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Friday, April 10, 2015

The Essentials: Daredevil

Ever been interested in a particular subject but never sure where to really start in building that initial collection? We've been there, and now we're here to help! With 'The Essentials', we'll dig into a particular director, writer, actor, artist, etc and give you five of their "must-have" works as we see it and a place for you to begin if you're starting at ground zero. 

So, Daredevil is about to hit Netflix, and I'm certain there's a few of you out there that have never read anything involving the character. You probably thought to yourself: "Daredevil? Isn't he just a knock-off Batman?", and to an extent you wouldn't be totally wrong depending on the writer, but Stan Lee's original creation was meant to be seen more in the vein of Spider-Man. Daredevil wasn't always the broody, hanging off of gargoyles and statues of Mary hero that he's been identified with for years. Way back when, he used to laugh a bunch! And pretend he was his own twin brother! And fight dudes called Stilt-Man.

Then Frank Miller came along, and the rest was history.

While Cal and Harper are both covering the more influential runs on Daredevil in greater detail. I wanted to take the opportunity to chat about the Daredevil arcs and writers that still stick with me to this day. I'm admittedly the one guy on this site that has the least affection for superheroes these days, so the time I would have sung the praises of stories like the Elektra Saga or Guardian Devil are long gone. Instead, I'll just talk about the stuff that still holds up for me, particularly as an entry point for further reading.

I'm sad to say, thanks to Marvel's terrible job of keeping Daredevil storylines in print, some of my favorite runs like Anne Nocenti's and Karl Kesel's are basically unavailable, not even on Marvel Unlimited. So, in retaliation, I'm going to forgo my normal five picks and give you four. Sorry, I'd rather talk about the stuff I really love than stretch this out for some arbitrary figure.

Also, you can assume for most of these, I'm praising the entire run...so in reality, you're getting far more suggestions than you bargained for really.

Join me, and listen to a guy who hasn't read any of these comics in years and years (save for one) try and sell you on them:

Born Again by Frank Miller

If someone were to hold a gun to my head and demanded I tell them which Daredevil comic they should read, I'd say this is the place to start. Sure Frank Miller's historic run on the character is generally the basis for most of the adapted material out there (specifically the Affleck starring film, and some of the elements of the new series), but I'll be frank (haha) and say that I don't quite find it as terribly engaging as I did when I discovered it for the first time. It's full of a lot of stiff 80's comics exposition, creaky Eastern mysticism (which was quickly becoming a go-to interest for Miller pre-Ronin), and many of its revelations won't hit as hard today because it's all become fairly common knowledge. 

None of this makes it bad, it's still a landmark run, and for many people, *THE* definitive Daredevil era. But, to get as wide-ranging a set of choices as possible here, and to get the best example of what Miller was capable of with the character, you have to peek into his collaboration with David Mazzucchelli just a tad bit later.

Here's the set-up, Karen Page is a junky ex-porn star that ends up revealing Daredevil's identity to his greatest enemy: Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. From there, Fisk systematically takes apart Matt's life and Matt has to rebuild from square one. 

Born Again is a rebuilding of the Daredevil myth wrapped up in a heavy-heaping of the character's (and Miller's) catholic background. It's also the finest comic Marvel has ever put out.

I don't want to spoil it, just read it. It's the perfect comic to pick up if you want to explore Daredevil's world further after watching the Netflix series.

Underboss by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev

After Miller's piece de resistance, there were a ton of writers of note that took "ol hornhead" in a number of different directions from Anne Nocenti to Kevin Smith. The next truly essential era of the character came, though, when Brian Michael Bendis joined Marvel from the world of crime comics. He was joined by, artist with a capital A, Alex Maleev and they crafted a multi-year epic that actually brought me back into comics after the usual "high school break" that some of us go through in our younger years.

Cal pretty much covered the set-up, and spoke to this better than I ever could, but the first collection is a great place to start if you can get it cheaply, or pick up what's now known as the "Ultimate Collection".

For what it's worth, this is MY quintessential Daredevil run. It might also be my favorite run of comics of all time. It's that good and Bendis was never better than he was here.

The Devil Inside & Out by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark

I talked about this run before in my Essential Brubaker piece, so I'll just be lazy and re-post that. My feelings haven't changed at all, this is easily one of the best Daredevil stories in a run that doesn't quite hang together:

During the course of his Captain America run, Ed Brubaker inherited the Daredevil title from Brian Michael Bendis. The state in which Matt Murdock had been left at the end of Bendis' tenure had him behind bars for his illegal activities as Daredevil. Brubaker re-teamed with his Gotham Central colleague Michael Lark for this gorgeously pieced together storyline that details the challenges Daredevil faces while being locked-up with many of the criminals he himself put behind bars. At the same time, someone else is masquerading as Daredevil in Hell's Kitchen, and Matt's longtime associates want to find out who. On the whole, I don't think Brubaker's run on the title was as strong as Bendis', nor did it have the sense of invention that pervaded his Captain America run. This first storyline though, is a stunner, and right up there with some of the best work that's ever been done on the character. This is also some of my favorite work ever by Michael Lark, highly refining and smoothing out his style in all its David Mazzucchelli-like glory.

Mark Waid's Daredevil Vol 1 by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera

It's funny, much like Brian Michael Bendis'-written Daredevil was what brought me back to comics during my college years, it was Mark Waid's much sunnier take that got me to start picking up comics again regularly during later 20's and into my now 30's. This is Mark Waid returning Daredevil to his swash-buckling smiling roots from Stan Lee had initially envisioned him. Granted, this isn't the first time that occurred, as the above-mentioned Karl Kesel/Cary Nord run did the same thing...but this is the first time that concept really caught on with the public and critics and Daredevil once again became a tour de force. 

Harper and Cal covered why this run works as well as it has, combining the best of Marvel's 60's era with modern sensibilities and whiz-bang art from Rivera. But, I'll add that this was the book that sparked the short-lived Marvel creative renaissance they gave us such titles as Matt Fraction's Hawkeye and G. Willow Wilson's Ms. Marvel. The fact that said creative spike is ending just as Mark Waid's multi-volume run is about to wrap lends a bit of circularity to their overall creative picture.

My feeling on the run as a whole, it's started to definitely run out of gas by the time it relaunched, and the character's relocation to San Fran has only done so much to rejuvenate it, but...the first 27 issues or so, which comprise the entirety of Waid's first mega-arc, is solid gold and as essential to the Daredevil mythos as Born Again or Bendis' run.

So, there you have it. Those are my four picks for the most essential and timeless Daredevil stories you can pick up. Feel free to jump onto any of these starting places and enjoy one of the best and richest characters Marvel has to offer.

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