The Daredevil You Don't Know: The Original

J. C. Maçek III

To Be Continued...” explores aspects of Graphic Literature and Comic Art to connect the none-too-obvious links and histories found in comics. This week we focus on the superhero named Daredevil... but it's not the Marvel Comics hero you know.

Happy Comic Book Day, True Believers. You all know about Daredevil right? He's the superhero with a disability who uses his special skills and handheld weapon to fly above the city and punish criminals. He's the one who started out in a largely yellow costume in his first appearance, but soon shifted the mostly red look that he's most recognized for.

Yeah, you know Daredevil. And if you're a true comicbook fan you know that his secret identity is... Bart Hill.

What's that? You thought I was going to say Matt Murdock? No, no, no, you're thinking of that other guy with the disability who became a superhero in a yellow costume that changed to red and threw a special weapon at criminals. I'm talking about the ORIGINAL Daredevil, Bart Hill, who debuted a generation before Marvel's blind lawyer.

The story begins at a publishing house that originated in the Golden Age of comics. In 1939, the same year Batman hit the stands, Leverett Gleason founded a company named for himself, Lev Gleason Publications and they immediately began producing hit comics for kids. Unlike most houses, however, Gleason was notable for creating comics aimed specifically at adults (one of the first firms to do so). Among Gleason's superhero offerings was a character named “Silver Streak”, a frequent adversary of the hideous villain “The Claw”.

In Silver Streak #6 (September 1940), a backup feature showcased a new superhero in a story called “The Daredevil: Master of Courage”. Hitting the gridded page in his duo-toned spandex 24 years before “Daredevil: The Man without Fear”, this Daredevil was created by comicbook veteran and erstwhile Stan Lee collaborator Jack Binder. But Bart Hill shared more of a connection with Bruce Wayne than his latter-day namesake.

Witnessing his parent's murder as a young man, Hill began his career with the oath “I swear to devote my time on Earth to make crime pay for the death of my mother and father.” The previous year's oath by a pre-Batman Bruce Wayne is remarkably similar: “And I swear by the spirits of my mother and father to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of life warring on all criminals.” The main difference between Daredevil and Batman, aside from their choice of costuming, is that Bart Hill's family trauma left him completely mute, making Marvel's Daredevil not even the first hero of that name to capitalize on a physical infirmary.

While the original DD's first story ran for only 8 pages, the very next issue of Silver Streak was the start of a five issue storyarc that pitted Daredevil against the Claw himself. This saga also revised the origin of Daredevil to eliminate the “mute” angle (he got better) and showed Hill in his newly reddened tights. This revision by Jack Cole (who would go on to create Plastic Man) was an immediate hit with readers and made Daredevil into a bankable lead character. This resulted in the launch of his own title, Daredevil Comics, which launched in July of 1941. The first issue features Daredevil, Silver Streak and other Lev Gleason heroes hitting a terrified Adolph on the same jaw that Captain America punched on the cover of his own first issue, five months before.

Daredevil Battles Hitler was written and partially drawn by the man who would drive the story and art of Daredevil for the next sixteen years, Charles Biro. Under Biro, Daredevil's supporting “kid gang” the Little Wise Guys debuted to cash in on the kid sidekick boom and the expanded concept found in DC's Newsboy Legion. Also under Biro, Daredevil's origin was revised once again, this time to include a foster family of Aborigines raising Bart after his parent's death (thus explaining the boomerang choice).

What happened between Lev Gleason's Daredevil's glory days and his eventual decline and the usurping of the Daredevil name by Merry Marvel's Matt Murdock is a story for next week. Still, while the latter day 'Devil is much better remembered today, the original remains a remarkably influential character, from Biro's dynamic cover art to the character's impact on the silver age. Part of this is due to the very proliferation of this character. According to Fantaco Enterprises' 1982 oneshot The Daredevil Chronicles, Lev Gleason's hero had one thing that Marvel's follower could never dream of, a peak circulation of Six Million copies... every month. Now that's daring.

With such a heavy impact and a readership that even the biggest titles of today would envy just a percentage of, why is Lev Gleason's Daredevil largely unknown and supplanted today? To Be Continued... covers this and more NEXT WEEK when we reveal the defeat of the Death Defying 'Devil and his legacy and (semi-)resurrection. Do not miss it!





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.