Reevaluating early Daredevil

Daredevil swings down and lands on a car in Daredevil #14, apparently guided more by its sound than its shape.

If you were thinking that I had gone back into hiding, I certainly wouldn’t hold it against you. It’s been over a month since my last post, and I’ve had my share of false starts over the past few years. However, I do have a few posts planned that I would like to get out there before too long, and I’m hoping to finish the year with a total of at least twenty for 2021.

For this post, I would like to talk about a rather surprising epiphany I’ve had over the summer, while working on my book. Or to be more specific, while rereading every single issue of Daredevil and taking detailed notes about how Matt Murdock’s senses are actually used. What I’ve discovered is that, contrary to the idea I’ve had that Daredevil’s senses have stabilized and gotten more “grounded” over time, a case could be made for a very different kind of evolution. Depending on what aspect of the character’s senses we’re talking about, Daredevil has actually been getting more powerful in at least some respects.

Considering that this is not my first time reading every issue of Daredevil (I have, in fact, read most runs many times), how could I have missed the things I’m now noticing? Where does my bias against the sensory portrayals of early, “pre-Miller” Daredevil come from? Well, I think it comes down to a few different factors:
Continue reading “Reevaluating early Daredevil”

The other “mask”

One of these days, I’m going to try to catch up on reviews of the current ongoing Daredevil book (it’ll probably be as a video). And, when I get some time this weekend, I want to do a post detailing Daredevil’s many encounters with Bullseye. However, in search of a topic for a slightly less ambitious post to start the week, I turned to Facebook to ask TOMP’s followers for ideas. One idea was put forth about a science post on Matt’s kinesthetic abilities. Of course, this is a great idea, but one I’ll be covering in the book. When I get to that chapter (I’m currently busy writing about the “radar”), I’d be happy to put together a digest for the site.

The other suggestion, endorsed by two people, was to write a little something about Matt’s (pretty obvious) insecurities about showing his eyes to people. I actually touched on this subject when I did a post about the various looks of Matt’s sunglasses over the years, But 1) that was six years ago (pre-Netflix), and 2) psychoanalyzing the shit out of Matt Murdock can usually be done on short notice and with a minimum of preparation. So, perfect for a slightly shorter post.

Matt and Dakota North having a heart to heart while working out, as seen in Daredevil #111 (vol 2), by Ed Brubaker and Clay Mann

Perhaps the handful of panels you see above, from Daredevil #111 (vol 2), by Ed Brubaker and Clay Mann, is really all that needs to be said on the topic. Aside from the rather odd segue between what Matt says in panels three and four (which I think has to do with Matt’s recent loss of his wife Milla to villain-induced insanity and relating this to his own father’s inability to protect him), much of what I think this boils down to is: “So much of my life… It’s been about how people see me. Not wanting to let them see too much.”

What I like about this line is that there are so many facets to it. There are at least three ways to read it that all say something about Matt. We have the literal interpretation that reminds us that Matt has to pay very close attention to his outward behavior so that he doesn’t rouse suspicion. In his civilian life, no one except a select few can know he has heightened senses, and as Daredevil, no one can know he’s blind. This, in and of itself, would inspire a certain amount of paranoia and hyper-vigilance about how he’s perceived.

The second way to read this reminds me of what Elektra said to Matt at the end of the second season of Daredevil, when she suggests to him that he hides from the world, and refuses to let people in. In so doing she calls out a character trait shaped by a lonely childhood and some pretty major abandonment issues. Of course, the Netflix show takes this to extremes, in that Matt is actually raised in an orphanage. Add to that the thoughts that Stick put in his head, and you can begin to make sense of other reasons Matt may not want people to “see too much” of his inner thoughts and wants.

More to the point here is the third way to look at this: Heightened senses or not, Matt obviously knows he is perceived differently than the average person, and that he risks standing out. I also think it’s very much in line with his basic personality to try to manage people’s perceptions as much as he can. I think it boils down to a control thing with him, and in this context the shades make sense and become a different kind of mask. If he can’t look people in the eye, making sure that no one can look him in the eye either evens out the playing field.

Matt and Foggy working in the office while Karen is out, as seen in Marvel's Daredevil, episode three of season one

Because Matt’s behavior in the comics surrounding when and to whom he will reveal this side of himself (see that post from six years ago) has been carried over more or less intact to the Netflix show, you would have to assume that the writers and directors of the show have done so very deliberately. As in the comic, it kind of becomes a proxy for trust and intimacy, and perhaps says even more about Matt’s level of trust in Foggy than anything he says or does.

In that first episode scene with Karen, he makes what we can assume is a big exception for her. But he does so in a situation where she’s feeling exceptionally vulnerable and he’s willing to go to great lengths to put her at ease. In the third episode, Matt and Foggy are working in the office (see above). When Karen comes back from lunch, Matt is very quick to put his glasses back on (see the featured image). He continues to do this more often than not throughout the show. It is hard to interpret it as anything other than a physical manifestation of him raising his guard.

Of course, there’s a slight difference between “managing others’ perceptions” and a genuine insecurity about one’s appearance. In Matt’s case, and this goes for the comic as well as the show, you definitely get the sense that the latter cannot be completely disregarded. I actually find this incredibly humanizing. Even people who seem to have everything in life sorted out probably have a complex about something. Things we experience in childhood seems to have a particular power over us, and a stupid comment by the school bully can linger for years. For all we know, hearing something insensitive said about him at just the right (wrong) age might have planted an idea in Matt’s head that he can’t quite shake, despite knowing better on a rational level.

Considering Daredevil’s near-complete mastery of his body and remaining senses, his eyes become that one part of his anatomy that will never behave as expected, and can never be fully reigned in. Effectively covering his eyes is the only way Matt has of addressing this, and I suppose his need to do this is yet another one of those quirks that makes him interesting.

Everybody loves to hate Milla

On a couple of occasions, I’ve come across people on message boards who have absolutely loved the character of Milla Donovan, the first and only woman to ever get Matt Murdock to tie the knot. One guy even went so far as to say that she was one of the best characters to be introduced in Daredevil in recent memory. However, when you look at past Daredevil reviews in various fora, the majority opinion seems to be quite the opposite, with people’s feelings for the character running from lukewarm to ice cold.

Personally, I would say that I have liked the character just fine. No more, and no less. I’ve never been attached to her in the way I am to Foggy or even Dakota and Becky, but I have a hard time fully understanding where the considerable amount of hatred is coming from. To me, Milla’s main weakness as a character has been that after her strong first appearance, even Bendis, the very man who created her (along with Alex Maleev who based her appearance on that of his wife), didn’t quite seem to know what to do with her. When Milla was (permanently?) retired from the book in Daredevil #500, she was, in my opinion, an under-explored character, despite her many appearances. The same thing goes for her and Matt’s marriage. I still have no idea what made them click as a couple or what they really saw in each other.

Continue reading “Everybody loves to hate Milla”

Review: Daredevil #119 (7.0/10)

Sorry everyone for being so late in posting this review. I intended to do it days ago, but the time got away from me and I’ve also been a little conflicted about what my feelings about this issue really are. Before writing this, I had to go back and read #118, as well as my review of that issue. In retrospect, my score of 8.5 for that may have been a little high and I don’t necessarily think this issue is worse, but there are some things that do bug me a little and collectively bring down the score for me.

What I do like about this issue is how the Kingpin is written and how he uses everyone around him like pieces on a big chessboard. It’s easy to understand his motivations and his actions. The plotting in general is really good, even though the actual motivations of the Hand are still a big, and fairly annoying, mystery at this point. I guess I’m still a little peeved about the fall-out of the last arc and the absolutely nonsensical decision on behalf of the Hand to try and recruit Daredevil. “We’re crazy ass ninjas, and we thought that might be cool” isn’t really an explanation in my book. Not that that’s the explanation we’ve been given, but in lieu of anything reasonable, this is what we’re left with. Either way, it’s the bad guys, including the Owl, and their shenanigans that really carry this entire issue. That and the stellar art, which is as good as always and really fits all of the night time action (I’m happy to hear that Matt Hollingsworth is staying as the colorist, by the way). Also, we find out this issue what Lady Bullseye’s chopsticks are for aside from holding her hair up, and that was a fun bonus, I guess.

However, we also find Brubaker playing the fellow cast member in jeopardy card. Twice. And, in one case, for no rational reason at all. The fact of the matter is that it’s clear at this point that he hasn’t been able to deliver on his goal of making the stories less about everyone attacking Matt’s personal life when that still seems to be all everyone is doing. I was also a little disappointed by Foggy’s quick turnaround. I happened to think that Foggy’s reaction last issue wasn’t over the top or uncalled for. Matt has been acting irrationally and selfishly for a long time now, and he deserved to be called on it. There is also very little of interest happening to the main character this issue. Brubaker writes the heck out of the Kingpin, but I’m starting to get the feeling that he doesn’t really know what to do with Matt, and that the character’s bewilderment at every turn is some kind of weird subconscious manifestation of that. There are also other little details that detract from the overall enjoyment of this book for me. Detective Kurtz has a Daredevil signal now? Is this Batman? And what’s with the sensory deprivation tank? Yes, we know Matt has one, as seen in the Miller run, but throwing in that reference seemed odd and unnessecary.

Will the next issue bring this arc around and give Brubaker’s run the great final issue I feel it deserves? I hope so, and I know the writer is capable of delivering, but in all honesty, I’m not holding my breath.

Daredevil #119 preview

It seems like ages since we’ve had an issue of the main Daredevil series hit the shelves, but it’s happening next week and CBR has a preview up. From the looks of things, the development with Foggy being enraged with Matt seems short-lived. That’s to be expected, I guess, and I’d hate to see the two partners’ friendship in real danger, but I’m not sure Foggy should be that hard on himself for being human. Chill dude. 😉

Meanwhile, I’m in London until Wednesday so updates around these parts will be sporadic until then. However, if anything major happens (and I have reason to believe it will) I will be sure to report ASAP.

Have a good weekend!

Review: Daredevil #118 (8.5/10)

I want to start off by saying that I liked this issue a lot. I like the bigger story that we can feel brewing behind the scenes as well, and taken out of context as a stand-alone story, it’s top notch. But I can’t help feeling just a little conflicted.

The problem is that this is not a stand-alone story but a continuation of a thematic trend that has now gone on for so long that I’m starting to suspect that Ed Brubaker has some seriously sadistic tendencies. The good news about that is that it will give me enough material for at least two posts beyond this review. The bad news is that it’s beginning to wear me down. I will get back to all the reasons why in a later post, but now let’s move on to the issue at hand…

The beginning of this issue is set a few days after the end of the last, as evidenced by the fact that the details of the deal between Matt and Wilson Fisk have begun to crystallize and their plan to take down the Hand is set in motion. There is immediate doubt, however, regarding just how much Matt knows about the methods the Kingpin intends to use as the first few pages show the latter breaking Leland “the Owl” Owlsley out of custody. The Owl is a character which I certainly hadn’t longed or expected to see back, but who is put to very good use at the end of the issue.

There’s a great sense of a well conceived plot at play in this issue which reminds us of what Brubaker does best. The criminal mastermind disguised as a comic book writer, whom I got a real sense of when I finally decided to pick up his Criminal recently, leads us through the sordid consequences of the unholy alliance between Matt and the Kingpin, and the storytelling feels really tight. While I still have the same concerns as I did at the end of last issue (regarding why Lady Bullseye is still even interested in harrassing Daredevil), they are easier to dismiss this time around with the pace picking up and the stakes being raised.

Another great scene is the one between Matt and Foggy. While I don’t want to spoil the issue for anyone who hasn’t read it, suffice it to say that Foggy manages to shake the final vestiges of the lovable goof persona which held him back as a character for much of the first thirty years of Daredevil history. The only negative here is that it further highlights just how low Matt has sunk. While his deal with Fisk is incredibly intriguing and makes a perfect kind of sense, as Matt himself explains in this issue, there are aspects of Matt’s behavior and reasoning that, combined with what has been going on for the last couple of years, are making him less and less likable as a character. I do believe this is something that Andy Diggle will have to address in some way, if Brubaker doesn’t beat him to it with the final two issues of his run. I love the humanity and frailty of Matt Murdock as a character and I don’t mind his many flaws, but he is beginning to lose my respect and that is not the kind of development that I would like to see.

The art is good, as always, and the snow falling on Manhattan looks great on the page. I love the way Lark can make even the more exotic characters like the Owl look realistic while still being true to their original, more cartoonish, appearance. Lady Bullseye is also beautifully drawn and I have nothing negative to say about the art team at all.

With a full two months until the next issue, we will have plenty of time to digest the events here and to engage in fun, yet futile, speculation of what final surprise Ed Brubaker might have up his sleeve. With all of the pieces of plot set in motion here, I’m excited to see where this all might lead, but I have to admit that a big part of me hopes for some kind of spiritual redemption for my favorite guy in red. It’s beginning to seem long overdue.

Advance Daredevil #118 review and other recommended links

Comics Bulletin has a review up of Daredevil #118, due out in stores in North America tomorrow. May I just first offer an opinion of my own and vehemently disagree with the following excerpt from said review:

“It doesn’t even warrant mentioning the continuous mess that Matt Murdock seems to be in any given issue. For the past few years, I’ve read (and read, etc.) as everyone’s favorite blind lawyer dig himself out of a hole only to find he’s at the bottom of yet another hole. To be fair, that’s why we read characters like Murdock and Peter Parker. It makes me feel better knowing someone else has it worse.”

Not only do I not take pleasure in other people’s misery (whether they are real people or fictional characters), but it is far from true that all – or even most – Daredevil fans enjoy seeing the character constantly depressed and in a state of emotional turmoil. In fact, much of the criticism against the title lately has had to do with the exaggerated level of misery that has plagued the character for years. It was also the top reason people gave for not reading the title in the survey I did last year.

Anyway, the issue gets high praise, though the review makes me miss Dave Wallace’s stellar reviews. It also has me worried for certain members of the Daredevil cast. I’ve loved Brubaker’s work on so many fronts, so I’d hate to see him take one final dump on the character. He’s a much better writer than that. (I should add that getting a character into trouble or challenging situations does not automatically equal “dumping” on the character.)

In other, more positive, news I’d like you guys to take a look at the Punisher/Daredevil series of posts that fellow fan JP has posted on his blog The Red Shaker (where you can also find DD themed cocktail recipes). Also, check out what blogger Robert learned so far from reviewing the first fifty issues of Daredevil. Some good points all around!

Review: Daredevil #117 (7.0/10)

A little late, I’m back with another review. I was a little torn when it came to thinking of a score for this issue and I’ll be honest and say that I found it anti-climactic after reading it the first time. Had I based my rating on that first impression, it would have stayed around a modest 6.0. It gets better the second time around, and there are some real highlights here, but I find that Daredevil #117 suffers ills that I don’t usually associate with Brubaker’s writing. The art, on the other hand, is stellar as always. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I tend to find Lark’s work to be even better just after he’s had a break with a guest artist on the preceding issue. But let’s get to the details, trying a different format this time:

The good

  1. Strong beginning and end

    The Kingpin’s return to a Josie’s bar that has literally gone underground is actually quite amusing and shows the impact of the big man’s return. The ending is strong too, and sets up what is sure to be a very interesting rest of the arc.

  2. Matt not wearing a shirt for much of the issue

    Really, I have no literary aspirations as far as these reviews go, and I am a single girl with good taste in superheroes, so I’m just going to put this one out there.

  3. The art

    I already mentioned this, but I’m running out of good things to say. Sad, I know. In particular, I want to give two thumbs up to the snow falling outside Matt’s apartment in the last few pages of the issue. It looks great.

  4. General story progression

    This will go under “the bad” as well, but there is definitely some chess pieces moving on many fronts here.

The bad

  1. Pacing

    This is usually one of Brubaker’s best events, but this issue there were some questionable choices as far as what scenes the writer chose to include. Since it’s in the previews, I don’t think it’s spoiling things to mention that Matt pays a visit to the photographer who snapped pictures of him and Dakota. This event is followed up on later in the issue in a scene that feels like it’s at least twice as long as it should be. DD’s rendez-vous with Master Izo also feels somewhat padded to me, and there were several instances where I just expected more from a scene than what it actually delievered.

  2. General story progression

    Many things happen in this, yet they don’t necessarily feel meaningful. Even though they should. Heck, I don’t know how to explain it.

  3. Lady Bullseye’s motivations

    This is a pretty serious concern on my part, since I’m not sure how Lady Bullseye’s plans fit with setting the Kingpin on Matt’s trail. On the other hand, I didn’t really get the ending to the last arc either, and that’s the reason I’m concerned. Lady Bullseye risks becoming just another villain with an inexplicable desire to ruin Matt’s life (and she doesn’t even know the guy), and her decision to involve the Kingpin seems like a thinly veiled plot device to get the Kingpin back in town.

Okay, that’s enough complaining for me. And, despite the problems I had with this issue, it was still a good issue overall and I’m anxious to see where this is going. Brubaker is sure to go out with a bang, and I hope he leaves the character in a state that will open him up to new and interesting stories. It will be an interesting few months.

Review: Daredevil #116 (8.5/10)

This issue is a refreshingly modern take on a comic book villain whose portrayal here is light years away from the failed evil genius bad guys of yesteryear. While I have a lot of fun reading silver age Daredevil, the villains always seem very one-note and not nearly as menacing as they (or their creators) would like to think. While Daredevil is not known for his stellar rogues gallery, his are not the only early villains who seem like parodies of themselves.

The Kingpin has always, at least in his appearances in Daredevil, come across as a rather compelling character. He is not a misunderstood looser with a basement full of reality-altering gadgets, nor an unfeeling psychopath along the lines of the two Bullseyes. Wilson Fisk is by no means a good guy or a compassionate person, but he is capable of close and even loving personal relationships. His love for his now deceased wife Vanessa is well documented, and in this story, he finds love with a new woman.

I would imagine that there are some readers who take issue with this development, but in my mind, the Kingpin is the perfect case for a closer look at the blurred line between good and evil, and why people make the choices they do. And this isn’t the first time we have seen the Kingpin in a slightly different light. Brubaker set us up for a new kind of relationship between Matt and Wilson Fisk during his first arc when the two formed an unholy alliance to escape from prison, and I think that what he has in mind for the coming issues will be something new, and I’m very curious about how this will all play out.

Another theme that is present in this issue is that of destiny. Are people destined to repeat the same mistakes, and make the same choices? Does a person’s past always catch up with them in the end? Whether or not the answer to these questions is ‘yes’ the belief that true change is impossible will keep a person stuck in the same pattern. At the end of the issue, when Fisk’s abandoned life catches up with him, it reinforces his own belief that he is useless when he is “soft” and that his power and sense of control come from being detached and drawing strength from his brutality. Do we have the old Kingpin back? Perhaps. At the same time, it is hard to look at him the same way again.

I found this issue, on the whole, to be a very tense read. In a good way. The ending is revealed at the very beginning of the issue, but rather than take away from the suspense, this plot device seems to make the story even stronger and gives the reader a sense of impending doom.

The artwork is phenomenal. The panel layouts are a little more creative than what we usually see and penciler David Aja is a true master at capturing the little moments between Fisk and his new love Marta, as well as the environment around them. It’s always interesting to see how artists choose to portray the Kingpin. When the style is more cartoonish, the Kingpin is often depicted as superhumanly large, which suits that style just fine. When the art is intended to be a closer reflection of real proportions, the artist always faces the challenge of making Fisk seem larger than life and dwarfing everyone around him without making him seem like something from another planet. I think Aja does a great job with this.

It seems like Brubaker put a lot of thought into the Kingpin’s return and what kind of man he wants him to be, and this issue also ties together the previous and current arcs in ways that don’t seem too far-fetched, while still keeping us readers in the dark about excatly what lies ahead. My interest is certainly piqued.

The Magic Pants, a tale in six panels

I’ve been very busy today so rather than finish the post on the Daredevil Annual #2, I thought we’d take a quick look at a rather amusing development from Daredevil #115. You thought that Matt getting attacked by Lady Bullseye, the Hand, and a couple of friends turned zombies was the big event here? Wow, you just missed the biggest mystery of all: the strange case of Matt’s disappearing and re-appearing pants. Below are six panels, presented in chronological order, that show the “are they or aren’t they?” state of the pants in question. To aid our slower readers, I’ve included a pedagogical arrow so you know where to look. 😉

(It was actually my buddy Alice, Daredevil fan extraordinaire, who caught this so kudos to the “Darediva” for your keen observational skills.)

First, not really wearing pants over the tights…

… although they are sort of back here, oddly enough.

Whoa, here they’ve made a full recovery!

Hmm… What’s this? A quarter of a pair of pants?

My! They are growing back again!

Okay, so this is an odd angle, but I think they shrunk again.

The next time this issue we see Matt wearing dress pants he’s in his office “three days later,” so this was the last of the magically shrinking and expanding pants. Although, considering his book is being published by the same company who brought us the Hulk’s amazingly flexible and strikingly purple hulk-out pants, this might all be a perfectly normal way for men’s trousers to behave in the Marvel Universe.

Over and out.