Daredevil, Vol. 1
written by Mark Waid
illustrated by Marcos Martin and Paolo Manuel Rivera
With Daredevil, Mark Waid has received the greatest attention and critical recognition of his career. Marvel Comics even acknowledges this on the author's biography page. While the usual suspects—Comic Book Resources, Newsarama, and Comics Alliance—have run the textbook weekly reviews of the single issues or promotional venture interviews spotlighting the series, avenues such as Comixology's column area, Robot6, and even The Comics Journal, all of which often turn a blind eye or cast a disdainful gaze upon mainstream comics or more specifically the superhero genre (and in some cases, rightly so), have even assessed Daredevil's merits. Yet, as with most comics' "journalism," the reviewers, "critics," and bloggers are primarily concerned with the here and now, the breaking, public-relations-sanctioned and sanitized releases—writer X replaces writer Y, DC's second wave New 52, Marvel releases yet another Avengers or X-related title, etc.—and fail to contextualize the works under examination, particularly within the canon of the specific creator's literary or artistic catalog. Does that mean that Daredevil is not worthy of such praise? Not at all; however, when placed alongside other titles in Waid's lengthy bibliography, certain patterns in Daredevil begin to emerge and reveal why the title has been so critically, if not necessarily and sadly as commercially, successful. The recently published collection of the first six issues in a deluxe, hardcover format (which includes author and artist interviews, and much more) provides the necessary distance from the title's initial release date for just such a perspective.
Simply put, Daredevil is a beautiful and stunning book. Visually, illustrators Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin have secured nearly as much attention for Daredevil as Waid has for penning the series. From Rivera's cover of issue #1, which adorns the collected edition, to the opening moments where he captures Errol Flynn-esque acrobatics and the pure cinematic adventurism of an unchained Gene Kelly dance sequence transplanted onto the printed page, Daredevil possesses a distinctive look unlike any other in the modern, comics marketplace. Even more telling in the hardcover collection are the tonal effects colorist Javier Rodriguez brings to Rivera's line art. Included in the edition are sketches and process pictures of Rivera's pencils, and while Daredevil's radar sense is shown here in its stark black-and-white, Rodriguez brings more than a semblance of depth or light to the pages with his off-magenta hues, which defy observable reality and force the reader's field of vision to appreciate the weight and vitality of Rivera's lines—as seen in the following examples from Daredevil #1 and #3. Beyond the radar-sense sequences, Rodriguez's palette and utilization of ambient light and reflective distortion simultaneously contrast the real and unreal nature of the story, creating a truly unique atmosphere in the process.
Interestingly, while Marcos Martin has garnered praise for his panel-defying, borderless-page compositions (and rightly so), Rivera, too, especially during the wedding elements, employs circular boundaries, off-page sequences connecting to on-page aspects, as well as small, insular inset panels to engage the tried and true superhero fight in novel form and design. Audiences can witness both illustrators applying their craft as the first issue has a backup or Bonus Tale scripted by Waid but drawn by Martin.
Other reviewers have given Martin his deserved praise for this Matt Murdoch and Foggy Nelson two-page, panel-less walk through New York City:
But none, to my knowledge, has attributed the possible influence of or comparative confluence with Frazer Irving's March 2011 work on Xombi #1 shown here:
Later, in the series, Irving utilizes the effect again to show David Kim moving through a single room:
Showcasing a major advantage of print over digital, Martin's spread, like Irving's before it, holds so many intricate facets as they both reimagine the dimensions of character mobility that readers cannot help but reevaluate the pages again and again. Critic Matt Seneca has argued that layouts such as Martin's only succeed if the subject matter being illustrated is a mundane, everyday task. In some regards, he is correct, as the frenetic nature of a fight scene or sequence demanding multiple points of view or perspectives could potentially render such a design muddled and overly complicated. Yet readers have seen similar intended visual effects achieved by Carmine Infantino all the way through to Francis Manapul on various incarnations of The Flash, panels and pages depicting intensive and frantic momentum and motion in a relative short period of time. In other words, anything but mundane, realistic tasks. As with Irving, Martin heralds a new paradigm in reconceptualizing sequential art for modern comic illustration, whether it be a layered fight scene or intricate series of simple movements.
Beyond Martin's perspective guidelines and character movement, one of Rivera and Rodriguez's strongest visuals occurs in chapters two and three as Daredevil is captured by Klaw, the Master of Sound. Combining the line art of Jack Kirby's Sentinels with the surrealistic color nature of Doom Patrol, the intensity Rivera and Rodriguez apply to the pages is breathtaking, particularly in the subtle and nuanced near white, silver, and blue hued headpiece Daredevil is forced to wear. There is an even greater sense of urgency and flair to the second half of Daredevil as Martin replaces Rivera on the last three issues and Daredevil battles Bruiser in his attempt to protect a blind young man from assassination. Unlike Rivera, Martin opts instead for a more traditional, circular interpretation to Daredevil's radar sense versus the resonating effect used by Rivera. The near seamless transition, however, in art teams does little to lessen the visual impact of Daredevil. If there is but one small criticism of the Daredevil hardcover edition, it is in the layout, as some readers who have waited for the collection may see the inclusion of issue and variant covers as chapter markers and the Bonus Tale (originally introduced as such in Daredevil #1, but not so here) disjointing to the narrative development and sequential flow of the story.
In terms of narrative and story development, Daredevil, in many ways, is the culmination of more than 20 years of Mark Waid’s honing and refining his craft as a skilled writer. A close reading of Daredevil reveals points and trajectories from the present all the way back to 1992, when he succeeded William Messner-Loebs on The Flash. Often mischaracterized as the guardian of the Silver Age, a preservationist who wants his comics and characters cast or securely locked in museum-quality glass displays, Waid has defied this labeling time and again. In many ways, Daredevil is a direct offspring of The Flash by way of Impulse, Superman: Birthright, Captain America, and Amazing Spider-Man. While a majority of Waid's writing credits have been through lengthy runs on team-driven titles such as Kingdom Come, JLA, X-Men, Legion of Super-Heroes, Empire, Fantastic Four, and recent entries such as Irredeemable and Incorruptible, they all share a similar, thematic thread with his solo-hero adventures in the attention he pays to cast building, but more specifically and significantly, family and team building. Not only does this reinforce the central character's likeability, but also the readers' connections to him (as the majority is largely male) and the associated cast. The result is a multifaceted and layered environment that allows for a greater diversity of story possibilities and narrative realms to mine beyond mere costumed fights.
Similarly, elements of Waid's sinister, darker sense of humor first evoked in JLA or experimentations in human psychology broached in Kingdom Come have a lineage down to Potter's Field, The Unknown, Ruse, Irredeemable, and Incorruptible. Yet perhaps the greatest quality uniting these works is Waid's approach to the medium. Like The Flash before it, Daredevil turns its back on the safe, tried-and-true measures and opts instead, if you will pardon the overused metaphor, for the road less travelled. It's a method Waid has tweaked and utilized many times with successes and misses along the way, but unlike many authors, Waid neither regurgitates superhero tales from his youth nor plays a game of one-upmanship with writers who came before him.
Daredevil is a great book, immaculately illustrated and brilliantly penned by Waid; however, unless he was offered the opportunity and freedom to defy conventional wisdom and take the character in a drastic 180-degree turn from the masochistic, brutal Daredevil of Miller, Smith, Bendis, Brubaker, and Diggle, and thus bring his own characteristic approach seen time and again throughout his career, the relaunch of a non-cynical, more positively tuned superhero would have fallen flat under a tidal wave of derision and short-lived experimentations akin to Brightest Day and The Heroic Age.
Pendulum swinging in comics, especially within the superhero genre, is nothing new, particularly in moments of market stagnation. In fact, Waid shares the writers’ podium with Miller for this very reason. Like Miller, Waid has taken a second-tier figure and breathed new life and vitality into him by endorsing an interpretation that flies against a market saturated with superhero misanthropes, cynicism, and dour spandex-clad figures. Waid even goes so far as to surpass Miller at times because, while Miller has infrequently published over the past 30 years, each project—Daredevil, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Sin City, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and All Star Batman and Robin—reflects the same tone, voice, and approach first given credence in 1979. Waid knows and plays to his strengths in the superhero genre; but, as he has shown over and over, continues to challenge himself as a writer to allow the genre to grow, flourish, and captivate newer generations of readers.
Another significant facet of Waid's work with Daredevil is his ability to connect with new audiences and readers unfamiliar with the character. Beyond Miller's original work and the 2003 film, this reviewer was largely ignorant of the character apart from knowing he is a blind, costumed hero and lawyer by day. Waid does an admirable job of balancing the two, admitting in fact that the Matt Murdoch identity of courtroom drama leaves little room for intriguing character exploration. Yet,Waid discovers a new role for the attorney through the deliberate cast expansion of Kirstin McDuffie and related intricacies involving Foggy Nelson. As a result, never once do the Murdoch scenes lag behind the superhero antics of Daredevil, and the entire reading experience is open to anyone, not just those with a speciailized, intimate knowledge of or degree in the continuity of the Marvel Universe.
As a comics wordsmith, Waid has few equals. His witty, effervescent dialogue is quick and sharp, and rarely does his prose fall prey to longwinded expository or heavy, turgid narration. Whether at work on company toys such as Daredevil, independent, creator-driven projects such as Irredeemable, or non-superhero genre experiments such as Potter's Field, Waid has amassed an award-winning catalog. While Waid's vision may openly reject the noir or street-level criminality in tone and voice, he does not simply jettison it in favor of his interpretation. Instead, Waid asks audiences, both longtime fans of the character who cherish the recent darker tales and newcomers alike, to join him and witness how maturation in comics need not rely entirely upon extreme violence and consistent negativity as the main character's sole emotion. For readers who have abandoned comics due to endless cross-overs and mega events, or for those who tire of recycled, static superhero tales, Waid's Daredevil is by far the most innovative, contemporary title available today.