The most ridiculously depressing Daredevil tale ever

Panel from Marvel Fanfare #7, by Bill Mantlo and George Freeman

Hello all! I’m sorry I haven’t been around much in the past week, but things have been pretty hectic and I’ve been out of town for a few days. Don’t you hate it when real life gets in the way of all the fun stuff?

Anyway, nothing much has happened on the Daredevil front in the past week. In fact, we won’t see much action at all until Daredevil: Reborn #4 comes out and that’s been bumped to May 11 due to various delays in the process (the coloring apparently). Bummer, I know.

In the mean time, I’ve been perusing the Marvel Digital Comics database and came across the little gem (not really) I’m about to take a look at right now. I must say, it’s one of the most deliberately tragic Daredevil stories I’ve ever read. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the kind of heart-wrenching tale we’re used to seeing Daredevil at the center of, where his own life is being torn to shreds. This issue, Marvel Fanfare #7, is more a case of an unexpected twist ending. Imagine watching a Lassie movie that’s all fun and games for the whole family until someone randomly shows up and kills Lassie. And, as you’ll see, that analogy really isn’t far off.

Panel from Marvel Fanfare #7, by Bill Mantlo and George Freeman

This story, by Bill Mantlo and artist George Freeman starts off with Daredevil saving a young blind boy from being run over by a truck. Really, Matt needs to stop saving blind people from traffic. The first time he did so, it cost him his own sight, and while saving Milla did gain him a wife, she ended up having her mind destroyed by Mr. Fear. As we’ll see, this story doesn’t have a happy ending either. You see, the little blind boy is out with his brand new guide dog for the very first time. The dog, well-trained as it might be, is understandably spooked by the incident and sets off running down the street.

Finding this dog becomes Matt’s mission for the rest of this 10 page story, and it turns out to be a trying one. After spending countless hours chasing loose ends, he finally arrives at the pound where he’s met with the fear and desperation of the poor locked-up pooches. Still, as a reader, you’re fairly comfortable that everything will turn out well in the end. Not only did Daredevil more or less promise the boy that he’d get his dog back, we see him pick up the scent of the dog, just in the nick of time – or so one might think. The actual ending had me experiencing a major case of “WTF?”. If you haven’t guessed it already, the dog dies. It’s just been euthanized the moment Daredevil finds it. It’s dead! Talk about an anti-climactic ending. I guess this just goes to show that writers have never been afraid to let Matt fail in any and all domains of his life, but I have to say this defeat really came out of left field for me.

Second panel from Marvel Fanfare #7, by Bill Mantlo and George Freeman

Anyway, tomorrow we’ll look at an insanely cute issue instead. I will see you then! Oh, and if you didn’t check the site’s most recent comments lately, I just have to let you know that Dan Chichester dropped by to comment on my review of his Daredevil #304 review. How cool is that? 🙂

A closer look at Daredevil: Ninja

Hello all! I’m sorry for being absent for much of the past week (real life and all that…), but now it’s time to kick start a new month. There hasn’t been much on the news front with the exception of Tom Breevort’s semi-lengthy reply on the topic of Daredevil and relaunches in his second most recent “T&A” with CBR. Coming up later in the month on this blog are two small nuggets I’m already working on: a guide for Daredevil beginners and the first in a series of character spotlights, starting with Foggy Nelson.

Before getting to that, let’s do a little intermission featuring Daredevil: Ninja by Brian Michael Bendis and Rob Haynes. This three issue mini-series is one I think of as the misfit step-child of the Bendis run. It doesn’t really feel like an example of Bendis’s work at all (on Daredevil anyway) and doesn’t match the tone of the rest of his run. Granted, the mini-series ran from late 2000 until early 2001, just months before Bendis’s first effort on the main title (with the arc Wake Up), but the differences between the two are jarring. I wasn’t a Daredevil reader at the time, but if I had been I would have been a little worried about Bendis taking over if this was all I had to go by.

The first issue starts with Matt in bed, while a young woman sneaks into his house to steal Stick’s stick (that sounds weird, I know) which had apparently been occupying an honorary position in Matt’s basement gym. This is all overlaid with a long row of caption boxes detailing things like our title character’s relationship with his master as well as how hard it is to get a good night’s sleep when you’re Daredevil.

Panel from Daredevil Ninja #1

His chase to find who stole Stick’s stick (I’m going to have to start calling it a “staff”) leads him to two tea-drinking strangers of Asian descent whom he spends much of the issue fighting for said stick. It’s a fight they seemingly let him win, at which point he returns home to his apartment and falls asleep in costume. The final page sees him wake up in a foreign locale.

This brings us to the second issue where Matt learns that he’s in Osaka, Japan and that he’s been drugged. The drug in question is so sophisticated that Matt has been semi-conscious (and behaving normally) for his entire trip to Japan yet can’t remember it. Among his captors he finds Stick’s old associate Stone who explains that the Hand is back and that his own group has been severely decimated. They needed Daredevil’s help and the fighting over Stick’s staff (that’s what I’m going with) was just a means to test Matt’s ability as a fighter, given the time that had passed since his last encounter with Stone. So, I guess this means all of issue #1 was mostly padding then…

Panel from Daredevil Ninja #2

Next, they decide to go to The Hand’s compound in search of information and encounter a lone ninja who says the “next one” is in New York. This spawns the idea that the team must return to New York. Not before encountering the rest of the Hand, however, who are suddenly everywhere. Matt takes care of the situation by calling the police and the fire department(!).

So, to recap, we have a first issue that’s basically just one long test fight followed by a kidnapping that really doesn’t get any kind of explanation in the second issue, except that Stone “needs help.” Really, why are we in Japan given that it was apparently Matt’s idea to go to the ninja compound? (So that wasn’t it.) I’d hate to think that we’ve had two issues of ninja fighting for no other reason than that people like ninja fighting.

If the first two issues were thin on story and consisted of mostly fighting, the final issue has a completely different kind of pacing problem. You see, on the plane back to New York Matt and Stone have a telepathic conversation that’s about five pages too long (and I don’t dislike “talking heads” in comics, quite the contrary) that finally explains what the whole thing is about, starting with a story that takes us back to the year 81 AD.

Panel from Daredevil Ninja #3

To make a long story short, Stick was apparently the last in a line of incarnations of a particular great hero of Japan who was capable of wielding a powerful sword, which has now been stolen by the Hand. The soul of the warrior is now in a new body and if one side has access to both the sword and the warrior, that’s apparently some kind of ninja grand slam. The objective now is to find either the Hand or the baby before the former can get to the latter. As it turns out, they don’t have to look very hard as a huge gang of ninjas attack them in the middle of LaGuardia airport. In full ninja gear. Very smooth.

This leads us into yet another drawn-out and hard to follow ninja fight during which Stone and Trahn make an exit without telling Matt, more or less using him to fight their battle for them. Matt goes home and is not included in what happens next.

So, what does happen next? Well, Trahn and her male associate show up at the orphanage where baby Karen of Guardian Devil fame lives and adopts her. Now, how did they find her? Argh, nothing about this makes any sense! Anyway, here’s a panel from the end of issue #3. Wow, Karen is one butt-ugly baby (the art really got even weirder in the third issue). The twist that has Stick being reborn as Karen remains one of most ridiculous things I’ve read in a Daredevil comic, and that’s saying something.

Second panel from Daredevil Ninja #3

So, did any of you guys read Daredevil: Ninja? If so, did any of you actually enjoy it? Let all of us know in the comment section!

Nugget from the archives: Daredevil #304 (vol 1)

Panel from Daredevil #304, by D.G. Chichester and Ron Garney

When Colin Bell (of ComicBooked.com) and I talked about Daredevil, he asked if I had any favorite issues. Aside from my all time favorite Daredevil #191 (Roulette), the others on my top ten list are difficult to rank, but one issue that’s dear to my heart is Daredevil #304 by D.G. Chichester, with pencils by Ron Garney. So, for no other reason than nostalgia – as well as being able to provide a demonstration of “simple” often being brilliant – here’s a little spotlight of one of my most cherished nuggets from the Daredevil archives.

Panel from Daredevil #304, by D.G. Chichester and Ron Garney

Daredevil #304 – 34 Hours

“34 Hours” is a play on the issue number (or so I assume), and the issue is as close to a day-in-the-life-of story as you’re going to find in Daredevil. While I’m not ordinarily a huge fan of issues where Matt appears only in costume, this is a very character-driven tale that takes place in various places around New York. Interestingly, Daredevil is never portrayed as being the center of the story, watching instead from the sidelines and inserting himself into other people’s “stories,” saving the day as needed.

The title “34 Hours” is a reference to the timeframe during which the issue takes place and the full meaning of it is explained at the very end of the issue, through the use of captions:

“Daredevil knows the streets, while the man named Matt Murdock who lives behind the mask knows the statistics. A “normal” day means a murder every 3 hours, 55 minutes. It’s the rare 24 goes by that spares a human life. And when it does, it’s not that a city’s protectors have been provided a much-needed breather… it’s that some family’s been saved from another tragedy. It comes from less than an avenue away, with the suddenness of a serpent’s strike. A moist-sounding whistle-slash of steel cutting deep into flesh. Anguished gasp dwindling, vanishing under the all-too familiar copper reek of blood. 34 hours out of the entire year.”

It’s not clear whether Matt Murdock gets any sleep at all during these 34 hours, but his first heroic act comes from saving the life of a small child whose stroller is caught in the closing doors of a subway car. While the scene is dramatic, there is no violence or malice at play (though one might argue that there’s negligence on behalf of the subway operator). Daredevil gets to play the role of the kind of hero who is just as happy rescuing cats from trees as he is throwing tough guys through the window of Josie’s Bar.

His next act of heroism is even more mundane. A young woman – a small town tourist, no less – is trying to catch a cab when an arrogant hot shot New Yorker cuts ahead of her and takes her cab. Daredevil, in an act of chivalry, pulls the man out of the cab and instructs the woman to get in. No lives at stake, just a man in a costume trying to make NYC a little bit more pleasant.

As the hours pass, the level of violence escalates and Daredevil’s further adventures are told mostly through the captions which are sprinkled liberally across every panel. Chichester strikes a rather interesting balance between the restraint and emotional detachment of a seasoned news reporter and his distinctive “senses writing” which offers us Daredevil’s perspective of the events:

“Images of colliding, featureless figures echoing their way back to the top of the arch. Tension so thick he can almost feel it raising the hairs on the back of his arms underneath the supple red of his suit. Daredevil sees none of it — and follows it all. Senses drifting, focusing, then moving on again as radar comes back from 360 degrees at once — a wholly unique world view of the seemingly separate, mental pictures forming of how it might all come together.”

Daredevil’s later intervention in a park, where three separate events come together and nearly cause a tragedy, is greeted by the applause of the gathering crowd, another example of something you don’t see much these days. This is a story that reminds us that being a superhero was at one time, at least occasionally, a gratifying venture for Matt. The entire issue sees him make a very real difference to people’s lives and he actually gets to enjoy both the accomplishments and the admiration of those he seeks to protect.

Second panel from Daredevil #304, by D.G. Chichester and Ron Garney

All good things inevitably come to an end, and the last page sees Daredevil overhear, from a distance the murder which puts an end to 34 hours of relative tranquility. In a way, it highlights the tragedy of Matt’s existence. Though he can do many things for many people, he can never do enough and his fight will never end.

The technique used to tell this issue is a little unusual, and that’s probably one of the many reasons it stands out to me. The script and the art combine to give slightly different takes on the events of the story with the art carrying significantly more emotional impact than the seemingly distant narrator. Daredevil #304 is an issue that combines the profound with the mundane and puts the title character in a larger context than what is usually seen, giving us a slice of daily life for the people of New York and one of the men in costume who has set out to protect them.

Review: Powerless (7.5/10)

Cover to Powerless #1
Cover to Powerless #1

With a slight delay, I thought we’d finally take the time to review Marvel’s 2004 mini-series Powerless, written by Matt Cherniss and Peter Johnson, with art by Michael Gaydos, which features slightly different takes on Matt Murdock, Peter Parker and Logan, and many other characters from throughout the Marvel Universe. And there’s a reason I’m not using the names of their costumed alter egos here since Powerless, as the title suggests, takes us to a place where there are no superheroes and being blinded by radioactive goo or bitten by a radioactive spider leads to nothing good.

Powerless can legitimately be called an alternative universe story, but it’s unlike most other such stories in that it’s actually pretty good. While it’s certainly not on par with a series like the brilliant Daredevil Noir, it’s similar in that it takes themes we’re familiar with and completely re-imagines how things might have turned out. However, it does so in a way that is much more ambitious and clever than the vast majority of stories featured in series such as What If?

This is also an alternative universe with a twist in that the person who takes on the role of narrator, a certain Dr Watts, is haunted throughout by the sense that this world he wakes up to one day in a hospital bed is somehow not the real one and he keeps getting visions of a world of superheroes. Dr Watt’s real identity is revealed on the final page of the series and actually had me go “whoa!” even though it’s not really a shock in retrospect. I won’t spoil anything for you except to say that the entire premise of the story is quite intriguing.

Dr Watts wakes up, Powerless #2
Dr Watts wakes up, Powerless #2

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Not-so-random Review: Daredevil #118

Cover to Daredevil #118, volume 1
Cover to Daredevil #118, volume 1

This post came about after a request from regular reader Aaron K (yes, I absolutely take requests) who, after reading Daredevil #118 (vol 1), found it to be such a bizarre issue that he wanted me to take a stab at it. Never having been one to back down from a challenge, I decided to do just that. And before we go on, I should say that I wholeheartedly agree with Aaron who had this to say about the issue: “Plotholes abound, the storyline is laugh-out-loud ridiculous, the dialogue is cheesy to the nth degree, and, overall, I spent more time gaping in open-mouthed disbelief than actually enjoying it.”

Well, it does get off to a promising start. Naw, who am I kidding? The name of this issue, printed right on the cover, is “Circus Spelled Sideways is Death!” What the hell? The start of the issue is anything but promising, and as we’re about to find out, the time spent coming up with a plot for this issue is directly proportional to the time spent coming up with a title for it. Oh well, let’s see if I can’t guide you throw the plot. If it will let me, that is…

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Review: Daredevil Redemption

Daredevil Redemption, written by David Hine with art by Michael Gaydos, was published as a six-issue mini series in 2005. The story touches on things from what was then current continuity with the end, set seven years after the main story, taking place in the aftermath of Matt being outed as Daredevil by the press. For the most part, however, this is a stand alone story that can be enjoyed years later even by people who may not be too familiar with the Daredevil mythos.

Inspired by a real story (see the background on the the so-called West Memphis Three), Daredevil Redemption sees Matt the lawyer take on a case far away from home, and is uniquely focused on the civilian and professional aspect of the character. While Daredevil does appear in costume throughout the story, the inclusion of Matt’s costumed alter ego could have easily been scrapped altogether – I would argue that it perhaps should have been – and the format allows the writer to tell a story that is far removed from what you would expect from a superhero book.

The story begins with Matt, as Daredevil, having a bad night in Hell’s Kitchen when he misinterprets a violent scene between a father and his teenage son as being more sinister than it really is. This introduces a couple of the themes of the story, that is the “shady gray areas” of the law, and the difficulty in seeing things for what they are and ignoring ones prejudices and assumptions.

Hine stays on this topic by cutting to a conversation between Matt and Nelson & Murdock intern Candace MacDermid, a character created for this story who continues to serve as a major supporting character throughout the mini-series. They are interrupted by a certain Emily Flood who has come to Matt with a very special request.

Scene from Daredevil Redemption #1, Joel Flood's mother seeks out Matt Murdock
Scene from Daredevil Redemption #1, Joel Flood's mother seeks out Matt Murdock

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Matt Murdock’s first trip to Japan

It’s comic book day in North America today. I have to wait until tomorrow to get my copy of Daredevil #505, so I thought I’d pass the time by talking a little bit about the first time Daredevil went to Japan. The panels below are from Daredevil #197-199, by Denny O’Neil and William Johnson (though the first panel below is by Klaus Janson).

Matt decides to go to Japan after learning that Bullseye is being taken there to have his spine laced with adamantium, which – by some unknown mechanism – will also heal his paralysis. I will never get how fixing the bones of the spine can repair an injury to the spinal cord, but this kind of magic seems to be common in the Marvel Universe, so I’m just not going to go there. 😉

The first panel we’re going to look at is Matt announcing his plans to Foggy, who seems happy that Matt is taking time off from work.

Matt tells Foggy that he's going to Japan
Matt tells Foggy that he's going to Japan

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Daredevil #233: “The Price”

Hey there! Glad to see you made it into 2010. For my first post of the year, I thought I’d take a closer look at one of those issues that usually ranks pretty high on many people’s lists of memorable Daredevil issues. It’s cheesy, cute, not perfectly logical, but an uncommonly emotional read. What am I talking about? Daredevil #223, The Price, by Denny O’Neil and David Mazzucchelli.

Published in the fall of 1985, The Price was a tie-in to Secret Wars II, featuring the mysterious Beyonder, a character as well known for his jheri curls and distinctly 1980’s look as for his background story. To make a long story short, the Beyonder is a very powerful alien being who is visiting Earth in search of enlightenment. While it’s the Beyonder’s desire to find a legal means to own the entire world(!) that brings him to the law offices of Nelson & Murdock – and thus gets the story going – this issue is very much about the title character. Matt is taken on an emotional roller-coaster when the Beyonder gives him his sight back as a retainer to persuade him to take the case.

The Beyonder materializes in Foggy's office
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Not-so-random Review – Roulette (vol 1, #191)

Daredevil 191 cover
Daredevil 191 cover

Nope, I didn’t consult the random number generator for this one. Daredevil #191 was reprinted in Daredevil #500, and while including old content might be considered padding (well, it is), this Frank Miller classic was a very good choice. In fact, Daredevil #191 may well be my favorite single issue of Daredevil, or at least in the top three.

For starters, the art makes me take notice in a way most issues do not. Unusual angles, perspectives and panel layouts combined with the generous use of negative space makes Roulette an interesting-looking issue. It provides sufficient detail while guiding the reader along.

The story itself is told mostly in the form of a monologue, as Matt Murdock pays a visit to a the hospital bed of the now paralyzed Bullseye. Unable to move, or even speak, Bullseye has no choice but to listen to what Daredevil has to say, his first order of business being to introduce Bullseye to a game of Russian Roulette.

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Random Reviews – The Widow part II (vol 2, #62)

I was quite delighted to see which issue was next in line to get the Random Reviews treatment as this is one of my favorites from the Bendis/Maleev run. It’s exciting, funny, and even sensual.

Background

This arc starts in issue #61 when the Black Widow comes back to town after being called in when out on assignment. Madam Hydra has been apprehended in Bulgaria and their government is refusing to turn her over to the Americans unless Natasha is turned over to them. Natasha returns to New York and decides to hide more or less out in the open and crashing the place of friend and former lover Matt Murdock. He, meanwhile, has his own set of problems in the wake of having his secret revealed to the world, and being separated from Milla who has filed for an annulment. In the previous issue, Matt has received a tip from Ben Urich that regular Punisher foe Jigsaw is involved in some shady business and that the police have decided to lay low, giving Matt and Natasha the chance to go out and play…

Matt and Natasha hiding out in Daredevil #62, volume 2

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