I will readily admit to being a big fan of Karl Kesel’s run, and it’s interesting to see his name mentioned every once in a while in discussions pertaining to the current incarnation of the Daredevil character. It seems that with all the devastation currently happening in Matt Murdock’s oh-so-fictional, yet thoroughly engaging life, many people are starting to wish for happier times. And the run that often comes to mind when thinking of a slightly more carefree Matt Murdock is that of Karl Kesel and penciller Cary Nord.
Kesel’s run didn’t last very long, about a year, and he was replaced by Joe Kelly who carried on in a similar, but more mellow, vein. The book wasn’t selling well generally during the mid to late nineties, though that wasn’t unique to this title, and Kesel’s Daredevil wasn’t a particularly big hit at the time. But it seems like many of the Kesel fans are starting to come out of hiding and I wouldn’t personally mind a sprinkle or two of the kind of tone that characterized these issues. And when I say sprinkle, I do mean sprinkle. Not only is it not viable from a sales perspective to change the feel of the book too much, especially considering how relatively successful Daredevil vol 2 has been. It would also clash too much with where the character is emotionally right now to try to do something similar to what Kesel did. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some things that might inspire a current writer such as Brubaker… Okay, I admit it, this is really a poorly disguised plea to Bru to ease up on poor Matt. Sorry! But I still think that a slightly lighter feel to Daredevil would help rather than hurt the book in the long run.
Kesel’s Daredevil is often compared to Stan Lee’s. I think this is a big mistake. Aside from often showing the hero actually enjoying swinging through town and being relatively happy, there aren’t that many similarities. Stan Lee’s Daredevil was a soap opera full of illogical plot points, seriously dysfunctional relationships, and a certain brand of make-it-up-as-we-go-along storytelling. In contrast, Kesel’s run felt fairly modern, was set in the “real world” and featured a lot of interesting characters. Stan Lee’s Matt was often an arrogant prick – pardon my French – whose motivations and general personality were difficult to relate to. Karl Kesel’s Matt was, in essence, the same Matt we read about today, just one who was in a very different place emotionally.
At the time, the book featured a large cast of characters and had a relatively heavy focus on personal relationships. Matt and Karen’s personal life was on display, Foggy actually dated, Rosalind Sharpe came into the picture and stirred things up. A long list of other characters also made appearances at the office or in Matt’s costumed life. Despite being fairly action-packed, most issues contained scenes of actual socialization (I know, holy crap!). Matt and Karen went on dates that weren’t interrupted by supervillains, Karen went shopping with Rosalind Sharpe (using Matt’s credit card), Foggy went to parties with supermodels. Well, you get the idea. Rather than seeming strange or out of character for this cast, these little glimpses into their lives gave us a chance to know them better.
There were even jokes every now and then. No, the book didn’t read like an episode of Friends, which was probably a very good thing, but we got to see Matt’s dry and often self-depricating brand of humor at its best. Almost everything that passed each character’s lips were things that I could imagine all of them saying even as they are written today. This is important because many fans seem to believe that Matt, as a character, only works when he’s broken. While seeing him overcome adversity is always inspiring, forcing him to only play one role is like typecasting a great actor. Matt Murdock is a versatile character. He does tragedy splendidly, but he can do comedy as well without turning into Peter Parker.
I think I’ll follow up this post with a second one within a day or two, featuring some of my favorite moments from the Kesel era, so consider this post the first of two parts.