Not enough costume?

by Dec 13, 2008Commentary7 comments

If you’ve added the Daredevil feed and followed the updates, you may have already read Jon’s entries on Me Geek, You Geek and read the comments made by me, Darediva (she’s read DD for decades, Jon, since you asked), and Francesco. I thought I’d bring the debate over here.

Since I think it’s unfair to sum up people’s views in a post like this when they are contrary to your own, I suggest people first read the two entries, with comments, HERE and HERE. However, the basic discussion really concerns the lack of action and in-costume appearances Daredevil makes in the Brubaker run. For Jon, this diminishes his enjoyment of the book. I couldn’t care less. Below is my slightly more elaborate answer…

Daredevil is a superhero book. Superhero books generally have action in them. Most action takes place between the main character in question and the enemy he or she is currently facing off with. For the sake of the superhero’s identity, the vast majority of the action happens while the hero is wearing his or her trademark costume. This is one of the basic formulas of the superhero comic book and I agree with Jon that it’s a necessary ingredient. However, adjusting the basic formula to be less, well, formulaic, can sometimes make for better and more organic stories.

The Born Again arc, written by Frank Miller in the second half of the 80’s, is viewed by many fans as the best Daredevil story ever written. It is also notable for its lack of costumes and full-out action. Daredevil appears in costume for the first time in the arc on the last page of the penultimate issue (if I’m not mistaken). The story, when looked at as a whole, does contain plenty of action, but it’s not what makes it so great. It’s great because it’s a character piece about the physical and spiritual destruction of arguable one of the most human characters in the Marvel Universe, and his subsequent return. [UPDATED: Slight error here, see comments]

While Matt Murdock (the civilian and lawyer) and his friends have always been allowed plenty of space in Daredevil, I would say that Born Again finally gave writers the permission to experiment with the basic superhero formula as far as Daredevil goes. Another thing that has added to this new direction has probably been the longer story arcs that we see today. While they have their own ills, they do give writers more freedom to let the story progress at whatever pace they choose. Why should a writer feel pressured to shove a fight scene into an issue “just because” when that isn’t appropriate for the story being told?

Jon also makes the argument for the direct connection between action and excitement. I can’t actually argue with this because different people are excited by different things. For me, action can be exciting, it depends entirely on the writer, artist and the conflict. Because conflict is ultimately the underlying reason for there even being any action in the first place. Without it, the fighting doesn’t even make sense. And, if it’s one thing I don’t like it’s action for its own sake.

I would argue that conflicts drive stories and add excitement to stories. Conflicts come in different forms. They can be internal conflicts that happen within the character as he reacts to people and events around him. When it comes to superheroes, the natural conflict between the costumed life and the civilian life is one of the most interesting conflicts in my mind, and the one that makes superhero stories stand out against “plain” action stories. There is also the external conflict, between the hero and his enemies, as well as his friends. But action in itself isn’t conflict, it’s a symptom of conflict.

I will readily admit that if it weren’t for the fact that there were caption boxes and dialogue happening during fight scenes, I would skim through them. In fact, the way Brubaker gives us a window into Matt’s mind while fighting makes his fight scenes more enjoyable to me. Measuring fight scenes and in-costume appearance in percentages says absolutely nothing about what actually happened on those pages. Things happen between fight scenes too. I would even say that, from a creative standpoint, more things usually happen between fight scenes than during them. Tension, excitement and conflict come in many forms.

I could go on indefinitely, but Jon and I are going to have to agree to disagree. We read the book for different reasons, and that’s one of the most wonderful things about Daredevil. His stories offer different things for different readers. Writers are different in what they prefer too, and as far as Brubaker is concerned his particular mix of story elements suits me perfectly.


  1. Jon

    Wonderful summary to this debate Christine!

    One thing I forgot to put in there is that most comics to me now a days read more like TPBs than anything else. I think its an art in itself, a lost art, to be able to write single issues with a beginning and an end per issue, and an extended plot that runs for multiple issues.

    The “Miller’s” of the world were wonderful at it.

    I say we all thank the heavens for a character like DD. A character that can mean so many different things to so many different people!

    Now break out those chocolate billy clubs!

  2. JP Nguyen

    There’s a slight error in this post. DD does appear in his costume at the beginning of the “Born Again” arc. Before he gets disbarred and his house gets blown up.
    But, about “the action” : I’m with Chris, it doesn’t matter if there’s little action as long as the story is good and there’s character development.
    Anyway, I’d like to get some cool fight scenes in the future. The last hard fight DD has won was versus Tombstone and Matador… Since, Gladiator wiped the floor with him twice and Mr Fear let him win their physical encounter…
    Bring back the badass DD, the one who triumphed over the Hand even without his radar sense, the one who slained dragon-subway-train during “Inferno” or at least the one who defeated Typhoid Mary, Bullseye and the Kingpin in the same arc.

  3. Christine

    Thanks for catching that error, JP. I’ve added a note to the post.

    Believe it or not (coming from me), I actually understand why people find DD to be weak physically right now. He probably should be a much more competent fighter than what we’ve seen lately. And I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him come off as a better martial artist.

    Regarding the examples JP mentions, I do have a little bit of trouble with DD defeating the Hand without his radar sense though. Why? Because it makes you wonder what the heck he even needs it for. It also makes the Hand seem completely incompetent. A whole gang of them can’t take down a blind guy relying only on echolocation? Yes, even if he’s extremely fit and an expert fighter.

    That also brings me to the fight with Lady B. Because writers have to balance making the hero look good with making the threat to the hero look credible. If DD was portrayed as being able to defeat anyone just by showing up basically, that wouldn’t exactly make the reader fear for the character. When they introduce a new villain, they need readers to respect the villain’s abilities so that he or she comes across as an impressive foe, as opposed to the new Stilt-Man. If DD would walk away from his first encounter with Lady B with a solid and crushing win to his name, that might make him come across as a bad-ass, but she would look silly in comparison and not be perceived as much of a threat. That might deflate the whole story.

    Just a thought… πŸ˜‰ Now I will get ready for this evening’s video segment where I will make marzipan/nougat/chocolate billy clubs.

  4. Francesco

    here‘s my reply.

  5. Gloria

    I think it’s wrong to date a Daredevil issue by the number of pages/pannels in which our hero appears in costume.

    The gold standard by which all DD issues should always be judged, of course, is the number of Foggy pages/pannels ;p

  6. JP Nguyen

    Quoting Christine : “that’s one of the most wonderful things about Daredevil. His stories offer different things for different readers.”

    Gloria is looking for Foggy.
    Lately, I’ve been looking for something else :
    Daredevil’s drinks

  7. dmstarz

    Hi, Christine. For what it’s worth it’s the dramatic interplay between the characters rather than the biff bam wallop of good guy/bad guy that really draws me in. Though a good villain is certainly worth their weight in gold.

    I tend to agree with Gloria – the more Foggy (or Karen or Ben Urich, or, in fact, any of the supporting cast), the better the issue tends to be.


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