Why You Should Be Reading ‘Daredevil’ [Review]
A few days ago, a friend of mine asked me if there were any new comics that he should be picking up, and when I immediately told him he should get Daredevil, he begged off. He told me that Daredevil’s always been one of his favorite characters, but he just couldn’t take seeing Matt Murdock’s life get mercilessly, horrifically destroyed over and over again. I told him that’s exactly why he — and anyone else who likes great comics — should be reading Daredevil right now.
Not only has the current run rebuilt Daredevil the character, it’s rebuilt the title into what I have absolutely no problem saying is the best super-hero comic being published today. And the fourth issue — out this week from Mark Waid, Marcos Martin, Muntsa Vicente and Joe Caramagna — is an absolutely perfect example of why.Thanks to the long, dark shadow cast by Frank Miller, which influenced equally grim runs from folks like Ann Nocenti, Brian Bendis, Ed Brubaker and others, things have been pretty terrible for Matt Murdock. For the readers, that’s not necessarily a bad thing — and in fact, it’s led to some truly great stories — but from a character standpoint, there’s only so far you can go with a guy who has been suffering almost constantly for thirty years now.
Just look at the guy’s life: Matt Murdock has had two girlfriends killed in front of him, a wife that was driven insane (leading to a lawsuit from her parents to have him forbidden to ever come near her again!), and, most recently, was possessed by an actual demon from Hell. And for those stories, that’s fine. Heroes have to suffer in order for their victories to matter; it’s the essence of conflict. But when it’s constant, and when every new creative team brings new and exciting ways to make Daredevil’s life worse, you start to wonder, as Waid said in an interview on War Rocket Ajax, why this guy just doesn’t go ahead and put a gun in his mouth.
That’s one of the many brilliant things about the way that this run is unfolding. As much as it’s a departure from the book’s usual style, it feels like the next logical step in Daredevil’s life. With the exception of the highly underrated Karl Kesel/Cary Nord run from the late ’90s, misery has been the status quo for a long time, but after you manage to get through demonic possession, I imagine that everything else starts to look a little easier to get through. In other words, they’ve broken Matt Murdock down to the point where he just can’t get any lower, and as we know from the best of those brutal crime stories that Miller & Co. wrote, that’s when Daredevil starts to build himself up again.
And over the course of the first three issues, that’s exactly what we see Waid doing. Matt Murdock’s career as a lawyer is in shambles, because everyone knows, or at the very least suspects, that he spends his evenings as a costumed vigilante. Every court case he takes to trial ends up getting thrown out, and for a guy who devotes every waking moment to trying to help people, the frustration of having that taken away from him comes through with amazing clarity.
But rather than indulging the frustration, Waid has Murdock think his way through the problem in exactly the sort of so-crazy-it-just-might-work way that you’d expect from a guy named Daredevil: He sets himself up as a counselor, teaching people who have solid cases but can’t get any other lawyer to help them how to act as their own attorneys in court.
That’s where we are at the start of this week’s issue, and not only is it perfectly in character for a guy who spent the Ann Nocenti years running a storefront legal clinic for the poor, it’s also a fantastic metaphor for what’s going on in the book as a whole. The people Murdock’s helping are people who have suffered hardships that have left them with no other options, but just like it says on the cover, Here Comes Daredevil, not to rescue them, but to give them the tools they need to rebuild themselves.
Admittedly he’s a little more involved in getting their courtroom victories than they are in helping him deal with super-villains trying to murder him, but the connection’s there, and it gets thoroughly underscored in this issue’s case.
There’s an underlying cleverness to Waid’s scripts, too, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone who’s read anything he’s done over the course of his extremely prolific career, and it manifests itself in these ideas that seem so obvious, but that are executed in such a way that it makes them a joy to read. In this issue, for instance, there’s a scene where Daredevil goes outside and we see that he’s just completely inundated with cries for help:
And of course he would be. He’s got super-senses. He can hear a pin drop from across Times Square. It’s the most obvious thing in the world that he’d be able to hear all of this stuff, and because he’s a hero, it’s equally obvious that he’d be driven to help, because he can always hear the people who need it. There’s never a time when he’s not aware of it.
It’s such a ridiculously simple idea — and to be honest, it’s one that’s been used before, with both Daredevil and Superman — but it’s pulled off with this beautiful elegance. I’ve been reading Daredevil since I was a teenager, but if you’ve never even heard of him, you’ll get the exact same thing that I did out of that scene. People should be studying this comic to figure out how it’s done. There’s an immediate understanding that’s conveyed here with an economy and efficiency that’s just jaw-dropping.
And as much as I love the story, there’s an awful lot of that that comes directly from the truly gorgeous artwork on display.
This issue in particular was drawn by one of my favorite artists working in comics, Marcos Martin, but it’s worth noting that the first three were by Paolo Rivera, and he’s not exactly a slouch either. Both Martin and Rivera were part of the rotating art team for Amazing Spider-Man, and while they killed it on that book — Rivera drew one of my all-time favorite fight sequences in #577 — they take it to the next level with this book.
Martin especially is just phenomenal in the way that he represents Daredevil’s powers, especially in that he’s doing it in a way that you could only do in comics. The panels above are a great example — the cries for help manifesting themselves as shadows on the wall that loom over Daredevil as he runs towards a wall of screams. And that’s not even the best example — Martin does panels where he isolates certain elements on a page and, along with Vicente’s coloring, changes the way that he represents them to show how Daredevil perceives them. I hate to keep dropping the word “beautiful,” but there’s no other way to describe it, and with Martin integrating sound effects and Caramanga — no stranger to lettering tricks, like the ones he pulled off so well in Shed — building his lettering around them, the overall effect is just staggering in how good it is.
But there’s something else that Martin and Waid do with this issue’s art that’s every bit as important as anything else they do in making it all work together: They show Daredevil smiling.
Specifically, he’s smiling while he’s Daredevil. Every time Daredevil finds himself faced with insane odds (like getting in a fight with a pair of lions in the book’s opening sequence) or throwing himself into battle against the bad guys, there’s a smile on his face, expertly conveying this feeling of pure, unbridled joy that he’s feeling.
Why? Because he loves what he’s doing.
That’s the thing about Daredevil. As much as I love the darker stories, they’ve never really fit the name. Yes, there’s the explanation that it was what the bullies called Matt when he was a kid to make fun of him — and holy cats, how grim an explanation is that? — but it’s never quite sat right with me that this was the name of a guy who was always being beaten down by life.
A daredevil is a thrillseeker. A daredevil is someone who finds something dangerous, something that no one should ever do, and they do it anyway, for the fun, the spectacle, the sheer enjoyment of it.
The fact that they’re enjoying themselves doesn’t mean that the danger’s not there, and for Matt Murdock, the threats that he’s up against are just as present as they were a year ago. But now, he’s living up to the name, and the end result is a truly phenomenal comic book.