Comics

The Daredevil You Don't Know Part 2: The Miseducation of Bart Hill

J. C. Maçek III

Last time “To Be Continued...” introduced Bart Hill, the Original superhero to go by the name of “Daredevil”, published not by Marvel Comics, but by Lev Gleason Publications. So with him around how did Marvel create their more famous, latter-day hero?

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 Not 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 Not 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.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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