Review: Daredevil, Volume 1 – Devil at Bay

Daredevil 1 Devil at BayIn the lead up to the launch of Marvel’s first Netflix show, Daredevil – which is fantastic, by the way – I delved into Matt Murdock’s recent adventures in the form Devil at Bay, the first volume of Daredevil under the Marvel Now! label. Unlike many of the Marvel Now! books, Daredevil maintained its preceding creative team of writer Mark Waid and illustrator Chris Samnee – and for good reason. Waid and Samnee revitalised Daredevil after too many years of dark, harrowing and overly-gritty stories, which eventually (in this reader’s opinion) outstayed their welcome. It’s incredible how a slight shift in tone reinvigorated my interest; not that the series is suddenly sunshine and lollipops, but by leaning more into its superhero roots, Daredevil has once again become a Must Read series.

Following the events of its preceding volume, Matt Murdock has been outed as Daredevil, and thus been disbarred from practicing law in New York. Determined to continue serving the people as both a masked crusader and as a lawyer, Matt and his new partner, Kirsten McDuffie, have moved to San Francisco. Coincidentally, so has Daredevil’s long-time nemesis, The Owl, who’s none too pleased at Daredevil’s new base of operations; neither is the enigmatic vigilante The Shroud. This trio’s confrontation is the core storyline in Devil at Bay, and emphasises the intriguing directions Daredevil’s new status quo can take.

Beyond the Owl / Shroud / Daredevil skirmish, this volume also presents the ‘death’ of Foggy Nelson, in a wonderfully entertaining single issue, which sees the portly Foggy save New York from certain annihilation. It’s delightfully preposterous, but incredibly heartfelt, and showcases the deft line treaded by Waid and Samnee. The artist’s layouts are never less than ingenious; Samnee is one of the best storytellers in comics, with a wonderful knack of producing emblematic moments that deserve framing. Highlights here include Matt Murdock, clad in a suit and tie, dropping into a fiery death trap, and Daredevil’s fist careening into the face of a hovering villain.

Devil at Bay also includes the short story Daredevil: Road Warrior, originally released as a digital-only tale. Written by Waid, and illustrated by his frequent collaborator Peter Krause, Road Warrior explains Matt and Kirsten’s journey from New York to San Francisco; which, as you can imagine, takes several unexpected detours when a man without a heartbeat snares Matt’s attention. It’s an action-packed romp, and deals with a complicated moral issue over what it truly means to be alive, and is a nice counterpart to Waid and Samnee’s story.

Daredevil, Volume 1: Devil at Bay is a delight. Readers jumping in from the Netflix show might be startled by the comic’s lighter tone – but they’ll be appeased by the grittier runs by writers Miller, and Bendis, and Brubaker. But for everyone else, those just seeking a quality superhero comic, should look no further.

Review: Daredevil – The Man Without Fear by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.

Man Without FeaIn my youth, Daredevil never ranked highly on my list of super-heroes. I started reading comics in the mid-nineties, and was only ever exposed to the character in team-ups with Spider-Man; and that was plenty. I didn’t seek out any more Daredevil stories, and for many years was contented with my decision. Besides, DC Comics was where my head was at; Superman, Batman and Green Lantern, rather than the Marvel universe.

But as years passed, I began to hear whispers about Frank Miller’s run on the series – a creator I knew exclusively through his seminal work on Batman. Even that wasn’t enough to sway me, though my interest was undeniably piqued. Then came Brian Michael Bendis’ take on the character, quickly followed by Ed Brubaker’s – two of my all-time favorite writers in comics – whose creative powers enticed me into the world of Matt Murdock; and from there, I delved backwards, powered through Miller’s Daredevil work.

I’ve been reading the character ever since.

Lately I’ve been reading several origin stories, purely by happenstance rather than design. THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR was originally a five issue limited series by Frank Miller and perhaps my favorite artist in the business, John Romita Jr, which detailed Daredevil’s origin. The best thing about it is that it’s purely character-focused; Murdock doesn’t appear in costume until the very end. This is the story of the man behind the mask, and the failures and successes that drove him to don the spandex.

Raised by a single father, an over-the-hill prize-fighter whose sole objective in life is to see his son live a better than life than he has, Murdock’s life is irrevocably changed when he’s blinded by radioactive materials while saving the life of an old man. This radioactive material enhances Murdock’s other senses, however – and with the aid of the enigmatic Stick, he learns to control and heighten these developed senses even further. Despite his lack of sight, Murdock is trained, and becomes, the ultimate warrior; but THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR exposes his lack of discipline when an innocent is killed through his actions, and the long path towards attaining it.

Miller utilizes a terse third person narrative in THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR; from the keyboard of a lesser writer, these captions might seem overbearing, but Miller is no rookie, and he encapsulates the perfect tone, hints of noir tinged with a super-hero flavour – a difficult balance. Coupled with Romita Jr’s artwork – which has never looked better – it’s stunning collection, which perhaps doesn’t quite hit the heights of Miller’s ground-breaking BORN AGAIN, but comes awfully close.