GRAPHIC NOVEL and TRADE
PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm


Daredevil Reviews - Page 5


cover by Alex MaleevDaredevil: Underboss  2002 (SC TPB) 144 pages

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

Reprinting: Daredevil (2nd series) #26-31

Rating: * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

The Kingpin is brutally dethroned in a coup staged by one of his mob underlings, while Daredevil finds himself the target of hired killers...not as DD, which he might expect, but in his alter ego of Matt Murdock. And slowly he begins to suspect that someone knows his secret I.D.

Daredevil has been enjoying a bit of a critical renaissance lately, first with filmmaker-turned-comics writer Kevin Smith kicking off DD's new series, then Brian Michael Bendis has enjoyed accolades for his mobsters n' mean streets approach to the series. Unfortunately, Underboss doesn't do much to justify all the praise.

At first blush, you can see being intrigued. There's the art by Alex Maleev that mixes an, at times, almost photo-realism, with a more impressionistic dark, gritty style of grey backgrounds and grime. Though like with other artist who can ape some realism, there can be a certain stiltedness at times. Writer Bendis, meanwhile, has clearly imbibed the works of others -- from former Daredevil writer Frank Miller, to screenwriters like David Mamet and Quentin Tarantino -- to try and fill the thing up with quirky, off beat dialogue and monologues. But the problem is, Bendis takes a long time to say very little. Literally. Bendis' scenes tend to spill over many panels and pages, without really being that great. A four page scene where DD as lawyer Murdock delivers a closing summation reminded me of a Frank Miller scripted scene (in DD #181). Except Miller only used a couple of panels -- and was more effective!

Bendis throws in the jumbled chronology trick that Christopher Priest did in Black Panther -- where the story begins near the end, then fills in the beginning and middle in a way that allows the story to unfold gradually. But part of the nature of that technique is that, frankly, it can be employed to make a simplistic story seem complicated. Not a whole lot actually occurs, given that this is a six issue epic! Even allowing for the fact that one of the issues was hamstrung by being published during a gimmick month called "Nuff Said, where all of Marvel's writers had to deliver a story devoid of dialogue (memo to Marvel's editorial staff: how about a month called "Great Story Month" where all writers have to...well, you get the idea).

But the real stumbling block for me was the dearth of characterization. Now that's funny, because much of what I'd been reading about Bendis -- this story included! -- was his great handling of the characters. There are a couple of good scenes involving DD. There's one with him and partner Foggy, that provides some much needed human element and even humour. Another is where DD is told that with Kingpin having recently been blinded, it was only a matter of time before his own mob turned on him because of his weakness. And DD -- the blind superhero -- takes a moment to understand that being blind would be seen as a weakness. But other than that, there's not a whole lot -- Foggy only appears in a couple of scenes and DD is more a presence on the page than a personality in the plot. Strangely, I wasn't even sure what Bendis' take on DD was. He seems a particularly cruel version of the character -- threatening to kill a crook, or taunting the Kingpin when he learns the big man's being targeted (even though it's clear they have a mutual enemy). And yet, he doesn't actually seem to be any more brutal (the death threat appears to be just a bluff). Strangely, when the climax comes...DD isn't even a part of it! In fact, if you were to remove DD from the story entirely, events would have played themselves out the same way.

Which brings us to the wiseguys and goodfellas that seem to interest Bendis more than his hero. The villain, Silke, is given a few convoluted, anecdotal-heavy monologues meant to evoke Mamet or Tarantino, but one can't exactly call him a multi-dimensional figure. Initially, one wonders if he's acting as a mouthpiece for Bendis-the-writer, as he belittles the Kingpin, dismissing him as an ex-supervillain, as if he -- Silke -- represents a tougher, grittier, more realistic villainy Bendis is introducing to the comic. But when Silke's coup falls apart, he's revealed to be a bit of a goofball -- what? He didn't anticipate retaliation from those loyal to the Kingpin? Rather than being a complex story full of twists and turns, the plot hinges on dorky characters doing dorky things and not anticipating the obvious.

The main human element on the mob side of the story involves the Kingpin's wife and his estranged son, Richard. But it's a radically different interpretation of their family dynamics than was first presented in Amazing Spider-Man #83-85 (reprinted in Essential Spider-Man #4 -- reviewed in my Spider-Man section). Bendis' version -- with the Kingpin as an abusive father -- is probably more realistic of a real mmobster's home life, but Stan Lee's original, more sympathetic version was the more interesting, the more emotionally complex.

I once read years ago that the thinking in comics circles was that the average reader only stuck around for a couple of years, so it was O.K. to recycle ideas, because most readers wouldn't have read them. Of course, this philosophy dated from before the glut of trade paperback collections, where even a modern, transient reader might have read older story lines. Still, I recognize that, being as I am a reader -- off and on -- for a number of years, perhaps it's unfair of me to knock something because it all seems a touch...derivative.

But I couldn't help thinking the six-part Underboss -- at least the stuff about someone gunning for Matt Murdock -- reminded me of the opening chapter of Daredevil: Born Again. Not even the whole saga, just the opening chapter! And that it was more effectively handled in that earlier story. While the Kingpin weathering a challenge to his power has happened more than once -- such as Gang War. And a sequence where DD's powers go temporarily haywire has been done more effectively earlier (in a sequence in Typhoid Mary and Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller, vol. 3 to name just two). As I say, though, such nitpicking may be unfair. After all, it's not about whether the basic ideas have been done before. It's in the details that the story can be made fresh. But, as noted, I just didn't think there were that many details -- there wasn't that much in terms of plot twists or character scenes.

Yet, with all that being said, I kept waffling back and forth on the story. Every chapter that kind of lost me was followed by another that started to win me over again with the art and the, occasionally, clever dialogue. It wasn't bad, necessarily. Reading it I knew that how satisfying the climax was would make my decision for me as to whether the story worked...

..and the ending just seemed weak. As noted, Daredevil doesn't play any part in it, nor does it seem clever or unexpected. Worse, although the mob coup plot is brought to an end, this whole story line is really just a lead in to the next one -- collected in Daredevil: Out. You've basically got an uneven story that works only in fits and starts...and then ends weakly. The result, for me, is that Underboss is underwhelming.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $14.95 USA.


Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller, vol. 2 2001 (SC TPB) 250 pgs

cover by Frank Miller (using his modern style)Written and pencilled by Frank Miller. Inked and embellished by Klaus Janson.
Colours: Glynis Oliver Wein, Kalus Janson, others. Letters: Joe Rosen. Editor: Denny O'Neil.

Reprinting: Daredevil (1st series) #168-182 (1981-1982)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Additional notes: intro by Diana Schutz; covers

Frank Miller's original run on Daredevil has been collected across three thick "Visionary" TPBs, a run that he began as an artist (with Roger McKenzie as writer), continued as writer/artist, then finished mainly as writer, with long time inker Klaus Janson taking over as artist over Miller's storyboards. This second volume begins with Miller assuming the scripting of the comic, and in reprinting 15 consecutive issues, shows the development of his early talent.

I'll admit to being surprised at my own mixed reaction to some of these issues. Admittedly, my relationship to Miller's works is...complicated. I was a big fan of him when I was younger, including his Daredevil, and was blown away by some of his mid-1980s work, but became less interested in his subsequent projects...and have been downright appalled by his recent work (such as The Dark Knight Strikes Again). And because Miller has such a strong style, once you go off him...it's hard to go back, since you can hear echoes of the things you grew to hate even in work you once loved. But as well, these issues near the beginning of Miller's career as a writer, display a talent still evolving, with a lot of clumsy writing, corny characterization, and "clever" phrasing that is heavy handed. Yet...you can also see the brilliance, the experimentation, the raw talent shaping itself out of clay.

You can also detect early influences. Miller's editor was longtime comics scribe Denny O'Neil, and you can probably detect O'Neil's guiding influence a bit, for better and worse (I having a mixed reaction to O'Neil, too). The heavy handed "relevancy", that can seem more clumsy than provocative, and the attempts at comic relief that can be a bit juvenile and obvious, all seem evocative of O'Neil. Miller was also a big fan of Will Eisner's The Spirit (an adoration that culminated in Miller directing the ill-received 2008 motion picture!). And you can really see that here (particularly now that I've read more of Eisner's work). There's the attempts to really play with the panels and composition, to try and make the telling of the scenes interesting, and to cram a lot in: Miller often uses a lot of little panels, milking a lot of content from his pages. Eisner is also reflected in the aforementioned humour -- Miller's run on DD is thought of as the definition of grim n' gritty, but there's actually a lot of comic relief, with DD himself a more light-hearted, easy going guy at times -- like The Spirit. There's even a scene where Daredevil is casually leaning against a wall as he awaits someone, sipping with a straw from a soda pop bottle...almost an exact duplication of a similar scene from an old Spirit comic!

But Miller's art lacks Eisner's discipline and detail. Where Eisner would create a palpable (if caricatured) world of sagging tenements, right down to the crooked nails in the floorboards, Miller's art is rather hastily sketched, as though more a rough storyboard than the finished pencils. It seems strange to criticize a run of Miller's work for aspects that are, after all, intrinsic to Miller, but as someone who had read some of these issues, and loved them as a kid, I have to be honest and say that reading them now, I have mixed feelings. The very roughness of the art, the lack of discipline, maybe making it harder for me to be drawn into the characters and their emotions.

But what becomes fascinating reading this volume is two things:

First, just how seminal these issues were, as Miller introduces characters and ideas into the series that influence it to this day. We have the first appearance of Elektra, we have the introduction of the Kingpin into DD's world -- the Kingpin previously having been a Spider-Man foe, but forever after indelibly associated with DD. There's the introduction of The Hand, the ninja assassins that would subsequently appear throughout the Marvel Universe, as Miller imbues DD with a more martial arts flavour. And there's the obligatory retcon of origins, as so many writers do when taking over a comic, determined to "make their mark" -- with the introduction of DD's (previously unreferenced) mentor, the blind, cranky (and obnoxious) Stick. All in this run of issues!

Secondly, this actually forms a graphic novel. If you've read other reviews on my site, you'll know a pet peeve (or passion) of mine, is the idea of the graphic "novel". That is, the idea that if you pick up issues collected between a single TPB cover, the great volume is one that really feels like it has a beginning and end, and doesn't just close with a zillion plot threads dangling. A satisfying beginning and resolution to a collected edition can elevate the whole book above some individual flaws.

The collection begins with DD #168, which first introduces Elektra Natchios, DD's former lover, turned cynical bounty hunter and assassin. Elektra continues to flitter in and out of the next few issues, sometimes disappearing for a few chapters, then returning, sometimes as ally, then as an enemy as Elektra joins the Kingpin's organization. And then this collection climaxes with the double-sized #181 in which Elektra is killed (at least, temporarily) -- and the epilogue-type issue #182. For that matter, an arc involving Bullseye, DD's recurring arch foe, is also contained within these pages, as an early issue collected here has DD save Bullseye's life...an "insult" (to Bullseye) that proves relevant in the collection's climactic chapter. So this TPB is a mixture of various stories, some light-hearted, some serious, some action-oriented, some suspense focused, battling mobsters, ninjas, and street crooks, some stand alone, some multi-issue arcs, making for a grab bag of disparate tales. But it's all tied together -- and neatly tied up -- by the Elektra arc. There are even a few other sub-plots that are introduced, then also resolved before the end (though the final issue introduces new sub-plots that are explored in the next volume).

Which is why it has the feel of a genuine "graphic novel". Though despite the genuine emotion inherent in the bookending stories -- #168, #181, #182 -- I'll admit, I'm not sure Miller successfully pulls off the romantic tension between DD and Elektra inbetween. I mean, we know it's there, 'cause we are told it is, repeatedly, but I'm not sure it quite works its way into your heart and soul the way it does in those three opening and closing issues.

In execution, there's hit and miss. The opening Elektra issue, and the final climax are both exceptionally well told tales, and there's a decent level of enjoyment overall. Yet, with that being said, there aren't too many stand out stories or issues, either. After having read the whole thing...a number of the issues have kind of faded from my mind. As I say, this is a Miller still learning, his command of his composition and characterization definitely more consistently sure in the issues toward the end of this collection. But one can appreciate the variety in tones and styles Miller goes for, from the light n' fun, to the dark n' gritty. There's more humour and joviality than you might expect, such as an issue teaming DD with Power Man & Iron Fist (in a story that crossed over with their own comic...but not in a way that is essential to reading this issue). But there's also a sombre issue attempting to deal with rape (albeit metaphorically -- the serial attacker beats women up, but doesn't explicitly sexual assault them) and its emotional impact upon DD's secretary is certainly well-intentioned, but a bit clumsy and heavy handed (and made a little insincere when, in a later issue, DD's girlfriend Heather is basically threatened with rape...and Miller turns the would be rapist into a comic relief figure!)

As someone who would've just automatically said he was a fan of Miller (at least, Miller in the 1980s) I was surprised that it was Miller's work that left me a bit ambivalent, finding the art sometimes crude and well, bad, despite the stylish composition, and the writing and characterization is likewise a mix of intelligence and cleverness...and simplicity and one dimension (Miller's Foggy isn't half as well-rounded as Stan Lee's earlier take on him). At the same time, I repeat: Miller's command of his craft improves over these issues, with the final issues showing a more consistently sure eye for composition, for storytelling, the dialogue tighter, pithier, the emotion more emotional (though, ironically, as mentioned, the opening issue stands out as one of the best, too).

But there is an entertainment value overall. And with the Elektra arc forming a unifying thread, this works quite nicely as a graphic "novel", a tome to be put on the shelf and read as a coherent work with a beginning, middle and end -- and one that laid many of the foundation stones for the next few decades of DD stories!

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $24.95 USA.


Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller, vol. 3 2002 (SC TPB) 272 pgs

cover by Frank Miller (using his modern style)Written by Frank Miller. Pencils by Klaus Janson, Frank Miller. Inks by Klaus Janson and Terry Austin.
Colours: Klaus Janson. Letters: Joe Rosen. Editor: Denny O'Neil.

Reprinting: Daredevil (1st series) #183-191, Daredevil stories from What if...? #28, 35, and the Elektra story from Bizarre Adventures #28 (1982-1983)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 3

Additional notes: intro by Klaus Janson.

Marvel's various "visionaries" TPBs are meant to highlight the work of popular creators. The three volumes of Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller collect the complete run of Frank Miller's early 1980s work on Daredevil, first as an artist working from Roger McKenzie's scripts, then as a writer-artist.

Miller's later return to the series as a writer is not included as part of the "visionaries" label, but has already been collected as Born Again.

Volume 3 reprints the last of his original run, and after the first couple of reprinted issues, it also sees the pencilling chores being handed over to Miller's longtime inker, Klaus Janson (while Miller retains an ambiguous stortelling credit implying he continued to storyboard the scenes).

Janson as penciller/inker isn't as strong as Miller -- his style being, perhaps intentionally, quite crude and rough. But he tells the scenes well enough (working from Miller's outlines or not), and his spartan scenes and coarse, thick inked style certainly has a lot of atmosphere, particularly combined with his own, sombre colouring.

The advantage to collecting a run of issues is it allows sub-plots to be introduced, woven around each other, and then brought to a climax. This begins with a two-part tale, still pencilled by Miller, of Daredevil battling the arch-vigilante, the Punisher -- which has previously been collected as Daredevil/Punisher: Child's Play. It's co-written with Roger McKenzie and, my impression is, may well have been sitting on the shelf from back when McKenzie was the regular DD writer. The next two stories are interconnected but relatively stand alone, and humourous in tone, involving corruption at the company owned by DD's then-girlfriend, Heather. This segues into the collection's main story arc, involving fellow superhero, The Black Widow, DD's old mentor, Stick, the nefarious assassin cult, the Hand, and the recently murdered Elektra. Miller bows out, once more pencilling, with the semi-classic "Roulette".

Filling out this collection are a couple of tales from What if...?, Marvel's alternate reality comic, and an Elektra solo story from the anthology magazine, Bizarre Adventures -- all by Miller. I've only read one of these -- "What if Bullseye Had Not Killed Elektra?" (Wi #35) -- and, frankly, it wasn't much to write home about, seeming like Miller did it to please an editor rather than because he had anything to say.

What keeps the stories in high gear is Miller's (then) brilliant ear for dialogue, and a sense that he knew his characters. The dialogue -- veering from comical to heartfelt -- is delightful to read. His Daredevil is all too human, sometimes cruel and selfish in his dealings with others. That's supposed to be because he's still grieving, internally, over the death of Elektra in the previous Visionaries volume -- but that incident is not even alluded to until later in this collection, making it awkward as motivation. Still, Miller creates interesting dynamics even with new characters, though Stick, the embodiment of tough love, quickly out wears his welcome.

As mentioned, the plus to a collection like this is you can enjoy what can be a comics' forte -- the use of fractured plots, where seeming unrelated threads gradually weave together. I sometimes feel that's been lost a bit in recent years. Reading more modern TPB collections, such as Batman: Evolution, multi-part stories seem desperately lacking that sense of layered plotting where sub-plots build to form grand epics. And because this was the end of Miller's run, he doesn't leave lose ends dangling.

At the same time, you kind of have to enjoy the scenes, and appreciate the anticipation of wondering how they'll come together, but not bother analysing whether, at the end of it all, it really holds together.

DD is drawn into a battle between two ancient orders of martial artists, but there's little explanation for who and what Stick's order is or does. One of the plot threads stretched over a couple of issues involve the nefarious Hand ressurecting a dead, super-scary ninja, Kirigi -- who then gets beaten with very little effort by the heroes! Nor was there any explanation for what Kirigi's body was doing in a New York morgue (well, until I read DD Visionaries 2, and realized Kirigi had previously appeared there). Aspects like that remain sticking points -- Miller carefully juggling various threads, including some character-based, soap opera-y stuff...but often the denouements are weak or wishy-washy. Which could explain why, though I enjoy this run of issues whenever I re-read them...I tend to forget what transpires in them quite easily.

Still, the whole Hand saga builds to an effective, double-sized climax involving the Hand trying to resurrect the dead Elektra. It's a particularly strong, well-written, emotionally charged issue, albeit some of its resonance is based on the reader having some familiarity with the history between Elektra and DD (though it's explained in some dialogue for the newcomer). Some of its potency is mitigated by the subsequent return and over-use of Elektra -- but don't think about that. Just take the story on its own.

Miller's run on Daredevil was marked by grittiness and (Comics Code Approved) violence. Some felt Miller kept pushing things too far, such as having DD use a gun (even if it's only to wound) and in the battles with the evil Hand, there are no quarters given. I don't condone Miller's excesses, but I more quibble with them than fully object. Though it puts an ironic spin on the anti-violence message of the final "Roulette" story. That story is clearly meant to be a "special" story, and succeeds reasonably well...but not totally. Maybe it's trying too hard, its very pretentiousness working against it; maybe it's because the framing sequence that gives the story its name, though memorable, is a little too obviously symbolic -- you can't really believe Daredevil would be playing Russian Roulette. Still, it's a very good story.

Though the art is uneven in the Janson drawn issues, there's potent atmosphere at work, and the juggling of various sub-plots makes for a nicely complex saga, even if the pay offs for many of them are a little weak. Married with Miller's dead-on ear for dialogue and character shading, and a surprisingly diversity of tone (from the humourous, to the tough and violent, to the emotional and melancholic), this third and final collection of Miller's original Daredevil work is definitely an enjoyable read. And, whatever its weaknesses, it's a bit heartbreaking, because it reminds you of just how good Miller could be...and how much his talent has been squandered in recent years when one reads the almost excrutiatingly bad Dark Knight Strikes Again!

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $24.95 USA.


Daredevil: Yellow 2002 (HC & SC TPB) 144 pages
a.k.a. Daredevil Legends, vol. 1

cover by Tim SaleWritten by Jeph Loeb. Illustrated by Tim Sale.
Colours: Matt Holingsworth. Letters: Richard Starkings, Wes Abott. Editor: Bronwyn Taggart, Stuart Moore.

Reprinting: the six issue mini-series (2001) - with covers

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale made a big splash at DC Comics with the epic mini-series, Batman: The Long Halloween, then Superman for All Seasons (and the Batman sequel Dark Victory); then they moved over to Marvel to try their formula (telling a retroactive tale set within a character's early career) on some Marvel characters. First with Daredevil: Yellow, then Spider-Man: Blue, etc.

Yellow takes its name from ol' horn head's original, yellow based costume, which he had for only the first half dozen issues of his comic. This retells how Matt Murdock's boxer dad was murdered, and how he dons a costume for revenge, then it continues on, with the emphasis on his relationship with secretary/future girl friend, Karen Page, even as he battles various villains. Karen has been killed off in modern DD mythos, and the framework for the story is that a still-grieving DD is writing letters of reminiscence addressed to Karen, as a kind of therapy -- recalling the good times, to provide a salve for the bad. Despite that melancholy hook, the series is lighter (for the most part) in tone than modern DD comics, harkening back to the character's roots.

I went into this with some ambivalence. Some of the other series by the Loeb-Sale combo seemed to fall far short of Loeb's pretensions -- and the acclaim fandom awarded them. Often seeming more flash than substance. That's true here, as well...but nonetheless Yellow emerges as the more effective -- and appealing -- of the ones I've read. And it's this mix of the bitter and the sweet that perhaps helps make it work, and imbues it with a seductive, gentle ambience.

I'm not sure how much of this is Loeb crafting his own story, and how much is simply "reinterpreting" pre-existing stories (since I haven't read many of DD's earliest comics). Certainly the first couple of issues rehash Daredevil's origin...and, even then, Loeb prunes it a bit (leaving out DD's childhood and blinding accident). And the villains that crop up over the rest of the mini-series certainly mirror the villains that appear on the covers of the first few issues of the original Daredevil comic. A lot of modern creators like to go around re-telling older stories. But with the proliferation of TPB collections (like the Essential books) it's not even like it could be argued they are retelling stories the modern reader has no way of reading in their original form. The argument is, of course, that the modern creators are bringing an edgier, more sophisticated spin to older, childish stories. But it's usually a trade off, with scenes that certainly are better, more subtle than the original...sitting next to scenes that are less effective than the original.

It can also create an odd animal, in that on one hand this can be seen as a retelling of the early DD adventures for the uninitiated, even as in other ways, it seems kind of like you need to know your DD to appreciate some of the nuances. Heck, I don't think it's till the third or fourth issue that a passing reference is made to the accident that gave him super senses. If this is intended as a jumping on point for novice readers, that probably should've been worked in earlier.

Nonetheless, Yellow is an enjoyable, atmospheric read.

Part of that, admittedly, is the art. Tim Sale's at once cartoony, and dynamic figures (though not as distractingly cartoony as his Superman) and his beautiful eye for evoking an environment -- whether it be Kansas farm fields and the clean streets of Metropolis in Superman for All Seasons, or the mid-town and downtown environment of Daredevil's milieu, the book-crammed offices of Nelson & Murdock to the brick and water pipe-strewn cellars of inner city tenements, to spectacular vistas of DD swinging over nocturnal New York -- is breathtaking. All beautifully painted by Matt Hollingsworth with washed out water colours, making even DD's much-maligned yellow costume striking and dramatic. Perhaps because of Sale's Will Eisner-esque cartooniness mixed with the kinder-gentler world evoked by Loeb's script, this is a softened grittiness, where you can smell the car exhaust and taste last night's rain, but in a pleasant way.

In fact, though I've read reviews that have said the opposite, to me the art here is more appealing and atmospheric than in Loeb-Sale's Superman and Batman epics. And I think Hollingworth's colours are a big part of that.

Loeb isn't so hot at maintaining plot threads or developing characters, but he can do nice work simply with scenes. There's an involving readability to the sequences of characters just sitting around, chatting, with Loeb realizing his characters quite well at times (though that may say as much for past writers, from Stan Lee to Frank Miller, who helped establish these people to begin with). The Fantastic Four appear in a brief scene, and Loeb captures the original Lee and Kirby version of these characters better than many. There's also a nifty, eerie (if not wholly plausible) scene of DD attempting to find someone, missing in the city, simply by listening with his super hearing. Though sometimes Loeb's interest in a scene-for-its-own-sake results in sequences like DD attending the execution of his father's killer...which doesn't really take us anywhere, plot or character-wise. Or even philosophically.

The back cover likens this to a romantic comedy, which is a stretch. There's light-heartedness, and some amusing badinage, but nothing that approaches really being a "comedy" per se.

I'm often quick to criticize comics that seem to be big panels of art with few words, making for rather brief, insubstantial issues. But here there's an appeal to it, as the saga breezes along, not becoming turgid or too heavy. Collected in a single volume, the issues becoming merely "chapters", it makes for an enjoyable tome that can be read in just a couple of sittings, allowing you to immerse yourself in the atmospheric visuals, the nostalgic mix of introspection and whimsy, without finding yourself dwelling on the weaknesses.

There are a few battles with super villains (which, as I say, I suspect are simply restaging of the original comics), but in other ways Loeb puts the emphasis much more on the civilian side of things, focusing on Matt Murdock, Karen Page and Foggy Nelson hanging out in their office, or going bowling. Presumably Loeb is trying to flesh out the old stories by giving us scenes the more action-plot focused originals might have skimmed over (for instance, in the original first issue of Daredevil, Foggy simply introduces Karen to Matt as their new secretary -- here, Loeb milks a bit of humour out of a few pages showing Foggy interviewing various applicants for the secretary position). And true to Yellow's wanting to be about Matt and Karen as much as DD, Loeb shuffles sequence. In the original, Matt meets Karen in the middle of the origin story, the climax being his confrontation with his father's killer -- here, the climax of the two-part tale is his first meeting with Karen.

Though the issues can bleed over into each other, this doesn't really form an overall arc, not as if Loeb were taking the original comics and reshaping them into a single narrative -- a graphic novel. Even the basic stuff involving Matt and Karen doesn't really go anywhere. That's of course the problem with sticking as close to established continuity as Loeb is, since Matt and Karen didn't become an official couple until many issues after the period in which this is set.

Loeb kind of throws in plot threads...then does nothing with them, or deals with them poorly. At one point DD confronts his father's killer, demanding to know who he worked for. The killer refuses to talk...and nothing comes of it. Maybe, for those familiar with DD's history, the answer is known (maybe the Kingpin was involved, or something) but in this stand alone mini-series, it's as if Loeb is setting up a story...then forgets about it. In another scene, a woman comes to Nelson and Murdock, terrified of someone, later that someone shows up at their office...and hires them as his lawyers, and no one seems concerned about the terrified woman.

Even the romantic angle is unevenly handled. At its core, it's a romantic triangle, as both Matt and law partner Foggy are in love with Karen...but the fact that he knows his best friend is in love with the same woman never seems to influence DD's thinking or actions.

In the end, if you expect Daredevil: Yellow to be a profound examination of these characters, or a richly plotted epic, you'll be disappointed. But if you want an easy going, episodic story, with a mix of adventure, and character and romance, beautifully visualized, I'll admit to having liked this.

Quite a lot, in some ways.

Enjoyed for what it is, it can make you nostalgic for the DD of old, a warm, affectionate homage. It ain't as smart as it pretends, but it is kind of fun and very atmospheric. Though if it turns out, as I suspect, that Loeb is just shamelessly ripping off the early issues of Daredevil, my evaluation might drop -- though even then, perhaps I'm a hypocrite, and validating the very notion of such "remakes"...since I've yet to bother picking up Essential Daredevil, vol. 1.

Soft cover price: $24.00 CDN./ $14.99 USA

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