Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Trade Waiting - Daredevil Volume One

My name is Taylor Pithers, you may have noticed that I have had a few guest reviews for collected editions published on this very site. Well, the guys at The Weekly Crisis were kind enough to offer me a spot reviewing collected editions both new and recently new every Tuesday; an opportunity I grabbed with both hands. So without further ado, let the show begin!

In a year when the company across the street ruled the roost when it came to exposure, critical love and on the whole, sales, Marvel Comics were quietly publishing a few critical darlings of their own that sent single issue buyers into a frenzy of joy. Standing atop of the mountain was Daredevil, a book the company decided needed a total change of direction from the constant emotional and physical battering that Matt Murdock, a man without sight but completely without fear, had endured for nigh on 12 years. To do this they enlisted veteran go to man and walking comic book encyclopaedia Mark Waid to handle the story and two European artists who seem to be able to be able to walk on water if the adoration seen on the internet is to be believed. It was a brave decision from Marvel to not only have a creative team with a drastically different style and mindset to ones that came before it, but to also take an approach to the character that is the antithesis of what has been seen previously without alienating long time Daredevil fans. The question is did it work? Find out after the jump.

Daredevil Vol 1

Written by Mark Waid
Art by Paolo Rivera and Joe Rivera, Marcos Martin, and Javier Rodriguez

Daredevil Volume One contains issues one to six of the newest iteration of the Man Without Fear that whilst not a reboot, does it’s best to escape from the somewhat sombre clouds that floated over Hell’s Kitchen for over a decade. It makes sense for Marvel and the creators involved to take this route, particularly as after the last Daredevil story, Shadowland, there seemed to be only two avenues available for Matt to take; death or start over. Thankfully for fans of Ol’ Hornhead, start over was what they did.

Within the first volume you are given two storylines that send out a clear mission statement about who Daredevil is and what kind of tales the audience can expect the character to be part of under the new regime. Gone is the DVD box set style long game that previous writers have employed whilst telling stories with the character and in comes a return to comics of yesteryear, short sharp bursts of entertainment with a soap operatic slant that can be picked up and enjoyed on their own but reward the regular fans with pay offs to long term storylines. It’s not surprising that a case of the week approach to a book whose main star is a lawyer works incredibly well, especially with the new ways that Waid has found for Murdock to practice law in a world where everyone knows he is Daredevil.

The creative team also take great lengths to give the character new enemies that at first glance make the reader question whether they have made the right choice yet in the same breath feel incredibly inspired. Case in point Klaw, the master of sound and a villain more used to going up against the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. Hideously outmatched yet making complete sense. Who better to cast than a man who can manipulate sound to make solid objects to go toe to toe with a character that relies on his senses (or lack of) more than anyone else in comics? Another great example of this is part time Spider-Man villain and full time teleporting loser The Spot. The way Rivera has Daredevil “see” The Spot through his own vision is nothing short of amazing and really gives the character (if you’ll excuse the pun) an entirely new dimension.

It can be argued that the change of tone for the book could raise the ire of some long term readers and it can feel at points like Waid is almost pushing the new optimistic direction of the character too far when, bear in mind, we are still talking about a character that wears a devil costume and uses his skill and abilities to police one of the more rough areas in both the real world and the Marvel Universe. To be honest, if this is something that is not your bag there are many darker stories featuring Daredevil that are still in print to be readily enjoyed. A character like Batman has only benefited from multiple iterations of style, tone, and subject matter so it can only be fair to assume Daredevil can do the same. What this ultimately comes down to is each reader’s personal taste and willingness to suspend a certain sense of disbelief. It is safe to say your mileage may vary on this.

Mark Waid, a man that is quite unfairly labelled as a scribe with nostalgic tendencies, is initially not an obvious choice for writer of a street level crime fighter based in one of the more downtrodden areas of the Marvel Universe. But, like everything else within the pages of Daredevil, if you take a step back and think about it, sense does prevail. In recent years, Waid has used Irredeemable and Incorruptible to examine the notion of a superhero losing the plot and of a super villain being the only person able to save the world to great effect, and has arguably been part of some of the more exciting and interesting Spider-Man stories of the Brand New Day era. These are Waid's best comics since Kingdom Come. Also, Waid knows how to pace a story better than anyone this side of Kurt Busiek so each chapter really does feel full of substance, a triumph in an era when an average trade can be read in less than an hour. Daredevil has always been a book that has relied on Matt’s escapades outside the costume being as exciting as the ones he has in it, mainly due to a rich supporting cast that orbit his life, and this iteration is no exception. Waid introduces Assistant District Attorney Kirsten McDuffie to be a pseudo informant for Matt and a possible love interest also. Waid also deserves commending for adding a touch of humour, the last thing you would expect in a Daredevil title, to the book. The running joke that absolutely everyone in the country knows that Matt is Daredevil whilst he barely even bothers to deny it never fails to raise a smile. While it initially seemed like a risk giving the title to a creator who is so inherently different to what came before it now seems like a stroke of genius. Editor, Steve Wacker, and the team at Marvel definitely deserve some praise on taking the role of alchemists on a book that no one felt could change in its ways.
Having said that, on an editorial level, the book is not perfect. For the month to month comic book buyer hearing about Bucky being jailed in a gulag must have been a nice touch but for the trade buyer the reference is already dated, what with Bucky dying and then getting brought back to life elsewhere in the Marvel Universe. These are the sort of things that have no bearing on the storyline but can adversely affect the reader’s experience. Daredevil works best when only interacting with the rest of the Marvel stable rather than becoming encumbered by its ongoing storylines.

When it comes to comic book art in the United States, the current buzzword for 2012 is ‘European.’ Nowhere is this seen more readily than in any given issue of Daredevil, where Marvel have managed to obtain the services of two of the best artists working in comics today to work on the book. Evident that neither artist could draw a monthly comic without resulting in a dip in quality, Marvel shrewdly took the decision to have them work alternate story arcs and it pays off in spades. (As an aside, this is music to a trade buyers ears in a world where all too often the name on the spine of the book only does eighty percent of the art.) Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin are, at first glance, not too different as artists, it’s easy to see why they were paired together on the book. They are both storytellers first and foremost and they never could be accused of being photorealistic but that is where the similarities end. Appearances can be deceiving as both artists’ approach to panel and page design, action, and storytelling are almost equal in their ability to make your jaw drop – they really are different indeed.

Marcos Martin has an ability to use space on the page to further the story and uses a technique that has almost become his signature, the splash page with multiple images of the same character on the page, giving an unparalleled sense of movement. This makes pages such as Matt and Foggy walking into a subway station, a page that would simply scream mundane in lesser hands, a sense of complete wonder. His use of sound effects that form into architecture is an interesting way of showing the way that Matt uses his other senses to ‘see’ the world. It’s sad that, as of writing this, Marcos Martin has left Marvel to draw a creator owned endeavour alongside Brian K Vaughan. But then, it also goes to show the quality of Martin’s art that the best writers in the biz are queuing up to make use of his services.

Paolo Rivera, is more than equal to the task of taking up the art chores on the other half of the book. He has a style unlike anyone else working in the American comic book industry, Gene Colan by way of Herge if you can picture such a thing. His fight scenes and the choreography involved is completely off the charts. His character designs are gorgeous and the way he portrays Matt’s radar sense is unlike anyone else to have come before him. His Daredevil is fluid and graceful but with an Errol Flynn cheeky glint in his eye, something that perfectly fits the tone that Waid is seeking to encapsulate. Another trick Rivera uses which makes perfect sense is Matt’s ability to ‘see’ people’s heartbeats to tell if someone is lying or not. A perfect use of the show, don’t tell philosophy that works only in comics. A special mention to Joe Rivera, the inker and more importantly father of Paolo, who legend has it, never inked a comic book in his life before Daredevil. This is something even this open minded reviewer struggles to believe as if it is the case, why is this the first time he has picked up the pen? His sense of depth and strong thick black line only adds to the beauty of Paolo’s work and ultimately makes them one of the star attractions in comics for 2012.

It would be unfair to not talk about Javier Rodriguez’ luscious colour work on Daredevil. For a book that for far too long has been in the shadows, both literally and figuratively, Rodriguez’ bright palette is almost breathtaking. His use of purples, pinks and oranges make the book feel like the action is taking place on a warm summers evening rather than the dead of night and even the scenes that do take place once the sun has set feel warm, using rich blues for the sky and the ambient lighting from the buildings below to illuminate the rooftops Daredevil is seen jumping between.

Verdict – Must Read. Even if a story with a new direction and strong sense of adventure isn’t enough to entice you to buy the book, the, to be quite honest, peerless artwork of Martin, Rivera, Rivera, and Rodriguez will. A refreshing change to what has come before without discarding it, Daredevil deserves all the plaudits it has been getting with a strong team up and down the board delivering the best they can on a regular basis. Is there anything more you can ask for in a comicbook. Marvel, do the right thing and keep this out of whatever big crossover you have coming down the line. If you do this you will have a book that will be able to stand the test of time on the shelves alongside the evergreen titles.

Related Posts


CombatSpoon86 said...

I'm loving Waid's run. I don't think I can trade wait for this. Already pulling it monthly

Naymlap said...

I'm sorry I don't see any Colan in Rivera's pencils. Colan was like a painter; he used thick pencils to create a really surreal and expresionist atmosphere. And Rivera's pencils are thin and crisp. I see the Herge, a little, but I'd say both artists (especially Martin) remind me more of the classic Daredevil artist John Romita Sr.
Otherwise, good article. Glad someone took up this column.

Post a Comment

Thanks for checking out the Weekly Crisis - Comic Book Review Blog. Comments are always appreciated. You can sign in and comment with any Google, Wordpress, Live Journal, AIM, OpenID or TypePad account.