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.

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