Special Ingredient: Mike Murdock by Kyle Ross

Hello everyone, and welcome to COMFORT FOOD COMICS PRESENTS: SPECIAL INGREDIENT.

In every column, we look at a newer comic and the “Special Ingredient” that made it extra delicious. It could be a character, a location, a plot device, a callback to a previous issue… basically anything that jumped out to me and made me think “mmm, that really improved the taste of this comic.” (Metaphorically. We don’t recommend ingesting comics).

This week’s Special Ingredient is Mike Murdock, star of Daredevil Annual #1 by Chip Zdarsky, Manuel Garcia, Le Beau Underwood, Chris Mooneyham, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Clayton Cowles.

Who is Mike Murdock?

You’ve watched the Daredevil TV show, you’ve read the acclaimed runs – Miller and Janson, Nocenti and Romita Jr., Bendis and Maleev, Brubaker and Lark, Waid and Samnee, and probably Guardian Devil too – but you don’t remember many mentions of Mike Murdock. Matt Murdock is Daredevil, but who is Mike?

Well, Mike is Matt’s twin brother. But not really. And he was Daredevil. But not really.

Way back in 1967, after just over 2 years in publication, Mike Murdock was introduced by Stan Lee and Gene Colan in Daredevil #25.

The plots in Daredevil at the time were akin to those of a soap opera or romance comic. Matt was always pining for Karen Page, but wouldn’t pursue her because it wouldn’t be fair to saddle such a beautiful girl with a blind man (ableist nonsense that was common at the time and also present in Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four), and Karen was always pining for Matt but worried about him getting hurt because he was blind. And Foggy was always there too, living up to his nickname.

By Daredevil #25, Karen and Foggy were getting close to figuring out Matt’s secret identity, after too many coincidences. To keep them from figuring it out, Matt told them that Daredevil was actually his twin brother, Mike Murdock. Now Foggy couldn’t recall ever having heard of or met a twin brother before, in all of the years he had known Matt, so in order to cement the lie, Matt dressed up in wraparound sunglasses, a feathered fedora, and a tacky suit, and pretended to be his own twin brother – a drifter, gadabout, and part-time superhero, apparently. As Mike, he would mostly try and use hip slang, hit on Karen, talk about how Matt was the smart brother, and run off to be Daredevil. And even though Matt and Mike were never seen together, Foggy and Karen never figured it out.

It’s hard to imagine such a ruse being a believable storyline nowadays. As The Hood mentions in Daredevil Annual #1, Mike doesn’t seem to have a background or any information about him. At one point in the original storyline (Daredevil #29) Matt is considering whether or not to propose to Karen as Mike. How would that work? Did people just not need ID for marriage licenses in the 1960s? It certainly seemed like the lie was unsustainable, both in story and in reality, and so, after faking Mike’s death, as Daredevil, in Daredevil #41, the ruse ends and Mike Murdock is, mostly, never heard from again, excepting a brief mention, a name on a fake passport, a feathered hat in an office, or other small nods.

Until 2018 and Daredevil #606 by Charles Soule and Phil Noto, when Mike Murdock reappears, this time much to Matt’s surprise.

Matt had been working with Reader and Frank McGee of the Inhumans on a plan to bring the Kingpin down. Part of the plan involved Reader going through Matt Murdock’s notes, which contained mention of Mike Murdock. Reader accidentally read it while his powers were active, and since his powers are ill-defined “anything I read happens” magic, the result was that Mike Murdock became a real person, but a shell of one, with incomplete memories and no history in the Marvel Universe.

Which brings us to this week’s Daredevil Annual #1 – titled “One More Day.”

The similarities between the issue and the more-infamous story of that title are superficial. A redhead uses very powerful magic to alter history and the hero won’t even remember the way things used to be. If anything, using that title is a nod to the serious ramifications this story may have, as Mike Murdock uses a Norn Stone to fill in the holes in his past, not just for himself, but for everyone, creating an entire past in which he was real from the moments he and Matt were born.

It’s a fantastically well-done retcon that raises as many questions as it answers. Was Mike’s best friend, Butch, a real person before the spell? (Butch appeared previously in Daredevil #13, but the timing of everything can be seen as fairly pliable). What relationships has Mike had over the years? Who does he know, and what does he know?

Whereas the original One More Day was about taking something out of Spider-Man’s past, leaving us with questions about how stories still work, or which ones maybe never happened now, this One More Day is additive, raising questions of how much more has happened, on top of the stories we know.

Why is Mike Murdock a Special Ingredient?

To me, Mike Murdock is a special ingredient because he hearkens back to a silver age of ridiculous plotlines, ongoing romantic tensions, and over-the-top characters. As I said, the original concept of Mike Murdock could never work now. Chip and his co-creators, with the assist from Soule and Noto, have taken that and elevated it into something that does.

I asked Kuljit Mithra, webmaster of ManWithoutFear.com, what he thought of Mike Murdock, and he said “Definitely the Silver Age Mike Murdock has always been comic relief for me, but I really was interested to see where this ‘new’ Mike was gonna go when he was introduced by Soule.”

Personally, I think the original Mike Murdock idea was more than just comic relief, because it was also among the earliest establishments of how far and how crazy Matt will go to protect his secret identity, even from people he cares about, which has come up time and time again since. I really just love how this ridiculous lie has now come back around over 50 years later to finally bite Matt in the ass in ways it never did initially.

Recommended Reading

For the sake of continuity with the current storyline, one should probably read Daredevil: Back in Black Vol. 8: The Death of Daredevil, but to really understand why Mike Murdock is a Special Ingredient to me, I recommend reading the madcap antics of his early appearances, conveniently collected recently in Daredevil Epic Collection: Mike Murdock Must Die!.

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