Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wednesday Comics: Daredevil

For decades, Daredevil and his alter ego, blind lawyer Matt Murdock, has been the whipping boy of the Marvel universe. Ever since Frank Miller tore his life apart with the “Born Again” storyline, The Man Without Fear has had his life torn apart, rebuilt, and torn apart again. Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker turned Daredevil's life into hell by outing his secret identity, sending him to prison, and a host of other dark, depressing stories. That isn't to say that these stories were bad. But everything, down to the gritty, noirish art made the book compelling but in no way fun.

This is why Mark Waid's take on the character is a breath of fresh air. Waid famously re-invented Wally West as the Flash and I get that same kind of vibe from his Daredevil. The tone, the stories, even the color pallet show a marked change from his predecessors. Matt Murdock has reopened his law practice and is trying to get his life back together. This is difficult because even though he denies it, most people think he is Daredevil. It therefore makes it impossible for him to litigate cases in court. On top of this he has people scrutinizing his every move, forcing him to constantly re-enforce his supposed shortcomings Clark Kent style.

But Matt Murdock tells his trusty law partner and friend Foggy Nelson that he has decided to enjoy life. And that is very evident in the book. Daredevil swings from rooftops with a smile. He plays chicken with Spider-Man, makes out on rooftops with Black Cat, and soaks in the sensory rich city of New York. When he doesn't resist Black Cat's amorous advances, she seems surprised. His response is “Who am I? Spider-Man?” (much to the Wall Crawler's chagrin). That isn't to say that this book lacks seriousness. Underneath this new and improved Daredevil, all of his past wounds fester under the surface. There is an inescapable feeling that the laughs are there only mask the tears. And we want Matt to be happy. The heart of drama is tension, which is one of reasons why Daredevil books have has such a high level on intensity After all the crap that has been flung his way over the years, I as a reader openly embrace the fun tone of the book. It doesn't disregard what has come before it, but it is smart enough to take the story in a different direction.

Also, after so many writers have had a hand in shaping the Daredevil mythos, you would think that the exploration of his powers would be exhausted. But Waid does the same thing he did with the Flash: he looks at a character who sees the world in a way that is uniquely different from everyone else and then proceeds to show us how they see the world. With Wally West, we saw the world from the perspective of a man who lived lifetimes between heartbeats. With Matt Murdock, we explore the depths to which his heightened senses define his world. It is delightful to the imagination when he smells a basket of strawberries and says that each one has a slightly different fragrance. When fighting Captain America, he grabs his shield and says that it is the most perfectly balanced thing he's ever felt. “Like touching a Stradivarius Highlight of my evening.”

And Waid takes this newfound personality and places him in great peril. He is building to giant conspiracy that will no doubt soon engulf our hero. But he smartly lays out the groundwork through smaller self-contained stories with only nuggets of the larger picture. This makes the one to two issue arcs simple, sweet, and enjoyable.

Waid won an Eisner award (the Oscars of comic books) for best writer this year, deservedly so. Issue #7 of Daredevil won best single issue. Matt Murdock is stuck in the wilderness with a school bus full of dysfunctional children during a blizzard. His senses make his more sensitive to the cold, and the weather essentially disables his hearing and his radar sense. As he treks through the Catskills with hope fading, our hero notes, “This is a gargantuanly stupid way to die.” And yet the peril is real because we feel Daredevil's disability. It is often forgotten because of his powers that he is still handicapped. Waid takes makes that trait front and center, but makes sure to show that it is not his limitations that define him but his ability to overcome them. This issue also touched my heart as Matt searches for a lost child in the snow and finds him huddled up praying the “Hail Mary.”

As I've made abundantly clear, I am a DC man. I collect very few Marvel books.

But that short list has now been increased by one.

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