"The Project Four Saga"

Writer: Gerry Conway. Pencils: Gene Colan. Inks: Tom Palmer

Daredevil #87-94 (1972)

More superhero-esque than a lot of modern DD stories (with their heavier film noir flavour), nonetheless, this has an appeal as a relatively self-contained arc. Coming shortly after DD began hanging with the Black Widow (she started sharing the cover title part way through), this begins with Matt Murdock (a.k.a. Daredevil) and Natasha Romanof (the Black Widow) relocating to San Francisco -- the change in location itself signalling a good jumping on point, as, other than a few minor references at first, it basically leaves behind any recent sub-plots and continuity threads and starts fresh. While Daredevil ends up tussling with some long ago foes (like Electro and Killgrave -- guys he hadn't fought since his very earliest issues) the Black Widow finds her spy past comes back to haunt her with a chance meeting with an old, and morally suspect, colleague -- freelance mercenary Danny French. The two having been involved in a long ago, ill-fated caper involving the mysterious...Project: Four!

I've said before that I have an affection for story arcs that mix adventures-of-the-month, with a building story line, and some soap opera-y character bits. And this is an example. So there are battles with old foes, and scenes of DD settling into his new stomping grounds, plus the ups and downs of his relationship with th' Widow -- including getting some background on her origin and her relationship with her chauffeur/aide, Ivan -- all while the Project Four theme bubbles along in the background, eventually building to a dramatic climax. And it neatly wraps up -- which is why it satisfies as a story arc (as opposed to having a zillion threads still left dangling).

Admittedly, I'm not saying this is the greatest DD run ever...but I am saying that, on that level, as a mix of action, adventure, tied together by a sub-plot, it's an enjoyable eight issue arc. Modern readers might be shocked at the super hero and sci-fi aspects, from battling costumed villains, to a climax in which the non-super powered heroes must battle a giant that threatens the city. But, as I've observed before, this is as legitimate a take on DD as any of the post-Frank Miller mean streets variety (for that matter, writer Conway anticipates the later martial arts themes in Daredevil with an issue involving a martial arts assassin). Conway even works in some themes and political sub-text here and there. Even some of the ways the issue-by-issue adventures are handled is clever, like the way the initially separate Electro and Killgrave plots overlap.

The plotting can be a bit erratic, with the whole Project Four thing a bit shoved in at times, what with The Black Widow jumping to some premature assumptions. At the same time, some revelations toward the end do reasonably bring things around, so that you realize some dangling questions do have answers.

Gene Colan enjoyed a fairly long association with Daredevil, and his pairing with Tom Palmer (including on comics like Tomb of Dracula) is generally well regarded, with Colan's stylish mix of evocative realism and stylish contortion given a smooth consistency thanks to Palmer's finishes. And Colan does a wonderful job of evoking San Francisco's architecture and hilly streets in the backgrounds so that the change in venue is more than an intellectual abstraction, but is part of the visuals and really does enhance the narrative.

If you're like me, and you like the idea of a run of issues that mix a series of one or two issue adventures with a brewing sub-plot, and where everything does begin and end in a set number of issues, this forms a nice little run -- and, maybe, a nice relief precisely because it isn't as overtly mired in the mobsters n' mean streets milieu which, though effective, can get over done and monotonous in recent years in Daredevil comics.

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