Monday, August 22, 2011
Comic Books You Should Be Reading: Daredevil (FINALLY!)
As longtime readers may recall, I’m a little biased on the subject of Marvel Comics’ blind ninja acrobat lawyer superhero. He’s arguably my favorite comic-book character, and a big influence on the way I write superhero fiction—both in my emphasis on non-visual description (you guys may have noticed all the sounds, smells, textures and tastes in Masks) and in my love of low-powered roofrunners. But dearly as I love ol’ Hornhead, the comic has pretty much sucked for the last couple of years.
That’s over now.
For those of you who sensibly sat out most of the character’s history (or, worse, sat through that godawful Ben Affleck movie), Daredevil is known to his friends as Matt Murdock, a lawyer blinded in an accident by radioactive waste that took his sight and gave him hyperactive senses, including a “radar” that basically lets him see things in outline. He can hear heartbeats, track people by scent, read print by brushing his fingertips over the ink—but reading road signs from a distance is a real problem, and I’ve never figured out how he can stand to punch people. Anyway, he was trained by a mysterious blind ninja-master guy, and he kicks bad-guy butt, mostly mobsters and penny-ante supervillains. He’s one of the smarter street-level heroes, and pals with Spider-Man, so I’ve always enjoyed his combination of analytical ability and dry humor … at least, when he’s done right.
The last couple of story arcs, however, have left something to be desired. After Ed Brubaker (already one of my favorites for his work on Captain America) set Matt up as the leader of the Hand, the evil ninjas he’s been fighting since the 1980s, writer Andy Diggle pretty much ran the character into the ground by having him be possessed by a ninja demon (?!) that made him stab his worst enemy to death and build an evil ninja citadel in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen. In the ensuing, mostly boring Shadowland storyline, Daredevil finally hit rock bottom and died to purge the demon, then came back from the dead and went on a six-issue walkabout that didn’t really seem to do much except rip off a neat Frank Miller story from back in the day. When Marvel announced they were relaunching Daredevil in his own title with a new issue #1, I was skeptical to say the least.
The new Daredevil, written by Mark Waid (of too many award-winning credits to list here, but the highlights include Kingdom Come, The Flash, and Irredeemable) and drawn by Paolo Rivera, has a grace and a delicacy to it that the title hasn’t had for years. From the light-footed way Daredevil touches down on a rooftop to his masterful job of snarking his way into and then arguing his way out of a fight, there’s nothing clunky in this book. No heavy-handed attempts to tie the story intricately into the crossover du jour, just quick action, quick wit, and occasional grace notes that remind you how effortless a good comic should seem.
In the new series, Daredevil’s back in New York and, in a classic setup, doing a little independent snooping on a case being tried by his law firm. Meanwhile he’s running afoul of bizarre villains and the news media, who remember the rumors linking the blind lawyer and the superhero and aren’t going to let either one of them off the hook. But Matt is dancing through his complicated life now, not slogging, and the temptation to join in is irresistible.
In the second issue, now on the stands, Matt lands on the bad side of Captain America, who’s out to arrest him for crimes he committed while possessed. Rivera’s clean lines and deep shadows, reminiscent of Steve Rude, are a perfect complement for Waid’s deft writing (no surprise in this case, since he wrote a definitive run on Cap back in the 1990s), and in both words and pictures, the story never stops moving—in this scene in particular.
It’s the small touches that make the scene work. Early in the inevitable superhero fight, Cap hurls his shield at Daredevil’s head; Daredevil’s dodge is just a shade too slow and he loses a horn off his cowl, so he gamely flicks his truncheon so accurately that it snips a wing off the big guy’s own mask. In a nice bit of symmetry, the shield and truncheon both rebound off pieces of the landscape—and each hero ends up holding the other’s weapon. Daredevil promptly jumps off the roof with the shield, confident that Cap will have to chase him to get it back. The next sequence is part dance, part fight, part comedy routine, and part courtroom drama as Daredevil summons his inner lawyer and argues the star-spangled superhero into calling off the dogs for a couple of days. At last, he hands the shield back—no hard feelings—saying, “That thing is beautifully balanced, by the way. It’s like touching a Stradivarius. High point of my evening.”
And my first thought was: Yes. That is exactly the right reaction. Not too snarky, not too serious—we’re back to the courtroom wizard now, the trained boxer who took up being a ninja and never makes a move, or a noise, he doesn’t want to. He’s a grownup, mostly, but he has a sense of humor about it. He gets along with the other good guys even when they’re trying to take his head off, and he respects beauty even when it’s being misused. When was the last time you saw that in a mainstream comic book? Let alone in a throwaway line?
The rest of the issue deepens the mystery surrounding Matt’s client and introduces some promisingly weird bad guys—I have a theory about them, but I won’t spoil anything here—and generally wraps up a rollicking superhero adventure. If you want a good taste of straight-up superheroic fun, and a chance to see the kind of story that drew me into the four-color funnies in the first place, you could do a lot worse than Daredevil.
Although I kind of want to see him fight Captain America again. So pretty … so poignant … and I really want the line, “I’m pulling out the Bucky defense” to enter the Marvel lexicon.
Mmm, comics …