Daredevil is one of those comics where a single definitive run – in this case, Frank Miller’s – becomes so strongly identified with the character that leeaving it behind doesn’t just seem difficult – it seems like poor judgement to even try. Even the Marvel Knights run, which began with Kevin Smith and moved through the likes of Bendis, Brubaker and Diggle, owed much to Miller’s stories. The Catholic imagery and attitudes. The ongoing identity issues. The bleak, downward spiral. For anyone to try and do Daredevil without using that material would just seem like throwing the baby out with the bathwater (something Frank Miller might be inclined to do, if that baby wasn’t pulling its weight economically).
However, that’s also what Waid, Rivera and Martin have attempted. They haven’t just pulled it off: they’ve succeeded on an unexpected scale. Taking Daredevil back to his swashbuckling roots, Waid has come up with a new way to interpret the phrase “man without fear”. Under Miller and Bendis et al, it meant that you couldn’t scare a man who has already lost everything. Under Waid, “without fear” means “without burdens”. He’s carefree and unflappable. A gentle breeze, not a force of nature.
It shouldn’t work. It’s been done before, and it failed. When they made the film, it was Miller’s version they adapted. A run of critical acclaim over a decade long was rooted in the dark, desperate interpretation. And yet here we are. Praising the current comic, which is the opposite of that.
A large part of what makes this Daredevil run so spectacular is the artwork. Rivera and Martin both proved themselves to be some of the best Spider-Man artists under the current management, both deriving their look from Ditko’s style. So when editor Steve Wacker poached them for this project, it was clear we’d end up with a book that looked nice. What we got, though, was something that made full use of the form, from a pair of artists who know how to use everything visual trick, and do.
It was only yesterday that Seb made a point about how it’s great to see comics do things that only comics can. Daredevil does more of that in one issue than some series do in years. Sound effects forming images. Panel borders cutting through images to emphasies Murdock’s blindness. Inventive, imaginitive, impossible in any other medium. Under Rivera and Martin, Murdock’s powers seem so uniquely suited to comics that it’s tough to believe this is a new approach to their depiction. Only a few issues in, Miller’s shadow seems to have disappeared.
Funnily enough, I didn’t even expect to be reading this comic by now. I was so invested in the previous Daredevil run that following its notional conclusion in Shadowland/Daredevil Reborn, I was ready to leave. The character had been ground into dust at the inevitable destination of his long-form arc (which is to say, moral collapse, madness and then death) and the only way to move forward was to rebuild Daredevil from the fragments that were left. 130-ish issues was enough for me. I was almost entirely out – and on the strength of pure technique alone, they pulled me back in. That fact alone gets it onto my best of 2011 list.