‘Daredevil: Road Warrior’ #1 Is Digital Comics Wizardry At Its Finest [Review]
When Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera relaunched Daredevil in 2011, they did so with a radical tone shift that broke away from the direction of the book that had been established for years while still building on the past, and when Waid and Chris Samnee ended the run this month, it was with a shift that was every bit as dramatic. Not to spoil anything for those of you who haven't read it yet, but they earned their upcoming relaunch with a series of huge changes to Matt Murdock's life, the least of which saw them transplanting him from his native Hell's Kitchen all the way to San Francisco.
Before the next volume of Daredevil kicks off, however, Waid and artist Peter Krause are taking readers on the cross-country trip in a digital series called Daredevil: Road Warrior. The journey began this week on Comixology, and in the first installment, Waid and Krause aren't just showing that getting there is half the fun, they're making it the main attraction in its own right.
From here on out, we're in Spoiler Country, so if you haven't already, go catch up on Daredevil. I'll be here when you come back.
All right, first, the bad news. Despite the title, this is not a story where Daredevil wears spiked football pads and competes for the Tag Team Championship, nor does he travel to post-apocalyptic Australia to help a rag-tag band of survivors keep raiders from stealing all their gaizalayne. Those, for the record, are stories I would be one thousand percent into, and if that's what you were expecting, I'm afraid Road Warrior is going to be a bit of a letdown. That said, it's about the only letdown you're going to get from this book, because everything else is basically amazing.
It's worth noting that Waid and Krause have been experimenting with what digital comics can do for a while now over at Thrillbent with Insufferable, among other projects, and it really pays off. To say that these are two people who think a lot about how comics as a medium can work is an understatment of hilarious proportions, and that thought is on display in this comic with a level of effectiveness that's rarely seen in comics.
If you're familiar with the digital wizardry that goes on in Batman '66, it's a lot like that, but if you're not, it's worth checking out to see just how well it can be done. The act of turning a page has always been that magical moment of comics, allowing for big reveals and giving you a natural place for a transition between scenes and ideas. With a digital book that's constructed like Daredevil: Road Warrior (or Insufferable, or Batman '66), every single panel can offer that transition. It allows for the creators to control the pacing and reveal information to the reader. Done right, it can be infinitely compelling, and Waid and Krause are incredible.
You really just have to look at the opening sequence to see it. It starts off with a black page and narration from Daredevil, shifting as the reader advances from Daredevil's hot pink radar sense to an image of the Man-Bull charging at him:
Yes, the Man-Bull appears in this comic. You may have forgotten that he exists, and that his real name is "Bill Taurens," which I can assure you is a bit of knowledge that delights me to no end.
It's a neat effect when you see it laid out one right after the other, but when each image replaces the other as a seamless transition, it's even better. It's not the only great moment that you get from the digital stuff in this comic, either -- there's a bit later on where the art pans 360 degrees from Daredevil's point of view (or, uh, point of radar sense, I guess?) that's so clever and pulled off so well that I can't believe I haven't seen something like it before. I'm tempted to call it "cinematic" because of the way the "camera" moves and how things are revealed, but it's really the opposite of that -- it's still doing something you can only do on the comics page, just doing it in a new and different way. And that's exciting.
Krause has never been a slouch when it comes to drawing comics -- he'd definitely be my pick as one of the most underrated guys doing superheroes today -- but he really brings his A-game to this book. The visuals are stunning, and they need to be. When you're doing the transition between two series drawn by the universally (and deservedly) praised Chris Samnee, that's a high bar to meet, and Krause smashes through it in a way that seems effortless.
Storywise, Road Warrior has the same kind of innovative twists on Daredevil that Waid brought to the regular book. It wasn't that long ago that I was talking to him about the art of writing a first issue and how he makes a mental checklist of what he needs cover for the benefit of new readers. If you know that going in, you can see it happening -- the recap of the origin, the explanation of Daredevil's powers, the dialogue that brings readers up to speed on the new status quo that's driving the transition to California -- but the magic of how Waid builds his scripts is that it's all done so elegantly. The exposition isn't just an info-dump throug dialogue, it's revealing about the characters and their relationship. It's a hard technique to master, but since Waid's been cranking out GOAT material for, you know, 30 years now, he's gotten pretty good at it:
It's a great comic, and one of the things that makes it great is that so much happens in it. Even with a team like Waid and Krause, you might expect that the digital-only transitional miniseries might be a little light on content, but there's a battle with a supervillain, the start of a trip across the country, an interesting challenge for the hero and a cliffhanger ending, all brought together with innovative and engaging visuals. It's more than worth the price of admission, and it's the kind of book people should be studying to figure out just how they pulled off the magic.