Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Daredevil--In the beginning

The Marvel Universe website and Daredevil Wikipedia entry, provide the most detailed overviews of the Daredevil character imaginable. For copious information check them out. For the purposes of this comparison, I've selected two articles that give the devoted fan flavour of the Comic book superhero, Daredevil.

The first article, places Daredevil as the 3rd most popular superhero character in the combined Marvel and DC universes. This is major endorsement of Daredevil as a character who has withstood the test of time (and of multiple artistic visions). Since Daredevil's creation in 1964, many different writers and artists have put their imprint on the character. In fact, finding out exactly how many had contributed to the vision became an impossible task! (For more details about most of the contributors check out The Man Without Fear). The recap of the Daredevil story below, hits the high points of a very long and convoluted series of stories, (much like all successful comic book series).

Comic books share some similarities with the soap opera genre: c
haracters surmount incredible odds, succeeding beyond incredible obstacles...only to eventually fail miserably....then overcome all difficulties once again, in time to find true love... only to have the beloved brutally murdered by an archenemy. Frequently (and miraculously), characters return from the dead, or from some secret incarceration. The realism of the world doesn't apply---high drama rules--and that is half of the fun.

by Brian Cronin
Thursday, September 27th, 2007

Created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett (with help from Jack Kirby), Daredevil made his debut in the pages of his own self-titled comic book in 1964. Matt Murdock was a successful attorney who was secretly the superhero Daredevil.

The catch?

Matt was blind.

When Matt was a kid, he saved an old man from being hit by a truck, but the truck was carrying radioactive materials that splashed on to Matt, blinding him for life. However, the materials also ended up giving Matt a kind of superpower - all his senses were heightened, to the point where he could read newspapers just by reading the ink on the page with his finger.

In addition, he gained a sort of Radar sense, like a Bat, only not sound-based, Matt just basically had a supernatural sense of where people were around him. It was how he was able to operate as a superhero, and how no one was able to connect him with blind attorney, Matt Murdock, because how could a blind guy do this?

Matt was a basic superhero for many years, during which time he was notably involved with his secretary, Karen Page, and the superhero Black Widow (they even shared his comic for awhile, as Daredevil and Black Widow). Matt’s law partner, and best friend, was Foggy Nelson.This all changed with the arrival of Frank Miller as the writer of the book. Miller introduced an old girlfriend of Matt’s called Elektra, who was a dangerous assassin. He also made Matt into a sort of a ninja, introducing a heretofore unknown sensei of Matt’s called Stick. Miller also made the Kingpin, a Spider-Man mob villain, into Daredevil’s arch-nemesis, while cementing the supervillain assassin, Bullseye, created a little while before Miller took over the book by Marv Wolfman, into a force to be reckoned with, even to the point of having Bullseye KILL Elektra.

Later on, Miller returned to the character, as Karen Page (who had left years ago to become an actress) was now a drug addict who sold Daredevil’s secret identity. It got to the Kingpin, who then proceeded to tear apart Matt’s life. In the end, though, Matt was too strong, and along with Karen, he began a new life.Eventually, he even regained his law license.Sadly, Bullseye struck again, this time killing KAREN, as well.Reeling from her death, Matt was spiraling. He had his identity published in the papers and he even attempted to put HIMSELF in place as the new Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen. During this period he married Milla Donovan, who is also blind. Matt was able to recover from this period, and even was able to refute the identity issue (although everyone pretty much thinks he is Daredevil now). He is now back to doing what he does best, practice law and patrol the streets as Daredevil

This next article, written by columnist Augie De Bliek Jr., for Comic Book Resources, shows just how seriously devoted fans take their superhero stories, and how much they enjoy and distinguish the efforts of different writers, artists, colorists, and in this case, book designers.

Daredevil Yellow
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist, Comic Book Resources--Pipeline, Issue #262

For those who might be coming in late, Marvel originally presented DD: YELLOW as a six-issue mini-series with story by Jeph Loeb and art by Tim Sale. They went back to Daredevil's origins and crafted a remarkable love story between Karen Page and Matt Murdock. That's the mostly-hidden arc for the series. What you see is a lot about Matt taking up legal studies in an effort to avenge his father's murder, some early superhero hijinks, and the start of Nelson & Murdock.

The thing that the story keeps coming back to, though, is the love triangle between Page, Nelson, and Murdock. It's the focus of the doomed ending of the fourth issue and the heartbreaking ending of the fifth. It's the point of contention between Nelson and Murdock, and it's the part that grounds the story to a level of normalcy. It's not all super powered heroics, and even those bits cross over into the romance. But that's OK. It all fits. Murdock has to learn to balance his career and his vigilante-ism. In fact, it's about the only missing point in the book for me: How can a man who's passed the bar and knows the law inside and out also engage in a form of vigilante justice at the same time? It's probably the most fascinating part of his character, but something that would require a book of its own. This was not the place for it. It's also something that's being touched on in the current DAREDEVIL series. Loeb and Sale have been working together long enough now to know each other's strengths. Loeb can create snappy dialogue and a story with heart. Sale can inject it with the right amount of mood and a strong sense of realism or surrealism, depending on what's needed. In the case of DD: YELLOW, it's definitely a realistically-drawn story. You will believe every brick is on that building and that every ceiling tile belongs on the ceiling. You believe that because Sale isn't afraid to draw it and, even more remarkably, the pages don't clutter up with it. Indeed, the larger format to this hardcover only helps to bring out the detail. The larger format is a big aid to the storytelling. On some of the full-page splashes, you'll think you're looking at an art book.

Sale's art hasn't looked this impressive since SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS. In DD: YELLOW it's his use of the ink wash technique that sells the book. Not only does it look impressive, but it also helps set the book in the past with its murky and muddy tones. The story takes place not just at the beginning of Daredevil's career, but also at the time that the origin was created, in the early 1960s. From the cobblestone streets to the fancy dresses and the period hairstyles, Sale leaves no stone unturned. Sales' inkwash (combined with the meticulous colors of Matt Hollingsworth) helps to sell the book as looking a little "older" and realistic.

I remember picking up the hardcover printing of Loeb and Sale's BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN. I said at the time that it was the standard of what a comic book (book with a capital "B") should be. It looks like a normal prose book. It's got a nice dust jacket. It prints a large story. It fits well on your bookshelf. It's reasonably priced. SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS and BATMAN: DARK VICTORY followed the same format. Now, we can add a book from the competition to that same section of bookshelf.

Marvel has one-upped DC in recent months with their hardcover program. Not only do they create attractive hardcovers that are nicely designed, but they pack them with bonus material at the end where available, and even print it on larger paper. Right now, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Volume 1 hardcover is the single best use for the format. Books like DAREDEVIL: YELLOW may be smaller, but they're no less impressive. This book includes a little behind the scene piece on the making of the comic, including a look at the original script, some pencil sketches, and the final ink washing.

But it's still the story that takes the show. DAREDEVIL has had a lot of good ones lately. Heck, even the Frank Miller run is available again. For a character that was all but written off a few years ago, it's been a heck of a comeback. DAREDEVIL: YELLOW is a great addition to the collection.

(The book, I should add, contains one of my favorite funny sequences in modern comics. In the third issue, Matt Murdock takes on a pool hall filled with some wisecracking college kids. Not only does the blind Murdock turn around and demolish the punks in a round of billiards, but he deflates their barbs with his own series of Helen Keller jokes. It reminded me of one of my favorite movies of all time, Steve Martin's ROXANNE, where Martin's character reels off a list of 21 jokes about having a large nose as a means of deflating the bully at the bar. That movie, of course, is based on CYRANO DE BERGERAC.)

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