GRAPHIC NOVEL and TRADE
PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm


Daredevil Reviews - Page 4

Daredevil: Redemption  2005 (SC TPB) 144 pages

coverWritten by David Hine. Illustrated by Michael Gaydos.
Colours: Lee Loughridge. Letters: Cory Petit. Editor: Jennifer Lee.

Reprinting: the six-issue mini-series

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

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: July 2015

Daredevil: Redemption -- originally published as a mini-series -- has a slightly off-beat background. But first, the story: Daredevil's alter ego -- lawyer Matt Murdock -- travels to a small southern town called Redemption (with an articling student, Constance, in tow) to defend a teen accused of a heinous child-murder. He and two friends are accused of the crime -- but largely based on social ostracism. They are misfit teens into heavy metal music and playing around with Satanism in a conservative, Bible-thumping, God-fearing community. So Matt finds himself fighting small-minded prejudice as much as any forensic evidence.

Now the reason I say it has an off-beat background is because the story is deliberately meant to evoke the real life case that became popularly known as The West Memphis Three. Writer David Hine has changed a few superficial aspects, but it's basically supposed to be the real case -- even as it isn't and is fiction. Using a fictional story, and even established fictional heroes, to dramatize real events is nothing new. Not even in super hero comics. Whether it be the trivial -- like an old Brave & The Bold comic clearly taking inspiration from the Melvin Dunbar/Howard Hughes controversy -- or for a socio-political point -- like a Green Arrow story in Detective Comics #538 making a veiled reference to the John Lennon murder. Heck, Steve Englehart spent a run of Captain America issues inspired by the Watergate Scandal.

But Redemption is perhaps atypical in its length (six issues) and how little it tries to fictionalize the story. But at the same time, it raises the issue of...why? Why do it? The main reason to draw upon a real case is either because the real events made a better story than most fiction, or to draw attention to a social-political issue.

Certainly the case itself has been the source of much controversy, spawning various books, documentaries, and even its own fictionalized dramatization -- leading one to ask whether Hine and Daredevil are really bringing anything to the proceeding, or just exploiting a well-tilled sensationalistic situation. After all, if Hine was driven by a sense of social outrage then there are probably equally important -- but more obscure -- miscarriages of justice that warranted being highlighted. (Although to be fair, I realize this Daredevil story came out a few years before the movie, The Devil's Triangle). Though a bit dealing with the death penalty was suitably effective (the real life case never went that far).

Yet if Hine was just inspired simply by the idea that it made a crackling good story -- well, I'm not sure it does. At least in so far as it justifies six issues. It's not like it's a complex, Byzantine puzzler, or full of mysterious clues and red herrings. The central theme is that the teens are railroaded by small-minded prejudice. And one can assume going in that they are innocent (in the story) else why would Hine bother? So it's not like there are a lot of twists and turns, or keeping us on our toes as to guilt or innocence. Hine does settle on an alternate villain -- pretty quickly and pretty obviously. But given the impulsive (and psychotic) nature of the crime, the story can't really provide a compelling motive. (And even then, it's not clear if Hine genuinely thinks he's solved the crime, and truly believes the real-life counterpart of his character is the killer -- or whether he just was stumped for a solution).

And though a story about small town prejudice can make for great drama (Harper Lee won a Pulitzer for that theme) equally, this is pretty much preaching to its own choir. I'm guessing most comic book fans picking up a comic featuring a horn-headed, red-suited hero are not going to have much trouble siding against the conservative town that enjoys an occasional book-burning.

And that really gets to a problem I have with so many comics in recent years. Not that there's anything wrong with the idea -- just it didn't need so many issues to tell it. An issue or two, a double-sized annual, and the same story could've been told, but with more impact.

Part of that relates to Matt/Daredevil -- and the characters in general. Because there's a real sense that Hine hasn't written a DD story inspired by the West Memphis Three, so much as he wanted to dramatize the real case, and inserted Daredevil into it. Matt has next to no personality in these issues. Hine writes it mainly as a procedural, rather than a drama filtered through our hero's emotions and perspective (part of this, no doubt, a problem with the lack of thought balloons and text captions). And though he does switch to Daredevil a few times, just so we can still see this as a super hero comic, it's not to much real effect. Not to mention I always think it's problematic to have characters like Daredevil relocate to a small town -- with no tall buildings to swing from, he'd be pretty ineffectual, even just getting around town!

Yet the other characters aren't really much better. Hine gives Matt a sidekick, Constance, a young female lawyer. Introducing a new character (rather than simply using regular cast member Foggy) might suggest it was so Hine could have a lead character not restricted by needs of continuity. But Constance doesn't have much more personality than Matt, nor any particular character arc. She and Matt argue a few legal niceties, but that's about it. And most of the other characters don't have any particular layers to peel back.

It's illustrated by Michael Gaydos whose hyper-realist style certainly suits the reality-based nature of the plot. It's certainly effective for the most part, and suitably dark and shadowy -- appropriate both to the character and to the material. But he's less effective in the few scenes with Daredevil in costume because of that -- DD looking a bit dumpy and unimposing. And maybe the problem with such a realist style is it can be too straight forward. What can make comic book art powerful in certain scenes and moments is the artist's interpretation, playing around with angles, perspective, or what have you. Maybe comic book art, at least at times, should be more than simply a strict recreation of reality.

Ultimately the idea of using a comic book super hero to tackle real life issues and dilemmas is fine, at least as much as the way TV series will sometimes do the same. But the problem is Hine forget to still make this, first and foremost, a Matt Murdock/Daredevil story, and to make it compelling as a mystery-thriller beyond its factual provenance -- while, equally, not really finding anything much to say with or about the fact-inspired material (though this was published before the more pressing aspects of the matter were settled in subsequent appeals).



 

cover by Alex Ross (maybe?)Daredevil / Spider-Man 2001 (SC TPB) 96 pages.

Written by Paul Jenkins. Pencils by Phil Winslade. Inks by Tom Palmer.
Colours: Avalon Studios, Matt Milla. Letters: Richard Starkings, Troy Peteri, Jason Levine. Editor: Nancy Dakesian, Stuart Moore.

Reprinting: Daredevil / Spider-Man #1-4 (plus covers) - 2001

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

Number of readings: 3

Mini-series originally told stories that wouldn't fit into any regular title, or were try-outs for characters without their own, monthly magazine. Although that still occurs, modern mini-series often seem to exist simply to increase the number of titles a character appears in. Both DD and Spidey have their own, monthly comics, and could easily have teamed up together in any of those (such as the storyline collected in the TPB Spider-Man: The Death of Jean De Wolff).

Presumably the intent is to present a relatively stand alone story for the new reader, one that doesn't stretch out for a dozen issues, or is filled with innumerable unresolved sub-plots. Or maybe it's just a way to allow writers and artists not assigned to the regular series to have a crack at the characters (which, if you weren't enjoying the current creative team, for instance, would be a plus).

The story -- "Unusual Suspects" -- has crime lord, the Kingpin, under attack by some costumed foes like the Stilt Man and others, forcing DD and Spider-Man to intercede before a bloody gang war erupts. Though starting out seeming a mix of urban mobsters with a few costumed villains, things take a supernatural turn later in the story.

As an interesting aside, I believe I read that either the original mini-series, or this TPB collection, was held back post-Sept. 11th, 2001. There isn't any real connection to that real life tragedy, but there is an attack on an office building. The Powers That Be at Marvel clearly felt, and perhaps wisely, the story would be better off being postponed by a few months.

This is largely Daredevil's story. Spidey fans shouldn't be disappointed -- the web-slingers' on a lot of pages, and drops a few quips. But it's DD who narrates, whose foes are involved, whose supporting cast and private life as Matt Murdock is utilized (Spidey never appears out of costume). There's some interesting attempts to contrast DD's more sombre style with Spidey's wisecracking, though given that DD has gone through wisecracking phases himself (and Spidey his serious periods), it doesn't always ring true.

Although employing the Kingpin, this story seems a (small) step back from the overt urban grittiness that one often associates with DD, perhaps harkening back to an earlier stage in the character. It's not entirely unwelcome. There's something pleasantly old fashioned about this, like coming upon a few issues of Marvel Team-Up (a 1970s-1980s series featuring Spider-Man team ups). The art by Phil Winslade is solid (aided by Palmer's inks) with a lot of sinewy figures and semi-realist faces, vaguely evoking someone like Brent Anderson, although Winslade maybe leans a little toward caricature at times (hence why he drew the adult-aimed MAX imprint Howard the Duck mini-series). Though his Spidey is too skinny and knobbly for my tastes, presumably intended as a contrast to DD's more archetypal physique. Jenkins, meanwhile, scripts well enough, with decent dialogue, and the story is well paced. Though Jenkins' tired use of "lawyer" jokes doesn't really suit the characters. This may strike Jenkins as a novel concept, but a lot of lawyers -- probably including DD's alter ego of Matt Murdock -- actually consider theirs a noble profession.

The funny thing is: I've read this a few times over the years. And in the gap inbetween, I tend to remember it with fond affection...even as my review rating was often modest (originally 3 out of 5 -- though I've now boosted it to 3 1/2 out of 5 -- a decent rating). The fact that I remember it affectionately surely is a plus in its favour...but it does suffer a bit in the details.

As modestly enjoyable as the story is, that's all it is. Perhaps it's my higher expectations for a "mini-series" (let alone a TPB collection), but nothing really screams "special" here. Jenkins plots with a certain looseness that nicely gets you from scene to scene, but doesn't hold up to any great analysis. Things take a supernatural turn...but there's little foreshadowing of that earlier. Meanwhile, DD sends partner Foggy Nelson (along with recurring DD guest star, super heroine the Black Widow) off on a mission that is crucial to resolving one of the plot threads...but within the story it doesn't make a lot of sense. And the Black Widow's presence is largely extraneous. There's also a scene where DD gets information from a dying priest (how the blind Daredevil recognizes him as a priest is not explained) but since the priest hadn't appeared anywhere else in the story, it seems arbitrary (and the Bible quote he offers...hardly seems like the clue it's supposed to be). Jenkins doesn't present a complex, interwoven saga, but rather seems a little like he's working from a basic outline, but is otherwise writing as he goes. If you look at it too closely -- hardly any of it holds up to scrutiny, even why the Kingpin was being targeted is unclear! And as often happens with supernatural climaxes, the what and how seems muddled (with talk of opening portals, or closing them, or both).

There's also an ethical problem -- strange in a saga that thinks it's dealing with ultimate concepts of good and evil. I can't give too much away, but at one point DD finds evidence of a public health hazard...and, to achieve his goals, hushes it up. Writer Jenkins doesn't seem to have any problems with that, clearly viewing it as a legal question, rather than an ethical one (even then, Jenkins seems to misunderstand its legal ramifications vis-a-vis lawyer-client relations).

It's also worth noting that there're some technical goofs in this collection (blame reprint editor Ben Abernathy?). Artist Winslade indulges in a few two page spreads that would require a bit of tricky juggling to present properly -- maybe by inserting some of the cover illustrations in the middle of an issue, rather than between the issues, in order to alter the page count. This isn't done, though, and the result is a few scenes where you have to turn the page to see the full picture. It doesn't affect the narrative flow too much, but if Marvel's going to indulge in TPBs, they should deal better with things like that.

I mentioned earlier that I wonder if part of the point of a mini-series like this might be to present a self-contained story, a friendly welcome to new readers. But the villains are recurring foes, and there are occasional references that seem to demand prior knowledge. A character tells DD: "You helped me, and I became lost..." But it's a line that has no meaning in this story. If Marvel really wants these sort of mini-series to tell a finite story, better they should feature original characters and situations...or, if they intend them as a handy primer on their heroes for new readers, at least provide better explanations for the characters and their past relationships. That last theory -- that it's intended to introduce readers to DD and his world -- could explain the Black Widow's presence. She's there simply to be there, not because she advances the plot.

Ultimately, this is reasonably fun, though the beginning and the end seem like they belong to different stories, and the plotting is too loose to make this the thinking man thriller dealing with big issues that Jenkins, maybe, wants it to be. Which maybe explains why everytime I read it I start out liking it, am disappointed by the climax, find myself regarding it affectionately a few months later if I think back on it...then I re-read it, and the cycle begins again!

It's enjoyable, but nonsense.

Cover price: $19.50 CDN./ $12.95 USA


Daredevil: Typhoid Mary  2003 (SC TPB) 210 pages

cover by Romita Jr and Williamson Written by Ann Nocenti. Pencils by John Romita, Jr. Inks by Al Williamson.
Colours: Max Scheele, Janet Jackson, Greg Wright. Letters: Joe Rosen. Editor: Ralph Macchio.

Reprinting: Daredevil (1st Marvel series) #254-257, 259-263 (1988-1989)

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

Number of readings: 3

Review revised and re-posted Aug. 2010

Daredevil: Typhoid Mary collects the run of issues that first introduced villainess Typhoid Mary. A split personality, Typhoid is a crazed, devil-may-care psychopath, with low level telekinitic abilities, a mean kick, and the ability to make any man fall for her, while Mary is an innocent, unaware of her alter ego. Though not fully articulated, we can assume Typhoid Mary's duality would only work on DD -- the blind hero! Which makes her a perfect tool for mobster the Kingpin to employ against his arch nemesis, Daredevil -- Mary to seduce him, Typhoid to destroy him.

While all this is unfolding, there are other plots, like a three-issue story (continued from earlier) as Daredevil, in alter ego of Matt Murdock, fights a civil court case against a corporate polluter (owned by the Kingpin), as well as stories where DD tackles the Punisher, kiddie pornographers, and more. Plus superheroes like the Black Widow and the Human Torch guest star.

And at its best, it's an extraordinary collection, even as it can be uneven. And it's extraordinary simply because of writer Ann Nocenti. Nocenti is an odd writer, crafting idiosyncratic dialogue, where monologues can run to heavy handed and obvious, as characters think lines like "The entanglements and waste of America's legal system just contribute to the inertia of lies..." It may not be the most realistic dialogue, but that can actually work in its favour, creating its own, meta-reality, as if characters have stepped out of an Arthur Miller play, rather than off of the streets. They may not apeak the way they do in the real world...but they speak the way they do in Ann Nocenti's world.

But what makes Nocenti's work stand out most -- at least here, and in the few other things I've read by her -- is that Nocenti isn't afraid to be political, to be philosophical, to use a four colour world of super people in garish costumes to reflect and ruminate on the real world. (Admittedly, Nocenti has a bit of a left/liberal bias that I'm personally more comfortable with -- though like with any of us, she can veer right or left on different topics). Too few comics writers are willing to be political, and those that do, too often end up with stories wrapped around simplistic homilies in water downed After School Specials -- reassuring us, rather than challenging our pre-conceptions. So she treats the civil case against the polluter as a main plot -- not just a minor cutaway between the super heroing. When Daredevil broods about "moral criminals" as opposed to legal ones, you know we're getting into challenging, difficult areas. The book is full of digressions and passages that are so thick with implied meaning and sub-text that you can reach a point where you're unsure what Nocenti's point is...but you're pretty sure she has a point. The term "bully" echoes again and again in the comic, applied to heroes and villains and even society itself as a recurring motif.

What adds to this is the characters, full of vices and virtues and everything inbetween. Which is perhaps what also distinguishes Nocenti's writing from (the few) other writers who try to tackle themes and ideas -- her people still are people. They may pontificate, they may spout preachy monologues...but they themselves resist the urge to be simply ciphers to illustrate a lesson. Daredevil, intentionally, isn't always portrayed as the most sympathetic of characters -- brooding and self-absorbed, and overly self-righteous, one character charges that he "wields his 'morality' like a club". However, this story hinges on him cheating on his girl friend, Karen Page, with the seemingly innocent Mary -- which is the Kingpin's plan: to corrupt Daredevil. Though the fact that Mary has an almost preternatural allure can maybe allow us to forgive him a bit, nonetheless, this is a DD acting in a decidedly less than heroic way toward the women in his lives -- but that's the point: he's a good man...not a perfect man.

Nocenti works in the various characters, crafting a complex romantic conflict involving, not just Daredevil, Karen, and Mary (and Typhoid) but even the Kingpin gets entangled as he becomes infatuated with Typhoid, essentially falling victim to the very trap he intended for DD.

Re-reading this collection a couple of times over the last few years, I'm continually left agog at Nocenti's ambition, her chutzpah, that tends to make other, celebrated DD writers like Brian Michael Bendis, Kevin Smith, and even Frank Miller seem like...like...comic book writers, afraid to take their red-suited cartoon out of the funny pages of mobsters and ninjas and super-villains and into the harsh sun light of the real world the way Nocenti does. At one point DD contemplates marching...in an anti-Nuclear march. What does that have to do with being a super hero, you ask? Not much -- that's the point! Not everything he says and does is motivated by the fact that he's a superhero. (Although, admittedly, there's a thematic connection at play).

Yet for all that I continually "re-discover" this every time I read it, I find myself finishing it with a vague sense of dissatisfaction. Some of the flaws fall away with subsequent readings, either because I realize they do make sense (the ease with which Typhoid seduces DD and Kingpin both, though convenient, is ultimately justified by her super abilities) or they seem less consequential (the fact that Typhoid's hench man just disappears without explanation mid-way through). But the strongest "story" is arguably the opening three parter involving the civil case. There are other adventures -- DD butting heads with the Punisher in pursuit of a random killer (a story that crosses over with the Punisher's own comic, but not in a way that you need to read that other issue) or with Karen Page going undercover to track down a kiddie porn ring -- none particularly stand out. They are okay page turners, certainly decent chapters in the arc, but nothing more. And the Typhoid Mary thread itself doesn't fully come together as an arc -- as a graphic novel. Unsurprising, since in 1988, few comics writers were probably thinking in terms of collected editions.

It does come to a head, but in a slightly wishy washy way.

Part of that is because toward the end Nocenti had to tie the issues in with the company crossover "Inferno" (from the X-Men comics) in which demons invade and New York erupts almost literally as hell on earth. It's a bit of a change from the street crime of the earlier issues -- yet Nocenti integrates it better than probably a lot writers did at the time. Her whole story arc was about corruption -- of people, of the system, of the city, with garbage strikes, corporate malfeasance, and nuclear Armageddon lurking always in the background. In a sense, New York erupting into hell acts as almost the inevitable thematic realization of the earlier issues. In a way, the philosophy in Nocenti's stuff reminds me a bit of Steve Gerber, that same sense of fatalism, of humans as inherently corrupt. Yet unlike Gerber...there is a glimmer of hope in Nocenti's stuff, of compassion, the possibility of redemption.

The saga is dark and almost overly downbeat at times -- as mentioned, New York becoming Hell on earth actually seems like a logical expression of Nocenti's themes. This is a Daredevil saga so, as has become almost tradition, you know sooner or later he's going to be put through the bloody, physical wringer. But, at other times, Nocenti goes for a lighter touch. After many issues of DD seemingly smothered in an almost Nietzschean fatalism, suddenly there's a sequence where he reverts to his old, wisecracking self. And an issue featuring Johnny Storm (of the Fantastic Four) is amusing...though a touch long for what it is.

A sequence where a disoriented DD's hyper-senses start misfiring is superbly effective, reminding the reader of how thin the barrier is between Daredevil, superhero, and Daredevil, blind man. The use of supporting characters is also interesting -- like DD employing street ragamuffins as informants, evoking Sherlock Holmes' Baker Street Irregulars. And Nocenti utilizes the lawyer aspect better than many Daredevil scribes. This isn't about a superhero who moonlights as a lawyer simply to give him an alter ego...the civil trial really is the most important thing in Matt Murdock's life while it transpires.

Artist John Romita Jr. has become a genuine fan favourite, though I've had mixed feelings about him. Son of Silver Age Marvel Comics legend, John Romita, junior started out with a fairly clunky, unremarkable style, and in recent years has moved toward a loose, sketchy style. But this middle period work is very good -- arguably his peak -- with some nicely realized figure work and action scenes, and a nice eye for telling the story through the panel composition. In fact, re-reading this, Romita Jr.'s storytelling is also a big part of the effectiveness of the narrative flow. Though he has a tendency to draw Mary in a way that, frankly, makes her appear even more sinister than Typhoid, which kind of hurts the point of the saga.

As I say, I have a "vague" sense of dissatisfaction. On one hand, the "climax" isn't quite the tidy resolution of the threads...even as it does feel like a logical creative/thematic denouement. Daredevil had earlier been battered and left for dead, only to rise up toward the end, to take on the demon threat through his force of character as much as force of might. By the ending, Daredevil is battered and Typhoid victorious in that his life is ruined...yet at the same time, there is a sense that he has -- in his way -- overcome. He is badly bent...but not broken.

Yeah, as a collection, Typhoid Mary is flawed, uneven...but at times extraordinary!

Cover price: $32.00 CDN./ $19.99 USA
 

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