The phrase ‘Red Batman’ is one I’ve seen crop up numerous times on the internet. It suggests a correlation of tone and character between DC’s Dark Knight and Marvel’s Man Without Fear; a correlation which is implicitly plagiaristic in nature. If Daredevil is Marvel’s Batman, then Marvel must have stolen elements from Detective Comics, right? It’s easy to see how the comparisons arose. Both comics star ostensibly ordinary heroes who rely on athleticism, martial arts skill and advanced intellect to keep the streets of their hometown clean from crime. And both comics are characterised by a dark and gritty tone that blends urban crime drama with elements of fantasy fiction. Of course there are plenty of other, more specific similarities between the two titles, some of which I’ll explore in this feature. But for every similarity I could note, there are an equal number of differences. So why do some people insist Daredevil is a rip-off of Batman?
The most likely answer is that these people have had limited exposure to the Daredevil comics. As far as there being a Marvel equivalent to Batman, there are several other characters who fit the bill better than Daredevil. Take Moon Knight, for instance. When Matt Murdock first appeared back in ‘The Origin of Daredevil’ (Daredevil Vol 1 #1, April 1964), the Batman comics were entering their ‘New Look’ era; a period where writers were consciously steering away from the extravagant science fiction and fantasy stories of the fifties in favour of detective narratives similar to those of the Golden Age. But Batman was still very much grounded in the Silver Age tone, as was Daredevil. Besides that, the two comics bore little resemblance to each other. If anything, the early Daredevil stories were much closer to the Spider-Man comics than Batman.
Mark Waid jokingly referenced the Batman comparisons in Daredevil Vol 3 #24 (March 2013).
As the Silver Age neared its conclusion and the Bronze Age loomed on the horizon, American comics in general began to abandon the levity of the sixties and adopt a darker, grittier tone; one that was reflective of the cynicism prevalent in the American cinema of that period. Batman and Daredevil both underwent drastic changes in accordance with this trend. But which character went dark first? Conventional views hold that Frank Miller returned Batman to his darker roots in the mid-eighties. More accurate perspectives cite the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams run from 1970 onwards as the true rebirth of the Dark Knight. While the most well-informed Batman historians recognise the Frank Robbins/Irv Novick run as the one that really set the darker Batman back in motion from 1968 onwards.
The thing is, even though there were grittier Batman comics as early as 1968, the majority of Batman titles back then were still fairly fantastical and light in tone. Compare the following comic covers, both dated from June 1966.
One shows Batman and Robin teaming up with the Flash to fight a costumed troublemaker (Weather Wizard) wielding a magic wand; the other shows a battle-wearied Daredevil grappling with a saw blade-wielding psychopath (Gladiator) on a fog-shrouded waterfront at night. My main reason for selecting these two covers for comparison, besides the fact they were both published in the same month, is that this particular issue of Daredevil was the first to be written by Dennis O’Neil – three and a half years before he ever put pen to a Batman script.
O’Neil would write numerous issues of Daredevil and even serve as editor during the early eighties. In fact it was O’Neil who fired Daredevil writer Roger McKenzie and appointed his replacement: an up-and-coming talent named Frank Miller, who by that point had already pencilled several issues based on McKenzie’s scripts. Miller was paired with artist Klaus Janson while O’Neil stayed on as editor. The comics they produced during this period are now widely regarded as the definitive Daredevil run; the one that established the tone which almost all subsequent creators would endeavour to follow.
O’Neil himself would later edit numerous Batman titles from 1986 onwards. His greatest editorial contribution that year was to reunite the creative team of Miller and Janson on another acclaimed run, this time for DC Comics. This four-issue miniseries would ultimately come to be known as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Meanwhile O’Neil and Miller would work together on yet another Batman story in 1987, this time bringing in David Mazzucchelli as the artist. Mazzucchelli and Miller had worked together in 1986 on the classic Daredevil story Born Again. One year later they reteamed to create Batman: Year One for DC. The Dark Knight Returns and Year One are arguably the two seminal titles that set the tone for most Modern Age Batman comics. And the creative talents behind both had previously collaborated on the Bronze Age Daredevil comics. Is it any wonder similarities emerged between the two?