In the ridiculous amount of time it’s taken me to get the review up, Daredevil: Season One managed to make it onto the New York Times bestseller list for the week of May 13. Writer Antony Johnston also has a new book out called The Coldest City, so check that out!
Before getting into the details of the story itself, and the actual review, I wanted to start with some of my thoughts going into reading this book. First of all, it should be noted that Daredevil: Season One is not the first attempt at putting a new spin on classic Daredevil, as anyone familiar with Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Daredevil: Yellow will know. Daredevil’s origin was also revisited (and reimagined) in Frank Miller’s and John Romita Jr’s Man Without Fear. Where the former was very faithful to the original stories of the mid-1960’s, the latter made no attempt to stay faithful to continuity. In fact, Man Without Fear was initially imagined as a movie script and it is through the meddling of later writers on the main book that elements from Man Without Fear has entered into Daredevil continuity.
The beauty of being able to start from scratch, á la Man Without Fear, keeping only the elements needed to get Matt Murdock into the costume and beyond, is that you can do away with much of the Silver Age baggage. In a story like Daredevil: Yellow, however, where the entire premise rests on bringing these old stories into focus and making them work, the writer is held hostage – to an extent at least – by Stan Lee’s work from 1964. Depending on how you feel about early Daredevil, the end result is either charmingly retro or just a little too cheesy for comfort.
One of the things I was most curious (and possibly a little anxious) about when I picked up Daredevil: Season One, which came with the stated goal of modernizing these early stories for a new generation, was how on Earth Antony Johnston and artist Wellinton Alves would approach these old soap opera tales in a way that was not only modern but didn’t just retread what was done in Daredevil: Yellow. To my big relief, Johnston takes appropriate liberties with the source material, making Season One a tale of “what else did Matt Murdock do in the early days” as much as it is a chance to revisit the old work by Lee et al. Not enough to ruffle the feathers of those more continuity-conscious than I am, mind you, but enough to bring something new and original to the table that we haven’t seen before. In fact, much of the book is devoted to a completely new mystery for Matt to solve, using both his legal know-how, and his newly established alter ego.
Johnston quickly gets past much of the origin by covering Matt’s childhood, accident and his father’s death within the span of the first page before getting to Matt’s showdown with the Fixer and his men. This scene follows the original pretty closely, but one thing that stood out to me was how the concept of fear is brought into the equation. In Daredevil’s first adventures, much was made of his fearlessness, and making sure that he lived up to the “man without fear” tagline. Here, Daredevil acknowledges his fear and nervousness, instantly making him more modern and relatable. Another case of inserting modern sensibilities into the story comes right after the Fixer’s classic death scene, when Matt (in costume) goes to his church to light a candle and has a conversation with his priest. I’ve never been overly fond of writers making too much of Matt’s religion, but it works well here with Matt being in the beginning of his “career” and before losing much of his innocence. The priest goes on to become one of the key players in the story, along with a crooked politician who is introduced over the next few pages.
Just as in the original stories, Foggy and Karen play major roles in Daredevil: Season One. Karen’s shrinking violet personality has undergone a major overhaul and is more in line with her later appearances. Her career has received a boost as well and she is now a paralegal as opposed to just being a secretary. Karen is also used to great effect when it comes to giving the outsider’s perspective. Just as in the original stories, Karen is a recent transplant to New York and has a fascination with the more outlandish inhabitants of Marvel’s version of the Big Apple.
Daredevil: Season One presents us with well-rounded characters, well-written dialogue and a more modern feel. On the whole, I really enjoyed the story, but it does have its shortcomings as well. The mystery surrounding the priest and the crooked politician starts to feel a little too complicated for its own good toward the end of the book and the resolution feels a litte far-fetched. This isn’t a big problem, however, since this is definitely the kind of story that is more about the journey than the destination. Throughout, Johnston demonstrates his solid handle on Matt’s character and motivations, and there is a level of humor that feels appropriate for this project. Johnston also handles the many elements from the original issues well, but there are cases where the transitions between the new and the old are a little rough. I also question the decision to include the Matt-Karen-Foggy love triangle without giving it sufficient context.
The art by Wellinton Alves (with inks by Nelson Pereira and colors by Bruno Hang) is a good fit for this kind of project. It’s clear and straight-forward enough to get the job done and not force potential newcomers to the medium to have to think too hard about what’s going on. The action scenes are very dynamic and Alves does a particularly good job of balancing the bright with the gritty. The story overall is more grounded and “street-level” than the original material from early Daredevil and this is reflected in the art, even with its soft lines and vibrant color scale. One aspect of the art that gets problematic in places is the coloring that strikes me as bit on the glossy side.
Daredevil: Season One is a book I would definitely recommend to fans of the character. Where the story is inevitably restricted by the premise and format, it also offers a very in-character portrayal of Daredevil and the rest of the cast and definitely succeeds in bringing a modern twist to classic Daredevil.