GRAPHIC NOVEL and TRADE
PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm


Daredevil Reviews - Page 3

Daredevil in Love and War 1986 (SC GN), 64 pgs.

Daredevil: Love and War - cover by Bill SienkiewiczWritten by Frank Miller. Painted by Bill Sienkiewicz.
Letters: Jim Novak. Editor: Al Milgrom.

Rating : * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: a few times over the years

Marvel Graphic Novel #9 - oversized, tabloid format

This multi-character story has the crime boss, the Kingpin, soliciting the help of a famed psychiatrist, Paul Mondat, in the treatment of his beloved, semi-comatose wife. Not content to just hire the man, Kingpin wants to guarantee his commitment by having Mondat's blind wife, Cheryl, kidnapped. The kidnapper is Victor, a completely unstable junkie-schizophrenic who becomes fixated on Cheryl. Daredevil becomes involved, and also becomes infatuated with the blind woman.

Daredevil: Love and War is an atmospheric, fully painted, tabloid-sized graphic novel. And if it isn't perhaps the best thing Frank Miller ever wrote, it's still pretty good. The interweaving of the various characters, most well-delineated, and how their different actions have unforeseen effects on the other characters is well done. Frank Miller's ear for dialogue is, perhaps, the finest in the history of comic books, and his ability to turn phrases, to repeat lines but with different significance (like the opening and closing monologue), and to juxtapose words and images is almost unsurpassed. The story veers between urban grittiness and violence, to humour, to being lyrical, poetic, almost dreamlike, and ultimately kind of poignant.

Perhaps the chief weaknesses are that it is an ensemble piece -- Daredevil is still a prominent character, but only one of three or four -- and, of course, comic relief goon, Turk, who can be amusing...but also strikes me uncomfortably like a racist caricature. And there's a strange sense of disappointment by the end, a feeling that something is missing. I'm not quite sure what, but it keeps Daredevil: Love and War from being truly great.

Thinking about this some time after having first written this review (and just reading an old Daredevil comic), I almost wonder if what's missing is...Foggy! No, really. I mean, not so much that Foggy Nelson makes or breaks a D.D. story per se, but supporting characters often add humanity to the otherwise grandiose heroics, and dimension to the star. As noted above, even Daredevil/Matt Murdock is shunted a bit to the side in Love and War, and maybe that robs all the artiness, all the lyricism, of Daredevil: Love and War of its grounding.

Bill Siekienwicz's art (this isn't pencil ink drawings with painted colour; this is fully painted -- perhaps one of the first mainstream graphic novels to be done that way) is very effective, but stylistically far removed from his early work as a Neal Adams disciple. It's weird and stylized, but hauntingly evokes the varying moods of the various scenes and characters.

Addendum: I just re-read this graphic novel (Apr. 2016 -- some years after the last time) and then re-read my review. Interestingly, I don't think I disagree too much with my above review: I still like the book, but always finish it with a vague feeling that (for 62 pages) it should have a little more. I did find the hyperbole in my (old) review a bit amusing, vis a vis Frank Miller, given I've developed much more mixed feeling towards him over the years. One thing I might add to my review, as context, is how the book reads in light of Miller's later work, particularly his Sin City stories. In a way, you can see Daredevil in Love and War as almost a dry run for Sin City -- or a bridge between Sin City and the superheroism of mainstream comics. The story is very much of a type with his Sin City stories: set within a dark, seamy world of big city corruption, with a taciturn, tough hero (Daredevil) intervening on behalf of a damsel in distress (a woman who provides motivation for many of the characters) and battling an all powerful corrupt mobster. The difference from Sin City is there is still a stronger thread of goodness and morality; Daredevil a fundamentally decent man, and with other characters likewise "good" -- as opposed to Sin City with its penchants for depicting most of the characters as tarnished or cynical.

Mature readers. Original cover price: $7.95 CDN./$6.95 USA.


Daredevil in Marked for Death 1990 (SC TPB) 96 pgs. Daredevil: Marked for Death - cover by John Romita, Jr. and Al Williamson

Written by Roger McKenzie. Drawn by Frank Miller. Inked by Klaus Janson (and Josef Rubinstein).
Colours: Glynis Wein. Letters: various. Editors: Al Millgrom, Mary Jo Duffy, Denny O'Neil.

Reprinting: Daredevil #159-161, 163, 164 (1979, 1980) (with covers)

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Reprinting five Daredevil issues, more or less in a row (it skips #162), Marked for Death includes a three part story in which Bullseye plots to kill Daredevil, using D.D.'s on again/off again girl friend, the Black Widow, as bait. It's followed by a tale of D.D. tussling with the Hulk, then rounds out with a reprise of Daredevil's origin. There's even a one-pager (from #159, I believe) giving the technical low-down on D.D.'s billy club.

The Bullseye trilogy was fine. Oh, it was mainly a breezy action-thriller, but it was an entertaining breezy action-thriller. Roger McKenzie is a solid, if largely neglected, comic writer and the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson art is energetic and moody, superbly complemented by Glynis Oliver Wein's sombre, night time colouring. It was also refreshing to see Bullseye portrayed as, frankly, a pathetic figure. Too often bad guys, particularly the more twisted and sleazy ones, are portrayed as though they're kind of cool (from Anthony Hopkins in "Silence of the Lambs" to Bullseye himself). Boosting my interest in the Bullseye story even more was an unexpected sub-plot involving reporter Ben Urich unravelling the secret of Daredevil's identity.

The problem comes with the Hulk story. It's not a bad story, but pretty generic. There isn't a plot that involves D.D. and the Hulk -- D.D. and the Hulk is the plot. As well, I'd begun to think of Daredevil as comicdoms most urban, most down-to-earth superhero, playing out his adventures against mob-infested mean streets. Going up against the Hulk seemed just a little too comic booky. It's also illogical: D.D. wants the Hulk to calm down...so he starts hitting him (yeah, that'll work). Joe Rubinstein's guest inks also took a bit of getting used to (though he and Miller later teamed up to good effect on Wolverine).

Added Feb. 2003: Here's a situation where re-reading a story gives one a different perspective. I now realize that when I say there isn't so much a plot as D.D. and the Hulk is the plot...is exactly the point. In a sense, McKenzie isn't trying to write an action team-up piece, but rather a character study of both characters (three actually, counting the Hulk's alter ego of Bruce Banner). Here the Hulk is less a nominal super hero, than a tragic monster, and Banner his tormented alter ego. And this is contrasted with Daredevil's compassion and determination. The whole point of the story is that DD is completely out of his league confronting the Hulk...but does so anyway. Confronting him with his fists, yes, but also with his compassion, evidenced in a parallel scene near the story's beginning and end. I still have mixed feelings about the story's success, but I believe I was underselling what it was trying to be.

The final story, the climax (anti-climax, frankly) of the Ben Urich sub-plot, was also a problem because it leads into a rehash of Daredevil's origin...and I'd recently read the real thing (in Son of Origins).

Obviously, that makes my review problematic. If you've never read D.D.'s origin, then the final story will be fresher (though I'd argue the original Lee-Everett take is the better one) and maybe a Hulk/Daredevil story strikes your fancy. Heck, I'm pretty sure I'll like it better after a second reading, once I've acclimatized to its inclusion. How's that for prophetic, eh? -- see my addition above.

The point of this collection is vague. The back cover implies the Bullseye plot is the reason for the collection...except it only accounts for three/fifths of the issues. It might have been intended as a collection of Frank Miller's earliest Daredevil work...except he started on issue #158 (and his first work on the character was in a couple of issues of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man). So you think, ah hah, the Ben Urich story line was the real impetus for this collection...except we come in in the middle. The pay off is a bit weak, and I'm more curious about how it began. After all, concluding that Daredevil is really a blind man is a pretty hefty leap of logic for Urich to have made. What made him suspect?

Reviewing TPB "collections" is an interesting dilemma, in that are you reviewing it overall...or according to the "best" in that collection. In other words, if one story (or stories) makes it worth the purchase, does it matter if there are lesser tales in it? In the end, Daredevil: Marked for Death may be an unspectacular collection...but that three-part Bullseye tale is, just in and of itself, and enjoyable, well told tale.

Original Cover price: $11.95 CDN./$9.95 USA.


Daredevil: Ninja  2003 (SC TPB) 80 pages

cover by HaynesWritten by Brian Michael Bendis. Illustrated by Rob Haynes.
Colours: David Self. Letters: Comicraft. Editor: Joe Quesada, Nanci Dakesian.

Reprinting: the three issue mini-series

Rating: * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Brian Michael Bendis accrued mountains of accolades for his tenure writing Daredevil's monthly comic, and has become, essentially, Marvel's "IT" boy of the moment -- you know, the writer who seems almost to have been handed the keys to the Kingdom by the editorial regime to initiate all sorts of massive, company impacting scenarios (the same way Geoff Johns is basically DC's "IT" boy of the moment). While in the midst of his DD run, Bendis also penned this DD mini-series -- which seemed an odd publishing decision. I mean, if you're going to do a mini-series about a character already with a monthly series, surely it should be because it is somehow removed from the regular series and/or to give an opportunity to a writer not writing the monthly. Anyway, based on some of the reviews I came across of Daredevil: Ninja, it didn't really seem to get that positive a reception, with even people identifying themselves as Bendis' fans declaring it a lesser work.

Now since what little I'd read of Bendis' more acclaimed stuff had left me unimpressed I thought, hmmm, if Bendis fans didn't like this...then maybe I, as a non fan, would.

No such luck.

It would be unfair to say Ninja is the worst Daredevil story I've read...I've probably read things equally as bad. But I'm not sure I can think of too many that were worse.

The problem with Ninja is that it's got a plot thinner than one of the pages it's printed on -- and even calling it a plot is being generous. Daredevil is reluctantly recruited by the remnants of the Disciples of the Seven, the good ninja group of his dead mentor, the irascible Stick. The good guys are once more at war with the evil ninja group, The Hand, and need Daredevil's help. There's lots of fighting -- whole issue consuming fighting -- and then it just kind of ends.

This actually did remind me of Bendis' other DD stuff that I'd read -- a very thin plot stretched over multiple issues, poorly structured, with weak logic, and an anti-climactic resolution. The chief difference is that the story has a light-hearted feel to it, as if Bendis intended it as a fun romp in contrast to his grittier, regular Daredevil stories. So there are a few cute quips, but sometimes the delivery itself undermines them. See, one of Bendis' stock-in-trades is his dialogue, which he has modelled after scriptwriters like David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin, so there's a lot of verbiage, a lot of people repeating things over and over again for rhythmic effect, a lot of excess dialogue that is there just to take a one panel moment and turn it into a two page scene. The result is that exchanges that might make cute throwaways get belaboured. The other problem with humour is that it can sometimes work against the established character, rather than stem from him. So Daredevil is frequently saying and doing things -- mainly being snarky or sarcastic ("sucks to be you") -- that doesn't always suit him (at least at this point in his evolution). And makes him a wee bit obnoxious.

Bendis also sends curiously mixed signals about his own topic. DD dismissively remarks that he "hates this ninja crap" and there's another sequence explaining how ninjas aren't the uber-cool cats pop culture has made them out to be, as if Bendis is deconstructing and satirizing the whole ninja mystique in comics. Yet...um...he's the one who's written a whole min-series around them. It reminds me a bit of Underboss where he has the villain belittle the Kingpin as just a "super villain" as if Bendis is mocking the very conventions of the genre...even as his "realistic" villain is then revealed as a goofball by the end of that story himself.

Part of the gimmick here may have been to try and present this as a kind of big screen action movie -- the credits are even cheekily done like screen credits (billed as a Marvel "Films" Production, and the colourist as "cinematographer") and artist Rob Haynes breaks each page up into horizontal panels as if to evoke a widescreen movie. So maybe the thin plot and the emphasis on action was supposed to be a homage to a Hollywood action movie. But even a Hollywood action movie would have more plot, and more structure, than this. As well, there's Haynes' art itself, which is a kind of mixed affair. It's energetic and kind of appealing -- but it is very much of a cartoony, caricature bent. The visuals less evoke a Daredevil motion picture and more a Daredevil animated movie.

In fact, given that this came out around the time of the Daredevil movie, that could also explain why it was released as a mini-series -- Marvel just wanted as many DD projects on the shelves as possible to tie into the movie.

I was going to say the story in no way warranted being serialized over three months...but that might seem like a moot criticism when looking at a TPB collection. But the problem isn't just that very little happens...but very. little. happens.

Going back to an earlier point about why was this a mini-series as opposed to just part of the regular DD monthly, I was initially going to say because it's deliberately isolated from continuity -- with little sense of when it takes place (other than sometime after Stick's death). But it is rather mired in continuity, in that it's built upon DD's history with Stick and his sect, though it's generally explained for the uninitiated. Bendis even offers an explanation for the centuries old feud between the Disciples and the Hand -- and it's kind of astounding if this really is the first time someone thought to explain their rivalry (given I thought there needed to be an explanation back when Frank Miller first introduced the groups in DD comics in the 1980s!) The story seems to build to a complete non-event, where even DD is left bewildered by what was going on. Then Bendis provides an epilogue where a lot is left for the reader to interpret...but only if you know your DD history.

So what've you got? Some decent visuals -- if rather cartoony. Some cute quips -- even if Bendis' writing isn't half as clever as he seems to think. And a story that feels like the opening act...to a plot that never materializes.

(This is a review of the version originally serialized in the comics)

Cover price: $__ CDN. / $__ USA 



 

Daredevil: Out  2003 (SC TPB) 208 pages

cover by Alex MaleevWritten by Brian Michael Bendis. Illustrated by Alex Maleev, Terry Dodson.
Colours: Matt Hollingsworth. Letters: Richard Starkings, Wes Abbott. Editor: Stuart Moore.

Reprinting: Daredevil (2nd series) #32-40

Rating: N/R

Number of readings: 1

Once again, I haven't read this TPB. I've read the hardcover book, Daredevil, vol. 2, which included the "Out" story line from #32-37. But the Out TPB also included the next three issues comprising, apparently, a separate story arc. As such, I've resisted giving this an "official" rating, though I'm offering my opinion of the "Out" story line.

Following Underboss (though you don't really need to have read that earlier story), a mobster offers up Daredevil's secret identity to the F.B.I. as a trade. Although the F.B.I. doesn't have much interest in following up on it, the story leaks out and, soon, a major newspaper is splashing it across their front page.

I read this story as it was collected with Underboss in the big hardcover collection, Daredevil, Vol. 2. Underboss left me unimpressed...and this, frankly, doesn't do much to change my impression of writer Brian Michael Bendis. Part of the problem with Bendis is that he takes a long time to say and do very little. The opening chapter is entirely devoted to a talking head sequence involving the F.B.I. agents as they recap Underboss, and lay out the case that Matt Murdock is Daredevil. To be fair, Bendis works in some cute dialogue, but basically, there's no real story here, nor development of any of the personalities.

In subsequent chapters, Bendis presents whole sequences without verbiage of any kind, leaving it to artist Alex Maleev to convey matters as best he can. Bendis is part of the modern crop of comics writers who obviously grew up on movies and TV (unlike earlier generations who, one infers, were more literate) and he clearly thinks in cinematic terms of pantomime sequences and mute reaction shots. But sequences like that are tricky, since an artist, no matter how talented, will have trouble drawing the same subtle nuances an actor can convey with his face. Maleev, in particular, has a photo-realist style at times that, like a lot of photo-realist artists, can actually be less expressive than a style drawn strictly from imagination. He also layers on the shadows, rendering a lot of scenes and faces masks of black ink.

The story is extremely thin. In an afterward included in the hardcover book (but probably not this TPB), Bendis comments that he didn't want his story to use some "cheap-ass ****" by having someone impersonate Daredevil and appear beside Murdock to fool the media. One infers that Bendis believes he's written something far more sophisticated. Great. But like other writers before him seeking to strip away the "childish" adornments of comics past (I'm reminded of an introduction John Byrne wrote for the TPB Lois & Clark -- reviewed in my Superman section -- claiming the same) Bendis doesn't replace it with anything. It's like someone claiming a tree in the yard is unsightly, so he has it dug out...then just leaves a gaping whole in the yard and says, "There, isn't that better?"

Daredevil is "outted" and struggles internally with this for an issue or two as we wait for him to come up with a plan. We wait, we wait, and then he -- ready? Are you sitting down? O.K. he...denies it! What a stunning plot twist! Why hadn't Superman and Batman and all the other super heroes who've been through similar plot lines done the same?

Oh, wait. They did. But previous writers didn't think a denial alone would justify a six issue story.

Besides, if you had a secret identity, and friends like Spider-Man, what is the more realistic and sophisticated behaviour? Sitting on your hands, knowing that the longer the story goes unchallenged, the more it threatens you and your loved ones? Or coming up with some "cheap-ass ****" to get out of it -- like getting Spidey to dress in your costume and be seen standing with you in your civilian identity? Personally, I think I'd go for the "cheap-ass ****". That's the problem with hiding behind realism...we all have our separate views on what's realistic.

There's even a technical question. Although circumstantial evidence is produced to intimate a connection between Daredevil and Matt Murdock, the chief "proof" is an F.B.I. agent claiming a mobster told him that another mobster told him that another mobster believed Matt Murdock was Daredevil. That's not proof. That's barely a rumour. Would a newspaper even take that story seriously, let alone splash it on the front page?

Plot-wise, not a whole lot happens. Ditto for the adventure aspect. There's one scene where DD and Spider-Man take on Mr. Hyde who, having read the paper, comes a-calling. It's a moderately entertaining, if brief, scene, with Spidey's quips and serving as an illustration of why a superhero prefers anonymity. But mainly, this saga is meant to be brooding introspection. Which would be fine...if it really worked for me. But between the thin plotting, the stretched out pantomime scenes, and only an occasional use of internal captions, I just didn't really feel I was getting whatever Bendis thought he was giving out. On one hand, when Foggy suggests now would be a good time for Matt to give up crime fighting, DD reacts unfavourably. Yet, later, DD is gun-shy about putting on his costume, with even the Black Widow trying to shake him out of his funk. But even that turns out to be a bit of a non-plot as, later, when he puts on his costume again, it's not clear what's changed his attitude.

At the same time, other reviews I've read of this have heaped praise on Bendis' knack for character insight...so go figure.

Bendis throws in talk of the "cycle of violence" that Daredevil lives, and there are a few guest appearances and cameos, but it doesn't really add up to much. Bendis touches on a troubling idea at the centre of superhero/alter ego stories -- particularly with reporter heroes or, in DD's case, a lawyer -- and that is their profession represents "truth", and yet they lie every time they open their mouths! Admittedly, Bendis can't really get into the morality of that too deeply, because it's intrinsic to the genre, but it might've been nice to examine it more closely. Particularly in a story where DD eventually sues the paper...when he knows the story is accurate!

On the plus side, Bendis occasionally crafts some good dialogue -- or, at least, a couple of witty lines. There are some decent scenes, like DD finding that, once people see him as a man-in-a-costume, he loses some of his necessary mystique. There's a scene in the Daily Bugle newsroom with J. Jonah Jameson demanding coverage of the story, and reporter Ben Urich, and Peter Parker (Spidey's alter ego, of course) putting themselves on the line to try and protect DD's secret. It's O.K. but, like so much else, is longer than it needs to be, and not as well done as it could be.

Another problem with both Underboss and Out comes about in Bendis' afterward again, in which he states how important it is to be fresh, and innovative, and shake up the comic. The problem with both stories is how, well, derivative they seem. I recently read Daredevil: Typhoid Mary and, going into that story about DD becoming seduced by a lady assassin working for the Kingpin, I couldn't help thinking it sounded like a rehash of the whole Daredevil-Elektra stuff. But I was wrong. Ann Nonceti's story does its own thing. Conversely, Bendis' material seems vaguely familiar and even tired -- a problem of the thin plotting, I think. Every story is probably familiar at its roots, but it's how the writer dresses it up with plot twists and new characters that makes it original.

Even the very idea of "outting" Daredevil is hardly radical since we've already been through the scene where a character pieces together the fragments of Matt Murdock's past to get a portrait of DD -- a number of times. Heck, even arch foe Bullseye figured it out once, but was fooled into rejecting his theory by a "cheep-ass ****". And Bendis seems to want to eat his cake and have it to, as by the end the DD-is-Matt thing seems to be treated as nothing more than a high profile rumour (at least, in DD stories published years later, his secret identity still seems more-or-less a secret). The story ends in a way that kind of allows Bendis to say he radically changed the nature of DD's situation...without seeming to have changed it at all!

Cover price: $__ CDN. / $19.95 USA 



 

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