GRAPHIC NOVEL and TRADE
PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm


Daredevil Reviews - Page 2

Daredevil and the Punisher: Child's Play  1987 (SC TPB) 50 pgs.

Daredevil/Punisher: Child's Play - cover by Frank Miller / Klaus JansonWritten by Frank Miller and Roger McKenzie. Art by Frank Miller. Inks by Klaus Janson.
Original colours: Klaus Janson. Letters: Joe Rosen. Editor: Denny O'Neil.

Reprinting:  Daredevil (1st series) #183 & 184 - plus part of #182, and without the final pages from 184 (which led into 185) (1982)

Additional notes: various commentaries; covers

Rating: * * * (out of five)

Number of readings: a few times over the years

When a little girl O.D.s on Angel Dust and her equally young brother is charged with the subsequent murder of one of the dealers who supplied her, D.D. sets out to figure out who really killed the dealer. Things get complicated when the homicidal vigilante, the Punisher, shows up.

Daredevil/Punisher: Child's Play is a mix of strengths and weaknesses. The story is a little more complicated and plot-driven than I associate with Miller's work at the time, and passages like "Darkness doesn't descend on Hell's Kitchen. It spews up from shadowed doorways and back alleys and fire-gutted tenements..." are a reminder of a time when comic books had literary aspirations, rather than the more cinematic-style popular today. The story has grown up elements of mystery and whodunnit, too -- no guessing the identity of the killer because he wears a colourful costume and calls himself "Dr. Evil, Master of Mischief" or some such moniker.

Conversely, the first part (co-written by Roger McKenzie) isn't as pithy or stylish as Miller can be on his own, and some of the anti-drug dialogue is overdone (the key to preaching is not to be obvious about it). And the plot gets a bit muddled, even illogical in spots.

And if you find yourself giggling through TV's The Practice, or re-runs of L.A. Law, over how loosely they follow the rules of law, comic books are often worse. Comic companies should seriously consider having legal advisors on retainer so that lawyer-heroes Daredevil and the She-Hulk, or even just general crime-oriented comics like Batman, can have a semblance of veracity when it comes to court room scenes.

Selling this as a team-up between Daredevil and the Punisher is a bit awkward -- Punny is just a supporting character (the inclusion of eight pages from Daredevil #182, as a kind of solo prologue showing the Punisher break out of prison, was maybe included to boost his presence). As well, even though Miller was part of the wave of comic folks in the '80s emphasizing violence (often gratuitously) -- heck, he was at the vanguard -- and much of his recent stuff has been ppretty extreme, here the brutal Punisher is clearly portrayed as a bad guy. There's none of the old "let's agree to disagree" stuff that Spider-Man sometimes indulged in.

And maybe that becomes even more disturbing. Since the Punisher subsequently became tres populaire (at least for a time), does that mean his fans will still interpret this as Punny-as-hero as he shoots boys who've surrendered and beats a man almost to death? That's clearly what Marvel wants you to think. The TPB contains no less than three editorials (by Ralph Macchio, Mike Baron, and Ann Nocenti) which, to varying degrees, try and push the idea that the Punisher is pretty cool in his own right -- almost as if to combat the material in the story itself. That's no fault of Miller and McKenzie, if their intention is being misconstrued, but it's troubling nonetheless.

The editorials also push the idea of how gritty and provocative the drug story was. Which may or may not be true. I first read these issues after they were published, but long before the TPB collection was released, and I don't recall thinking it was particularly unusual. That's not a criticism, just an observation.

Daredevil/Punisher: Child's Play isn't, maybe, classic Miller/Daredevil, but it's certainly O.K.

Original cover price: $6.50 CDN./$4.95 USA.


Daredevil: The Fall of the Kingpin  1993 (SC TPB) 112 pgs.

coverWritten by D.G. Chichester. Pencils by Lee Weeks. Inks by Al Williamson.
Colours: Max Scheele. Letters: various. Editor: Ralph Macchio.

Reprinting: Daredevil (1st series) #297-300 (1991-1992)

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

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: July 2015

The problem with TPB collections is often how they will read in isolation. In this case, Fall of the Kingpin is meant to be an epic showdown between Daredevil and mob boss The Kingpin -- the latter having been a fixture of the series for years (his introduction was collected in the TPB Gang War ~ reviewed below). Not that this story arc did much more than briefly sideline him! But it was also heavily promoted (on the back cover) as a sequel, or at least a thematic bookend, to the Born Again story arc. In that older story The Kingpin destroyed DD's life -- now DD gets his payback.

But that's what I mean about figuring out how it should be read. It's not clear if this is just a belated follow up to Born Again (which, after all, was a number of issues before) as if DD is only now getting around to some payback, or whether it somehow arises out of and is motivated by events in the previous few issues of the comic. Because it just starts with DD showing up at the Kingpin's office announcing he's coming for him.

And the whole feels a bit undeveloped -- especially for a four issue saga building to a double-sized anniversary issue! It's almost as if Chichester and/or his editor thought a cool 300th issue story should be the (temporary) final showdown between DD and the Kingpin...but when it came time to write it, he didn't have any great ideas. The core idea, as near as I could tell (and admittedly, maybe my mind was wandering) is basically that DD publicly reveals The Kingpin has ties to the terrorist organization, Hydra -- which basically starts the dominoes tumbling as he seems weak (or something) to his crimeland rivals (I guess for having a silent partner) as well as getting the authorities to investigating The Kingpin.

But it all feels a bit tepid and undeveloped -- and not really enough to justify some 110 pages! It's not like there are twists or turns, or like DD has to peel back any particular layers. Basically he learns about the Hydra thing because Nick Fury (of SHIELD) tells him about it, and then DD tells everyone else. That's about the extent of DD's strategizing. Perhaps there's intended irony in that I'm not sure The Kingpin was even supposed to know his silent partner was a front for Hydra -- but if so, even that's problematic. As it basically means DD pulls down the Kingpin's empire largely thanks to a lucky accident.

Not a lot really seems to occur in the story -- at least, reflecting back I'm hard pressed to remember much that sticks in my mind. Daredevil himself doesn't really materialize into much of a personality, despite it being his frustration and obsession that kicks off the story. There are times where Chichester seems to want to play around with ambiguity, or have DD act guilt-ridden as if his vendetta is going too far -- except his angst can seem a bit misplaced. He gets Typhoid Mary, the Kingpin's assassin-and-girlfriend, institutionalized, then acts guilty...but, um, shouldn't she be? I mean, isn't that probably the best thing for her, as well as for the city?

The arc builds to a climax with DD and the Kingpin engaged in a chase/battle through New York. Maybe it was seen as a cathartic release for long time fans, but it feels a bit pointless. It also revolves around the Kingpin trying to employ a last minute strategy against Daredevil that, otherwise, wasn't even foreshadowed in these pages -- and it's not really clear why the Kingpin would think it would help him out of his jam, anyway.

Now I'm always curious about my reaction to things versus someone else's. In the Slings & Arrows Comic Guide (1996) this story is described as "intelligent material." For me it just seemed a bit plodding, lacking clever twists and turns, and without either DD or the Kingpin really emerging as vivid personalities (despite some effort to give the Kingpin introspective scenes).

The art is nice, with a straightforward realism by Lee Weeks, evoking David Mazzuchelli (from Born Again) but maybe never quite excels itself in terms of storytelling, or mood.

Okay, I'll admit, maybe I came at this in the wrong frame of mind. But I just found it neither fun or exciting enough to be a super hero romp -- nor smart or cleverly plotted enough to be a thinking man's thriller.


cover by JansonDaredevil: Gang War 2003 (SC TPB) 114 pages

Written and drawn by Frank Miller. Inked by Klaus Janson.
Colours: Gylnis Wein. Letters: Joe Rosen. Editor: Denny O'Neil.

Reprinting: Daredevil (1st series) #169-172, 180 (1981-1982)

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

Number of readings: 2

Although Frank Miller's run on Daredevil has become regarded as something of a classic, and began Miller's rise to the heights of popular and critical acclaim in comics, and his entire run has eventually been collected in a series of Daredevil Visionaries TPBs, for a long time I think this was the only TPB reprinting some of his Daredevil issues.

It proves a surprisingly seminal arc, as it involves DD caught up in a mob war that's threatening to explode into the streets. Not in itself a particularly unusual plot for comics, or for DD. Nor is the fact that the Kingpin is at the heart of it -- except that it turns out this is the introduction of the Kingpin into Daredevil's world (the Kingpin has been such an intrinsic part of DD comics for the last 25 years that it's a shock when you realize they had never met previously). Long time comics readers know the Kingpin began as a Spider-Man villain in the 1960s. Apparently by this point, he'd been written out of the Spider-Man comics, having quit a life of crime. Clearly Miller (or editor Denny O'Neil, or someone) felt he was too good a character to bench permanently, so appropriated him for Daredevil.

The story has the current mob bosses fearing the Kingpin will turn states evidence, so they kidnap his wife, Vanessa, in order to lure him back to New York to be killed. But the Kingpin isn't easily trapped, and the gang war begins, with DD in the middle, and everyone eager to get their hands on the Kingpin's files which implicate his old cronies. There's also a secondary sub-plot/arc, involving DD's recurring arch foe, the assassin Bullseye. The first issue here is unrelated to the mob war story, but has DD battling Bullseye and, reluctantly, saving his life -- at the time wondering how he'll feel if/when Bullseye kills again, knowing he is, in a sense, partially responsible. Bullseye then gets embroiled in the gang war, too, building to a showdown between Bullseye and DD, giving the arc a secondary narrative/emotional climax. Which is just as well, because in a sense, the story arc is meant to act as an introduction of the Kingpin into the series, meaning, the ending can otherwise be a bit weak, not really delivering a satisfying climax as the Kingpin, in essence, triumphs, being ensconced once more as kingpin of crime.

At times, Daredevil came seem like one of the players -- not the undisputed star. The story reminded me a bit of Underboss from years later, also about a gang war between the Kingpin and his lieutenants, and where DD seemed more like a side player than the star. But this version is better -- there are more twists and turns, more threads that weave about (from the search for the Kingpin's files, to Bullseye), and with Daredevil definitely more prominent in the action.

The final issue jumps ahead a bit, but wraps up a dangling thread from the main arc, involving the fate of Vanessa -- although, by that point, other plot threads have been introduced, so the story wraps up a sub-plot that has no meaning in this context, and leaves other things dangling. Still, it probably made sense to include it.

Ironically, an aspect of these issues that can leave you mixed...is Miller himself. In a few years, Miller would be cranking out some undisputed classic comics...even as in recent years, he seems to have become a polarizing figure even among his one time fans (some still love his work, others find it vapid self-indulgence). But these issues are near the beginning of his careers as a writer/artist, and it lacks some of the style and sophistication he would acquire. One can even detect more than a little influence of editor Denny O'Neil in the writing, for better and for worse, O'Neil no doubt mentoring the still fledgling talent. And having become more familiar with Will Eisner's The Spirit as I have in recent years, one can clearly see Eisner's influence, too (Miller being an acknowledged fan of Eisner). Both in the eclectic angles and panel composition, and also in the humour. One thinks of Miller's DD as the definition of grim n' gritty, but there's also a lot of humour and light-heartedness (which in addition to being a reflection of Eisner's the Spirit, also echoes some of DD's own earlier stories). Unfortunately, a lot of the humour is pretty obvious and unsubtle -- cutesy more than genuinely funny.

And though Miller began as an artist, the art is problematic (perhaps particularly with Janson's heavy, crude inks). Miller's style is rather Spartan and seeming hasty, backgrounds roughly sketched in, the proportions of objects not carefully considered (cars that look more like the size of bumper buggies) and the faces and figures likewise a bit...hastily scrawled. There are spots where Miller shows he knows how to draw, where musculature is realistically depicted and shaded...but a lot of time, people move in weird, herky, jerky ways. You can see Eisner's influence in the composition...but not in the attention to detail. In a way, one can't help wondering how the art would've looked if Miller had simply storyboarded...but got another, more accomplished artist to actually draw the finished art.

It seems strange to knock Miller's art, or writing, given that he is, well, Miller, The Living Legend. But what's the point of writing a review...if I don't express my honest, visceral opinion?

Still, I've read this a couple of times, and each time my reaction is similar -- despite noticing the flaws in writing and art, I find I forgive them more as the chapters progress, the story interesting -- and fun -- enough to keep your attention. And by the final issue here, you can see more of the "classic" Miller. On one hand, it reflects Miller's far more simpler writing style, being a very minimalist "plot", but also demonstrates better grasp of his composition and storyboarding, the Eisner influence still there, but with more of Miller's own personality imposed on it.

Ultimately, if you come to this for the Miller of Batman: Year One, or Daredevil: Born Again, you'll be a tad disappointed at the simplicity of the characterization, the lack of subtlety to the scenes and dialogue. You can recognize Miller here, but this is still a Miller finding his way. But, with that being said, and despite my criticisms...this also emerges as an enjoyable enough arc, briskly paced, with twists and turns. Not Miller or Daredevil at their best, but they don't have to be at their best to still be enjoyable.

Cover price: ____.



 

cover by QuesadaDaredevil: Guardian Devil 2003 (SC TPB) 190 pages

Written by Kevin Smith. Pencils by Joe Quesada. Inks by Jimmy Palmiotti.
Colour/letters: various. Editor: Nanci Dakesian.

Reprinting: Daredevil (vol. 2) #1-8 (1998-1999)

Rating: * * * (out of five)

Number of readings: 2

Additional notes: intro by Ben Affleck; afterword by Smith; covers

A young woman leaves her baby with Daredevil's alter ego of Matthew Murdock -- claiming demonic agents seek to kill it because it's the Messiah. Yet then another man tells him the baby is actually the anti-Christ. And as troubles plague DD and his friends, seeming a result of the baby's "curse", he isn't sure who to trust...or if he can kill the child even if it is evil. Along the way, a significant supporting character is killed off.

This was part of Marvel's attempt to reignite some of its moribund titles by restarting the series (though it isn't a "re-boot" per se -- it's the same on-going Daredevil continuity, just with a new numbering system) and landing a "hot" creative team headed by Kevin Smith -- the cult fav indie filmmaker and comics fan marking his first mainstream comics work.

At first glance, the premise seems a bit odd for the normally realist, "mean streets" of Hell's Kitchen Daredevil. Not that Daredevil hasn't tackled supernatural themes before -- but still, demons and anti-Christs? But that's part of the appeal. By inserting Daredevil in a story that has overtones of occult thrillers, it stays true to the character while providing a slightly novel plot.

Though the story is talky, it moves along well, the thriller aspects intriguing, promising a provocative story of good and evil, morality and responsibility. Smith, better known for writing comedies, crafts some funny lines and moments, while maintaining the serious tone of the series.

The art by Joe Quesada is vibrant and robust, detailed without being cluttered, and full of brooding shadows that suit the spooky tone of the story. Quesada's style reflects the slightly caricaturish style of modern artists, but not too much so to lose the humanity of the characters. I'm not always a big fan of "cartoony" comic art in super hero comics, but I've begun to acclimatize to it, accepting it as the new "norm" -- yet then I read some reviews of this which criticized Quesada's art as too caricaturish. Man -- I'm never going to figure out what's "in", am I? The art is further enhanced by moody and vibrant colouring. Though the art is beautiful, I suppose it is true that it lacks some of the urban realism other Daredevil tales have had over the years.

Interestingly, Quesada is one of the few Daredevil artists (at least, so that I've noticed) who draws Daredevil as really blind, with his pupils kind of rolling up into his head.

Anyway, with its intriguing premise, rich with provocative themes, nicely written scenes, and sumptuous art, I was turning pages eagerly, thinking I had stumbled upon one of the greats -- a compelling, thinking man's "graphic novel". And though it clearly builds upon Daredevil's reality and past adventures, Smith seemed to be keeping a better rein on his fanboy instincts than he did later in Green Arrow: Quiver. The story here seemed relatively self-contained, with only the occasionally cryptic reference liable to throw a newcomer. I was loving this book!

And then it all went to Hell (pun intended).

It was partly when arch foe Bullseye showed up, and suddenly this unusual occult thriller veered back into run-of-the-mill super hero stuff. And Smith started pulling the story in a fanboy direction, working in cameos for the sake of cameos; Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, etc. The Black Widow had earlier appeared, of course, but she's a familiar part of DD's world.

Like a train hitting rough spots, the story started to rattle and shake -- and eventually it went off the rails entirely.

I don't want to give to much away, but it retreats from the intriguing, spooky premise it started as and becomes just a simple super hero story -- and a not very good one. As the explanations are given and the mystery explained, you can't help thinking: this is sooooo stupid. And Smith knows it's stupid, and the climax entails Daredevil and the villain trading barbs about who behaved the most idiotically, and how "trite" it all is. Smith also betrays his film background as the story starts to seem like a cinematic in-joke. The cynic in me would almost wonder if it's meant as a mean spirited raspberry spat at the readership -- except Smith, a comics fan, seems an unlikely person to want to thumb his nose at comics fans.

But in a sense, Smith becomes like his own villain in the denouement, a character who convinced himself he had crafted some grand, intricate master plan...but it's really pretty lame and cliched and simplistic.

I can't claim expert knowledge of the villain, but he seems out-of-character. That's because the plan is so "savage", resulting in so many innocent victims, it doesn't simply require a criminal mind, but a completely psychotic sociopath. There have been a few comic book "mysteries" -- such as Batman: Hush and Identity Crisis, even dating back to Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? -- where writers seem to feel the best way to surprise the reader with the identity of the villain is to simply have the villain be soooo out of character there's no way you could deduce it logically! Smith even goes so far as to have the villain not even be a regular Daredevil foe (something we learn part way through, so I'm not giving too much away -- though I did guess his identity thanks to a reference the Kingpin makes).

A good mystery is one that builds upon what we know -- not one that can only surprise us by defying what we know.

And this shaggy dog of an ending ultimate undermines, or exacerbates, earlier problems. The story is supposed to be a character study of a man torn between logic and faith, but it's hard to see it as a character study when Daredevil's clearly not in control of himself. Likewise, conversations between Daredevil and others, including a nun, about faith and God (presumably close to Smith's heart) are undermined by a story that doesn't support them. And that's not even touching on other character inconsistencies, such as Foggy Nelson cheating on his girlfriend.

Still, maybe I let my expectations get too high, expecting a literary epic, and instead Smith just delivers of fun super hero romp. Fine. I love those, too. And after a second reading, knowing where it's all headed, I can sort of enjoy it on that (lower) level.

But it's hard to take it as just a fun romp because of the "savagery". Though not graphic, by the end there's tremendous body count, as if Smith belongs to the modern school of comics writers who feel a crime is barely a misdemeanour if it involves less than a dozen corpses. Which then brings us to the death of a major supporting character (I'm being vague but, doubtless by now, anyone reading this knows who). In a complex tale of good and evil, spiritualism and redemption, it could maybe be justified. But it ends up being one of the most pointless deaths in the history of comics, and smacks of house cleaning, or, as so often happens, Smith (or his editor) wanted to "make their mark" by doing something shocking. But it ain't edgy if everyone's doing it!

And ultimately, Smith has so pushed me out of the story that by the final chapter, dealing with the ramifications of this character's death, including the obligatory funeral scene where other super heroes show up, I just couldn't buy into it emotionally. The death itself was so mercenary and contrived and artificial.

The saga starts out as a relatively self-contained epic (though the resolution requires referencing a bunch of other comics that'll leave a casual fan's head spinning). At the same time, Smith leaves one mystery unanswered. Comic writers seem to have trouble with closure, or maybe they feel that that "makes their mark" as well, forcing other writers to continue their story. But whether anyone did follow up on it, I don't know. Back in the mid-1980s, in Daredevil: Born Again, Frank Miller awkwardly inserted a nun who may or may not have been DD's mother. But I'm not sure anyone followed up on it, given that Smith throws in that same nun and, from the dialogue, it sounds as though nothing more had been explained about her in the intervening decade and a half of DD stories!

Ultimately, I'm having trouble assessing this. I loved the first part -- and, honestly, almost actually hated the second half. But, as usual, after a second reading my passions have cooled. No longer expecting a "great" story, but just reading it for the pacing and art, it's more enjoyable. At the same time, if a second reading means I disliked the resolution less than I had...it also means I'm less excited by the first half, too. Knowing what a mundane story it evolves into, you can't read the opening scenes with the same enthusiasm.

Cover price: $31.95 CDN./ $19.95 USA.


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