Review: "The Losers" by Andy Diggle, Jock et al

With Andy Diggle taking over the writing duties on Daredevil, starting with the Dark Reign: The List tie-in in September, I saw it as my duty to take a look at the writer’s previous and ongoing work and post some of my thoughts.

So far, I’ve been following Diggle’s Dark Reign: Hawkeye mini and his run on the Thunderbolts. I’ve also read the trade collecting the stand alone mini-series Hellblazer: Lady Constantine and his own creation, and the subject for this post, The Losers.

It’s been a very fun ride so far and I feel convinced that Diggle is perfectly capable of pulling off a Daredevil that might just be different enough to give the title the shot in the arm that even a sworn Brubaker fan like myself is beginning to feel that it needs, while staying in the familiar milieu that has made the character so successful. But this post isn’t about Daredevil specifically, but about The Losers. So, let’s get on with it, shall we?

I’m going to start by going off on a brief tangent and admit that I was a huge fan of the first couple of seasons of Prison Break. It had intrigue, action, and a smart plot that connected the little people to the big players with the big guns in unexpected ways. There were clever twists in every episode that managed to surprise the viewer without seeming too contrived. The show was a smash hit, so much so that its life span kept getting extended with one season after another while the plot began to suffer. Eventually, I gave up. Reading The Losers was, for me, an experience reminiscent of watching the first two seasons of Prison break, equipped with the timely ending the television show didn’t have (to those still watching it, did it ever get back on track?).

Starring an eclectic former black ops team who turns on their mysterious CIA handler when left for dead in Afghanistan while on a mission, the thirty-two issue series is smart action at its best. Diggle manages to pile layer after layer of intrigue without ever confusing the reader, and that’s quite a feat with a story this long and involving this many players. What impresses me the most, though, is how intelligent the writing is. It is all too often the case that, in order for the protagonists to seem appropriately cunning, their adversary by default comes across as completely incompetent. That is never the case here. Instead of leaving the “wait, that doesn’t work” bit to the scrutinizing reader, the writer in this case seems to have error-proofed every single scenario. That’s not to say that there aren’t fantastical elements to this tale, or improbable events and circumstances, but that’s in the nature of the genre, and this particular thrill-ride is free of contrived cop-outs and annoying plot holes. There’s an attention to detail at every juncture that keeps the story feeling real. Diggle also manages to keep the entire story very even-paced, and I can’t think of any passage where there is any noticeable dip in quality or tension.

[Read more...]

How being a Daredevil fan made me better at my job

As promised, here’s a little personal anecdote from my life away from this blog that will give you some idea of why I’ve been so busy for the last couple of months. I also thought it might be fun to share this with you since it pretty much proves that reading comics has actual benefits, even though the ways in which I was able to turn my love of Daredevil into a marketable skill might seem a little far-fetched.

In my everyday life, I work for a political party where my usual job is to provide “communicative support” (which in practice translates into writing articles and speeches) for two members of the national parliament. When election time rolls around, which it did recently with the elections for European Parliament last week, most of us on staff pick up additional duties as well as the whole organization shifts gears. Very unexpectedly, I was called up to my boss one day and offered a project manager position which had to do with translating campaign material into other languages as well as making it accessible for people with disabilities. I suspect the reason I stood out from the crowd when being more or less assigned to this job was the mention in my resume of having worked as a translator and the fact that I had studied no fewer than two sign languages. Needless to say, I had made no mention of being a Daredevil fan.

Now, I should say that before I started reading Daredevil, my knowledge of blind people was no better than anyone else’s. I didn’t even know you could write Braille by hand (if you didn’t know either, don’t feel bad). While I always found Daredevil’s unique trait to be an appealing and exotic aspect of the character, I had never had any specific interest in blind people. In fact, the only reason I had originally become interested in the deaf (as one might be able to deduce from my past adventures as a sign language student) was because I was a language nerd who at the age of fifteen had fallen in love with linguistics and later become fascinated with the three-dimensional grammar that characterizes languages that are signed rather than spoken. But reading Daredevil did pique my curiosity, even though the character’s blindness is rarely mentioned. Getting to know fellow Daredevil fan Alice (who sells custom-made braille T-shirts) also helped make me more aware.

So, sitting there in my boss’s office I already felt a plan forming and two years of gradual insight into everything from the demographics of the visually impaired to accessible web design suddenly find an unexpected outlet. I knew right then that I wanted to kick ass at that project. The fact that I’m genuinly interested in civil rights and liberties, which is what accessibility really comes down to, helped make me even more motivated for the job.

And, I’m happy to say that I worked my little ass off on that project. I added subtitles to YouTube videos, made high-contrast versions of web documents and kept hounding the IT department to add “skip to content” links on our website. And that was just the beginning. I was on fire. At the end of the day, I’m not sure I won us any extra votes, but I’m very proud of my efforts and I know that they were appreciated.

So, thanks to my readers for being patient for the last couple of months. I haven’t had as much time to devote to real quality content and you’ve had to contend with word balloon contests and erratic news roundups. As of now, I’m back in high gear!

Why people should buy the comics they like

The big news in the comics corner of the Internet today seems to be the cancellation of Captain Britain and MI-13. However, it might seem to be a strange thing for me to blog about (and it wasn’t what I had planned) since it doesn’t relate in any direct way to Daredevil. But it does underscore the importance of fans voting with their wallets to keep the books they like on the shelves. Of course, in this case, there was a lot of fan support for the book. Critics kept praising it, and I’ve never seen anyone speak badly of it, but for some reason the book failed to translate apparent quality into hard sales.

Daredevil sells more than twice as many copies as Captain Britain did, but in one sense they do have something in common. I know that not everyone has loved Brubaker’s time at the helm, but it’s obvious that the book hasn’t been selling as well as the critical acclaim would suggest. Why is this? Why do stories like Secret Invasion, with all their problems, do so much better than stories most critics would regard as better crafted and more innovative?

I obviously don’t have the answer, but it does show that we can’t take good stories for granted. In short, if you like something, buy it. And tell your friends about it. It may not be enough, but it’s a good start. It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, fans of Captain Britain can do to bring the book back from the dead in some form. I’ve only recently been in a position to try out new books on a whim, and never got the chance to check out Captain Britain, but I’m as curious as ever to at least give the trades a try. If there’s quality to be had, I’m game.

Catholic guilt? Think again

Matt touching Maggie's cross

Matt touching Maggie's cross

A few months ago, I wrote a post called “My other senses more than compensate” in which I attempted to poke some holes in the claim made by some Daredevil fans (and even the odd writer) that Matt’s preternaturally heightened senses render him completely “non-disabled.” In that post, I also briefly touched on what I perceive to be two other pervasive Daredevil myths, namely “Matt the Man-Whore” and “Matt the Devout Catholic.”

While Matt’s recent indiscretion under Brubaker’s pen may have somewhat tainted my view of Matt Murdock as a serial monogamist, it still doesn’t change the fact that only the most sexually inexperienced of male comic book fans would consider a man in his mid-thirties with fewer than ten proven sexual partners under his belt to be even remotely promiscuous. And yes, I’m looking at you Kevin Smith… ;-) For those who care to count Matt’s former sexual partners, I already did it for you in Matt’s love life by the numbers.

Now the time has come to take a closer look at Matt’s religious faith or, as I would see it, his lack thereof. I realize that this is a touchy subject, and if people out there, whether Catholic or not, enjoy this take on the character I’m certainly not going to claim that they are wrong to view Daredevil from a religious perspective. In fact, the great thing about fiction is that we, as readers, are co-creators of the reading experience. All I’m saying is that this is one aspect of the character where the reader must add a lot of input themselves since there is very little in terms of “scripture” (i.e. Daredevil canon) to support it.

At this point, I can almost hear one or two of you out there go “Wait a second, everyone knows Daredevil is Catholic, heck Joe Quesada talks about it all the time!” First of all, I completely agree that it’s indisputable that the character of Matt Murdock is a “cultural Catholic,” i.e. someone who has been born and raised in a Catholic context, might observe Catholic rituals on occasion and would certainly check the Catholic box on one of those census forms that the U.S. government likes to send out. What I take issue with is the notion that he’s an overtly religious practicing Christian. I base my own views on the simple fact that I’ve never really gotten that vibe from actually reading the comic. (Well, until Kevin Smith wrote a wildly out of character Matt threatening Karen with hell if she didn’t go to church with him.) And there was about as much active church attendance in the Daredevil movie as there has been in all of comics canon combined, though the movie has certainly served to skew perceptions on this issue.

There has been plenty of religious imagery in Daredevil, particularly in stories like Born Again. Religious imagery doesn’t make the main character a regular church-goer, however. Neither does the fact that his mother is a nun, especially since he didn’t grow up with her. What about quotes like the one below, made by Joe Quesada (Newsarama, December 2006)?:

“The characters that have religion play into their stories are that way because their religion played an important part in who they are as a character and it effects their decisions and their stories, no one more so than Matt Murdock. In direct contrast, one would have to assume that due to Peter Parker’s Irish heritage (Parker/Fitzgerald), he’s most likely of Christian Protestant beliefs, yet while there have been rare instances when he’s reached out to God, it’s not an important makeup of his character.

In the case of Matt Murdock, it’s come to define him. It also adds an interesting juxtaposition and wonderful irony between a man who worships a Catholic god yet wears a devil suit to fight crime. There have also been numerous scenes depicting Matt gaining an incredible amount of comfort from his religion. The scenes of him in the confessional stand out most to me as one of many moments when organized religion has been shown in a positive light.”

As someone who has read virtually everything Matt Murdock has ever appeared in, I have no idea what Quesada is talking about here. The only confessional scene I can think of off the top of my head is the one in Elektra Lives Again by Frank Miller, and that’s not even considered to be in continuity. The only other one that comes to mind is Matt in costume collapsing inside a confessional stand because he had the flu and needed a rest in the 2007 annual. Surely, Quesada can’t be talking about the Daredevil movie? I also can’t immediately think of any instances of Matt drawing “an incredible amount of comfort” from his religion. I’m sure I’ve missed something, but to say that religion, in the real sense and not merely as metaphor, figures heavily in the life of Matt Murdock, as depicted in the comic, just doesn’t ring true to me.

Catholicism is an important aspect of the character because Joe Quesada, Kevin Smith and others have said so, not because that is how the character has actually been portrayed for the vast majority of his existence. If anything, I’d say he’s been portrayed as a lapsed Catholic with a very secular lifestyle. Belief in God or a higher power is one thing, but Matt has never seemed to think twice about engaging in extramarital sex and appears very much to be a typical liberal New Yorker. He even lead something of a sexual revolution in mainstream comics by living with the Black Widow in San Francisco in what would have to be a presumed sexual relationship without the required nuptials.

So where does “Catholic guilt” come in? The supposed driving force behind so much of what Daredevil does? Until I finally decided to look this up a few days ago, I never really took issue with this. I wasn’t even 100% clear on what Catholic guilt was so I just assumed that it was an acquired cultural trait which predisposed people with this background to go around thinking that they weren’t trying hard enough. That would certainly be a spot on description of Matt Murdock and very much in line with the relatively greater emphasis on doing good deeds traditionally associated with Catholicism (as opposed to Protestantism’s heavier focus on faith as an act of conscience). Boy was I wrong.

It turns out that the most common meaning of the term has to do with the conflict people feel when trying to reconcile traditional Catholic tenets with Western values, particularly when it comes to abortion, pre-marital sex and masturbation. Does this mean Matt fights crime because he feels guilty about pleasuring himself? Holy cow, I never considered that angle before… I suspect that people throw the Catholic guilt explanation around because they, like me, simply aren’t clear on what it means.

To me, Matt Murdock is a fascinating and, yes, conflicted character who carries a lot of things on his shoulders. His background and upbringing influence him a great deal and his morals and aspirations suggest a spiritually inspired quest to do right in the world, as well as a belief in God. But is he a poster boy for organized religion or even a practicing Catholic? Joe Quesada might say yes. The vast majority of the written record says no.

While my own views on this matter are quite firm, I would love some input on this post. If you feel differently, let me know by commenting. Keep it civil, though. I know the topic might be a little controversial.

Daredevil sales holding steady

No single comic book sold over 100,000 copies in the direct sales market in March, according to ICv2.com. Sales for periodical comics was down by 7% for the month of March and by 5% for the first quarter of 2009, both figures compared to last year. Because many books have gone up in price, the drop in units sold is even greater. Still, these numbers are not bad considering the serious financial crisis and the fact that the sales of most other consumer goods have dropped much more.

In light of this, it’s nice to see Daredevil sales holding steady or even gaining slightly. Since Dardevil #116 was delayed one week, both #116 and #117 shipped in March, selling 41,261 and 41,046 copies respectively, gaining slightly from 40,214 for Daredevil #115 in January. Compared to the first quarter of last year, that’s a drop by just over 3%, which is a modest dip in numbers considering overall sales and the current economic climate. The relatively smaller drop for Daredevil also translates into a climb in the rankings from around 50th to 34th for both #115 and #116.

Over the last year, sales via Diamond have hovered between 39,258 and 46,305 (for Daredevil #111, the debut of Lady Bullseye). Bendis’s last issue, Daredevil #81, sold 44,252 copies which was down considerably from the height of his run. These sales numbers are always estimates and reflect direct sales to comic book stores.

If you’re like me, and like crunching numbers, have a look at the sales charts for March (ICv2) and January (ICv2 via The Beat). Kuljit Mithra also has Daredevil sales numbers posted on ManWithoutFear going back all the way to 1996.

Another happy number I’d like to report is that this blog passed the 10,000 visitor mark today. I’d also like to take the opportunity to mention that the Hell’s Kitchen strips can now be found in a more easily accessible format in their own post. Just click the thumbnails to see the full-size strip. Later, my friends!