Daredevil has always been one of Marvel’s lesser-known characters. He’s never had the mass market profile afforded the likes of Spider-Man, the Hulk or the X-Men. Which has been a very good thing indeed. In fact Daredevil’s consistently low profile has provided us with a series that is probably the most consistently good superhero comic Marvel have produced. Of course, from the start in the 60s there was always something slightly off, slightly different about the idea of having a blind superhero with a day job as a lawyer that means he’s likely to come up against the very villains he’s just beaten up the night before.
The key moment in the history of Daredevil came in 1979 with the hiring as artist and later writer/artist of Frank Miller. He took a second tier character and performed major reconstructive surgery on it. He took the basic character and the origins and history and adapted, expanded and improved upon them. His version of daredevil was unlike anything we’d ever seen before. Miller’s run on the title is, for many people, still considered the benchmark on which all modern superhero books are compared.
Miller gave us many of the defining Daredevil characters and themes which have made the series the one Marvel series that’s always worth reading if the writers good enough to manage. Miller either created or essentially defined the supporting cast that makes Daredevil so good throughout these books: the Kingpin, Elektra, The Hand, Ben Ulrich, Foggy Nelson and many more. But it was Miller’s re-positioning of Daredevil as a hero always on the edge, driven beyond reason sometimes by the desire to make his neighbourhood a better place often at a terrible cost.
But from then on the character always had the Miller problem: How do you follow Miller on Daredevil? Since his work on the title writers have come and gone, producing either substandard rip-offs of the Miller take on the character or trying to react against it. Neither has worked as well as Miller’s run. But then along came Brian Michael Bendis. In many ways this was just like having Miller back.
Bendis’ extended run on the title primarily concerned the nature of Daredevil’s secret identity as Matthew Murdoch, lawyer. How do you square being a costumed vigilante and a lawyer? Simple answer is that you just can’t. If ever the truth came out about Murdoch’s double life he’d be ruined, disbarred and his life would spiral out of control. Indeed some of Miller’s best work concerned the fragile nature of Murdoch’s mind and the internal struggle he faced every day. Daredevil’s problem has always been that far too many people know who he really is and it was always just a matter of time before the truth got out.
And that was the masterstroke of Bendis’ run on the title. One day the truth is out, splashed all over the papers and from then on it’s not if, but when Daredevil’s life comes crashing down. Murdoch the lawyer has no choice but to lie, to perjure himself, to continue the descent into his own personal nightmare.
All of this was done with Bendis’ wonderful ear for authentic dialogue and incredible pacing. His stories would slowly build and reveal over several issues, often going back to previously unremarkable events and suddenly twist the situations to leave the reader gasping at the skill involved. While we were reading the Bendis run a lot of us speculated on where he was going with it, after all the logical ending to all this, the seemingly inevitable ending would be to do the unthinkable and put Daredevil behind bars.
I’m going to have to spoil the ending for you to tell you that yes, he did, at the end of Bendis’ run Daredevil / Matt Murdoch is in cuffs, heading for Ryker’s Island penitentiary. Of course, it’s exactly how Bendis managed to manoeuvre Daredevil into this predicament by destroying every positive aspect of his life that made the whole thing one of the greatest superhero runs of all time. So the knowledge that in the end he’s behind bars certainly shouldn’t stop you picking the whole series up.
But even as we read the final Bendis storyline we started to ask the obvious questions; how would the next creative team possibly follow that? Which is where Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark come in. They have the unenviable task on doing what Bendis did before them, carrying on the character after a master storyteller has finished with it.
Thankfully, they hit the ground running and have managed to come up with what could be an even better storyline than everything that has gone before. Based on the evidence in front of me; Daredevil: The Devil Inside & Out Volume 1 I’d say the character is in pretty safe hands.
They start where Bendis left – Daredevil is inside Ryker’s Island. Through the political machinations of the FBI, he’s not alone either, all of his enemies are here, and all the crimelords and villains he’s come across and helped to put away have been moved into Ryker’s as well. He’s virtually without hope, practically everyone he calls friends know his secret, know that his denial of it is what put him behind bars and know that his already fragile mental state may not survive his incarceration.
Brubaker handles the story wonderfully well, introducing old enemies such as the Kingpin and the Punisher with surprising results. You’re never really sure which way Murdoch will go, never entirely sure who will come out of this one intact. Throughout the book Brubaker manages to continually rack up the tension, whether inside the prison or outside in the real world where his remaining friends are trying to do what they can to secure Murdoch’s release.Of course, great writing is only one half of a truly great comic or Graphic Novel. Michael Lark’s art has always been a wonderful example of what to do on a comics page, but here he excels himself. Always beautifully constructed, never showing off with needless visual tricks, the artwork helps drive the story along perfectly.
So with the outside world believing he’s guilty, with the entirety of Ryker’s either wanting him dead or not caring whether he lives, what possible hope has the Man Without Fear got? And if Matt Murdoch’s inside, why is there a Daredevil still running around Hell’s Kitchen?
I’ll leave that one hanging; it doesn’t do to give away all the wonderful surprises in store for you when you pick this one up. And you should definitely be picking this up, whether or not you’re a superhero fan. It’s simply too good an example of what comics can be for you to ignore it. Daredevil: Inside & Out and the entirety of Brian Michael Bendis’ Daredevil story and much of Frank Miller’s work on the title will be available from better comic shops or from the FPI website.
(Originally posted on PROPAGANDA @ FPI blog here)