Daredevil #103 & #104
Ed Brubaker, writer
Michael Lark, Paul Azaceta, and Stefano Gaudiano, artists, #103
Lark, Azaceta, Tom Palmer, and Gaudiano, artists #104
Marvel Comics, December 2007 & January 2008
Daredevil is writer Ed Brubaker’s most overlooked book at the moment. It’s not as rollickingly entertaining as his and Matt Fraction’s wild genre mish-mash The Immortal Iron Fist, it’s not as character-defining as his Captain America, it lacks the “book I’ve always dreamed of writing” vibe of Criminal, and it’s not part of a high-profile crossover like Uncanny X-Men. What’s more, unlike Iron Fist or Cap, Daredevil is also up against years-long high-quality runs on the character, by the likes of Frank Miller and Brubaker’s immediate predecessor on the title, Brian Michael Bendis. And one thing that came up repeatedly during my monthly discussions of the series while at Wizard is that it’s one of the least showy superhero titles around: with no stunts, no events, no reboots, it’s simply consistently good issue after issue, which bizarrely works to its detriment in terms of maintaining a high profile with critics and readers. That’s a shame, because man, this is a very satisfying masked-vigilante comic.
Forget Spider-Man/Peter Parker: Matt Murdock is Marvel’s true everyman hero. Not in the sense that he’s a dork who lives in his aunt’s basement, but in the sense that he’s someone who, but for his blindness and super-senses and ninja training and red pajamas, you feel like you could actually meet in New York City: a rich lapsed Catholic pussyhound lawyer who can’t stand losing. That regular-guy vibe is used quite well in Brubaker’s run: The character is constantly shown bouncing between his superheroic activities and his civilian ones, on an almost scene by scene basis, like superheroing is a job he just can’t leave at the office and affects his life accordingly.
More importantly, those superheroic activities consist almost solely of beating criminals until they do what he wants. (Another Wizard colleague once told me that you can always recognize a bad Batman story by whether or not he’s acting like Daredevil, i.e. solving cases with his fists instead of his brain.) Now, it shouldn’t be hard for anyone who’s lived through the past few years to make the connection that what our superheroes do all the time, our government has to ignore international human rights treaties to get away with. In keeping with that Marvel-realist tone, Brubaker tackles the torture aspect of Daredevil’s vigilante activities head-on in this storyline (a blowtorch factors in at one point), and the result leaves us feeling refreshingly uncomfortable with our ostensible hero. He also portrays supervillain-driven gang wars in a convincingly ground-level way, simply replacing the strategic use of an AK-47 or a well-orchestrated hit (or, if you prefer, appearances by Luca Brasi or Omar Little) with the arrival of the Wrecking Crew or the Enforcers.
He gets slightly less mileage out of Murdock’s tortured-as-always romance, this time with his villain-targeted wife Milla–forgivable, considered how well-worn that territory is for the character. I think perhaps he could have tried to ground her slide into dementia by couching it in the emotional language of losing a loved one to depression, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s, or some other more relatable mental disease; perhaps he’ll get there eventually. For now, as aided and abetted by the fits-this-writing-to-a-tee art of the team led by Michael Lark, he’s cranking out a heck of a superhero book anyway.