Welcome to the first installment of my new series: Reading Comics. I’m excited to report that I’ve got a bunch of great contributors lined up, and am myself working on a few entries. If you haven’t contacted me yet, but would like to participate, email me and let me know! Without further ado….here’s Greg Hunter…
Shortly before the arrival of DC Comics’ New 52, DC’s competitor Marvel released the first issue of a new series starring its blind crimefighter Daredevil. In light of the timing, the new Daredevil serves as a parallel study in what makes a relaunch succeed or fail. And, if the first few issues are any indication, a master class.
The barrier to entry for Daredevil #1 is remarkably low, considering that the characters’ last two major storylines found him first leading a mystical order of ninja assassins and then trolling the American southwest in search of redemption (fighting). Whether or not many new readers have come on board, DD #1 is thoroughly new-reader friendly, establishing who the book’s lead character is, why he does what he does, and why he’s fun to read about. At the very least, the new Daredevil is a treat for returning readers fatigued by the lazy storytelling and faux-maturity endemic to contemporary cape-and-costume books.
A scene late in issue one finds Daredevil’s alter ego, the lawyer Matt Murdock, speaking with his business partner Foggy Nelson. Murdock explains that after a series of painful losses (one of the issue’s few nods to the last couple years of DD stories), he has chosen to (aggressively) pursue happiness. His words to Foggy double as a declaration of intent from Daredevil’s new writer, comics veteran Mark Waid. Because this is a superhero book, Murdock’s tragic past won’t go unexplored forever, and in time the title could turn back to mental breakdowns and murdered girlfriends. But at the moment, Daredevil combines tight, engaging storytelling with a Silver Age sense of playfulness.
Beginning with artist Paolo Rivera’s cover to issue one, the new Daredevil is also a superhero book that consistently takes advantage of the visual language of comics. The cover (one of several available, actually, for the benefit of the last-breath-breathing collector’s market) shows Murdock above a cityscape of sound effects—pigeons composed of FLAPS, a fan made of WHOOSHES—and it conveys as much about the character as most recap pages. (His senses other than sight are heightened to such a degree that they provide him with a sort of internal radar.)
The book’s other artist Marcos Martin tags in on page one of issue one, illustrating a quick recap of DD’s origin. This page is perhaps most striking because of the contributions of colorist Javier Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s colors are probably computer assisted, but they look at a glance like watercolors—he works in subtle gradients, or sometimes no gradients at all, allowing vivid single tones to fill up large sections of the page. In the service of Martin-(and later Rivera)’s pencils, the colors make for an almost weirdly elegant superhero comic.
Issue one’s story begins in earnest with Daredevil using his radar sense to fish out a superpowered kidnapper at a mob wedding. He does battle with high-concept goofball the Spot, who becomes something garish and surreal when Rivera depicts him as the sum of four sensory impressions on DD’s radar:
Following the Spot fight, Rivera keeps the issue lively by playing with the many different ways to show Matt Murdock in motion. Daredevil #1 features several scenes like the one below, in which sequence is key. A lot of current Marvel and DC books attempt to replicate the look and feel of blockbuster films, and go heavy on photo referencing and full-size pages, but this is comics done as comics.
Daredevil #2 brings Captain America around for a standard-issue superhero talk-fight, and ends with DD uncovering a plot by another high-concept villain—as well as a head-slappingly logical foe for Daredevil: Klaw, the Master of Sound. Issue three opens with DD in Klaw’s klutches, depicted in a sequence that — like issue one’s Spot fight — balances a sense of dread with nods to the straight-faced sci-fi whimsy of earlier Marvel books.
Rivera’s old school approach to cartooning never ceases to feel fresh and visceral throughout DD #1-3, and he conveys Daredevil’s sensory overload as he breaks out of Klaw’s trap with controlled intensity.
Marcos Martin takes over pencils on the book in issue four (he and Rivera will be alternating story arcs), and although Martin’s art sometimes lacks the punch of Rivera’s, he’s even more willing to experiment with panel layouts and in-panel abstraction. The book begins with a pair of pages laid out in fifteen-panel grids (another prose-text-prose sequence, like the start of DD #1), and later features this stunning scene of Daredevil intervening in an apartment fire:
Part of why the Daredevil relaunch works is that Mark Waid has managed to shrug off the anxiety of influence that has plagued other writers of the title. Genre comics auteur Frank Miller had a character-defining run on Daredevil beginning in 1979, during which the title took a turn toward street-level crime fiction. The characters, plotlines, and motifs that Miller introduced have reappeared with (excessive) regularity since then.
For much of his run, Miler both wrote and penciled the book, but David Mazzucchelli illustrated Miller’s best-remembered Daredevil story arc, “Born Again.” Mazzucchelli, who later produced 2009’s celebrated Asterios Polyp, drew “Born Again” with the same attention to craft and willingness to get abstract that Martin and Rivera share. The latter two are totally children of Mazzucchelli.
Between Martin and Rivera’s Mazzucchelli-esque work and Waid’s commitment to fun, the new Daredevil is a welcome aberration among other Marvel/DC monthlies. (To the point where one wonders how long Waid’s run with the artists will last. Thunderbolts, another of Marvel’s stronger titles, has served mainly to promote better-selling “event” comics since shortly after writer Jeff Parker’s promising start on the book.) If the New 52 initiative does indeed draw in more readers to serial superhero comics, this 53rd option is the book they’re likely to keep coming back for.
Greg Hunter (@dialogue_log) is a writer and editor living in Minneapolis.
All images © Marvel Characters, Inc. Used for review purposes only.