Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Comics Review - Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev

Issues: #26 - #50, #56 - #81
TPBs: Underboss, Out, Lowlife, Hardcore, The King of Hell's Kitchen, The Widow, Golden Age, Decalogue, The Murdock Papers

This was without doubt one of my favourite runs on a comic series EVER. I make no secret that I credit Bendis as my favourite writer in comics. It's not the cool opinion to have, and I'm ok with that, because I care not about cool. I think Ultimate Spider-Man was the first Bendis comic I read, and I was hooked. From reading Punisher MAX I started looking through other MAX titles and came across Alias, also written by Bendis. After that I started going through his back catalogue and discovered my all-time number 1 comic Powers, along with New Avengers, Secret Warriors and a host of Secret Invasion and Dark Reign titles.

I was never a reader of Daredevil before. I'd always liked Spider-Man, but Daredevil seemed like a bit of a cheap Batman. Some people probably stick to that opinion, but I have come to love Daredevil. I first picked up Kevin Smith's run (#1 - #8) mainly because I liked his films and wanted to see if he was any good at writing comics. I believe this run had one of the worst release schedules of the time, rife with delays. Joe Quesada did the art duties, and he's a very capable penciller, but his style is a bit too old school for my tastes. There's nothing wrong with the art, and as they themselves say in the credits, the colouring was very vivid and help lift the whole thing.

After that was TPB #2 by David Mack and Joe Quesada (#9 - #15). This introduced a character I really liked - Echo. A deaf Native-American girl who could mimic any action she witnesses, Bruce Lee's moves; ballet; even Daredevil and Bullseye fighting. I own David Mack's Kabuki book 1, but to be honest haven't been able to get through it. Despite that, Mack is a great writer and really made me invested in the characters.

TPB #3 (#16 - #19) was Bendis' first writing duty on DD, with David Mack switching from writing to art. This can only be called art. It's written all from the point of view of Ben Urich, investigative reporter for the Daily Bugle, a character Bendis uses often and well throughout Daredevil and a few other Marvel titles. A young boy keeps repeating lines from a Saturday Morning Cartoon version of a fight between between Daredevil and another hero. This was Bendis' first Marvel gig :) After the previous two trades it was quite an interesting change of pace how Daredevil was used as a supporting character rather than leading the action. Much like what Clive Barker said about the use of Pinhead in the Hellraiser films - the less a character appears, the more impactful and meaningful the appearance is, so much so that by Hellraiser III the studio thought, "Fans love Pinhead, why not put him in the film loads!" and by doing so Pinhead loses his "Oh sh-!" factor when he comes on screen. Wow that was a long sentence.. By Daredevil coming in halfway through the story, you really get a feeling for how a normal man like Urich reacts. It worked well.

From trade 4 onwards the prominent plot revolves around the fact that Matt Murdock's identity as Daredevil has been outed in the press and the fallout this causes. Not only does Bendis give Matt's character a considerable amount of depth, but the cast of supporting players are used brilliantly. Matt's long-suffering best friend Foggy Nelson acts like a real person instead of a 2-dimensional waste of print you sometimes find in comics, in that in one trade he's got Matt's back, and then after Matt does something incredibly selfish and stupid, he'll call him on it and yell in his face. No doubt about it, Daredevil is one of the angstiest characters you will find in comics without being completely emo. He certainly makes a lot of mistakes and bad decisions, but you still always find yourself in his corner.

Bendis manages to make courtroom drama entertaining and legal stuff, giving a real sense that Matt and Foggy are actual lawyers. Similarly Bendis' other series Powers makes a police procedural drama set in a world of superheroes interesting. I wrote a load of stuff describing cool stuff that happened in the series, but I'll think I'll make it more personal instead.

Bendis introduced a new love interest for Matt in the form of Milla, a blind woman he rescues from the path of an oncoming truck much in the way that he originally lost his sight. She is a strong, independent character who is a breath of fresh air in a comic based around a strong, male protagonist. Every woman Matt gets involved with ends up either dead or screwing him up immensely. Milla seemed different right off the bat, and although she does certain find herself in harm's way being part of Matt's world, she never loses that strength.

One of my favourite things about Bendis' Daredevil are the villains, and there are tons! Alex Maleev is a terrific artist, and his dirty style makes the streets of New York look foreboding as a really foreboding thing, and clearly has very strong reference material. But most of all he makes a man in a tight red costume not look gay, or even villains like The Owl look... not gay too. A considerable feat. The Kingpin rears his head a few times, and is always first class. Later in the series Matt finds himself facing down the Yakuza in the rain, and it's stunning.

The penultimate trade Decalogue was a surprising read, in that I didn't expect the story to be the way it was. It's based around a meeting by some folk in a church basement about how Daredevil has affected their lives, and as they each tell their stories we get a glimpse of the world from a regular person's point of view rather than epic struggle between a mighty hero and cruel villain. As the stories unfold there's a common malevolent thread, and quite frankly something so dark and twisted I wouldn't have expected to find it in a regular Marvel title.

Finally in The Murdock Papers, Matt has to suffer the consequences of his actions and the fallout of his identity being so publicly disputed. All together this run of comics was TEN TPBs, and I read through them while in work over about a week back-to-back, and even reading them for the third time or so was just a real joy. The best works (particularly in comics) are ones were there's a definite ending planned way in advance. Garth Ennis' Preacher is a perfect example of that, and Daredevil builds towards a really rewarding climax that made me desperate to see what Ed Brubaker could do when he took over writing duties.

So in closing, this was one of my all-time favourite series of comics, and I hope others might give Daredevil a try some day. Brubaker's run was good, and I stopped reading before Shadowland.. but Bendis' run can only be described as epic.

9 / 10

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