Despite the terrible, terrible movie of 2003, Daredevil has long been one of the best titles Marvel has been publishing. Matt Murdock is one of Marvel’s most intriguing characters, but the title once came dangerously close to being canceled, an action which would have robbed us of years of great stories. Follow the jump and find out what trades you should read to follow the career of everyone’s favorite Man Without Fear.
There are two accepted origin stories for Daredevil: Daredevil: The Man Without Fear by Frank Miller and Daredevil: Yellow by Jeph Loeb. I know some might crucify me for choosing Jeph Loeb over the definitive Daredevil writer, but when reading Daredevil from a chronological perspective Yellow is simply a smarter choice. Everything important from The Man Without Fear, which was written in the 90’s, was originally told by flashbacks in Miller’s 70’s-80’s Daredevil run. More importantly, there is no mention of Karen Page, Matt Murdock’s original love interest, in The Man Without Fear. Page plays a vital role in the (arguably) most important Daredevil story that Miller wrote, which makes it even odder that she isn’t in The Man Without Fear. Yellow, like most of Loeb’s “color” books, is a solid tale (a rarity for a Loeb-written Marvel book), but if you have also read Spider-Man: Blue, the two stories may seem a bit similar. Upon finishing, be prepared to make quite a leap. Daredevil: Yellow is available in both trade paperback and hardcover.
Normally for this sort of article, I would include even those stories that weren’t necessarily good for the sake of continuity. However, there was a reason Daredevil was nearly canceled before Frank Miller joined the title, and the one thing worse than bad comic books are old bad comic books (my apologies to Marv Wolfman). Instead I urge you to just skip to where Frank Miller started, knowing that Karen Page left after Matt revealed his identity to her. Following that, Murdock had a brief relationship with super-spy heroine Black Widow and then became involved with the wealthy Heather Glenn, as well as having his first run-in with Bullseye, who would become his most famous foe. Miller’s run was a milestone for the comic industry as a whole, with a maturity that many other writers didn’t even attempt. While some of Miller’s earlier issues read a bit dated, by the time the reader reaches issue #181 the writing is simply timeless (indeed, #181 is one of my favorite single issues of all time). After Miller’s first run ended, he eventually came back with the story Born Again, an incredible piece of storytelling that established Miller as a legend. If you don’t feel like reading the massive list of trades I spew out in this column, at least read Daredevil: Born Again. You won’t regret it. Miller’s first run is collected in three trade paperbacks while Born Again is available in either trade or hardcover.
Denny O’Neil and Ann Nocenti
Two trade paperbacks I would recommend checking out are Love’s Labors Lost and Typhoid Mary, by Denny O’Neil and Ann Nocenti, respectively. Love’s Labors Lost is just a good story (it’s the legendary Denny O’Neil, after all), but it happens prior to the previously mentioned Born Again. Nocenti’s Typhoid Mary isn’t necessarily a great story, but it introduces an important character in Daredevil’s life. Other than these two trades, very little lasting things happened to Daredevil in between Born Again and the relaunching of the title under the Marvel Knights imprint. True, lots of (mostly terrible) things were done with the character, but in the end everything returned to the status quo and the preceding events were never mentioned again. Such is the glamorous life of a superhero.
In September of 1999, Marvel relaunched Daredevil on the new, grittier Marvel Knights line, beginning with an 8-part story by Kevin Smith. Kevin Smith’s Guardian Devil tends receive very mixed reviews, but no matter what one’s opinion is of the writing it is necessary to recognize it as a turning point in Matt Murdock’s life, as most of the events in Brian Bendis’ run stem from the conclusion of this story. While some extol it and others pan it, I suggest that you pick it up in trade or hardcover and make the judgment for yourself.
Brian Michael Bendis
One of my favorite runs on any series, Brian M. Bendis’ Daredevil is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Throughout the series, Matt suffers from a mental breakdown as the reader watches his life completely spiral out of control. This run established Daredevil as my favorite character of the Marvel Universe, and truly provides the reader with a realistic reaction to the incredibly traumatic life of a superhero. The story is intense, the dialogue well done, and goddamn if Alex Maleev isn’t one of the most talented artists to ever work in the industry. Get the whole run in either five hardcovers, ten paperbacks or two oversized omnibuses (I’m saving up for the omnibuses).
Brubaker’s run on Daredevil picks up right where Bendis left off, and continues with many of the same themes but with a slightly different twist. One of my favorite things about Ed Brubaker is that he can pick up a title that has had a long-established tone and continue using that same tone while still making it unique. In such a way does he treat Daredevil, with events proceeding naturally from the end of Bendis’ run while still being something you would have never seen Bendis write. Artist David Lark may not be Alex Maleev, but his art is still quite enjoyable and does a good job of matching the gritty feel of Daredevil’s world. Ed Brubaker’s run is available in seven trade paperbacks or two omnibuses (the second of which has yet to be released).
Andy Diggle is the current writer for Daredevil, and while the jury is still out as to whether he will be remembered as fondly as Bendis or Brubaker, I think he’s doing great so far. Much like Brubaker did with Bendis’ run, Diggle has picked up where Brubaker left off and taken Daredevil in a completely different direction, while still doing a good job of keeping a natural pace. Diggle has quite a legacy to live up to, seeing as Daredevil has been a great book for almost ten years, but I think if anyone can give the book the respect it deserves, it’s him. Go pick up the first few issues he has written at your LCBS, or wait for the first trade to come out and decide for yourself.
As usual, to wrap it all up we have our master list:
- Daredevil: Yellow by Jeph Loeb
- Daredevil by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson (three volumes)
- Daredevil: Love’s Labors Lost by Denny O’Neil
- Daredevil: Born Again by Frank Miller
- Daredevil: Typhoid Mary by Ann Nocenti
- Daredevil: Guardian Devil by Kevin Smith
- Daredevil by Brian Michal Bendis (ten paperbacks, five hardcovers or two omnibuses)
- Daredevil by Ed Brubaker (seven trades or two omnibuses)
- The current run on Daredevil by Andy Diggle