Monday, August 9, 2010

Daredevil: Black and White Review

I picked up this issue because it’s Daredevil AND it’s another Marvel Magazine Format floppy that I am staunchly going to support, and rightfully so as each time one has hit the stands I’ve found something about it to love. I’ve never walked away disappointed from one of these purchases. Do I feel the same about this DD-centric B&W issue? Hit the jump to find out.

Daredevil: Black & White

Written by Peter Milligan, Rick Spears, and Ann Nocenti
Art by Jason Latour, Mick Bertilorenzi, and David Aja

This issue is made up of three stories, one a long story about the possibility of Matt Murdock getting his sight back, another a short tale of the Kingpin, and the last a prose piece about a mystery that Daredevil puts himself at the center of to discover the truth. Let’s take them each on their own merit. But first we'll look at David Aja's cover.

It's glorious, isn't it? Aja does a shout out to a previous cover by David Mazzuchelli but instead of completely aping it he takes the concept and tweaks it completely so that his cover doesn't look the same, but it's in the same style. I think that's a far better way of doing things and this piece makes it completely clear that's it's the best way to make a cover. I picked this cover as my Cover of the Week for a reason, it looks amazing. You may also remember that some time ago we also posted the step-by-step process for the creation of this cover.

Second Sight

Here we have Matt Murdock visiting an eye specialist out of curiosity to see if the damage that caused him to go blind could be reversed. Within one page we get this set up and I like the credit panel coming at the bottom right hand corner of the page. Something about it just felt classy to me, like we had the set up and so we could take a quick pause to take it all in.

After the pause, Murdock goes home to think about it all. It’s a massive decision to make, especially by a man who is defined by his lack of sight. It is his other senses banding together that give him many of the powers that make him Daredevil. The discussion of curing Murdock’s sight has been raised before in the title, it came up very early in the Stan Lee days, even, but usually it gets glossed over. Here we have Murdock really considering it.

It’s probably no spoiler to reveal that Murdock doesn’t actually get his sight restored in this tale. It’s a short tale and a major change like this was never going to happen here. Wasn’t there once a time where some cool stuff would happen in annuals and issues of Marvel Fanfare? Now it’s almost always exclusively kind of out of continuity. It doesn’t always matter, which does stop it from being awesome, though, because that’s another discussion completely.

We cut to ‘Later’ and Murdock has had the operation and is looking at an extremely bright world. Everything is new to him and he’s in love with just being able to see. Even the crappy things seem like art to his renewed eyes. Milligan does a good job of guiding us through these pages and Latour’s art is quite effective at making everything look as serene and peaceful as possible.

Once Murdock goes back to being Daredevil, but with sight, the art takes a darker and more shadowy turn. The pages become black and Daredevil fights Bullseye but just can’t seem to show his usual prowess in the battle. Bullseye gets the upper hand easily and makes off to find his true targeted hit. Daredevil follows but finds he’s too late and too slow. Daredevil is good but he’s no longer great because his senses are slowed once more, he doubts himself in the moment and he ends up deflecting a shuriken and it goes straight into one of the people he was aiming to save. It’s a terrible moment and we then find that it’s all been a dream. A slight cop out but not anything I didn’t see coming.

The point being, Murdock knows he has to keep his physical status quo because to alter it now would make Daredevil a thing of the past and he knows that Daredevil does far more good than a sighted Murdock ever would. It’s a simple tale with simple points and though nothing great it certainly has enough little moments to make it worth reading.

Milligan writes the story well, though there’s very little flash in the words. Latour’s artwork, however, is quite well presented. There are some panels that don’t seem to quite hit the mark but having him draw Bullseye as such an ugly villain puts him close to the Joker for that visual style of insanity. He also drops plenty of little Easter eggs in the pages as the fight poster at Fogwell’s Gym pits a B card fight as being between Miller and Mazzuchelli. The next locale shows us Fantastic Flakes on the table but my favourite was the six pack of Janson’s Dark Ale. I’d certainly like to drink a sixer of that. There's also an art gallery janitor who carries a Stick, with a broom on the end of it, it's a nice little touch, the square hat is so iconic in the pages of Daredevil and it's probably just one big hint that this is all a dream.

Latour makes the pages hum along and I like that directly before Murdock gets the procedure done the page is very dark but once he gets it the pages brighten up extremely to the point of being almost completely washed out in certain panels. Once he fights with Bullseye it gets dark again but the best part is right at the end Murdock knows he isn’t going to go with the procedure and he gets a cup of coffee. As he sips, he looks up at the sky and his face is flooded in warm light and we know he’s going to be just fine. It’s a smart choice to see Murdock walk off into the light of day, then the very last panel is a shady Daredevil image of him on the rooftops.

I thought this was a good tale, well told, and quite worth checking out. Nothing close to the best of Daredevil’s work, but that’s a large ladder to climb, so I’ll say it’s a decent aside but that’s all it is.

Secrets and Lies

This tale is all about Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime. It features Daredevil, and Matt Murdock, only passingly as the tale revolves around our hero but it’s all about seeing inside Fisk’s mindset. This might not be a great tale to buy but it actually makes quite a good aside tale, only a handful of pages, and something to see further into the universe around Daredevil.

Fisk talks to a henchman about the job he has performed. Fisk made him leave crimes without details for Daredevil to find. He’d apprehend someone else but know he was innocent, no matter what evidence, or lack thereof, might point to. It’s a cat and mouse game that Fisk does to toy with his nemesis.

Fisk has wanted one man to have his life ruined, in an echo of Born Again’s central conceit, and then he wants it to roll out and affect Murdock and his sense of justice and trust. And it all completely worked, which Fisk wants to thank Mr Turner for. Turner carried out all of the steps in the set up and now Fisk is done with him on the job. It turns out Fisk is done with him completely as he ends the tale by strangling him as there can never be any connections left pointing towards him. That’s how Fisk lives his life, no evidence left to trap him. It’s harsh but being the Kingpin of Crime must be a harsh life.

This tale is quite simple and has to rush along quickly to fit into the pages allotted. It’s very much a vignette, the crime isn’t the point of it all it’s all about how Fisk handles it after its conclusion. Bertilorenzi’s art is excellent in some panels but in others it leaves something to be desired. His faces become contorted too far and we lose a sense of the character. I liked his work in the Breaking Into Comics The Marvel Way where he depicted Bullseye. His style works well in the Daredevil universe but it feels unpolished here. I’d like to see more of his stuff in the future, that’s for sure.

The Game Room

This prose story by Ann Nocenti comes with a one page cover by David Aja. It’s a great collection of images laid out in a style reminiscent of Aja’s cover for Immortal Iron Fist #16. And I loved that cover so this one works quite fine. There are also some other quite gorgeous images that Aja produces to match the story directly and thematically and it only reminds me that I want Aja on another title one day so he can create another masterpiece. He should be right up there with Ba and Moon and yet he’s kind of wasted at Marvel, or so it feels. I want Aja on a bi-monthly creator owned comic, then I’ll be happy.

The story itself is a locked room mystery, or rather a locked bathroom mystery as Daredevil stumbles onto police investigating what looks like a suicide of a young girl in her bathroom. Daredevil smells a rat, as does one of the cops, and so he sets off to try to find the truth. It’s a small case, no supervillains involved as far as we can tell, but it’s a brutal crime that attacks the senses. A pretty young girl, a rope attached to a shower curtain bar, a hollow bathroom and the smell of death that cannot be ignored.

Nocenti does surprisingly well at handling the story in prose style only. We get directly into Murdock’s head as he mixes emotions and senses into everything he ‘sees’. Everything has a smell, and an object or person’s smell is a melange of everything else it has touched recently. Many things have colours and Nocenti takes her time at describing the world as Murdock experiences it. There are plenty of literary asides that might not move the story forward but they make the story, which is the only one without visuals, feel more visual and tactile than any of the others in this issue.

Nocenti has fun crafting this like an old school law pulp and she absolutely nails it. The style of writing suits the tale perfectly and I found myself glued to the page. It’s a simple tale and Murdock might find the answer a little easily but it’s still fun to go to the club with him. The fight is a little muddled but everything else is crystal clear. I dug this tale but it’s certainly something completely different from most Daredevil pieces.

I seem to nearly always like the prose pieces at the backs of these issues. They always bring something completely different to the table and yet they are still exceptionally enjoyable. I wish this could be trialled in future issues of regular comics as back up pieces. I’d be happy, especially when the attributed art for the pieces are usually of a high quality. I dig this style as an addition, I don’t think an entire issue like this would sell but these little forays into prose always win me over.

Verdict – Check It. This issue suffers from not having any major hook tale to make you feel like it was all worth it. The major tale, 19 pages, is okay but ultimately doesn’t really count for anything. The second tale is Kingpin centric and while decent not good enough to carry the issue, and the final piece is quite brilliant in parts, and the Aja art wins me over, but all of these little pieces of goodness aren’t enough to make the entire issue feel like a win. I had perhaps hoped for more but though happy I wasn’t ecstatic with these tales. They’re certainly worth checking out, I have no buyers regret, but I had thought Daredevil might have dominated this format a little bit more. I guess now I wait for the Tome Of Terror issue this October.

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Nathan Aaron said...

This issue seemed REALLY thin to me, compared to previous issues of these black & white books. Am I right or wrong on that one?

I was also disappointed when I realized that Aja only did the prose piece. I have NO clue why they put those pieces in these black & white comics. It's a comic book, not a book book. LOL It actually kept me from buying the book (along with the small size. I bought Iron Man and that seemed huge, but I could just be imagining these things. LOL) But if I see it cheap some day, I'll pick it up.

Kirk Warren said...

I wanted to buy this book, but when I found out Aja and Nocenti were doing a prose story with scattered images, I was a bit disappointed and put it back on the shelf. I have no problem with prose stories, but it was a too short a page count and with scattered images instead of fully drawn when I was expecting some pseudo sequel to that amazing short story the two did a while back in Daredevil (issue 500? I forget). The other creators didnt really appeal to me either, so ended up passing on this one.

Matt Duarte said...

I wish I knew what Aja is so busy on that they haven't put him on a regular gig yet. I know he is a slow artist, that can't quite keep a monthly schedule, but how about some mini-series, you know?

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