Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Comics Blah Blah Comics: Here Comes Daredevil

I recently had the chance to put me hands on a rather inexpensive copy of the first volume of Mark Waid's run on Daredevil

While historically a DC guy, I've had my exposure to certain Marvel titles that have turned out to be major touch stones in Marvel history: Claremont & Byrne on X-Men and Michelinie, Romita Jr and Layton on Iron Man are two very good examples of what I happened to stumble into during my forays into the House of Ideas. And another example: Daredevil by Frank Miller with Klaus Janson

Frank Miller's Daredevil was an eye opening experience for me. I had never read a mainstream super hero as a street level opera of darkness and violence. Here were characters with amazing abilities doing astonishing things but not without price. Matt Murdock as Daredevil may have brought his miraculous abilities to bear as a super hero like some many others who encountered aliens or radioactive accidents or magic rings or what have you. 

But Matt paid dearly for his efforts; being Daredevil hurt Matt deeply and profoundly. Yet Matt cannot turn away from those in need who Daredevil can help. So he keeps going out there to fight the good fight even as the good fight chips away at his sanity and his heart. 

The thing was that Frank Miller's Daredevil became THE Daredevil. When I happened to see some of Daredevil's earlier adventures, I had to make sure DC's Bob Haney wasn't moonlighting at Marvel writing for the Man Without Fear. There was some real messed up stuff in those comics. But Daredevil was a title that struggled to find its identity. The swashbuckling quipster was too much in the Spider-Man template yet not as well rounded as the wall crawler.  Daredevil was down to being published bi-monthly and eventual cancellation when newly arrived artist Frank Miller was given the reins as writer. What was there to lose? 

But subsequent versions of Daredevil were pale imitations of Miller or kept trying to one-up Miller's take. Storylines that put Matt Murdock through hell were followed by storylines that put Matt Murdock through even more hell.  There was some great stuff in those comics, particularly from Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker. But how low can you go? When Andy Diggle had Daredevil possesed by an actual demon and took over a criminal cartel, it looked like Daredevil had finally hit the bottom that he had been falling towards for over 30 years.  It would be rough to have Matt go lower than that. 

So that's when Mark Waid entered the picture. 

Mark Waid is the ultimate "fan boy makes good" story. I remember reading his features in the comics fanzine Amazing Heroes. He had a great sense of humor and a strong understanding of what makes a good comic work. It was a joy to watch Mark make the leap to professional comics writer and make good on the promise I sensed in his early writing.  

Half of Mark's brain is wired to DC Comics, the other half to Marvel. What I mean by that is Mark can summon the plot centric spirit of DC's best days and merge it with the Marvel's flawed, human characters.  And nowhere is that more evident than in Daredevil

Mark's Daredevil may embrace the long forgotten swashbuckling hero but its no repudiation of what Frank Miller began and what Bendis and Brubaker continued. Matt acknowledges his dark past but he's decided that way leads to nothing good. For his own health, for his own sanity and for the sake of those he holds dear, he needs to let go of that darkness.  

One may say that Mark Waid's Daredevil has gone mad, that all the pressures of his life have caused him to snap but instead of disintegrating into depression or rage, he's decided to go delightfully bonkers. Yes, Matt is quite mad but it's HIS decision to be that way and it's HIS decision which way that madness should go. 

The upshot is a mind that has been unleashed in unexpected directions. Much of what Daredevil accomplishes in the course of this collection is as much a product of his wit, thinking fast and making plans steps ahead of his enemies. Radar sense and acrobatics are cool but what's really awesome is when Daredevil relies more on Matt Murdock's skills as a lawyer to win.  

I should say something about the art. Illustrated mostly by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin, the art has a light touch, certainly lighter than what we've become accustomed to from Miller and Alex Maleev and Michael Lark and others. But like Waid's writing, this so called "light touch" is deceptive. Yes, lines are cleaner and colors are bolder but there's still darkness there. But here Daredevil is not being subsumed by the darkness but is fighting it. And winning. 

Ultimately, what struck me about this volume of Daredevil was simply just how much fun I had reading these stories.  I hope to catch up on some more collections and see where Mark Waid takes the Man Without Fear. 

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You


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