of Ideas’ namesake crusader’s peak circulation in the 1960s was under 300,000 and although the Miller/ Janson run brought sales up above 250,000 again, by the dawn of the new millennium, sales of Daredevil‘s comics were peaking at 100,000 but often dropped to well below half that.
Does that sound counter-intuitive? Isn’t the comicbook industry bigger now than it has ever been? Yes and no. The industry itself is bigger, yes. Hollywood surely wouldn’t have bet the 1940s equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars on comic properties at the time. Even the successful Batman & Robin, Captain Marvel and Captain America movie serials were of a comparatively small budget. While comics cost a good bit more to produce now, they cost exponentially more to buy than they did in the ‘40s.
“Daredevil and Daredevil” by Michael T. Gilbert from The Daredevil Chronicles, Fantaco Enterprises, 1982.
However, as far as circulation went, magazines in general, including comicbooks were much larger than they are today. In the past few decades Marvel has been sold multiple times and even filed for bankruptcy years before Disney brought them into the House of Mouse. DC similarly survived many toils and troubles, partially thanks to their parent company Warner Bros. And those are still the two biggest companies. While it’s true that we have had some successful upstarts in the modern age, few of them are old enough to have stood up for decades. Image and Dark Horse have done great things. Devil’s Due, Dynamite and Boom! are proving themselves and Valiant is making its comeback. Chaos!, Eclipse, Crossgen, Comico, Defiant, NOW and even heavier, corporate-backed hitters like Disney, Paramount and Topps have exited the game (though, Disney now owns Marvel).
In Lev Gleason’s day, publishers were popping up all over to print comics, either as imprints of larger companies or on their own…and many of them made a great mark. Have a G.I overseas you want to send Magazines to? Chances are those with covers featuring Superheroes punching Hitler are the ones you’d grab back then. Got a young girl at home fascinated with Romance and Horses? There were comics for that. Is the chip off the old block into Gangsters and Westerns? There were comics for that. How about that adult fan of Crime Thrillers and Horror? There were TONS of comics for that. Comics were everywhere. And at ten cents a copy, this was an easy habit to fund, even considering inflation and relative economics (today any given comic will run you around $4.99 per issue).
Sadly, the industry took a turn for the very worst in the mid 1950s during the peak of McCarthyism. Fredric Wertham cashed in on fears that comicbooks were a miseducating influence on children. In his book Seduction of the Innocent, Wertham cited horror titles (like Tales from the Crypt) and crime comics (like Gleason’s own Crime Does
Pay) as corrupting, as well as a good bit of falsified data to “prove” (among other things) that Wonder Woman taught little girls bondage fantasies and Batman and Robin were gay lovers.
The book caused a U.S. Congressional inquiry that resulted in the creation of the Comics Code Authority. This, in turn, caused the immediate end of horror and crime comics (ironically, even the one that informed readers that Crime Does
Pay) and the industry went into a sharp decline. Publishers went out of business (including Lev Gleason in 1956) and characters were retired altogether. It took the Silver Age to revitalize only some of the classic characters (mostly in-name-only).
What does that mean for Bart “Daredevil” Hill? The character still existed and was owned by somebody, right? It’s not like Marvel could just walk in and say “He’s gone, let’s copyright that name.” Actually, it’s a lot like that.
We now live in an age of nostalgia where technology and interest have met to make everything available. Years ago this wasn’t the case. When something had run its course, it was done. Original movie source prints were crushed to make highways. There are episodes of Doctor Who the BBC still can’t find because after their first airing, the tapes were recorded over to save space. When a character or title was no longer on the racks, their companies often forgot about them. And why not? It’s not like decades into the New Millennium anybody would know what the hell “Doctor Who” was, right? Nobody would be writing about “Lev Gleason’s Daredevil” in 2013… right?
Thus, much like Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, Daredevil was left without a presence or a validly copyrighted name, so a new company called Marvel Comics showed up in the 1960s and (very) easily copyrighted both names for completely unrelated characters. Meanwhile, the once-powerhouse hero (whose peak sales were a full two-thousand times that of his Marvelous namesake) quietly fell into the public domain.
What’s this? The Original Daredevil unceremoniously forgotten and never seen again? Not so fast! To Be Continued… returns in a week to discuss T.O.D.D.‘s later, cryptid-like sightings.