Review: Daredevil Vol. 1 by Mark Waid trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

[Review by Doug Glassman, who's just launched a new Tumblr, Hell Yeah '80s Marvel!]

Daredevil is the rare hero whose adventures are more depressing than Batman. He’s constantly followed by grim darkness and death; his most famous story involves his identity being sold by his drug-addled ex-girlfriend, allowing the Kingpin to ruin his life. A few years ago, he cracked and took over New York’s underbelly during the Shadowland event.

Shortly thereafter, Mark Waid accepted the task of writing a new Daredevil series, bringing a lighter tone (the first six issues of which are collected as Daredevil Vol. 1). Waid’s mission statement is that he wants to read a Daredevil story that “doesn’t drive you to drink afterwards.” His take has been widely praised and won a couple Eisners. But how can the dark, brooding, occasionally murderous Daredevil have such a change in personality without it coming off as contrived?

Most stories would use the obvious “out” and note that Daredevil was possessed during his time as a crime lord. Instead, Waid has Matt acknowledge this and the other darker points of his life while at the same time moving past them. Matt is the same person; he's just trying to have a happier view of life. The only person convinced is Matt himself; his supporting cast, his allies (such as Captain America), and even his foes don’t believe he’s changed, which makes this version of Daredevil seem much more authentic. The cover even adds “Here Comes…” back to the title, bringing classic Daredevil influences back into play.

In the first issue, Waid addresses that Daredevil’s secret identity hasn’t been “secret” for years. It’s been publicly revealed, revoked, and at one point Matt even pretended to be his own brother to get away from it. A prosecutor brings up his unmasking in court, causing a mistrial. No one can legally “prove” that Matt Murdock is Daredevil, but this won’t stop them from using it to produce reasonable doubt that he’s a vigilante who has killed in the past. It forces Matt to think of new ways to practice law, and it gives his partner, Foggy Nelson, no end of trouble. A flirtatious DA adds a whole new angle as the Nelson and Murdock firm starts to rebuild towards the end of this volume.

On the superheroic side, Daredevil takes on Captain America. In his own title, Cap’s partner, the Winter Soldier, was on trial for his past actions undertaken while brainwashed, giving Cap’s desire to arrest Daredevil a personal edge. In my favorite moment of the entire trade, Daredevil points out how long both he and Cap have been heroes, citing some of their early '60s adventures as proof. From here, Daredevil picks up the trail of a man who is intimidating an Arab client of his. There’s some great misdirection about the identity of the man and his motives, giving the book a nice twist.

Would you believe that a hero with super-hearing and radar senses had taken on Klaw, the Master of Sound, only one time before their battle in this trade? That battle was the start of Steve Englehart’s abortive Daredevil run, and only now has Mark Waid picked up on the brilliant idea of having them be recurring foes. This isn’t technically Klaw, but rather one of his “echoes,” a copy he produced as part of a scheme and which kept on existing after Klaw’s capture.

Waid begins to reveal a plan to resurrect Klaw, but most of the book's plot centers on a blind computer programmer, apparently fired from his job for his own protection after discovering an innovative villainous conspiracy. Hydra, the Serpent Society, AIM, and other criminal organizations have banded together to funnel their money through Latveria, making their proceeds untouchable.

To stop them, Daredevil must fight the Bruiser, one of my favorite new villains. His costume features the logos of the many criminal organizations who sponsor him. Mark Waid simultaneously gives him a unique superpower -- the ability to shift his center of gravity to make him unable to be toppled -- and provides Daredevil with a clever way to defeat him. In the end, Daredevil gets away with a database of the villains' information, setting up the book's later issues.

Much of the praise Daredevil has received is due to the artwork. Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin both have a cartoony style that's a complete opposite of the darker, moodier art of their predecessors, like Frank Miller and Alex Maleev. It’s incredible how dynamic the story can get when you can see what Daredevil is doing. Even with this lighter style, there’s an incredible amount of detail. Paolo and Rivera establish an incredible way of showing Matt’s powers in action, using pink detailing, diagonal lines, and numerous shadows. There’s an image of B-list villain the Spot, whom Daredevil fights in the opening pages, and for the first time, we see just how terrifying he looks as a walking spatial anomaly.

A back-up story demonstrates this new style, along with beautiful new sound effects provided by Joe Caramagna. A two-page spread of a walk through New York follows Matt as he simultaneously notices birds flapping their wings, stops Foggy from falling through an open grate, and determines the specific shampoo of a woman in front of them, all depicted in lush detail.

Mark Waid’s Daredevil feels like few other superhero books on the shelves outside of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye (the two books have similarities). The art just bolsters great storytelling, excellent dialogue, and a sense of fun that the Man Without Fear has been lacking for some time.
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