Welcome to the Devil in Detail, where I’m going to trace our way through 40 years of Daredevil and the seminal runs that began each era, Frank Miller in the 1980s, Brain Michael Bendis in the 2000s and Chip Zdarsky in the 2020s.
This week we have the continuing saga of Miller and Janson on art in Daredevil Vol. 1 #163-167, Bendis and Maleev’s debut in ‘Underboss,’ and Zdarsky and Lalit Kumar Sharma’s ‘No Devils, Only God.’
Daredevil Vol. 1 #163-167 ‘Exposé’ and other stories
These five issues by writer Roger McKenzie, artist Frank Miller, inker Klaus Janson and colorist Glynis Wein definitely lack a lot of focus compared to what precedes and follows it, you usually get that from the issues between a switch in creative teams but there were just some stories here where I’d get a third of the way through and realise I just hadn’t cared about a single thing that had happened, they’re treading waters. But at least that water-treading is rendered in high fidelity, super powered pencils by Lanky Franky and Kinky Klaus once again. Let’s get into it!
Plot-light issues usually entail a lot of rock-em sock-em hijinks when it comes to comics, which Miller, Janson and Wein excel at. Janson’s inks give Daredevil’s fight with the Hulk in #163 so much drama, it’s so great seeing Matt just get swatted like a fly. Also at one point he crashes a bus in the Hulk and I loved it, that’s a move absolutely tailored to his skill-set for all the wrong reasons. Later in #165 we even get a Daredevil v Doc Ock fight, an absolute treat for someone like me who loves seeing Daredevil beat the living shit out of Spider-man villains. But honestly, I think Otto could have made a better first impression, he spent their whole fight talking about Spidey, it’s like complaining about your ex on a first date, there’s all kinds of issues to unpack, it’s just poor form. That leads into one of the main problems with these issues, they’re too wordy. Sometimes it works, like with the imbalanced rantings of Gladiator (the one covered in pizza cutters, not the purple guy with the mohawk), but most of it is just Doctor Octopus shaking his fist at the sky and cursing his fate when he should just be kicking Daredevil’s ass.
Disparate issues like these are almost always littered with great character beats, Hulk on a subway? Live for that. Superheroes going to the hospital in-costume? Eat that shit up. Foggy wearing a disco suit to his hot-mess wedding?! Honestly the best. Although it did mean we got that weird bit of chemistry between Matt and Foggy’s sister, honestly his fucked love life is way less fun when people throw themselves at him, get outta here Candice Nelson. Also Porkchop Peterson is the best friend that Foggy deserves and I will die on that hill. We also got a couple of great epilogue stories. The first introduced us to Daredevil’s cane which can, canonically, get a boner, and the second showed off Matt’s house MTV Cribs style. Apparently he lives on the upper east side here, which is nifty; I can imagine him commuting to fight crime in another neighbourhood, going back to where he came from to beat up all the criminals he still has nostalgia for. Rich boy Daredevil has apparently also been living in a four story apartment that has an art gallery, library AND an indoor gym. No wonder he hates Kingpin, he’s probably got the fucking apartment next door.
I also want to touch on the great Ben Urich story in #164, it was a pretty stock standard origin issue (I don’t really know how much of it was original to this issue, so I might have been taking a bunch of new ideas from it for granted) but the Ben Urich framing device was great. He’s such a beautiful soul and I loved watching him piece together all his little clues placed on the silverest of silver platters. It’s weird how we’ve managed to find some of the most Urich-centric “Daredevil” issues in the first three renditions of the Retrospective, I obviously planned this from the start.Continued below
Daredevil Vol. 2 #26-31 ‘Underboss’
So we’re finally here! Bendis and Maleev in earnest, no more of this incoherent ninja shit or multimodal character pieces investigating the childhood trauma of super-crime! It’s time for Daredevil to punch some goons and have emotional breakdowns in that perfect Alex Maleev way. This story arc is a very bold, goon-punching debut too. We essentially follow the betrayal of Wilson Fisk and the ensuing power struggle that follows. The shifting time periods were kind of intriguing, but there’s such a disconnect between the different scenes and time settings that it doesn’t really change the context, plus there’s no major pay-off either, no amazing resolution that recontextualised any of the future stuff we saw already. We get a silent issue in #28, which was a part of the original ‘‘Nuff Said’ series, it blows my mind that this was coming out during Grant Morrison’s “X-Men” run, time is a spectacle. I feel like silent issues are usually kinda janky, because they have to feel like a mime show, but this uses an action oriented approach to work around that and gives a pretty earnest look at how this new Daredevil operates. Closer to the end of the arc we had a confrontation between Matt and Fisk in private that was so powerful, I loved it, the pace and the shadowing and the silence to it all helped define it in the series, really selling the character arcs underpinning this whole shifting plot and power structure, plus it paves the way for our amazing finally reveals. Vanessa Fisk, the new Kingpin, is going up against a new Daredevil who has had his secret identity revealed. Mythic shit.
Bendis seems like he has a really great eye on the long-term here, I mean we open with a cool paradigm shift, with Fisk being deposed by a lackey who represents the old and the new all wrapped into one, and it’s spurring on so many new character directions that I’m on board with. In terms of moment-to-moment writing Bendis is still very wordy, but I think it kind of works. In #26 I got so wrapped up in the opening monologues that I was almost disappointed when a superhero fight started. He also has a great knack for Daredevil’s internal monologue, combining emotional pathos with an ever present sensory awareness. That said, the issue does have a couple of the foibles Bendis would become known for, his endings are the most abrupt you’ll ever see and I very quickly got sick of Mr. Silke’s vague, meandering anecdotes with the same canned interjections. But even when this story plods along, it still gives you something to chew on.
Artist, and professional Jude Law lookalike, Alex Maleev really elevates this arc.I did like his figures and his blocking and his scenery, but the thing I was amazed by over and over was his pace, the way he presented story, the way he used his pauses, it was so fucking amazing and it’s kind of hard to tell you why! This is especially clear in #28 where Maleev is left without any dialogue to buffer his art, and what he comes up with is such a monument to his storytelling abilities, I would love to see him write something. But that silent issue was really the first time I got to see Maleev’s daredevil fight and it really works! It’s nice art with a real bruised-knuckles, clenched-teeth feel to it. This Daredevil can’t always swing through the sky, sometimes he has to chase a guy on the sidewalk, it’s fresh, it’s different. I don’t think there’s anything crazy about how Maleev draws Daredevil himself, but his shadowing is great, plu the physicality and hard angles to his costume are really fun. His covers might be a step down from the David Mack stuff, but that’s an impossible bar to vault on your first arc and I think Maleev gets pretty confident and creative in some of his later issues.
Ben is back and once again in the hands of Bendis, so obviously I’m in love with him still. It’s great to see how this version of Urich acts after ‘Wake Up;’ he confronts the ‘death’ of the Kingpin and talks more candidly with Matt/Daredevil. They even have quirky little inside jokes like Daredevil policing Urich’s smoking and tearing up his, hopefully cheap, cigarettes in front of him. Kingpin rocks some great early 00s Matrix shades here, and he’s a lot more impetuous than I’m used to, which feeds into the great balance of power and powerlessness that Bendis and Maleev manage throughout the book. His family fare equally well, with one great conversation between Richard Fisk and Vanessa showing how Richard turned out all fucked up and oedipal, god I wish that kid got therapy rather than a criminal empire. Even Bendis’s brief allusions to characters are perfect, a couple of the gangsters toast to the hubris of Turk, which I think we all should do every now and then, plus Elektra leaves Matt a nice little letter that informs him he’s got a bounty on his head, very nice of her. Now this is a tangent, but in ‘Marked for Murder’ they offered $500K for Daredevil, which is fine and the same price as what we get here, but that was 80s money so it was worth like $1.5 million, he’s gone down in price, must be rough.Continued below
Speaking of Matt, I love this interpretation of him, he’s really brusque and judgemental, just sort of sick of the idiocy and filth he’s surrounded by, it’s a side of superherodom you don’t often see and it’ll be fun to figure out if Matt gets more humble or if he’ll just sink deeper into cynicism. It’s also really great that the first time we see him in this book he’s doing genuine systematic good as Matt Murdock, Attorney at law, not as Daredevil. That’s an enduring trait I’ve always loved about Daredevil, he’s not even being the best person he can as a hero, Daredevil is more of a vice than an act of charity. It’ll be great seeing which side of him dominates once his identity is out there in the world. It’s an exciting story! Hope you stick around to read it with me.
Daredevil Vol. 6 #6-10 ‘No Devils, Only God’
So Daredevil’s dead, and Matt can finally get some hobbies, so far he’s mainly just flirting with bookstore owners, but it’s a first step. In ‘No Devils, Only God’ we get a cool new angle on Matt Murdock’s life when left with a mere single identity, as well as a peek into the downwards spiral of Cole North and the upwards climb of Wilson Fisk, let’s get into it.
One of the most interesting things to see in this arc was how the death of Daredevil had a systemic impact in the Kitchen. Small businesses suffer, anyone already on the brink starts to teeter, cops don’t get held accountable. Is it realistic? Probably not. But is thought provoking? Very. In that vein, I think these issues did a really good job of looking at whether a system being corrupt gives people an excuse to break its rules, the Librises are obviously a hard yes on this and Cole North a hard no. Matt Murdock begins the arc agreeing with Cole, but by continually exposing him to injustices and the plight of Joey Carraro, we see him delve into a distrust of the system, something that is almost certainly going to influence his actions going forward. This was what also made it so fucking smart to have the Kingpin step down from crime. In a corrupt system he can simply make more money as Mayor than as a crook. The debate even gets theological when Matt meets with Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic himself, to get an ever deeper exploration of the God/Caesar divide as Reed looks at what God is, whether they should be represented by the interpreted word of God or the moral center God instilled in people. Written scripture vs innate instinct. Also the smartest person on Earth playing chess against a blind guy is a bit mean. Sorta feels like Reed is just looking for an ego trip.
The problem here is that no matter how good those themes were, Lalit Kumar Sharma’s art is just no good. I wish I could like it, but it’s such a departure from Chechetto and it’s so lacking in proportion or physicality, I think the environments are kinda nice, but that’s mostly just the work of colorist Java Tartaglia. Kingpin especially seems more like a walking egg than a man, his expressions are empty, his proportions are clown-like and his neck has disappeared entirely. There’s one scene in a shower block between Kingpin and Wesley that should be fucking fantastic, but the art just doesn’t capture the mix of physicality and vulnerability in the scene and it ends up playing like a nothing moment. I think the art gets better in this issue by issue though, the page layouts are consistently great and the ends to #7 and #9 have some great art, but it’s so hard to get behind an artist when all the fights look like dances from a high school production of West Side Story. I know it’s his first Marvel work but I just can’t find any drama or pace in this. I mean, he gives Hammerhead a NORMAL HEAD! You can’t expect me to forgive that.
It almost feels weird to still have Julian Tedesco’s covers attached to this when the interiors are such a departure. It’s even weirder though when Chip takes over for a couple. I could definitely get used to it, he’s got a really nice minimalist feel, but my brain can’t handle another change to the art team right now. I honestly love his Last Supper cover for #8 though. But finally, in #10 we got an amazing addition to the art team, the superstar arrival of artist Jorge Fornes. His art is so great in this, it has this perfect David Aja/Michael Lark feel to it that, when paired with Jordie Bellaire’s colors, starts to multiply in quality. I wish we could have had his art for the whole arc, it’s still a huge departure from Checchetto but it actually has discipline to it, there’s so much amazing lighting and perfect scene compositions. I felt that same Checchetto-esque immersion for each scene and the pacing is just intoxicating. I was sort of sad when I heard Fornes was doing a maxiseries with Tom King, because it means he’s probably not coming back to “Daredevil” after his little stint on issues #16-18.Continued below
In terms of character beats Cole, Tommy Libris, Izzy Libris and Wesley were all surprisingly fun, but Matt stayed right in the spotlight like the prima donna we all love him for being. Early on he has a fun beat where he eats a strawberry and knows exactly how it was grown just from a smell, it was a great Tony Chu moment. I also really like Daredevil as a parole officer, it fits this version of him. Daredevil writers have always done a great job of retooling his legal career to match his mindset. He’s usually a defense attorney, so we can tell he’s a fighter but is still sticking up for people rather than condemning them, in Soule’s run when he became a prosecutor we saw a more proactive Daredevil who was going after people rather than reacting to injustices, now as a parole officer he’s avoiding conflict entirely and sticking up for those who have already been condemned, it’s cool and shows where his guilt is at. This is a tangent, but I loved Mindy’s line of “Enjoying sex and believing in God aren’t mutually exclusive” and Matt IMMEDIATELY entering the room after she says it, what a guy.
Speaking of how Chip’s been writing Mindy, it felt sort of weird to immediately introduce her based on her scent and suitability as a fuck-buddy for Matt, super objectifying, but I don’t know if it was a writing choice or just characterisation, it feels like something Matt would tune into constantly. We’ve seen it with Elektra before, but this series has been sparse in terms of female characters, so I’m always cautious when the few we get are introduced almost entirely as objects of affection. As a character she’s fine, I think Mindy has a well defined personality, I just don’t know if it’s that interesting yet. But despite all that, Chip’s “Women don’t belong in the Kitchen” line is genuinely the best part of this whole thing, I need more Lavinia Libris in my life. Anyway, I’m super excited to see where Zdarsky and Chechetto take us next time in the first part of “Through Hell.”
-“Bruce Banner: the most tragic, unpredicatable and powerful creature to ever walk the face of the Earth” -Daredevil by Roger McKenzie (“Daredevil” vol. 1 #163)
-“And when I looked up, I looked into the heart of a man-made sun. It was the last thing I ever saw.” -Daredevil by Roger McKenzie (“Daredevil” vol. 1 #164)
-“I could beat every person in here and they would never know what happened. And I bet every single person in here has it coming to them. I could do it, too. I’m just a guy in a suit. They don’t know me. What’s to stop me?” -Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis (“Daredevil” vol. 2 #29)
-“I think the Kingpin was an evil, manipulative son of a bitch who terrorized and extorted everybody in his chubby reach since the day he was born, and it looks like today was payback” -Ben Urich by Brian Michael Bendis (“Daredevil” vol. 2 #30)
-“These guys are so dirty they have to creep up on bathwater, let alone me” -Detective Cole North by Chip Zdarsky (“Daredevil” Vol. 6 #6)
-“Matthew… You’re not special. Your self loathing doesn’t make you an exception to God’s love.” -Sister Elizabeth by Chip Zdarsky (“Daredevil” Vol. 6 #9)
-“Now I’m a coward. And it turned out to be the easiest thing in the world.” -Detective Cole North by Chip Zdarsky (“Daredevil” Vol. 6 #10)
-“When you’re unbendable, when you pretend to be unbreakable… Other people get broken.” -Matt Murdock by Chip Zdarsky (“Daredevil” Vol. 6 #10)
Next time we tackle Elektra and The Hand in Miller’s first issues as writer, Matt’s untimely step into the public eye in Bendis and Maleev’s ‘Out,’ and Zdarsky and Checchetto’s march of Daredevil, ‘Through Hell.’