Daredevil under Karl Kesel – an underappreciated run?

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.

Christine Hanefalk

Christine Hanefalk

Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Christine is a die-hard Daredevil fan who launched The Other Murdock Papers in 2007 to share her passion for Matt Murdock and his friends with other fans.

3 comments

  1. Underappreciated run? Not by me, Christine, not by me…

    I mean, while never considering it a run in the league of Miller’s, it’s certainly among my top favourite DD runs, and not only for the addittions to the Foggyverse (namely La Sharpe), but because of a Matt who had left behind his gloominess: I liked the life-enjoying Matt of those issues, and the new dynamica of his relationship with Karen: yes, a capable writer could make Karen more things than just killing her.

    Incidentally, I’d like to see La Roz Razor again with Brubaker (I mean, beyond her kid’s funeral)… I wonder: might she be…. (Drum Rolls) LADU BULLSEYE??!!

  2. Not underappreciated by me. If I had to pick a favorite era of Daredevil, it would not be the Frank Miller issues. Okay, I **loved** the Frank Miller era. I was reading the monthly book, it was one of those comics, like the Claremont/Byrne X-Men, that was so good you almost literally couldn’t wait for 30 days for the next issue. Then “Born Again” was a nice coda, and, I thought, even better than his previous run. Elektra: Assassin and Daredevil: Love and Death was also more than worth the time.

    But if I had to pick one era of DD that just truly, deeply did it for me, it would be Kesel/Kelly. Yes, I run them together in my mind because the overall tone of the two writers was so similar, the transition so seamless, it was like Kelly just picked up where Kesel left off, thematically and tone-wise as well as literally. As opposed to writers who completely ignore the characters’ immediate previous history, and pen stories that simply could NOT have happened to the characters as previously written. Guardian Devil, anyone?

    But….I digress.

    Yes, I greatly enjoyed the Frank Miller issues. But I have to admit I missed the lighter, more carefree Daredevil of the Lee/Colan years. Kesel gave him back to me. Kelly picked up the ball and ran with it. I love, love, LOVE these issues. For my money, they’re Daredevil at his best.

  3. Wow, vilken fin blog! Jag är också helt besatt av Våghalsen, jag har också läst allt fram tills för ett par år sedan, när Bendis’ run tog slut (måste läsa ikapp, har hört gott om det som hänt efter också).
    Min absoluta solklara no-doubt-about-it favorit är Nocenti. Sen gillar jag såklart också Man Without Fear, Born Again och Elektra Assassin och alla de där bra gamla klassikerna. Konstigt att Miller kan vara så bra på Våghalsen men inte så bra på en del andra serier.

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