Random Reviews – We Again Beheld the Stars (vol 1, #265)

Enough slacking off for me. It’s time to get back into the heat of things. Today I’ll be reviewing an issue from Ann Nocenti’s run. Usually when you read current commentary about people’s reactions to Nocenti’s Daredevil, you’re told that it was controversial – loved by some and hated by others. I wasn’t around back then. These issues came out long before I was a fan so I have no idea what the reaction to her run was at the time. All I know is that it seems the vast majority of current longtime readers adore her, and that mine is a dissenting opinion.

Basically, I’m not a big fan. That makes reviewing this issue hard. I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment on the actual literary and artistic merit of a comic written in a style that I just happen to not particularly care for, all I can do is give my opinion. This also brings up the difficulties of reviewing old issues of Daredevil in general. How do you compare Stan Lee’s Daredevil to Brian Michael Bendis’s? They are such different animals. At the end of the day, my final score will depend on basic entertainment value. A well written and high quality comic, like much of volume 2, will offer a completely different kind of experience than something quirky and fun from the earlier issues of volume one.

For me personally, most of the Nocenti run offers neither kind of entertainment. When I’m not left cold, I usually feel annoyed when reading her issues. There are some I like, and I feel she was often great at writing compelling villains, but many of the things that rub me the wrong way are present in the issue reviewed here, so I’ll return to them below.

We Again Beheld the Stars is part of the Inferno cross-over event, which mainly involved the X-titles and a few other tie-ins. #265 is the last of three Daredevil tie-ins and showcases New York City nearing the end of the demon invasion that had taken over both people and inanimate objects. I don’t know to what extent Nocenti had any power over whether Daredevil would be involved in the event or not, but I don’t like demons in Daredevil. Nor do I like galactic events in Daredevil. We don’t have any of the latter in this issue, but my basic complaint is the same. I just don’t feel it suits the tone of the book, so that’s strike one as far as this issue is concerned.

What Nocenti does here is use the demon invasion, and the people affected, to also tell a different kind of story. Normally, I would laud this kind of effort. If you’re going to be stuck with a demon invasion in a book where such a theme seem likes a bad fit, why not craft a nice metaphor out of it? One of the problems I have with Nocenti’s use of metaphor in this and many of her other issues, however, is that it lacks subtlety, and political commentary seems shoe-horned in for no apparent reason. One example of this can be found on one of the very first pages. When we follow a demon-possesed dentist, “infected” on the opening page by a machine, through his office and waiting room and out onto the street, the story shifts to a couple of guys in a truck. We see the driver drinking a beer, and thick black smoke coming from the exhaust pipe. The person in the passenger seat says, “It’s fun to blast holes in the ozone!” to which the driver responds, “Gun it again, pollutin’s a blast!” I won’t get into the fact that exhaust fumes don’t break down the ozone layer (oops, I guess I just did), but these characters seem to exist only to deliver this message. Which would be fine in and of itself – I actually like real issues reflected in fiction – but these characters become caricatures. Who actually talks like that? It takes me out of the book.

On the next page, Daredevil makes his first appearance. This issue sees him being in a trancelike state, like so many of the people on the streets, going about his mission like a zombie. He still does what he’s supposed to though, battling demons and helping people, but he’s not acting like himself. He doesn’t have a single line in this issue, but his actions are commented on by onlookers Butch and Darla, two of the children who made frequent appearances in Nocenti’s run. Butch is frightened by Daredevil’s coldness while Darla, clearly possessed, cheers him on.

The rest of the issue continues in much the same way. We switch between events happening to various people in New York, both the possessed and the unaffected, and Daredevil waging a robot-like one man war on demons. Throughout we get heavy handed social commentary, such as:

“A city of social darwinism, that’s what we’ve got! Cull out the meek, the timid, the shy. Let only the aggressive survive! Once we weed out the artists, the poets, *snort! Yuk yuk* the tender-hearted liberal saps — it’ll be a city of bullies stomping heads as we climb to the top! It’s the law!”

This, to me, combines pretentiousness with a complete disregard for any kind of subtlety. If you really want to illustrate a point, it’s better to show it than deliver it on a platter for easy digestion.

I also find the art uninspiring. I actually like most of John Romita Jr’s current work, and I think he did a fine job of drawing Matt in the Enemy of the State storyline in Wolverine, but I never cared for how he drew Matt/DD while teamed up with Nocenti. There are other details I like, but the face of the main character often seemed stern and expressionless in ways that make me care even less about what happens to him.

Bottom line: I’m neither entertained nor intrigued by this issue. It does nothing for me. I think it was Chichester who said that, to him, Nocenti’s Daredevil seemed more like a comic which happened to have Daredevil in it than a comic about Daredevil. I’m paraphrasing here (and it’s not as if Chichester is beyond reproach), but that way of looking at it might, in part, explain why Nocenti’s Daredevil has been so hard for me to get into. In this issue, Daredevil is not even acting like himself, becoming instead only an agent of some other force, which makes this even more problematic. This issue is about as exciting as a public service announcement set against the implausible backdrop of New York being overtaken by demons. This is not why I read Daredevil.

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.

8 comments

  1. I must agree about the John Romita Jr. art at this time – everyone looks like Conan O’Brien with a slightly mashed-in face, and they’re all wrapped in bandages with excessive cross-hatching. This is a low-light in Nocenti’s run, but, to be fair, Inferno was pretty crappy across all the titles of the time, I think! One reason why I’m still suspicious of cross-overs is the editorial directive to put EVERY title in, when some titles are obviously not suited to whatever this year’s crossover might be.

    The people talking about happily polluting the world and killing weak people are meant to be the worst part of themselves (brought on by the demons), IIRC, but here it was so clumsy that I suspect Nocenti wrote the whole thing in five minutes flat. She was certainly capable of good characterisation for single-panel characters.

  2. LOVED the initial issues of the Nocenti/JRJR run. I was buying these issues monthly and it was my favourite comic at the time.
    JRJR’s art was breathtaking. The printing wasn’t great in those days, but Al Williamson’s inks added a lot to the mood. Take a look at the first issue in their run. DD doesn’t even appear in the comic. But you hardly notice this. It culminated in an horrific attack on DD by a gang of villains that took him out of action for a while. It all got a bit sureal after that!

  3. Ann Nocenti is a perfect example of Your Mileage May Vary. Loved her myself, her run was probably my favorite, but it seems like there’s a big sharp stick in the middle of DareFandom where you either like her or you don’t.

    CAN THE TWO SIDES EVER RECONCILE?!

  4. I liked this issue. The only part I think was unnecessary was when DD picks up litter after defeating the Dentist/Officer/Demon, and some other comments.
    But apart from that it is a nice metaphor/commentary of what living in a hard city is like sometimes, and of the struggles an idealistic person, such as DD, must go through in order to not to be turned apathetic in such a context.

  5. I have to say that, before his work in “daredevil” I wasn’t a fan of John Romita Jr.. Much as I adored his Pa, I didn’t like neither his early work on Spiderman, and it was by the time that he was drawing the X-Men that I got tired of mutants.

    Still, whether he just went a step in drawing better by the time he tackled DD, or

    And about Nocenti, I must say that after “born Again” most everything felt like a “downer” to me, but, even if some of her stories were off-character or she tried to shove down our throats some issues, I still think that, in the context of its time, it was a very brave thing to do: instead of opting for just mimicking past runs, she opted to place Matt’s idealism in different terrains. Things like Matt as a ghost-lawyer were, IMO, coherent with his character (though I agree that his fighting Mephisto, or teaming with the Inhumans, was a bit weird).

    But I hated her making a jerk out of Foggy and separating him from Glorianna O’Breen as a result: at the end of her run she redeemed the Fogster’s sins, but Miss O’Breen was nowhere to be seen… Alas, she only returned briefly, and much later, just to be killed.

  6. I just came across this site from a link on The Weekly Crisis. The Nocenti run was back when I was reading comics regularly, and I frankly loved it. I can only describe her writing style as "social absurdism," but maybe that makes as pretentious as people accuse Nocenti as being.

    To be fair on her for the Inferno issues, they come after a great double issue of DD basically getting the crap beaten out of him by several bad guys. His zombie-like state is much more a response to this than just the events of Inferno.

    Patrick

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  8. My dislike of Ann Nocenti’s run is so well known among my fellow comic book fan friends that whenever she comes up they all look at me and I deliver the name “Nocenti” like a curse. I despise when a comic about Daredevil is often about anything but Daredevil. My favorite example of ridiculousness is the serial killer Rotgut who delivers bits of ridiculous wisdom mainly about how sodas are harmful.

    WHAT??

    Great review of a lackluster issue.

    And wonderful blog too!

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