Daredevil in the 1970s: The Precursors to the Legendary Frank Miller Run
A Classic Character Almost Fell Into the Cancellation Dustbin
Frank Miller's run on Daredevil in the late 1970s and early 1980s is still revered to this very day as a true turning point in the history of comics. It would not be accurate to say that comics matured solely thanks to Miller's work, however. Chris Claremont's run on X-Men, Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and, to a lesser extent, Steve Englehart's brief run on Batman contributed greatly to the maturation process the medium would undergo. But for many, Miller probably had the most impact, and this impact is still felt and respected today. The Netflix Daredevil series is heavily influenced by Miller's work—so is Batman vs. Superman.
One reason for this was along with the X-Men, Miller actually pushed the envelope on a title that would actually become a top seller. Other books delivered excellent cutting edge writing, but the work was only seen by small audiences that really did not grow. This was the case with Green Lantern/Green Arrow. With Miller's run on Daredevil, a flagging book was completely turned around not only in terms of sales but also in terms of the quality of its writing.
Daredevil: The Early Development of the Hero and the Comic Book
Daredevil was not exactly a healthy book at the time Frank Miller became involved with it. The title was only being published six times a year as poor sales could not support a monthly release.
Previously, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Roy Thomas/Gene Colon Daredevil stories definitely brought a uniqueness to the character that was met with success. While not perfect stories, the creative duo were able to help Daredevil gain his own identity. The early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko/John Romita Daredevil stories were, honestly, Spider-Man stories under the guise of a different character. The original wisecracking Man Without Fear really was indistinguishable from the web-slinger. The main differences were Daredevil was blind and assumed the more mature role of a lawyer.
Denny O' Neil dispensed with the wise-cracking when he wrote issue #18, and Thomas took the book in a more serious and different direction in subsequent issues. It could be argued that it was under Thomas that Daredevil (and Matt Murdock) truly developed a real identity.
The Me Decade and the Decline of Marvel Comics
Unfortunately, Daredevil suffered from the same ills as many other Marvel Comics titles during the middle-to-late 1970s. While Marvel did have its loyal readers, this era saw some very, very boring material published. Marvel had changed ownership, the readership had declined from its earlier peaks, and many titles simply became formula.
It truly is painful to read some of the major titles in the essential reprints series when many top books become little more than villain-of-the-month tales. A-level heroes such as Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Captain America were so well known, they would continue to sell. Also, these books would also have many bright spots in the form of inspired writing that would emerge on and off.
With Daredevil, this really was not the case. The book become dull and was losing its readers significantly. This is what led to it being published only six times a year. The publishing schedule was a method designed to avoid its imminent cancellation. This was a major travesty considering the uniqueness of the character's origin and conceptualization.
Miller and the Path to Rebirth
Rumors have it that Miller was given the book simply because no one at Marvel cared about it. He could have been given Moon Knight instead and Daredevil would have been gone. Miller took over the art duties (He was not the writer, but he did have huge influence on the plotting and storylines) and the character of Daredevil set out on the path to an amazing rebirth.
The new Daredevil online series is going to be very heavily influenced by the Frank Miller run in the comics. Hopefully, the Netflix series will be true to the character and breathe the uniqueness the gritty hero was known for into its episodes.
As for the comic, after three decades of grim seriousness, the book returned to its 1960's fun charm. Will it maintain such a tone? Doubtful.