Saturday, June 24, 2017

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #2

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #2

Writer: Frank Miller
Penciler: John Romita, Jr.
Inker: Al Williamson
Colorist: Christie Scheele
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Cover Price: $2.95
Release Date: November 10, 1993

     Things have not been boring in this miniseries, to say the least. In fact, young Matt Murdock has had a tremendous amount of emotional weight on his back since last issue. All those years of suppressed emotions are about to come bubbling up to the surface here. Matt is also about to understand the blurring of the lines between justice and revenge. Matt's moral ethics are going to be called into question. His years of self-discipline and control are about to be put to the test. We are about to see the man who Matt is going to become as it relates to the choices that he makes for his future. Let's see how Matt Murdock deals with the emotional baggage of his past and how he measures up to his mentor, Stick.

     We open where we seemingly left off with Matt Murdock at the local morgue. Frank Miller does an excellent job of describing what Matt is feeling when he's tasked with identifying his father's corpse.  I cannot imagine what Matt must be thinking during this time. He is completely left alone at this point. There have been many fascinating studies in terms of the psychology of grief. Noticeably, there seems to be a part of Matt that has shut down. In some ways, it would appear that his grief has only focused his rage for retribution. Matt makes his mind up to bring his father's killers to justice. He seeks out the culprits in a methodical manner. He begins by taking out two of the Fixer's men in a back street in Hell's Kitchen. The alley is so dark and the beatings that the men receive are so swift and vicious that the victims are unable to identify Matt. They are convinced that it's the ghost of Jack Murdock and they articulate this as such to the police, when they are picked up and carried to the hospital.

Matt Murdock unleashes his rage!
     One of my favorite scenes in this issue is when Matt pays Slade a visit at the local gym. It is at the gym where Slade beat Matt's father all those years ago. Now Matt has returned under the guise of a hood to dispense some payback for his deceased father. From the onset of the confrontation, Matt's demeanor is calm yet his rage is like that of a wound-up cheap watch. The beating alone in the panels made me wince a little. The cracking of bones in Slade's knee along with the breaking of his ribs made for some cringe-worthy action sequences.

     After dispensing of the Fixer's men, Matt pursues the man himself through New York's subway system. As the Fixer's cornered, his heart literally gives out. His death only momentarily satisfies Matt who then pursues the last link to the Fixer, Angelo. Matt is able to track down Angelo at a local Gentlemen's Club in which the establishment has had a history of some shady business dealings. Matt is able to make an entrance and go straight for Angelo. But in the course of the chaos that ensues, Matt inadvertently pushes one of the ladies out of a window. She falls presumably to her death. This freaks out our blind hero, so much to the point, that he flees the scene in quiet disgrace in search of his mentor, Stick. Unable to find his master, Matt sobs alone in the dark at the local gym. Blocks away, Stick and a large man by the name of Stone are having a serious discussion involving Matt and a woman named Elektra. Stick seemingly has given up on Matt and that they should move on to other things. Stone tells Stick to reconsider his position. Stick remains steadfast in his resolve on the matter.

Matt learns a hard lesson in self-control.
     We fast forward to a year later with our introduction to an important character in the Daredevil mythos. I am referring to one, Franklin "Foggy" Nelson. Lately, Foggy's been harassed by a student named Brad at Columbia University. It's not very long after this is all going on that Matt gets wind of the situation from his best friend, Foggy. One night, Matt decides to pay a visit to Brad, who ends up being stripped naked, bound and gagged, and left out in the snow. Brad is taught a stern lesson on the effects of bullying.

     There are two things that I enjoyed watching during the course of this issue. The first is the budding friendship between Matt and Foggy. Straightaway, Frank Miller is able to convey to the  reader the special kinship that the two possess in terms of dialogue and everyday interactions. The other important part of this issue is the introduction of Elektra towards the end. It's one of those introductions that feels like the two are doomed from the start. Elektra is the first woman to not take any pity on Matt. Matt seems to find this intoxicating and only strengthens his pursuit of her affections. They compliment one another in so many ways, yet are destined to be bad for one another in the long term. This first series of meetings in this issue does set the stage for an interesting string of events to follow down the road.

     Overall, Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr. continue to deliver the goods here.  We see Matt maturing into the man that he's destined to become, while at the same time, treading into some potentially dangerous waters. We are only at the second issue here and Frank Miller is revealing a multi-layered tapestry. John Romita, Jr.'s artwork is beginning to settle in with me, in that I am starting to think that he was the best available guy for this miniseries at the time. It will interesting to see how the relationship between Matt and Elektra develops in the future. I've got a feeling that we won't have to wait that long.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #1

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #1

Writer: Frank Miller
Penciler: John Romita, Jr.
Inker: Al Williamson
Colorist: Christie Scheele
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Cover Price: $2.95
Release Date: October 10, 1993


     Depending on who you ask, the definitive origin story of Daredevil is often debated among some of the denizens of the internet. For my money's worth, the 1993 five issue miniseries, Daredevil: The Man Without Fear by Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr., is without a doubt, my go-to starting point for all things Daredevil. Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate the April 1964 first issue for its historical value and that snazzy, yellow costume to a certain degree. But Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr.'s little opus here was a game changer in regards to how Daredevil would be perceived by his ever-growing fan base from here on out. I remember reading somewhere once where John Romita Jr. was handpicked by Frank Miller specifically for this project in terms of art duties. To the best of my recollection, John Romita, Jr. was not too happy with how he was being treated by some over at Marvel. Frank Miller's pitch to John was enough to get the ball rolling. The end result is one of the most compelling stories in the superhero comic book genre.

     We begin with a hot summer day in Hell's Kitchen. Matt Murdock is killing time outside his apartment contemplating how to alleviate his boredom. Down below on the street a police officer is doing his best to keep the neighborhood kids out of trouble. Business starts to pick up when Matt appears in a hooded mask and promptly takes off with the cop's billy club. I thought that this was a fitting introduction to young Matt Murdock in that a version of the billy club would eventually become synonymous with his future alter ego. Matt is able to evade capture from his pursuer and stashes the stolen property in a locker at the local gym.

     Our first meeting with Matt's father, Jack Murdock, finds the boxer sitting in a chair, nursing a bottle, and rambling somewhat incoherently to a photograph of a woman named Maggie. Matt awakens and puts his father to bed. The following scene shows Jack Murdock at the mercy of Slade and the Fixer. The Fixer tells Jack to collect on some debts owed to him. At first Jack refuses to work for the mob, but when the Fixer threatens his son, Jack reluctantly agrees. Unknown to Jack and the Fixer, Matt watches the whole thing go down from the shadows.

     It has to tear Jack apart having to live a contradictory, double life. I get why he has to take his anger, sadness, and frustrations out on his opponents in the boxing ring. It's the only thing that he really has going for him in his life besides his son, Matt. It is because of this that Jack makes Matt promise to study hard and become a lawyer instead of fighting. That's a lot to put on a kid. I can see why Matt had a hard time dealing with all that.

     One day, Matt comes home to tell his dad of his altercation with one of the neighborhood kids. Jack smacks Matt which Jack instantly regrets doing. This causes Matt to run out of the apartment to get some space and collect his thoughts. It is here that Matt makes a decision that would shape his destiny. He makes up his mind to study and become a lawyer. He makes good on his promise to his father and avoids fights with the other kids, even though they teased him relentlessly with taunts of "Daredevil". After school, Matt Murdock takes his anger and frustrations out on the punching bag at the local gym. Unknown to him, a figure watches his anguish from the darkness.

     The next scene is a classic reworking of the 1964 origin where Matt saves an old man from getting hit by a truck carrying radioactive chemicals. The end result is Matt being taken to the emergency room where it is revealed that he has lost his eyesight. Frank Miller does an excellent job of narrating the panels in this important scene. In the hospital, Matt's remaining senses are amplified to where the initial stimulation is almost overbearing. One thing to note is that Matt is visited by not only his visibly distraught father, Jack, but a mystery woman dressed as a nun as well. The woman tells Matt that his newly-heightened senses are a gift and to not not reveal them to his father or anyone for that matter. There is a panel where Matt catches the dangling golden cross from around the woman's neck. This is another symbol that would become associated with Matt's future. His religious faith will dictate his morality as well as his motivations.

     It turns out that the insurance company will not cover Matt's medical bills because of his father's ties with the mob. Matt walks day to day through the streets sensing everyone's pity around him. His workouts are more intense and the figure that's been watching him for months reveals himself to be Stick. Stick takes Matt under his wing and begins to mentor the boy. He teaches Matt how to deal with his blindness and other senses. Stick also teaches Matt several martial arts fighting techniques. During this time, there's a few panels where Matt is utilizing his other senses to hit a target with a bow and arrow. While I do realize the importance of this scene, I did think that it went on for a little bit too long. Perhaps my favorite scene throughout this whole training montage was Stick and Matt Murdock running along the rooftops of Hell's Kitchen.

Matt and Stick train over the rooftops in Hell's Kitchen.
     We find out that Matt isn't the only one who's training. Jack's been training for the past few months for his next fight in the boxing ring. He's been on a roll as of late having won six in a row and things look promising for his fight career. It is here that we see the Fixer's limo pull up beside Jack. He instructs Jack to take a dive in his next fight. Jack reluctantly agrees to the Fixer's demands, but mentally starts making plans for Matt's future.

     At the fight, Jack Murdock is visibly battle-scarred. Matt is in attendance in the audience. Jack notices this and makes up his mind to make good on his promise to Matt by not giving up no matter what is thrown your way. As the bell rings for the next round, Jack makes quick work of his opponent and drops him to the mat soon afterwards much to the delight of Matt and the audience. The Fixer is not pleased. The final scene of the issue shows Jack Murdock exiting the arena only to be confronted by the Fixer's men. They beat him mercilessly and then snuff his remaining life out with a gunshot.

     For a first issue, we get a substantial amount of story here. Clearly, the origin of Matt Murdock and what would eventually become Daredevil is expanded upon in greater detail. Frank Miller uses some clever adjectives and brilliant metaphors when describing the scenes in this issue. It is engaging and draws the reader into the story from the word go. John Romita, Jr. does a great job in depicting some of the architecture in New York. I especially liked the scenes involving Stick and Matt running along the rooftops. Some of John Romita, Jr.'s artwork can come across as kind of hit or miss for me, but this is some of his best work here, in my opinion. Overall, the hook has been set and the best is yet to come in this series.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Round One

    
Oddly enough, my introduction to Daredevil fandom sprung out of my childhood obsession for the sport of boxing. This interest was cultivated through films about the sport like Rocky and later, Cinderella Man. The first film came out during my childhood. It carried me through my teenage years and first run with the Daredevil character. The latter film reintroduced me to the Marvel character after a long hiatus. Though both films are different and unique in their own right, the message of "never giving up" always stuck with me.

    It is because of the first Rocky film that I began to bond with my father over the boxing matches that we watched together on television. Growing up, I can remember not being able to connect with my dad on a lot of things. It was through boxing that some connective tissue between the two of us was being forged. My dad used to give me the background bios of all the top fighters of the day. I would then research them through the pages of our family encyclopedia set.  I began with the bare-knuckled era of John L. Sullivan and worked my way forward to the present day. I used to rattle off boxing trivia to my father. Sometimes he would give me a bewildered look when hearing the knowledge I had attained on the sport.

    My neighborhood friends and I used to stage mock boxing matches in the yard.  Basically this would entail throwing on some boxing gloves and going at each other for three rounds. Out of the four to six bouts I had, I won about as many as I had lost.  I didn't have any grievance with anyone in particular. I was just fascinated by the basic science of the sport. It's a type of physical and mental chess with your opponent.

    It was during this time, in my teenage years, that I got into comics through some friends at school.  At first, it was Marvel's X-Men family of titles that drew me into this new hobby. But whenever it came down to actually buying my own books, there was only so much that I could afford at the time.  During the early 90's, Marvel had what seemed to be like nine different books related to the X-Men and DC had close to that number as well in terms of Batman. At least, that's what it seemed like to me. I could be exaggerating that number a little. Needless to say, it could be difficult and expensive to follow everything that's going on in that family of books.

    On a chance visit to a friend's house, I picked up an old issue of Daredevil. The sad thing is that I can't remember exactly which issue it was, but I was instantly caught in its tractor beam. When I learned the basics of Matt Murdock's origin story and the fact that his dad was a boxer, I was sold from the get-go. I had to learn more so I started cutting grass in my neighborhood in order to earn money to support my newfound passion. It was easy to keep up with Daredevil because besides the occasional one-shot or mini-series over the years,  the character has mostly been in one published monthly title at a given time.

    Instantly, I felt a special kinship with the Daredevil character in that he never gives up and perseveres at whatever comes his way. It was difficult to maintain my hobby though back then because my parents saw nothing but the devil in Daredevil. This is what happens when you are raised by religious fundamentalists of the Southern Baptist sect. During that time, the Satanic Panic was in full swing and I remember my comics being confiscated and thrown out because the "devil" was within the pages. This created a rift between myself and my parents so it made our relationship feel strained to say the least.

    On the positive side, I had some pretty cool friends that would let me read their comics at their house. It was here that my imagination really began to take shape in that I felt like I could relate and identify a little bit with the world of Matt Murdock. Some stories that stood out to me back then were Last Rites, Fall From Grace, Dead Man's Hand, and The Man Without Fear. The tragic story of Jack Murdock and the resiliency of his son, Matt, made me want to know more about how this story will finally get told in the end. Matt Murdock is a fascinating character portrait in that he comes across as being a relatable human being. He is dealt with challenges at his young age due to his accidental blindness. He is disciplined, yet he doesn't make the best of decisions in terms of relationships, especially with females. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because Matt often overlooks or ignores the faults of others. He wants to see the good in others. Whenever he fails or loses, the person he is most hard on is himself. I've read that this is because of the old "catholic guilt". I would submit that protestants have the same type of thing to varying degrees, but that is another conversation entirely for a different venue.

    When I got into college, I fell out of comics as other things came into my life. Eventually I joined the military service and it wasn't until close to the end of my time there that I started to slowly get back into my old hobby. I remember seeing the 2003 Daredevil film. I remember quite a few people not being completely enamored with it, but I thought that it was okay overall. Personally, I prefer the Director's Cut of the film.

    Upon leaving military service, I slowly got back into comics after a long hiatus. Though much time had passed since I last followed the Guardian Devil of Hell's Kitchen, it didn't take long to readjust. I realized how much I missed this literary medium. I have felt more complete as a person since getting back into comics. I've learned more in terms of lessons in morality than I ever did from a religious text. In short, Daredevil has become a positive addition to my life.

     Matt struggles and wrestles with the morality of vigilante justice and trying to separate his dual identity. This is a constant theme and will likely continue to be until the end of Daredevil's publication. Let's hope that's not anytime soon. With the success of the Netflix Daredevil series, the overall quality of work coming out of the monthly comic book, and the impending Defenders show and comic to come,  it would appear that now's a good time as any to be a Daredevil fan.