#20 (The Witness)

Issue 20
“The Verdict Is: Death” (September, 1966)
Released: June 30, 1966
Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by Gene Colan
Inked by Frank Giacoia
Lettered by Artie Simek
Cover drawn by John Romita

Issue 20 marks the premiere of comic book legend Gene Colan in the pages of this book. Gene Colan is good. And by “good”, we mean really, really good. Gene Colan is so good, in fact, that Aaron pulls no punches in pronouncing this new artist as his favorite comic book artist of all time. Even Kyle’s impressed, and we all know that says something.

What’s not so impressive is the confusion of dropping the story we had in progress at the end of issue 19 for this absolutely bonkers hot mess of a tale that features a villain we didn’t need to see return.

Check out episode 20 on Buzzsprout here: https://feeds.buzzsprout.com/2021691.rss

Stream the episode on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/42GINDXqBqGKIT49FZCyz9?si=EdeD4WaIQZ6RoK0RNzPWcA&utm_source=copy-link

Check behind the cut to see our individual grades and artwork from the issue! Trust us when we say that you definitely want to check out the artwork. Gene Colan is really, really good!

We’re all three in agreement. This issue is garbage, a dumb story elevated only by stunningly gorgeous artwork. Rodney is the lowest grade with a D. Kyle and Aaron both are enamored enough with Gene Colan that they bump their grades up slightly to a D+. Overall average: D+.

We say many, many times in this episode that the artwork of new penciller Gene Colan really elevates terrible material in a way that previous artists have been unable to elevate terrible material. That praise from us is sincere. Right out of the gates, the artwork is wonderful to behold and it catches our eyes immediately.
The credits box this time around has some interesting information in it. According to “Smilin'” Stan Lee, Gene Colan is only here to fill in for John Romita. This might explain why the previous story was dropped in favor of this one. This information will turn out to be incorrect, though. Gene Colan will stay on this book for all but three of the next eighty-one issues.
The story actually starts out compelling enough: Daredevil comes to the law offices to find three thugs waiting there for Matt Murdock. Daredevil, of course, beats the crap out of them. It’s in the fight scenes that Gene Colan really shines, giving a new look to body definition and movement. They’re still making Daredevil be extra quippy, though.
The thugs decide to go to Matt Murdock’s apartment to find him. The depiction of them entering the apartment is the artwork that Kyle really swoons over during our discussion. This page of art really exemplifies what Aaron loves so much about Gene Colan’s artwork: character definition and perspective.
There’s some silliness when Daredevil arrives back to the apartment. He can hear the thugs in the apartment, so he has to retrieve his clothes through the window and change clothes on the ledge so that he can go back downstairs to enter the apartment through the front door as Matt Murdock. Check out that top panel: skewed perspective and attention to detail make a very vibrant panel out of a scene that’s only three people standing around.
Here’s where the storyline really starts to degrade into stupidity. As it turns out, the thugs aren’t there to beat anybody up. They are there to escort Matt Murdock to a trial. The details are vague, but Matt is curious enough to agree.
The mysterious trial is on an island. As the plane flies in, we can see the obvious symbols of The Owl atop the nearby castle. Why would The Owl need Matt Murdock for a trial? Why are the artist and writer being so mysterious about The Owl’s identity when they put his visage on the cover? Check out that artwork, though. Gene Colan’s the man.
Okay. Okay. We know that we keep going on and on about Colan and his artwork, but we really haven’t seen artwork this good in this comic so far. Notice how well he draws people and faces. Try not to notice, though, how terrible he is at plotting because this story is dumb. It turns out that The Owl has brought Matt Murdock to the island to serve as defense attorney for a mock trial for the judge that sentenced him. The trial is a farce, The Owl just makes up rules, and he fully intends to sentence him to death regardless of Murdock’s defense. It’s dumb and contrived. Just kill the fucking judge! Why go through all this extra nonsense when you could just kill the fucking judge?!
This is the part where the stupidity of the story really starts to make us feel like we’re losing brain cells. The Owl agrees that Matt Murdock can call in a witness. However, he decrees that the witness must be someone that is already on the island. Matt agrees to this, exits the room, and returns three panels later . . .
. . . as Daredevil. Kyle has called shenanigans on this type of thing before. Aaron usually argues with him. This time, though, Kyle is absolutely right. Every single person in the room should realize that this is Matt Murdock! There would be no way for Daredevil to reach the island, and Matt Murdock has never been given an opportunity to contact Daredevil to get him to come to the island. This plot element is just stupid. Incidentally, while we have you looking at Gene Colan’s artwork, we have some gripes with this full-page as well. Daredevil’s stance as he enters the room is just dumb-looking and, strangely, lacks the finesse of every other panel in this comic.
The top three panels of this sequence are pretty cool, though. Colan is the first artist that we’ve had on this book to date to effectively show motion. That third panel is especially sublime. What’s not so sublime is the reveal that The Owl carries around a box of slippery billiard balls to throw on the floor to trip Daredevil up. That, like the rest of this clunker story, is just ridiculous and dumb.
Boy oh boy, don’t we love it when the writers/artists conveniently forget that Daredevil has superhuman abilities when it’s convenient to the plot they’re trying to sell. In the end, Daredevil gets trapped in a cage. A cage that he should have noticed with his radar abilities! This story continues next issue . . . We can’t wait!

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