by The Masked Bookwyrm

Daredevil - Page 1

"Though attorney Matt Murdock is blind, his other senses function with superhuman sharpness -- his radar sense guides him over every obstacle! He stalks the streets, a red-garbed foe of evil..."

For other Daredevil stories, see Son of Origins, and guest starring appearances in The Death of Jean deWolff and Spider-Man/Kingpin: To the Death (both in Spider-Man section, and appearances and cameoes see Fantastic Four section (Essential FF #2, The Villainy of Dr. Doom, and The Trial of Galactus)

Batman / Daredevil: King of New York 2000 (SC GN) 48 pgs.

coverWritten by Alan Grant. Illustrated by Eduardo Barreto.
Colours: Matt Hollingsworth. Letters: Ken Bruzenak.

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by DC Comics

Review posted: Oct. 2014

As an adult reading super hero comics I can sometimes wonder whether I should pack up and go home. After all, for all the industry protestations that "comics aren't just for kids anymore" I can find myself reading comics and finding them dumb, failing to hold my attention. But is the fault with them -- or simply that I'm not the target audience? After all, I wouldn't criticize a Saturday Morning cartoon because it failed to engage me now the way it did when I was eight. So I can be bored reading dumb, breezy, cheesy comics and wonder if it's just me.

And then I can read a dumb, breezy, cheesy comic and enjoy it and realize -- nope, maybe the others really were just bad comics!

Which brings us to Batman/Daredevil: King of New York, a company crossover story pairing Marvel's Daredevil with DC's Batman (apparently they'd met before in a previous crossover) and it's simplistic, and dumb, and as light-weight as a feather -- and it's a lot of fun.

Part of that may stem from the fact that it doesn't even pretend to be more than it is: a generic super hero cross-company team up in a plot involving a key foe for each of them (Batman's Scarecrow and Daredevil's Kingpin) -- and with Catwoman thrown in for an extended cameo. The plot makes just enough sense to get you from scene to scene, but doesn't beg any closer scrutiny. Of course, given that foes like the Scarecrow are basically irrational and their primary goal is chaos, you don't really expect much in the way of a master plan anyway.

Actually I'm being overly kind, because the plot (as I understood it) is really quite nonsensical. It seems to involve a kind of mob war/feud between the Scarecrow and the Kingpin, with the Scarecrow seeming to be muscling in on the Kingpin's territory -- except by the end it doesn't really seem as though the Scarecrow had any interest in taking over the mobs! And purists might quibble about the portrayal of the Kingpin who doesn't entirely act or sound much like the coldly calculating mob boss of Daredevil comics. Here he's uttering flippancies, getting involved in the action instead of delegating it to underlings...leaping from helicopters (yes -- leaping!)

Of course the pairing of Batman and Daredevil is one of those things that seems obvious, since they occupy a similar role in each company's pantheon of heroes -- but that very similarity can maybe lead you to think pairing them seems a bit redundant.

So why is it enjoyable?

I guess because writer Alan Grant keeps the pace brisk and snappy. The heroes rarely stop moving, no time put side for civilian identities or much introspection. There's a light tone to it (despite occasional murders) -- without sliding too much into camp or silliness -- that lets you know it's just meant to be a romp (like an amusing bit where Catwoman sarcastically wonders if Daredevil is Batman's latest sidekick which, given the number of partners Batman's had over the years -- Robin(s), Nightwing, Batgirl, Huntress -- is a not unreasonable assumption). Humour is milked from the heroes clashing a bit with each other, without simply having them bicker non-stop. You believe they're okay working together even as they'd each prefer to be solo.

A big advantage is that even as it's just a mindless action-adventure romp, Grant doesn't simply rely on numbing multi-page fight scenes padded with a few dialogue panels. It's fast paced, sure, but the fights themselves are economically staged so that it remains a story, first and foremost. It's "adventure" more than simply "fight scenes."

Aiding this is Eduardo Barreto's art. I've always been a fan of his work, with his clean, realist styling and good eye for composition and storytelling. He nicely marries a sense of relative realism, with the gothic, dark night vibe suitable to both characters (and his Catwoman is presented with a touch of cheesecake but not so much so to be crass). He uses a thicker, heavier inking style here than I sometimes associate with him, his other work often having a slightly scratchy, almost Joe Kubert-esque finish. But it works well, and suits the super hero romp vibe.

No, your collection won't miss this if you don't have it. And odds are you'll forget it the next day after reading it -- but that means you can enjoy dragging it off the shelf again a few months later.

It's simple and not wholly logical -- and it proves that those attributes can still be fun if done with class.

Original cover price: $5.95 USA

Daredevil: Vol 2 2003 (HC) pgs.

cover by Alex MaleevWritten by Brian Michael Bendis. Illustrated by Alex Maleev.
Colours: Matt Hollingsworth. Letters: RS and Wes Abbott.

Reprinting: Daredevil (2nd series) #26-37

Additional notes: intro by Mark Steven Johnson (writer/director of the Daredevil movie); interview with Bendis; sketch gallery; look at the colouring process; etc.

Rating: * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

This prestige, hardcover book collects two Daredevil story arcs (the first seguing into the second). Both have been collected in their own, soft cover TPBs and, as such, are reviewed there as Underboss and Out. I'll admit, despite the acclaim writer Bendis has been getting, I was underwhelmed by the whole saga -- though a second reading might mute my disappointment. The collection features an introduction by Mark Steven Johnson (the guy behind the Daredevil movie). Reading his gushing intro telling us how brilliant Bendis is, one might consider my dismissive review as suspect...until one actually sees the movie (O.K., the movie wasn't that bad, but it calls into questions his credentials as an expert on thoughtful storytelling).

For those trying to decide between this and the TPBs -- this has additional bits like intros and afterwards, and a sketch gallery. But the Out TPB contains another three issues, comprising another story line. So, take you're pick.

Cover price: $48.00 CDN./ $29.99 USA

Daredevil / Black Widow: Abattoir 1993 (SC GN) 62 pgs.

cover by ChiodoWritten by Jim Starlin. Illustrated by Joe Chiodo.
Letters: Janice Chiang.

Additional notes: tabloid size.

Reviewed: Oct. 2014

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Daredevil/Black Widow re-teams the two characters who had once been lovers and, back in comics published in the 1970s, shared title billing in Daredevil's own comic. This time out, though, one could argue it's more a Black Widow story guest starring DD than the other way around (though DD is certainly prominent).

As the title, Abattoir, implies, it's a dark, violent tale.

The premise is that heroine and super spy, the Black Widow, becomes embroiled in an investigation of a grisly serial killer after a friend of her's becomes the latest victim. She's contacted by spymaster, Nick Fury, because the victims all seem to be secret agents with latent telepathic abilities. The Widow recruits Daredevil, who quickly realizes it's not just spies who are being targeted, but various people with low-level psychic powers.

But the investigation goes awry with The Widow captured by the killer and with Daredevil plunging into a wintery night in an effort to track her down before it's too late. (At one point driving a car with writer Starlin not explaining how Daredevil's abilities -- super senses and radar -- can help him drive when he's in a closed environment).

There are a few reasons why this, no doubt, received the "graphic novel" presentation. The art by Joe Chiodo is painted. The teaming of Daredevil and The Black Widow (particularly with the emphasis on the Widow) was maybe seen as not having an obvious home elsewhere. And, of course, one can imagine an editor thinking it was a bit rough for a mainstream comic. Much of the story taking place in the killers' lair as the Widow (and especially a couple of agents who were captured with her) are tortured and, in the latter case, killed. More Silence of the Lambs than James Bond.

Yeah -- good fun!

Seriously, it is a pretty dark, unpleasant tale -- if you take it too much to heart. Strangely though, I didn't much. The violence and brutality more just washing off me. Maybe it was a result of the art style, or maybe I'm just becoming numb to these sort of gratuitous excesses. One can see in this echoes of other work by Starlin, such as Batman: The Cult. But it's a story that some people will find just overwhelmingly excessive -- and others, who watch the plethora of gratuitous serial killer thrillers in movies and TV (from "Saw" to "Crininal Minds") will take in stride.

Yet, to its credit, it clips along reasonably well, staying tight and focused. Sometimes that can be a problem (rendering the plot rather thin for a "graphic novel") while other times it lends the story a certain intensity. Which may also helps with the scenes of brutality -- they don't drag along too much.

As mentioned, artist Chiodo paints and as often is the case with painted comics, it's mixed results. On one hand it does give it a lush "special" aura, even as it's not really like Chiodo's underlining pencil and drawings are any more than adequate. His faces and figures are stiff, the drawing not overly realistic (sometimes deliberately so, such as some flashback scenes which are meant to have an impressionistic vibe). His Daredevil is actually a little more powerful and memorable than his Black Widow.

In the end this is an okay page turner for what it is. There are no glaring "dumb" bits (other than DD driving a cab!) or clumsy scenes. But as I say, it does have aspects more of being a kind of horror-thriller and if you don't think you'll enjoy that, reading it probably won't change your mind.

Original cover price: __

Daredevil: Born Again - cover by David MazzuccelliDaredevil: Born Again 1987 (SC TPB) 176 pgs.

Written by Frank Miller. Illustrated by David Mazzucchelli.
Colours: Christine Scheele, Richmond Lewis, Max Scheele. Letters: Joe Rosen. Editor: Ralph Macchio.

Reprinting: Daredevil (1st series) #227-233 (1986) - with covers

Rating: * * * * 1/2 (out of five)

Number of readings: 2

Capping off Frank Miller's return to Daredevil -- the character that catapulted him to stardom in the late '70s/early '80s -- was this final, seven issue story line in which the criminal ganglord, the Kingpin, learns D.D.'s secret identity, and destroys his life from the shadows, before he finally re-emerges...reborn.

I've commented before about how different readings of a story can leave you with different impressions (sometimes they don't, of course -- but sometimes they do). I first read this a few months ago and wrote a review, but decided against posting it until I'd read it again. After re-reading the story, I re-read my initial review, too. Interestingly enough, in many respects what my original review said is still valid, but, on a second reading, seems unduly negative.

You see, though I initially thought it was good, it seemed overrated. Re-reading it, I liked it a lot more.

Maybe I expected too much the first time through. A survey I once read placed this story line ahead of the Watchmen (and just behind Batman: The Dark Knight) in popularity; Gerard Jones, in the Comic Book Heroes (1997 ed.), called it "the best-crafted storytelling (Miller) ever did".

Born Again is ambitious and involved. Karen Page, Matt Murdock's former lover who left him way back in the '70s to become an actress (even appearing in a few Ghost Rider comics from that period) is now a junkie and porn actress who sells Matt's secret identity for a heroin fix. The Kingpin acts on that knowledge, working in secret to have Matt disbarred, his life and home destroyed. Matt, already on the verge of a nervous breakdown thanks to previous events in his life (which makes this not quite as self-contained as one might like) goes over the deep end, becoming a derelict. The Kingpin orders everyone who knows the secret killed...forcing Karen to flee for her life to the very man she betrayed...Matt.

The themes are big and powerful. Spiritual decay and redemption, vendettas and forgiveness, urban corruption and human decency. In fact, the main focus of this story line is the Decline of Western Civilization. The Kingpin is not just lord of crime, but lord of the city, who has his fingers into everyone and everything. In Miller's dark world, anyone can be bought or blackmailed or manipulated.

Just so we don't lose track of these things, the chapter titles are rife with religious imagery: "Purgatory", "Saved", etc. Born Again is at once wholly unlike most comic book superhero stories, and entirely grounded in the idiom. Murdock spends much of the saga out of costume, and the story follows the various, normal, supporting characters, seeming more like an urban drama or a crime novel...but the themes of redemption and rebirth, where the fundamental decency of the achingly guileless Foggy Nelson and the flawed nobility of the decidedly non-macho Ben Urich are given equal weight as any costumed hero -- well that's pure comic book philosophy. At least, the best of superhero comics.

Early scenes depicting Matt's paranoia work well, Miller putting us in his unravelling mind the way he can better than almost anyone, and a lot of the ensemble of characters are well-drawn. The complex plotting, with various threads seeming independent of each other, then suddenly veering together, is unusually strong and complex for Miller (particularly chapter five). More often he's better at mood and character than with the nuts and bolts of plot.

It's a rich, engrossing, adult saga with memorable scenes and characterizations, hanging on the theme that the city's gone to hell, as much in need of redemption as Daredevil himself. "Look at all these people. They don't care a bit!" charges supporting character Glori O'Breen of the pedestrians who've watched an attempted mugging.

The art by David Mazzuccelli is also starkly effective, crisp and gritty, at once beautiful and ugly. Over these issues it evolves from competent comic book work to the strikingly effective simple realism he would employ in Batman: Year One. Along the way he employs a heavier inking style in spots, perhaps to evoke the Miller/Klaus Janson work from the early '80s. Interestingly, in my initial review I'm more critical of Mazzuccelli's work, but the second time through I have little to say that's negative.

So why was I less enthusiastic the first time through?

Well, admittedly, the seams start to show as things progress. The fundamental character arc is Daredevil's emotional breakdown, then his re-birth...but that re-birth is a bit wishy-washy. It's not clear what pulls him together. In a way, there's a feeling that Miller was taking his religious metaphors too literally, hinting almost at divine intervention. But that doesn't wash in the mainly gritty realism of this saga.

We wait a big chunk of the book for the reunion of Karen Page and Matt -- when the good woman trapped inside the junkie tells the good man trapped inside the derelict how she betrayed him. But when it happens off camera! It's as if Miller chickened out, unsure how to write such an emotionally challenging scene. And a sub-plot involving a nun presents more questions than it answers.

In spots, Miller falls into the trap that a lot of modern "serious" comic writers fall into: he set out to write a great story, an important story, and the human players are reduced at times to cyphers, the emotion a bit aloof. The human scenes seem less important than the thematic ones. And that's just wrong.

Miller's themes expand in the conclusion when the Kingpin calls in a government sanctioned psychotic super-soldier, Nuke, to kill Daredevil (and blow up half of Hell's Kitchen). The idea of urban decay expands to include social and governmental decay, with the pill-popping, super-patriotic Nuke symbolizing just how badly the American Dream has gone awry. The Kingpin comments that he has merely transported war from the jungles of South America to Manhattan -- in other words, the kind of nasty little "foreign" wars one watches blasely on TV have come home to roost.

For contrast, Miller brings Captain America into the story, pitting the icon of a nobler age against his twisted, contemporary version. There's actually a bit of a parallel with Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight, with Cap and the Avengers in the Superman role, briefly seeming stooges to the System. But Daredevil is suddenly shunted a bit to the side -- reduced to co-starring status in his owwn climax! And although we can respond to the symbolism in the Captain America/Nuke contrast, even Miller seems vaguely aware how silly the concept is. The '40s was not some dream age of integrity and kindness and heroism, and hinging his otherwise serious dissertation on such a blatantly hokey and cliched falsehood hurt things. Not badly, it's true, but when the character/human drama scenes seem to have been short changed in favour of the big ideas, and then the big ideas end up being a little hollow, well, it causes things to stumble a little.

For such a largely non-action driven saga, the climax should've been character-oriented (the reconciliation with Karen, perhaps) rather than a lot of shooting and fighting and broadly drawn "symbols".

There are other technical flaws, like Daredevil's sole victory over the Kingpin being destroying his public image, when there was little indication the public saw him as anything but a gangster to begin with, or a minor slip-up like Daredevil seeming unsurprised by Karen Page's re-entry into his life. Presumably after threading her through four issues, Miller forgot that Daredevil, as a character, was unaware that she had been returned to the cast. As well, Miller's text captions veer kind of erratically from third person to first person in ways that seem more like mistakes than artistic expression. And some have objected to the narrative idea of turning Karen Page into a junkie-porn star as being misogynistic.

Daredevil: Born Again doesn't quite deliver an ending to match its build up, and there's a sense that Miller may have bit off more than he could chew. But once you accept that, this is an engrossing, rewarding epic and seemed to herald a new direction in Daredevil's life, reinventing him as a defender of the inner city.

Cover price: $23.75 CDN./$16.95 USA. 

Daredevil by Mark Waid, vol. 1  2012 (SC TPB) 150 pages pgs.

coverWritten by Mark Waid. Art by Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin. Inks by Joe Rivera, Marcos Martin.
Colours: Javier Rodriguez, Muntsa Vicente. Letters: Joe Caramagna. Editor: Stephen Wacker.

Reprinting:  Daredevil (2011 series) #1-6 plus covers

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of five)

Additional notes: interview with Waid; interview with Rivera; behind-the-scenes sketches

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: Nov. 2012

When you've read enough comics, everything old becomes new, and vice versa. And comic book characters seem to live in repetitive cycles.

Daredevil started out a bit grim, evolved into a wisecracking swashbuckler, went through a melancholy phase, took a sharp turn back into ultra gritty noir...and then periodically writers come along, announce the comic is too mired in dark grimness, and resurrect the swashbuckling persona...until another creative team decides to return the darkness...then light...then dark. So Mark Waid's Daredevil (re-starting the series from #1 -- though it is maintaining the continuity from earlier) is an attempt to steer the series a bit away from the dark grittiness that threatened to leave it moribund and to recapture some of that old twinkle.

So the new series begins with the character getting his life back together, and basically trying to re-boot his career after having (apparently) hit rock bottom in his previous adventures (which sounds like the start to a dozen previous DD eras). So rock bottom that, apparently, whatever happened (which I haven't read, so I'm not sure) Captain America even drops by, threatening to press charges -- though doesn't.

Which is part of the problem with these "new directions" -- that even as writers desperately insist they want to chart a new course...they're still dealing with the repercussions of whatever they are trying to get away from.

Still, you don't really need to know too much about all that, aside from a few cryptic lines and scenes (like the Captain America appearance). The main thrust is DD, in his alter ego of Matt Murdock, and partner Foggy Nelson, are trying to re-establish their law firm, while DD also battles a few villains...skewing a bit more toward the costumed types, though with some mobsters and (comic book) terrorist organizations along as well. And I picked this up because Waid's run seemed to be getting a lot of enthusiastic reviews and I, too, appreciate a lighter, old fashioned Daredevil series.

But it left me a bit mixed.

Waid writes some nice dialogue, some cute jokes (Daredevil wakes up trapped in an elaborate sci-fi contraption and thinks: "Suddenly, I miss ninjas."). And Waid does come up with some interestingly staged action scenes (or un-action scenes, such as a climax where DD essentially talks his way out of a situation). There's some humorous ideas -- like a costumed villain/hitman who seeks sponsorship from evil organizations (like AIM and Hydra), wearing their emblems like a race car driver does corporate logos. The art is handled by Paolo Rivera (on the first three issues) and Marcos Martin (on the next three) -- both men with a kind of stripped down, slightly cartoony style that nonetheless is energetic and "breathes", married with a nice eye for composition and panel arrangement. The two men have such similar styles you might barely notice a change in the art chores. Waid and his artists combine to, at times, nicely explore some of the ideas inherent in a "blind" hero with super senses, and how he would perceive the world.

But the run also has weakness. For one: it can all feel a bit thin.

It is basically just two, three-issue stories -- stories that, frankly, only warrant an issue or two each. When you think about what actually happens per's not a lot. Like a lot of modern comics, the scenes themselves can feel a bit protracted, each chapter can often only seem to involve a handful of scenes. Perhaps equally frustrating, a number of the action scenes...have no relevance to the actual plots (including the Captain America tussle which is even used as the cliff hanger to bridge two issues!)

Some of this can be forgiven if you assume that the action, and the adventure-plots, are more just being squeezed in between the character soap opera and sub-plot scenes, as some comics will do. Except there's not really a whole lot of that, either. Waid himself in an interview (included at the back) suggests he believes supporting characters should be gradually introduced. But as such, beyond Matt and Foggy...we get very little else in six issues. We meet a feisty female Assistant DA, and potential romantic interest -- and though there's a clever bit of misdirection as to where relationships are headed, she only has about three scenes in six issues! We get a few scenes of Matt and Foggy discussing their work, or Matt chastising Foggy for his snack habits (at least twice). And that's about it -- not enough to really say "oh, that's what the comics are about -- the super hero-ing is just window dressing".

The second story arc is actually a curious thing where the plot doesn't really justify three issues...even as the concept is interesting enough that it could've been stretched out longer as a sub-plot (if that's not a contradiction). Involving sinister goings on at an investment firm, it might have been better to tease it through the first arc as a sub-plot -- a page here and there -- so that then when we get to the climax, we can at least feel we had built to it (and it would then allow the six issues to feel like an opposed to simply two, unconnected three-part adventures).

Part of the problem with some series is that there are various angles the writer can focus on...and if he focuses on the "wrong" thing, or the thing that doesn't work for you, it can knock the whole thing off balance. In this case, Waid devotes a great deal of time, both as a sub-plot, and just for comic relief, to the fact that it's a widely known rumour that Matt Murdock is Daredevil. It's almost the bedrock of Waid's issues! Waid even uses this to justify a career diversion for Matt, as he finds his notoriety means he has trouble practising court room the firm considers re-directing itself to being more a legal consulting firm. Which in itself seems like we've been that way before -- finding some way to fiddle with Matt's lawyering. He's a defender, he's a prosecutor, he's disbarred, he works a walk in clinic. Legal dramas are a staple of TV, but for some reason comic book writers seem to have trouble with the concept.

And here's my problem: it all just strikes me as stupid and lame. Sorry, but it does. And on multiple levels.

Matt was "outted" back in the Brian Michael Bendis story "Out" (assuming that's to which Waid is alluding and, given my point about "cycles", that DD hasn't been outted again inbetween). I thought Out was dumb at the time. It was -- to me (and everyone will have their own reaction) -- implausible, since the revelation involved a newspaper reporting that an FBI agent told them that a mobster told him that another mobster told him that another mobster believed Matt Murdock was DD. I'm sorry -- what newspaper would take that seriously? (Particularly given we are talking a blind man!) But then Bendis' story ended with it all just wishy-washy -- where officially his ID was still secret...even as it was now a public rumour. Which smacked of an editorial regime that couldn't decide whether they wanted to run with the idea or not. And now here we are a decade later -- apparently still playing that it's a secret when it needs to be a secret, and public knowledge when the story needs it to be public. Talk about a lack of story development in a decade! And somehow we're supposed to believe that it's so widely accepted it's interfering with Matt's career...but not widely accepted enough for super villains to take shots at him in the street!

And now Waid uses it to have it be Matt's lawyer career is no longer tenable because the opposition makes it an issue in the trials. Except -- how? Aren't judges normally quick to stamp down lawyers when they stray from matters relevant to the matter before the court? Wouldn't it be the other lawyer who would get into trouble with the judge...rather than having it be that the judge, as he does here, advises Matt's client to seek another, less notorious lawyer?

I know -- super hero comics are fantasy, full of super powers and alien beings. But this whole thread just seems to be one stupid, implausible idea built on another. And yet, as I say: it's a central part of Waid's plotting. (For that matter, wouldn't having a man rumoured to be Daredevil -- a celebrated hero -- as your lawyer actually be beneficial to the client? Waid could've actually gone that route: have it be that Matt is flooded with clients who just want to take advantage of his rep, as essentially a PR trophy, and so he retreats to being a behind-the-scenes legal consultant to insure people want him for his legalese...not his propaganda value).

The bottom line is, I didn't dislike this run of issues. As I say, Waid writes some cute quips, and there are some nice action scenes. And there is a pleasantness in its desire to move away, a bit, from the overt doom and gloom.

But it all feels just a bit...bland. Thin plots, little true use (so far) of a supporting cast or a human drama/soap opera undercurrent to engage us emotionally...and too much reliance on a central theme regarding his secret/not-secret ID that I just wasn't able to willingly suspend my disbelief over. Honestly, if Waid had crammed all this into two or three issues (secret ID stuff included) I'd probably say it was a fun romp. 'Cause it is enjoyable. But it just feels a tad...lethargic at six issues. I'm closing the book and going: "um, that was it?"

I like DD -- I do. I've read lots of DD comics from different eras that I've enjoyed (to varying degrees) but strangely I've found a lot of runs in the last decade or so just really don't pass the "smart" test for me -- despite critical accolades heaped on them from others. From Waid, to Bendis, to Kevin Smith's brief run (which Waid praises in the interview).

Original cover price: $__ CDN./$15.99 USA.

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