Shiny Shelf


By Jim Smith on 07 February 2003

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

At the moment trailers for next year’s DD picture are creeping out in UK cinemas and the fortieth issue of the revamped title is due any day now. This seems to make it – to my mind at least – the right time to catch up on what’s going on in old hornhead’s book.

Since the ‘Marvel Knights’ revamp a while back, reading ‘Daredevil’ has been not unlike reading DC’s ‘Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight’. Creative teams have hopped on and off the series with a frequency unusual in comics. Even when the same people have stuck around (albeit not often in the same job) they’ve seemingly been keen to bring as many radically different interpretations of the man without fear to the page as possible.

There’s little resemblance between the retro, sunny (almost pre-Miller) run of Bob Gale and Phil Winslade (#20-25) and the miserabilst, abstract ‘Dave McKean done properly’ of the Brian Michael Bendis scripted, David Mack painted #16-19. Perhaps even more surprisingly, when Mack was writing the book (#9-11, #13-15, Quesada and Palmiotti – for the most part – doing the art) it was different again, being a sort of brighter, Miller-indebted action crime drama that, if it came out now, we’d instantly label ‘Ultimate Daredevil’. Kevin Smith’s first eight issues were a combination of Catholic guilt, inspired artwork and paeans to meta-textual anxieties about the place of heroes in a ‘grim n gritty’ world and the Quesada/Palmiotti scripted/Rob Haynes drawn #12 (‘Gun Play’) was either great insight masquerading as filler or filler masquerading as great insight. Possibly both. The point is that for a while the only consistency was in quality, and that was a part of the book’s appeal.

This all changed with the establishment of the current creative team/direction of Bendis and Alex Maleev, who debuted with #26. Between them these two gentlemen have now managed about as many issues as all the other post-Smith teams put together and the book has been on an even keel in terms of quality and style for a long while. Irritatingly the two most recent issues (of which more later) feature art by Manuel Guiterrez. This is annoying not because there’s anything wrong with Guiterrez (far from it, it’s excellent) but because it nicks a hole in my point, although it fortunately doesn’t poke a great hole in it, as Guitterez’s work is very clearly in Maleev’s tradition, indicating that some thought has gone into hiring a new artist who’ll maintain the current feel of the series.

The Bendis/Maleev ‘Daredevil’ isn’t a street-level crime book, it’s an office-level one. Part dynastic melodrama, part action-cinema it’s embroiled us in the politics of (dis)organised crime drama while putting poor old Matt Murdock through the wringer emotionally and physically. Bendis’ Murdock has responsibilities to the superhero community – and friends within it – but he’s at best an abstracted part of it, a result of not simply his fundamentally different perceptions but also the dirt on his hands every night and the incompatibility of being both a vigilante and an attorney.

This is subtly different to Smith’s approach (Matt’s Catholicism is far less important these days, much like my own come to think of it) and Bendis has borrowed his structural conceit from Capote, Tarantino and Elmore Leonard, his big themes from Shakespeare and opera and bits and bobs from anywhere that seems appropriate. The whole ‘unmasking’ subplot seems like ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ via ‘Ally McBeal’ which is a strange thing to realise about something which works so very well on the page.

Some may have felt that the ending of the ‘unmasking’ plot was a cop-out, but it was really the only way around the central issues. Bendis’ script shook Murdock’s practical world and its contradictions hard, just as Smith has done with Matt’s spiritual side in #1-8. Also, this isn’t the 70s and thus the new story builds both thematically and in plot terms on what the previous one did, with a legal case involving a masked man and an obnoxious opposing lawyer making snide comments about the Daredevil/Murdock connexion. Matt’s world is changing slowly, twisting out of shape as issues of morality and practicality clash with one another and ideas of what is the right thing to do begin to contradict one another. It’s a smart comic book, the paper equivalent of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ or ‘The West Wing’ an almost impossible to conceive of blend of issues and escapism, fantasy and responsibilities, action, humour, humanity and ideas.

It’s great stuff, and it is to be hoped that every un-tradepaperbacked issue of the ‘Marvel Knights’ run of this book can be on the shelves of bookstores for kids to find after they’ve filled up on Ben Affleck kicking Colin Farrell’s hide across a CG Clinton district. Those kids are lucky, whatever the film’s merits (fingers crossed), as they’re going to find something great involving the characters in a local store. Me, I’ve been spoiled. Whatever it’s aesthetic look and dramatic decisions, can the ‘Daredevil’ movie possibly live up to the past 15 (Hell, the last 40) issues of the monthly book?

It ain’t gonna be easy. Like I said, fingers crossed.

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