One year after the Punisher made his first appearance against Spider-Man, another deadly vigilante battled a different NYC hero. Inspired by classic pulp heroes like Doc Savage, this armored assassin battled Daredevil and easily defeated him in back to back issues. A pair of pennies covering the victim’s eyes meant that another miscreant had fallen prey to the poison darts of the sinister Copperhead!
Comic greats Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman co-scripted Daredevil #124. Colan wrote the first half of the issue. It opened with the Black Widow departing the series after a long run as Daredevil’s partner and lover. In classic Gene Colan style we saw Daredevil moping about expressing his thoughts in lengthy thought bubbles – a feature no longer common in comics. Suddenly, halfway through the issue, DD’s melodramatic thought bubbles disappeared. The hero now talked to himself in action scenes as he hunted down a mysterious killer. The strange mid issue transition was obvious even to a novice comic reader like me back then. Within a single issue, Daredevil transformed into an aggressive street-level detective. Marv Wolfman then introduced Copperhead to be the first adversary for this new iteration of the hero.
A villain from the Pulp Fiction Era
Copperhead’s full-body copper armor hid beneath a trench coat and wide-brimmed hat. His voice hissed out as a raspy whisper through his metal mask. He carried a pistol loaded with flechettes coated with the venom from a copperhead snake. This poison paralyzed then swiftly killed anyone unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end. Copperhead’s copper armor made him impervious to Daredevil’s attacks. It also enhanced his strength, enabling him to pummel the hero senseless. The villain’s calling card was to cover the eyes of his victims with a copper penny.
In Daredevil #125 we learn that Copperhead is Lawrence Chesney. Chesney’s father modeled for the covers of the fictional hero, Copperhead, in old pulp fiction stories. Lawrence grew up listening to his father’s tales and believing that he was the real Copperhead. When his father died, Lawrence created his own Copperhead armor and persona. He hunted down the publishers his father claimed to have cheated him out of money and recognition. Like the fictional hero he modeled himself after, he also executed several criminals he happened upon.
Gone in a Flash
After being defeated twice by Copperhead, Daredevil tracked him down at Lawrence’s father’s gravesite. On the verge of defeating the hero a third time, a chance lightning bolt is attracted to the villain’s copper armor. The electrocuted vigilante falls into the open grave as Daredevil flips two pennies onto his lifeless eyes.
A new Copperhead appeared in the Human Fly #8. This classic Marvel comic was based on the adventures of a real-life stuntman. The new Copperhead also falls victim to his armor, as it pulls him down into a river.
The original Copperhead reappears in the Daredevil/Spider-Man mini-series as a demon returned from the dead determined to drag Daredevil back with him. Daredevil’s longtime foe, the Owl, sacrifices himself to save the hero.
A future for the Vigilante?
Daredevil’s rogues’ gallery has some similarities to a certain pointy-eared hero’s in the DC Universe. Based upon his original appearance, Copperhead made a great addition to it. Marvel wanted to reintroduce Daredevil as a Batman-style street detective. Bearing many parallels to classic Batman villains, Copperhead made a perfect foil for the hero to start with. In true Dark Knight style, the hero had to piece clues together to track him down. Only a chance lightning bolt saved the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Unfortunately, it also robbed us of the possible tale of how Copperhead got his armor as well as future vigilante storylines. I’m convinced that Copperhead would have translated to the small screen as a great foe in Daredevil’s Netflix series. Perhaps we could still see him if Disney chooses to utilize Netflix’s most popular superhero. If not, Copperhead will remain Almost Infamous.