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: Capote in Kansas by Ande Parks & Chris Samnee (Oni Press)

Capote in KansasTruman Capote’s In Cold Blood is considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.

And I haven’t read it.

Ridiculous, really, given my love of crime fiction. After all, Capote’s “non-fiction novel” paved the way for modern real-life crime dramas. And while I’ve always preferred the fiction in my crime – I suppose I enjoy the safety net of the author’s imagination, that I’m not bearing witness to depraved reality – there are some books you need to make exceptions for. And indeed, thanks to Capote in Kansas, I intend to rectify that blank spot in my library with immediate effect.

This collaboration between writer (and letterer)  Ande Parks and illustrator Chris Samnee is a fictional account – grounded in fact – of Truman Capote’s investigation into the murder of the Clutter, and its effects on the town of Garden City – and indeed Captoe himself. Arriving in expensive designer garb and bearing a New Yorker’s arrogance, Capote is quickly forced to reinvent himself (thanks to some advice from Harper Lee), both in appearance and attitude, in order to have the town’s citizens open up to him. Interestingly, and somewhat uncomfortably, Parks and Samnee choose not to demonize the Clutter killers: they are humanized, presented as real, but deeply troubled individuals. But the uneasiness and paranoia of the townsfolk is never examined, unlike In Cold Blood, which I understand is a vital component of Capote’s story; and it does feel like that vital component fundamental. Even a couple of scenes interspersed throughout, just to demonstrate how affected the people of Garden City were, would’ve enhanced the story’s quality. At times it in Capote in Kansas, it feels like Capote is operating in a vacuum, when that was clearly not the case.

Capote in Kansas will ultimately live or die in the eyes of its readers depending on their willingness to accept the story’s gigantic fictional leap: that Capote communicates, or imagines to converse with (depending on the respective reader’s perspective), the ghost of Nancy Clutter.  The story needs an emotional hook, and it makes sense that Parks and Samnee, operating in a graphic medium, have chosen to visualize that aspect, and the ghost’s personification allows for a touching epilogue; but it is a constant reminder that this is historical fiction with a heavy emphasis on the fiction.

Still, for all my nit-picking, Capote in Kansas is highly enjoyable, and at the very least offers insight into the basis of In Cold Blood, thereby teasing readers into grabbing a copy of that masterwork. Samnee’s illustrations flirt with the greatness we’re seeing nowadays in the pages of Daredevil, and Parks deserves credit for not going the obvious rout with this account and overwhelming readers with historical facts. Offered a choice between a dry caption-heavy interpretation and this, I’ll choose Capote in Kansas every time.