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How Frank Miller accidentally killed a Daredevil cartoon (and Marvel killed a book to avoid pissing him off)

Frank Miller made Daredevil a success - and Marvel was keen to keep him as long as they could.

Daredevil #184
Image credit: Frank Miller (Marvel Comics)

In the early '80s Frank Miller was one of Marvel's top creators - between revitalizing Daredevil to co-creating Wolverine's first solo series, he was hard to beat. While it was his gritt, crime noir take on superheroes which was a key part of his charm - it also scared away some of its earliest mass-media spinoffs.

Daredevil #184
Image credit: Marvel Comics

Just as Miller's Daredevil series was taking off, ABC took interest in creating a Daredevil cartoon - ditching the grittiness in favor of a more kid-friendly approach, replete with Lighning the Super-Dog. But as the series was in development, March 1982's Daredevil #184 cover by Miller - featuring the Man WIthout Fear pointing a revolver directly at the reader. The illustration, seemingly a homage to Clint Eastwood's r-rated Dirty Harry film franchise - was intended to scare readers, and according to a Marvel executive scared off ABC.

"That Daredevil cover killed an ABC cartoon pitch," current Marvel executive editor Tom Breoort said in 2020.

Despite the foul-up, Miller rightly remained a key player in Marvel's bench - just as DC began approaching the writer/artist to work over there - including of all things a revamp of DC's Trinity - Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman - with Steve Gerber. Although that pitch was ultimately canceled, the door was open for Miller at DC. And while some creators have been able to balance working for both publishers simultaneously, given Miller's aborted Dr. Strange run - attributed to his busy schedule - Marvel editors would have to know that if Miller began working for DC regularly, that'd mean less of him at Marvel.

Marvel Retread Funnies #1
Image credit: Marvel Comics

As all this was happening, a new comedy series was in development as part of Marvel's burdgeoning humor lin led by editor Larry Hama. Hama, who oversaw Marvel's Crazy comedy title, was branching out with more comedy ideas - including what would become Peter Porker the spectacular Spider Ham, as well as a comic which would re-letter classic Marvel comics for comedic effect - beginning with Daredevil #181 - Frank Miller and friends' oversized and memorable special which included, among other things, the (first) death of Elektra.

The title, dubbed Marvel Retread Funnies, was intended to be a relatively low-cost book - since the comics were already drawn - with writers and letterers tweaking the comics for comedy. Then-Marvel editors Mike Carlin and Christopher Priest (then known as James Owsley) re-wrote Daredevil #181 for comedy, but it was only after the book was re-lettered that Frank Miller learned of the project.

"Nobody, however, had thought to mention any of this to Frank Miller, and Frank was pissed when he heard about it," Brevoort writes on his Substack. "So much so that the plug was pulled and the book was killed. It hasn’t seen print since, and I’ve only seen a page or two of it myself."

No need to piss off Miller while he's one of your top creators, right?

Miller's work waned at Marvel over the years, and after 1993's Daredevil: The Man Without Fear the creator balked at working with the publisher for 30 years - until he began drawing covers for the company again this year.


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