Marvel Masterworks Daredevil: Volume One

This is a review of Marvel Masterworks Daredevil: Volume One. For those not in the know, Daredevil is a masked crimefighter who dresses up in a red devil costume and swings around town on a trick billy club, which he also uses to beat up muggers. Daredevil’s alter ego is Matt Murdock, attorney. His gimmick is enhanced senses – four of his senses are hypercharged and he has a ‘radar sense,’ like a bat. Daredevil got his powers when a barrel of toxic waste hit him in the face, blinding him but enhancing his other senses, thus continuing the Marvel tradition of radiation granting superpowers instead of cancer.

Unfortunately, the first two issues of Daredevil don’t come flying out of the gate. My biggest problem with the first issue is the tone. Reading Spider-Man’s origin story, it’s obvious that Uncle Ben’s death is one of the top three traumatic events in Peter Parker’s life – the other two being Gwen Stacy’s death and the death of his Aunt May, which led to Peter making a deal with the devil and retconning his marriage out of existence.

Or it might be Peter discovering that his arch-nemesis the Green Goblin had sex with the aforementioned Gwen Stacy when she was just a teenager, leading her to give birth to secret twins before the Green Goblin threw her off the Brooklyn Bridge. Years later, those babies grew up to become little Green Goblins who delighted in tormenting a 30-something Peter Parker (in 2023, Peter is now a decade or so younger). Or maybe it was the time Peter grew four more arms, or when he transformed into a lizard-man, or when he smacked his ex-wife in the face. All of which happened. Whatever. The point is, Uncle Ben’s death is shattering and forever changes the course of Peter’s life.

When Matt Murdock’s father is murdered in the first issue, he doesn’t react at all. His attitude is like, ‘welp, time to catch the gangsters who murdered my father.’ He actually kills the guy who murdered his dad, but does it in a sneaky way (heart attack), all the while musing how it’ll save the state the expense of a trial. Sounds like a guy I’d want as my lawyer!

The second issue wastes no time bringing in the guest stars, in this case The Thing of the Fantastic Four. The FF want Matt to do an inventory of the Baxter Building, even though he’s blind and can’t see anything. Coincidentally, Electro tries to rob the Baxter Building at the same time. Electro is a member of Spider-Man’s rogue gallery, another bad sign. It’s true that two heroes can share the same villain (read: The Kingpin), but it can also be a sign of desperation.

Long story short, Electro dumps Daredevil into a rocket and blasts him into space. Daredevil’s super senses enable him to reverse the rocket and land in Central Park. This is exciting when it’s happening, but falls apart when you think about it because Daredevil’s superpower isn’t piloting rocket ships. I also started to wonder why Electro didn’t just electrocute him or stick a knife in his ribs.

This graphic novel finds its legs in later issues, when we get appearances by other members of Daredevil’s rogue gallery, The Owl, The Purple Man, and Stilt-Man. Most of the villains are outright goofy, although The Purple Man is later retconned as a serial killer. There’s also a standout issue featuring the Sub-Mariner that’s the highlight of this volume. But my favorite villain is the Eel, whose superpower is lubing himself up so he slips out of people’s grasp.

Perhaps coincidentally, the addition of artist Wally Wood coincides with the jump in the quality of this graphic novel. Mr. Wood redesigns Matt’s costume, changing the canary yellow duds to the red devil outfit we’ve all come to love. He also gives us an in-depth diagram of Matt’s billy club/cane. I learned that Daredevil’s horns double as transmitters, which I didn’t know. You learn something new every day!

Matt Murdock’s personal life isn’t as interesting, featuring a puerile love triangle between Matt, his partner Foggy, and their secretary Karen Page. Matt and Karen are in love, but Matt doesn’t say anything because he can hear heartbeats and he knows Foggy is in love with Karen, and – in his words – that wouldn’t be right. Karen doesn’t say anything because she’s unsure if Matt loves her, which he doesn’t because they’ve never even dated. As far as I can see, the only person in the love triangle who acts like an actual adult is Foggy, who proposes to Karen. I mean, this is some teenager shit– which makes sense, because the book’s aimed at teenage boys.  

I can see Matt not wanting to crap where he eats, as the earthy old aphorism goes, but he’s the guiding light of the law firm. He doesn’t really need Foggy. I guess he doesn’t want to hurt his partner’s feelings? This is truly shocking, because modern Matt Murdock has been written as a horndog if not an outright misogynist. Here, he’s likable with an endearingly goofy rogue’s gallery. Bottom line: once this graphic novel finds its legs, its very good.

Daredevil: Ultimate Collection

Daredevil!

WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND

The official start of Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Daredevil kicks off with the attempted assassination of the Kingpin, who is now blind. The palace coup is led by none other than Sammy Silke, a made guy from out-of-town. Silke’s dad and the Kingpin’s dad were friends, which is why Sammy is around. How an out-of-towner on the skids from his own crew ends up running a major crime syndicate (however briefly) is an interesting story. But is it a Daredevil story? Keep reading!

The Kingpin, like every girl Matt Murdock has ever slept with, knows that Murdock is Daredevil. Even though Daredevil is a crimefighter and the Kingpin is a crime lord, the two of them have come to an understanding. This is the sort of thing that happens in comic books all the time, but falls apart in the real world. What it amounts to is that the Kingpin leaves Daredevil alone, and Daredevil continues to beat the shit out the Kingpin’s men. This is a bad deal, if you are in the Kingpin’s crew. 

The Kingpin’s disgraced son spreads the word, and pretty soon everyone in the Kingpin’s crew knows that Murdock is Daredevil. But they aren’t allowed to touch him. They’re pretty salty about it, so when Sammy comes along sowing the seeds of discontent, he finds a willing audience. TBH, in the real world a blind mob boss would last about thirty seven seconds. 

Silke puts out a bounty on Matt Murdock, so we see assassination attempts from villains such as Nitro, Boomerang and Mr. Hyde, including a fight scene with an unnamed assassin that would normally take a single panel but goes on for pages. The fight is visually striking and looks great, but it’s also total page filler. There’s no way Daredevil is going to die at the hands of an anonymous killer.

Sammy leads the assassination attempt against the Kingpin, complete with knives. Despite not having read a book since the third grade, Silke quotes Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which leads to a plausibility hiccup. These are mobsters, trained killers, but they don’t make sure the Kingpin is dead. The easiest way to do that is to put a bullet through his head. They should have done that, because the Kingpin isn’t dead.

Vanessa Fisk, the Kingpin’s wife, exacts vengeance by killing everyone involved in the assassination attempt, including her son. Sammy escapes by the hair of his chinny chin chin and goes running to the FBI. The Feds tell him to take a hike, unless he gives them something. Sammy gives them Daredevil’s secret identity. This is squashed by the FBI higher-ups (it helps that Murdock has a SHIELD file), but one of the agents goes to the Daily Globe. The Globe runs the story, and Matt Murdock’s life goes to Hell.

The fallout from the expose is brutal. Foggy Nelson (Murdock’s law partner) wants him to hang up the tights. Foggy doesn’t pull any punches, pointing out that so many people know Murdock is Daredevil, it’s a wonder the secret didn’t come out sooner. He also plays the old ‘two of your exes were killed by your archenemy’ card, thus implying that Murdock is indirectly responsible for their deaths.

This argument isn’t exactly true, and it’s debunked by others, but it’s powerful nonetheless. What Foggy is saying is that Murdock’s lifestyle is dangerous, which is bound to lead to fallout and civilian casualties. Soon afterwards, Mr. Hyde attacks Murdock’s brownstone and almost kills Foggy.

Murdock hangs up the tights for a few issues. It is to the writer’s credit that he doesn’t even pretend that this will be permanent. Two of Murdock’s exes, Natasha Romanova and Elektra Natchios, pay a visit. Natasha and Elektra are the same character, in that they are both stone cold killers. Natasha used to be a Soviet spy. Now she’s an American spy.  She’s killed tons of people, all off-camera. This is an uncomfortable truth, like pointing out all the people the Hulk has killed (which the same writer did). Elektra is an assassin, and the ultimate crazy ex-girlfriend. 

They have different solutions to Murdock’s problem. Natasha wants Matt to play dress-up and beat up some muggers, and Elektra validates everything Foggy says. The issue fades away when Matt dons the tights again, except it doesn’t. Is Matt Murdock a noble hero who’s sacrificed everything for Hell’s Kitchen? Or is he a narcissist willing to risk the lives of his loved ones because he likes playing dress-up? Or is he both? To be continued…

The third storyline in this volume is the most powerful. Hector Ayala, aka The White Tiger, interrupts a robbery in progress and ends up accused of a police officer’s murder. Luke Cage, of Hero for Hire fame, wants Matt Murdock to represent Hector. Murdock tells Cage that if he takes the case, his pending lawsuit against the Globe will make the trial a media circus as well as a referendum on superheroes. Murdock ends up taking the case anyway, because reasons. Why does he do this, especially since everything he says to Luke Cage turns out to be true?

The trial begins. Luke Cage follows the trail of the junkies who killed the cop. We learn that the robbers left town, and then the plot thread is dropped. Why? Murdock has resources we can’t imagine, including access to the superhuman community. Instead of attempting to find the real perpetrators, Matt Murdock makes the case a referendum on superheroes, even though the prosecutor trying the case TELLS Murdock that making the case a referendum on superheroes will be playing right into his hands.

Hector is found guilty and commits suicide by cop. The story is insanely depressing, all the more so because we know that Hector is innocent. It also proves that Murdock is a narcissist. Why did he take the case to begin with, and then compound the error by making the trial all about him? Because – as he himself says – he has to do things his way. He just can’t help himself.

Overall, a great volume. 

Daredevil Ultimate Collection Vol. 1, Issues #16-19

Daredevil: Ultimate Collection Vol. 1

This is a review of the first four issues of Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Daredevil, Issues #16-19. The plot: young Timmy has become disassociated from reality. He constantly relives a fight between Leap Frog and Daredevil, which makes ace (?!?) reporter Ben Urich’s nose itch. It is Urich, and not Daredevil, who is our narrator and p-o-v character for the next four issues.

Timmy’s father is Leap Frog, a supervillain who dresses like a frog and hops around. Is this dumb? You bet it’s dumb, which I’m sure is why the creative team uses him. Leap Frog is a bad daddy, to say the least. He and his wife physically abused Timmy. Now Leap Frog has disappeared. He was last seen tussling with Daredevil, and what went on between them that night seems to be what put Timmy in a comatose state.

That’s the plot, and it takes four issues to resolve. Let me start by saying that the art & writing in these issues is top-notch. I was engaged, and wanted to know what happened to Timmy. That said…look, comic books are never going to be mistaken for reality. Daredevil is a blind guy who dresses like the devil while soaring around Manhattan using a trick billy club, so we aren’t talking about reality here. We are talking about plausibility.

The plot hinges on Ben Urich finding Daredevil, who knows what happened that night. Ben Urich knows Matt Murdock is Daredevil. Murdock has told Urich about the accident that blinded him and why he became Daredevil. Urich knows a lot about Matt Murdock, but despite that, despite being a beat reporter with access to the resources of a major media company, he doesn’t have Murdock’s phone number and he doesn’t know where Murdock lives. This is implausible, to say the least, and the reason it’s so glaring is that it feels like an excuse to stretch the plot to four issues. And the plot did feel stretched.

We don’t get a lot of Daredevil in these issues, but that’s fine. If I recall correctly, I had more than enough of Daredevil by the time this run ended. Urich and his wife end up adopting young Timmy, even though Timmy’s mom is still alive (maybe she gave him up for adoption?). Timmy makes an appearance as a teenager in Daredevil: End of Days, where he’s totally messed up. Anyway, these four issues are good but too long. The character of Daredevil has a storied history, and this run certainly adds to the legend.

Daredevil: End of Days

Daredevil: End of Days

WARNING: contains spoilers.

The plot of Daredevil: End of Days is simple. Years in the future Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, is killed in a brawl with his archenemy Bullseye. Before he dies, he says ‘Mapone’ to Bullseye. Perhaps Murdock says this because of the beating he’s taken from Bullseye, or the brain damage he’s undoubtedly suffering from, or it could mean something else. Nobody cares but Daredevil, Bullseye, and beat reporter Ben Urich. This is a potential problem, because I didn’t care what Mapone means either. What made Matt Murdock lose his sanity is a lot more interesting, in a car crash sort of way.

Urich is a strange choice for a narrator. He has a compulsion to know what happened, all the while understanding that the picture he paints won’t be pretty. He’s the picture-perfect portrait of the grizzled beat reporter, so much so that a cynic might say that he’s a parody of himself, especially when he does things like standing in a downpour (because it’s always either dark or raining in Hell’s Kitchen).

Urich decides to retrace Murdock’s last years. The last time Matt was seen in public as Daredevil, he killed the Kingpin in a brawl. This is the type of thing that is frowned upon by a civilized society, and there’s also the undeniable truth that pummeling a man to death with your bare hands in public is a clear sign that you have lost it.

So begins the journey of discovery. Even though Ben Urich has no social skills, we learn things. A man dressed as Daredevil is tailing Urich. The Black Widow is dead, either in a cosmic skirmish (according to Nick Fury) or murdered in a bathtub (according to the cover of Issue #6). Urich’s adopted son, Timmy, idolizes Daredevil. Former assassin Elektra is now a soccer mom. Bullseye kills himself a few days after murdering Murdock. Daredevil’s ex-foe Gladiator makes costumes for fetish parties. Oh, and all of Matt’s ex-girlfriends have children with red hair. This was funny the first time, but after the third or fourth child with red hair, it veered into eye-rolling territory. 

Urich reaches a dead-end when he visits the Punisher in prison. Old, grizzled Frank Castle gives the plot away, but Urich is either too dogged or too stupid to quit. He keeps on plugging away, scraping the bottom of Murdock’s rogue gallery, until he’s killed by the Hand. At which point we learn that the new Daredevil is Urich’s adopted son, Timmy, who was trained by none other than Murdock himself! We also learn that Mapone is the name of Matt Murdock’s and the Black Widow’s daughter. She may also be Murdock’s reincarnated teacher, Stick. 

We never learn what made Matt Murdock lose it, and what he was doing all those years in hiding. We also never learn why the name Mapone makes Bullseye kill himself. I have searched teh Googles in vain, but have found no answer as of yet. EDIT: it turns out Bullseye didn’t know what Mapone meant, but the fact that Murdock got in the last word tipped him over the edge. This is according to the writer’s blog, but I am unsure if the writer is trolling, because his answer makes no sense. I think it’s fair to say that the linking of Bullseye and Mapone as a plot point doesn’t work. The other thing that confused me are the covers, which depict the deaths of Daredevil & various Daredevil cast members, some of whom were still alive when I read the book. 

Overall, I enjoyed Daredevil: End of Days, even though plot-wise the book falls apart in the final issue.