Monday, June 3, 2013

Review: Daredevil by Mark Waid vols 1 & 2, by Waid, Rivera, Martin, Rios, Kano, Pham et al.

I haven't read a new Daredevil comic book in many years, but I've heard enough about them to know that the character had been put through the wringer time and again, and that the title was known for being psychologically dark. Daredevil's secret identity as blind lawyer Matt Murdock had been made public (more than once?); he had become crime lord of New York (I think); he had been replaced by The Black Panther. In other words, typical high-impact superhero soap opera, though even grittier and more morally ambiguous than most.

But when Marvel Comics re-launched the title (yet again!) in 2011, it was announced that the character was headed in a new direction--or, should I say "old," for this new series, under writer Mark Waid, would be a return to the character's "lighthearted acrobat" roots, albeit one that would somehow not wipe away the character's more recent dark developments. Intrigued, I picked up the first two collected volumes from the library. What I found was a solid superhero comic, often visually innovative, which did indeed rekindle the sense of adventure and fun I recall from my own childhood reading of the character.

The gist of writer Waid's approach is that Murdock has survived being put through hell, and his coping mechanism is to treat life as a laugh (mostly--he is still a lawyer and crime-fighter, after all). While his secret identity was made public, the public's reaction to news is fickle, so while some people still believe that Murdock is Daredevil, others are unsure. Matt sometimes wears an "I'm Not Daredevil" shirt to deflect suspicion (though why that wouldn't just reconfirm said suspicion isn't exactly clear). His reputation makes it difficult for any clients he or his partner Foggy Nelson represent to get a fair trial, so he comes up with a new tactic: Their law firm will take on clients whom no one will represent and then coach them how to act as their own counsel, thereby allowing them to go to court without the distraction of all the "Daredevil" innuendos that follow Murdock wherever he goes. It's a narrative conceit that is as clever as it is utterly ridiculous; thankfully there's enough super-action that we don't see too, too many of these cases.

The artwork is in keeping with this lighter narrative approach. Particularly in the case of artist Paolo Rivera, we get characters composed of clean lines (if often a bit stiff in the staging) and innovative, almost bouncy page layouts. There are some new tricks to represent Daredevil's "radar sense" (often red contour lines over black backgrounds, as well as tiny inset panels which draw our attention to small details, highlighting Murdock's own heightened view of the world) as well. Even Rivera's cover to the first collection (which was also the cover to the first new issue) plays with how Daredevil exists in a world without vision: everything in the background environment is composed of words, representing how his brain "molds" objects out of sound. Examples: birds are built out of the words "flap flap flap," a water tower out of "glug gurgle drip drop," exhaust out of "hsssss." And Daredevil holds one of his billy clubs directly in front of his eyes, emphasizing for the reader the character's sightlessness.

The stories also work thematically with the character's attributes, pitting him against adversaries like Klaw (a being composed of solidified sound) and the nearly blind Mole Man--both, I think, for the first time. He also teams up with Spider-Man (a character with whom he has a long history) and hooks up with The Black Cat (a morally grey acrobat herself). And the macguffin of the OmegaDrive (a quantum hard drive containing information on several crime families and syndicates) ensures that Daredevil is never far from a tussle with any one of Marvel's many mafia surrogates.

All in all, these are solid, well-crafted superhero stories, light-hearted (usually) but not light-weight.

Daredevil by Mark Waid vol. 1
by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin et al.
Marvel, 2012
ISBN-10: 0785152385
ISBN-13: 978-0785152385
152 pages, $15.99

Daredevil by Mark Waid vol. 2
by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, Emma Rios, Kano, Khoi Pham et al.
Marvel, 2012
ISBN-10: 0785152407
ISBN-13: 978-0785152408
136 pages, $15.99