THE DAREDEVIL DIALOGUES PART 4: TECHNODEMONS FROM FRANCE
Yikes, Ryan K. Lindsay and I have been talking about "Daredevil" for a whole month. This is the grand finale, in which we get into the big questions like "Um…Ann Nocenti?" and "Dan Chichester?" and "wait, why did Daredevil lose his memory and end up in ‘The Bourne Identity' again?"
If you haven't already done so, check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of "The Daredevil Dialogues," then come back for this epic conclusion. We wrap it all up with our verdict on the best of the best, and that's always worth sticking around to see, right?
On with the show...
Tim Callahan: So. Ann Nocenti. Besides Frank Miller, she may be the writer who is most fondly-remembered for her stories in the pre-Marvel Knights "Daredevil." But why?
Ryan K. Lindsay: Nocenti is definitely remembered for her time on Daredevil. She wrote around 50 issues and I think she stands out of the crowd because she brought a massively strong authorial voice to the title. You know a Nocenti issue is written by Nocenti. But I don't think you can say her tenure is exactly "fondly" remembered. There's not much about her run that is fond. Nocenti made Daredevil a hard title to read because it presented home truths.
If "Born Again" was about the world being a harsh and cold place, then Nocenti set out to document exactly how that was in her issues. Nocenti used Daredevil to explore the ills of the world, and while some might not think that sort of thing has any place in a comic, it did make for some damn stirring and hard-hitting sequential entertainment. You only need to look at her first issue for proof.
"American Dreamer" is a story that's all about the failed progression of society through war and murder. People keep trying to enforce right with might and when it goes wrong, they dollop on more might. In this issue, we get the cold stare with which a society views its mistakes, there's sexism aplenty, post-traumatic stress, aided suicide and a kid. A poor impressionable kid. The tale is about another Vet who has been affected by the Nuke case from "Born Again." He's a loner and a troubled man who only wants to be free of his issues. He's like Travis Bickle but with even less outlet for his fears and rage. In the end, it just doesn't work out so well. And this is in one of those 25th Marvel Anniversary issues with the border of characters on the cover and just Daredevil's head shot on display. You get no indication at all from the cover that you're buying into such a serious story.
Nocenti might layer the purple prose on a bit thick at times, but otherwise, she casts her own bar high. She wants this comic to mean something, she wants her stories to impact you. She's not out to write just superhero spectacle; she wants to impart lessons. And she'll sway between being effective and being didactic with varied results. I think that's her legacy, that she took the tone of Miller and put it a bit more firmly in the real world.
"Authorial voice?" Yeah, she's got one of those. And I'll always take that over bland genuflection at the altar of simple genre conventions.
But, boy, she makes me challenge my own principles, and not because she raises some interesting social problems.
It's because she makes Denny O'Neil's "Green Lantern/Green Arrow" seem subtle, especially in her first handful of issues (and in her final handful of issues, but for completely different reasons).
I'm not necessarily opposed to the comic book equivalent of "Social Protest Pictures" (after all, the Mark Gruenwald "Squadron Supreme" series doesn't hold back on its social commentary, and that was one of my favorite childhood comics), but when the message overwhelms the narrative, then the didacticism comes at the expense of the art of storytelling, and that makes her first year or so on "Daredevil" a bit difficult to slog through.
And yet, she gets past it. Not completely -- she's Ann Nocenti all the way through her run, and she has something to say about the evils of society (particularly corporate society and the stratification of social class in America), but she balances it with actual Daredevil stories once she gets her feet under her. John Romita, Jr. and Al Williamson help her out a lot, as their visuals provide a bit of the spectacle that contrasts with her lecturing on the "issues" of the day. And it doesn't take long for the Nocenti/Romita/Williamson team to start making the run into something special.
Weirdly, the shift happens with a crossover issue. "Daredevil" #252 is a "Fall of the Mutants" tie-in, the kind of thing seems like it would be completely out of place in a Daredevil comic, but it breaks Nocenti free of the reliance on overt messages and gives her a chance to focus on making the plot and characters the centerpiece. And at the hands of Romita Jr. and Williamson, it has a moody sense of despair -- and a supernatural thread -- that becomes essential to the series, at least for the next thirty or forty issues.
However, I'm still not sure how the "fatboys," the little skateboard kids, add anything to the stories. And they seem to appear on, what, 99% of the pages? (That may be an exaggeration, but it feels that way when you're reading the series and the helmet kids and big-eyed waif pop up again and again.)
Man, don't even get me started on those goddamn kids. I just do not get them. The last thing Daredevil needed was a rag-tag group of rapscallions following along to Greek chorus the events. I almost dare someone to bring those kids back and make them interesting and/or relevant.
For me, her run really means something when she introduces Typhoid Mary. The character isn't perfect but she's one that resonates for me. She's interesting. She's a female who is able to take Matt's love and twist it to his own detriment, instead of the usual saps who fall for Matt and then fall off the map. She mirrors his poison and infects him. I think that ploy was a smart move on Nocenti's behalf. She flips the tables on this spandex Casanova and puts the power into the hands of the woman.
Even when Mary is kicking his ass, there's a palpable sexual tension that confuses Murdock. But what truly makes it worse is that he's with Karen at the time. Murdock is being the ultimate prick (can I say prick?), but he's the one who's going to hurt because of it. I mean, watching Matt fawn over Mary instead of helping the newly blind boy is horrible, in a surprisingly hilarious way. The boy is bumping into things off panel and touching something warm that he assumes is the stove. It's funny but it also shows Murdock in an extremely terrible light. It makes me wonder, what did Nocenti think of Matt Murdock as a character? And is Mary there to destroy him or show him for what he truly is?
I have to say, that after reading all these "Daredevil" comics in a short period of time, Typhoid Mary does stand out as a particularly strong character. Clearly, Elektra is the major femme fatale in Daredevil's life, but in the entirety of Frank Miller's run, Elektra isn't much more than a visual look and a series of lethal actions.
I'll say it: On the page, Typhoid Mary is a better character than Elektra.
That stuff with the blind boy -- and I don't know if it's meant to be as funny as it is, and it is funny -- shows the absolute control Mary has over Matt Murdock's attention when she's in her civilian-but-manipulative identity. The way Mary dismantles Matt Murdock/Daredevil by tearing him apart emotionally, then physically, before leaving him to die in an empty field, well that's one of the most brutal threats he's ever faced, maybe even worse than his tangles for Kingpin, because at least with "Born Again," Matt Murdock was able to play the role of underdog and reclaim control over his life. With his prolonged cat-and-mouse game with Typhoid Mary (in which Mary is both the cat and the mouse and Daredevil is a fluffy toy for them both to play with), Murdock becomes completely emasculated because of his own sexuality. As you so aptly put it, he's a "spandex Casanova," and has been from the beginning. That may be one of the most fundamental aspects of the "Daredevil" series, even more than the street-level action or the noirish sensibility.
The way Nocenti uses Typhoid Mary is more sophisticated than that, though. Mary also subverts the power of the Kingpin and battles her own demons. She's not just a weapon unleashed on the hero. She's a force of nature who blows through Daredevil's world and upends everything, because she knows no other way to be. Given the context of Nocenti's run and her emphasis on social issues, it would be easy to dismiss Typhoid Mary as an AIDS allegory, as a symbol of the cost of casual sex in the 1980s, but unlike many other of Nocenti's heavy-handed declarations about the ills of society, Mary is a character first and a symbol second.
Of course, as good as the character is -- and she's overwhelmingly the best part of Nocenti's run, even if Mary fades away in importance by the end -- she looks like a Jennifer Beals who got caught in an explosion at the Cyndi Lauper factory. Her costume looked preposterous even by the standards of 1988. I don't know which part is worse: the hair or the belts.
I wonder who was in charge of the way Typhoid Mary looked? How happy was Nocenti with such a ridiculous visual for this visceral character? For me, it's the shoulder pads. Those things always look razor sharp and that's no place to have a cutting edge. It's so sad that this character looks like such a product of her time, you nailed it with your description. She's the worst of the icons of female fashion from that era.
I really can't believe you've made the call that Typhoid Mary is better than Elektra. Wow. I expect all sorts of insanity from that one. I'm trying to actually think about Elektra as she is in the Miller issues, not as I know her now (Miller's Elektra wasn't planned as a Skrull, was she?). It's a tough call and I'm going to punk out and let you take the heat on that one. I will say I like both Elektra and Typhoid Mary, that I can confirm.
I think you are totally right about Typhoid Mary being a force of nature in the landscape of Daredevil. She affects everything, which ultimately makes it so sad that she also negatively impacts so much on Mary, the poor woman trapped in the same body with this psychotic villain. You can paint all the allegory and symbolism over her you like, but in the end she's a compelling character and that's what best serves the comic.
Once Typhoid Mary has left Daredevil for dead, #261 is a crazy issue that has always stood out as one of my favorites of the Nocenti run. The drama has been ramped up and the tensions are high and Nocenti manages to offset them by injecting the mugging of everyone's favorite Flamehead. All of Hell's Kitchen is locked in a holding pattern of dread, so the aid of the Human Torch is wanted and needed. It's a good come down, a breather, a bit of fun, even if in the same issue we see a massive domestic disturbance between Kingpin and Typhoid Mary.
Nocenti writes a great Storm who is full of goofy charm and honest desire to help his friend. He saunters into the pub like anyone should care and through strong will, and a few devious slaps, manages to best the biggest guy there. The dialogue that Storm spouts to sound tough is laughable, as is his quality attire; sleeves rolled up to the shoulders, cowboy boots straight out of a Seinfeld episode and a mouth like he's destined to be the first guy beat up in a buddy cop movie. He's trying not to use his powers during interrogation and so he's seeing how hard Daredevil has it controlling the mobs of this town.
Juxtaposed with the posturing and earnest heroism of Johnny Storm is a Kingpin/Typhoid Mary scene that actually shocks in its stark depiction of violence against a female. Kingpin picks her off the ground by her neck, slaps her around, throws her down. Nocenti depicts their sexuality as being dangerous, literally violent, and she spreads it over the taunting accusation that Kingpin might just be in love with Daredevil. Typhoid Mary wants to question the motives of Kingpin, question his sexual urges. By making fun of him, making him doubt himself, she is playing with him and eventually owning him at this game. The major altercation between them isn't shown, but we see Kingpin taking off his jacket before and buttoning his shirt after as the room is half-destroyed. What takes place could be sexual, could be violent, could be both, but either way it certainly doesn't appear to be normal.
It's almost as if she's making Kingpin impotent, she takes away Daredevil and then she takes away his ability to play nice with her. She's destroying him from the inside out, and not because of some Machiavellian overt plan but rather, as you say, because she knows no other way. Those who interact with Typhoid Mary lose control. She appears to be handling things, but then you realize the innocent Mary within her also lacks control. Typhoid Mary is all about the chaos. Is it possible that she's Daredevil's Joker?
She is Daredevil's Joker. I could agree to that.
It's after that issue that Daredevil starts heavily interacting with Hell, and I'm not exactly the biggest fan of these tales. They are well written, mostly, but they don't capture me as a reader and they don't feel like the right setting or tone for Daredevil tales. I don't want to see Daredevil punching Mephisto's son in the head. It just doesn't feel right.
It makes a certain sort of sense that Daredevil, the guy who wears red, has horns on his head and named himself partly on a Judeo-Christian bogeyman, would get the attention of the actual denizens of Hell in the Marvel Universe. And Nocenti does set it up as one man's spiritual-decline-slash-Faustian-bargain before it becomes something much more supernatural-tastic.
But, yeah, once Blackheart and Mephisto become major parts of "Daredevil," I completely zone out. I went back and reread that stuff over the weekend, and I can't even tell you what happens. At least Nocenti gets rid of the little skateboard kids as she pulls Daredevil out of New York and has him wrestle with his demons, and, I guess, actual demons in some backwater town where the Inhumans visit and hang out with some genetically modified gal who seems to me like a new attempt at a Jack Kirby character as filtered through John Byrne as filtered through Ann Nocenti, if that makes any sense.
It doesn't really make much sense to me, but I wasn't trying very hard to make all the pieces work in my brain. After reading 270-plus issues of "Daredevil" comics over the past month, the first time I felt completely disengaged was the last year or so of Nocenti's run, which is particularly disappointing because the Typhoid Mary and Kingpin storyline was such a high point.
My problem with the Mephisto saga, I suppose, comes from not any strong preconception that Matt Murdock has to be a certain way, or Daredevil stories have to fit in a certain, narrow mode (because the Steve Gerber stories broke free from those constraints, and I would honestly put them near the top of the pre-Frank Miller issues), but because (a) the Nocenti Daredevil-goes-to-Hell issues seem to disconnect the character from his own reality as opposed to bringing his perspective to the new reality he finds himself in, and (b) they seem like an attempt to actualize the internal conflict of the protagonist in a way that's too obvious even for allegory.
John Romita, Jr. and Al Williamson sure do draw the heck out of that last part of the run, though. Even if their Mephisto looks a bit too much like an escapee from Fraggle Rock.
If someone were to tell me their favorite run on Daredevil was Nocenti, I wouldn't be all that surprised. I can see how it strikes a chord with certain people, so it seems even more of a shame that I'm not one of those people. There are good moments from Nocenti, sure, but overall she doesn't rank as one of my favorites. I do, however, appreciate the grounded analytical mind she brought to the title. Nocenti is exactly like The Human Centipede; precise, specific, a little over the top but great for what it sets out to be. But it's just not my cup of tea -- at least not in large doses.
I think Nocenti signs off on the title grandly with her fight between Daredevil and Bullseye in swapped costumes. Both men have lost their mind, they've kind of swapped identities and by the end of the fight we get a page of blows landed and captions without indication of who owns them. It appears that it doesn't matter if you're the greatest hero or the largest psychopath, to be either extreme is too much for the human brain to handle. Eventually the release valves will let some steam off and who knows what will come out. Nocenti is pretty specific in showing these men as being the same, she doesn't bury the lead, but she still makes the fight fun and smart. I think there should be more smart fights in comics.
But then we get D.G. Chichester's run, and I don't think it segues perfectly, which I know some people might hate me for saying. I'm always surprised by the Chichester love I see online -- not because he doesn't deserve it, but that it can sometimes be so fervent. It's a good run, maybe, in parts, but it pales in comparison to the truly personal work that comes before, and I think I can see why without cracking a cover.
If you scan the covers where Chichester takes over, you'll notice a frightening trend -- there's nothing original here. A "team up" with the Punisher. Hand ninjas. Typhoid Mary. Kingpin. The Owl. I'm not saying you need to constantly create your own characters -- you are hired to write these characters in this universe with other characters that readers like -- but when you finally step up to the plate and you give us the Surgeon General then my socks will remain on my feet, my hair will not be blown back, and my boat will most likely sink.
Chichester opens up by playing with the toys of others and while some of it is good -- I already mentioned that his Typhoid Mary issue is actually brutally strong -- mostly it just feels to me like a kid in his father's trench coat talking gruff into the mirror. A successor to an empty throne instead of a leader conquering new and hazardous lands. He wants to have written the sequel to "Born Again" so badly that you can almost feel the comic shake with intent. But it doesn't reflect quality.
The tough tones are there, the bloodshed is present and the men are changed at the end. It's the next step but why is "Last Rites" not as good as "Born Again?" I think the fault is because it's too self-aware of what it's doing, or setting out to do. It's set to a Miller Metronome and that's not how lightning in a teacup is brewed.
One of our readers on the CBR Message Boards argued that Frank Miller's run effectively ended "Daredevil," and "Born Again" was a failure because it didn't provide anywhere for the story to go. It was, definitively, the end.
I don't think that makes it a failure (because one of the pleasures of ongoing superhero comics are the endings and new beginnings, visions and revisions), but I do think it made for difficult work if you were tasked with following Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli on the series. Unlike so many of the Daredevil stories in the first couple of decades of the character's existence, you couldn't just tell a Daredevil story. It had to either go in a radically new direction (Matt Murdock vs. Mephisto in the fiery pits) or you had to rehash the things that gave Daredevil the only major acclaim the character had ever received (Kingpin, Elektra, noiry pulp, ninjas, crime). Nocenti straddled the line with the latter and jumped into the former eventually.
Chichester, though, isn't as easy to categorize.
First, a disclaimer: I am a huge fan of Dan Chichester, the person. Back in the early days of comic-creators-on-the-internet (in the mid-to-late 1990s), I somehow ended up regularly in contact with Chichester, and he sent me Daredevil scripts to read and generally offered words of encouragement for my own writing. Though I never met him personally, he was the first comic book writer I really got to communicate with for any extended period of time. It wasn't a substantial enough interaction for me to say that he was my mentor or anything (and I'm sure he doesn't remember me bothering him all those years ago), but he certainly taught me a lot about script-writing and professionalism.
And the guy totally got screwed over and so we'll never know how good his "Daredevil" run would have been if he hadn't been yanked off the series while on vacation. But that's a common story in the industry, and so it goes.
That said, what we do have of Chichester's run has its high points, but it also feels incredibly schizophrenic. The art is such an abomination unless Lee Weeks is involved, or until Scott McDaniel figures out his new, post-"Sin City" style, that some of the issues are simply repulsive to look at. The M. C. Wymans of the world were surely hired to react to the then-popular Image Comics style, but even if there's gold in those Chichester stories, I can't see past the gritted teeth, ferocious poses, and faux-gritty landscapes. And Chichester's stories alternate from straight superhero fare to Miller redux to love letters to the New York City subway system to slapstick comedy to heady and complex techno epics.
Plus, there's that new costume. Confession: I don't mind the costume, although I always thought the neck-tattoo piece seemed a bit weird. The new costume got me back into reading Daredevil. I checked it out because I read about it in "Wizard," probably. It seemed cool at the time. I think I liked the color scheme and the way the chest design was segmented. I could have lived without the scalloped shoulders.
When I dove into that part of Chichester's run, back in those days, and saw what McDaniel was doing with negative space and the cast of a zillion characters and whirling plot points in "Fall From Grace," I just loved it. I don't know how many Marvel comics you were reading at that time, but I sure wasn't reading many (if any), and I had long since dropped anything other than a few Dark Horse comics, whatever Tundra was doing, a few Vertigo books and maybe a lucky DC title or two. Most of the 1990s, for me, were sans-superhero because that stuff was atrocious. But "Fall From Grace" had style. It had ambition. And, yes, the style may have been lifted from Frank Miller, but it wasn't really very similar to the "Sin City" look beyond its heavy use of shadows and negative space. No one would confuse Scott McDaniel's figures and page layouts for Frank Miller's. And, yes, it may have been overly ambitious and the increasing number of characters and guest appearances may have distracted from the central plot, but it was still full of energy.
It didn't look or feel like any other Daredevil story before it, and I was sold.
Going back and rereading all of Chichester's stories now, "Fall From Grace" still has energy and ambition. The follow-up, the "Tree of Knowledge" arc, feels quaintly dated, with its techno-speak that has become archaic already, but I did like some of the things Chichester did with Kingpin earlier in his run. Issue #300, in particular, may be the best of the post-Frank Miller attempts to capture the Frank Miller noir essence by subverting the "Born Again" story and repeating it in reverse, with Kingpin's world crashing down around him. It is a bit like Chichester wearing, as you say, "his father's trench coat," but of all the writers in "Daredevil" volume 1 who try to do a version of Frank Miller's Kingpin and Daredevil relationship, Chichester does it the cleanest, and most true to the characters.
And he brought Elektra back -- or brought her down from the mountain -- and that was a good thing, right? (I don't actually know the answer to that question. I'm thinking of the Brian Michael Bendis and Chuck Austen "Elektra" series and thinking, maybe not.)
Wow, you got back into Daredevil through the Wizard preview of the armored costume -- are you wearing a bowling shirt under your overalls right now? Did that sentence come from your AOL account?
I think Chichester's run will always taste mildly sour to me because it so wholly represents what was wrong with comics in the 90s. His issues look and feel so 90s that you can't help but shudder a little -- and I still think Chichester's run on Daredevil, or parts of it, are some of the better Marvel comics to come from that era. That doesn't stop the armored costume being an idea that goes against the aesthetic of Daredevil. I don't care if it makes sense in a defensive sort of way, or even a warmth way, the costume was pretty lame. Even Chichester has admitted it was a gimmick, and I give him full respect for admitting all he wanted to do was put the spotlight back on Daredevil. His heart was so very much in the right place.
I'm not certain that his bringing back of Elektra was the right thing. Imagine if she still wasn't back from the mountain? I would respect that a hell of a lot. Chichester needed to not rely on the past for his big hits. Though the further you read into his run, the more you appreciate "Last Rites," I will say that much.
It really was a shame that Chichester was fired when he went on holiday. It's the sort of thing you don't want to see happen to any creator, but I'm not certain how successful his run would have continued to be. Chichester certainly had grand designs for the character, he wanted him to only get bigger and better, but I'm not sure how much we need a time travel miniseries with Daredevil in the late 1800s getting about with Boss Tweed and Tamanny Hall. Yes, I'm serious.
Daredevil and time travel don't seem like the best match in the world, but look at what Jason Aaron's doing in "Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine" or Grant Morrison in "Return of Bruce Wayne." Time travel can be cool, kids!
I do have to say that after reading or rereading every issue of "Daredevil" volume 1 as we've gone through this month of the "Daredevil Dialogues" that our original conversation about the noir or "street" element of Daredevil is ridiculously flawed. The recent Bendis and Brubaker runs have tilted the bias toward those kinds of stories, but the overwhelming bulk of "Daredevil" volume 1 features stories that are in a far more traditionally superheroic vein than 21st century versions of the character would indicate. The essence of Daredevil is that he's the most human of all the major Marvel characters, not that his world is grim and shadowy. Those kinds of stories are the exception, even if they're the ones more fondly remembered.
Chichester's stories ran the gamut.
After Chichester, and before the book relaunched a few years later under the Marvel Knights imprint, we got to see a variety of writers tackle "Daredevil," but only three significant runs: J. M. DeMatteis, Karl Kesel and Joe Kelly. Those three guys steered the ship in the final few years of the series, before Chichester and Lee Weeks came in with the coda in issue #380 and the series was relaunched with Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada. Out of those three writers, DeMatteis, Kesel and Kelly, who do you think did the best job with the series? Do you think any of their runs are worth remembering?
If Daredevil is going to time travel, at least send him back to King Arthur, or into the future to sucker punch Luke Cage and Jessica Jones' daughter in the ribs.
You might be right about the whole noir thing -- but I won't admit it.
As for those three runs, well, I sadly must admit my reading here is sketchy at best. My theory is thus; these runs must not have been dynamite because not many people bought them, and I know their sales because I gauge how many issues are available on eBay here Down Under. And it is incredibly difficult to get your hands on any issues after about issue #330. Well, maybe those runs are completely awesome sauce and no one wants to part with these issues -- but I highly doubt that's the case. I have a fair few issues but the gaps are killing me.
Though I do hear Karl Kesel's run "spotlighted one of the many facets of the comic book mythos which is missing so much these days -- the smart super hero." I add quotes to that because they're not my words but instead belong to letterhack extraordinaire, CBR's own Augie DeBlieck, who appears in the back of one issue. I would respond to his thoughts, but his address is "withheld by request" so maybe he doesn't want to be accountable for his words.
As for the three gentlemen you name, I'm going to throw them all under the bus to highlight the name of Scott Lobdell, but I won't just yet get into why he drafted the greatest Daredevil story ever, so great the character had nowhere else to go and Marvel was left with no choice but to shut down the title for some time to allow the audience to simply simmer in what they had experienced. First I want you to tell me what I'm missing and who is the best Daredevil scribe out of DeMatteis, Kesel or Kelly.
Actually, Warren Ellis comes in there with a single issue -- "Daredevil" #343 -- that's probably most worth checking out. It's basically Matt Murdock wearing a suit and tie, a.k.a. his "Murdock costume," and bouncing around rooftops providing vigilante justice while the narration mocks the direction the series has taken over the previous few years. It's not a parody issue, but it does provide a bit of self-aware deconstruction of the series.
Between DeMatteis, Kesel, and Kelly, I'd say that Kesel's run is the best, but here's how each breaks down: DeMatteis has Matt Murdock's fragmented psyche visually represented by a variety of Daredevils, running around New York. Each Daredevil -- one wearing the original yellow costume, one wearing classic red, and one wearing the black and red armored suit -- turns out to be Matt Murdock. And the multiple selves are reconciled by the end of DeMatteis's run, plus Foggy Nelson finally learns the truth, that Matt Murdock has been Daredevil all along.
He's not too happy to find out Karen and Matt have been lying to him all these years.
Oh, and there's a hulking transsexual who Daredevil has to fight to heal his own conflicting personalities. Some kind of symbolism there.
The DeMatteis run is a necessary cleanse to get the Daredevil franchise back to its more traditional elements, and it has an interesting, dream (or nightmare) kind of quality, even if it doesn't do much with the character other than patch him back together and get rid of the Jack Batlin persona.
Kesel's run is a back-to-Stan-Lee-and-Wally-Wood-basics approach, with the title character literally billed as the "Scarlet Swashbuckler" and a real attempt at breaking Daredevil free from the Frank Miller influence. Cary Nord is no Wally Wood, but his relatively clean line style from that era is a refreshing change from the vigorous crosshatching of the rest of the 1990s "Daredevil" issues.
Kesel brings Matt Murdock the lawyer back into action for the first time in years, and when he first shows up in court, revealing that S.H.I.E.L.D. had to fake his death to protect him, the judge makes a Mike Murdock joke, which you'd appreciate. Kesel's run is basically straight-up superheroics with classic Daredevil villains like Mr. Hyde and the Eel and Mr. Fear, and it's almost as if none of the post-Stan-Lee, post-Roy-Thomas runs actually happened. Kesel doesn't retcon them away, but he's clearly following the earliest Daredevil tradition instead of the noirish stories of later years.
Joe Kelly simply continues the path Kesel had begun following, but his stories are not quite as lively as Kesel's. It feels like Kelly just didn't have as much affinity for the classic Daredevil stories as Kesel did, but he was writing stories in that mold anyway. Mostly forgettable stuff.
Matt Murdock probably wanted to forget it, too. And that's where I cue your Scott Lobdell appreciation society response.
Oh, my good man, cue the fanfare because Scott Lobdell was dropping bombs in his "Flying Blind" arc that led up to the final issue, #380.
You could see "Flying Blind" as a literal fable about heroism and what it means to finally see the good inside you. You could see this tale as a globe-trotting espionage thriller involving old Daredevil rogues and new international threats. You could view such a masterful piece of storytelling as the laying out of all the important pieces and summating them so as to be able to collect what was necessary for the trip forward into hibernation, and a relaunch.
You could do all of that but I doubt you will. "Flying Blind" sees Matt Murdock accept a mission from S.H.I.E.L.D. that takes him to France, and (here's the best part, you absolutely had to know I'd love this one) turns him into Laurent Levasseur. Laurent doesn't even remember he's Daredevil, or that he's blind, or a redhead. It's a farce on the level of Mike Murdock, and I can't explain exactly why I love it. But I do. I'm using a ton of hyperbole about it but it's not actually up there with the other classic stories, sorry. But it's one of those guilty pleasures I love to read.
Laurent is doing his thing in France when he comes up against a villain with super-human athletic abilities. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Le Concierge -- I'm not even making this up. Then Stilt-Man and Kingpin get involved -- because you just know that this week of Levasseur's travels coincide with Kingpin doing business in France.
Where every other classic Daredevil story is about tearing the man's life down, "Flying Blind" is all about giving it back to him. It, of course, ends with him seeing Foggy. And, yes, the final panel is the ultimate bro-hug moment. Right there we could have said, "Good night, Daredevil." This is everything we'll ever need. No women, just the boys; Matt, Foggy and Laurent!
As inexplicably as I love that rogue Mike Murdock, my heart will always hold a soft and welcoming ventricle for Laurent Levasseur and his devilish dark hair and good looks. I don't know why he hasn't been used again -- I'd make him a latent personality within Matt Murdock that crops up from time-to-time, Tyler Durden-style, and makes with the mischief. It would be beyond cool, trust me.
Then we get to the end of Volume 1. Do you think it was necessary for Daredevil to stop, go off the shelves, disappear and relaunch with a new number 1 (the very next month)?
You clearly have a much greater affinity for "Flying Blind" than I do. My reaction to the four-part story when it came out (and in rereading it now) went like this: first issue, ooh, Cully Hamner; second issue, aw, no Cully Hamner; repeat for third issue; fourth issue, yes! Cully Hamner.
That is the extent of my appreciation of the arc. Two of the issues look nice.
And then Dan Chichester and Lee Weeks are invited back to the party with the capstone issue #380, which is a decent enough farewell to some of the plot threads and themes they had established eighty issues earlier.
I don't think the series needed to be relaunched with a new #1, but as a reader, even a seasoned reader who should know better, I am much more likely to jump on board to a series with a first issue than with an issue #380. I'm all in favor of all comic book series starting over with a new #1 issue whenever a major new creative team comes on board. What I am decidedly not in favor of is when the numbering gets kicked back up to issue #500 just to get a one-time sales boost. That messes up the look of my neatly-filed comic books. They go from issue like #104 or whatever to issue #500. That's dumb, and bad, and terrible and surely the downfall of American serialized comics. Think I'm joking? Just look at sales over the past decade. Going up, then Marvel starts renumbering upwards and the sales start to fall right around that time overall. Think about it.
(And though I am joking, there maybe some truth to that, as foolishly obsessive geeks like me see the random renumbering and then think, well, my run is broken by the new numbering system, so I guess now is a good time to jump off the series. I know that's silly, but people think that way.)
Thus, we reach the end of "Daredevil" volume 1, and the end of the "Daredevil Dialogues," at least for now. If readers want to see what we think of Kevin Smith and Bob Gale and Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker and Andy Diggle, they can write in and demand the return of this feature. Go crazy on those message boards if you want us to come back for more.
As a whole, Volume 1 has a few brilliant moments and a whole lot of just plain fun and/or interesting issues. There's more mediocrity than greatness, but we're talking 25 years of "Daredevil" stories, reflecting an ever-shifting genre and audience, so that's to be expected. I think we have to end with our Top 5 lists, don't you? We don't really need to explain our rankings, since our conversation should have put things in perspective, but who would you list as the Top 5 "Daredevil" volume 1 writers? How about the Top 5 artists from the first 380 issues?
Your lack of "Laurent Love" disappoints me, but I do think by the time we've arrived at Levasseur it is time to close the door on Daredevil. The relaunch under the Marvel Knights imprint felt like it wanted a fresh start. It wanted new readers, it just wanted to feel new in general. I don't appreciate constant relaunches, though I do see how people want to step in at those moments. And I agree with you that the collecting of issues to make anniversary milestones is just cheap. You either want the new number one or you work towards the milestone, you should not be allowed both. But that's another rant for another column.
I think there is a distinct change between Volume 1 and 2 and it's a change of quality but it's definitely a change of tone. The first 25 years of Daredevil really splashes all over the place. Most genres are used, and sometimes the quality isn't great, but looking at it all is a whole stack of fun. Some of my favorite comics of all time come from this character in this 380 stack of comics. I don't think it would be fair to expect every issue and run to be gold dust. It's just not going to happen. But when Daredevil was good goddamn he was great.
As for Volume 2 -- man, I have so much to say. I guess people better hit the polls and maybe we'll be back for more some time. I'll certainly be casting my vote.
As for votes, here's what I think of some top 5 lists concerning Daredevil -- I love lists.
Top 5 Artists
5. Klaus Janson
4. Gil Kane
3. David Mazzucchelli
2. Gene Colan
1. Frank Miller
Top 5 Writers5. Roger McKenzie
4. Jim Shooter
3. Stan Lee
2. Steve Gerber
1. Frank Miller
And as a bonus, here's my Top 5 Issues -- personal favourites, not necessarily the best (and "Born Again" is not included because it would clog up the list -- my list, my rules)
5. #185 -- Guts
4. #261 - Meltdown
3. #287 -- The Termination of Typhoid Mary
2. #179 -- Spiked!
1. #191 - Roulette
I'll let your Top 5 personal favorite issues speak for both of us, since I tend not to think in terms single issues, but rather in the quality of overall runs. (Though issue #4, #50 and #178 might be in the top 5, if I had to break it down, maybe.) But for the last word on the subject, here are my Top 5 writers and artists for the first 380 issues of "Daredevil."
Top 5 Writers
5. Dan Chichester
4. Ann Nocenti
3. Steve Gerber
2. Stan Lee
1. Frank Miller
Top 5 Artists
5. Gene Colan
4. Barry Smith
3. John Romita, Jr.
2. David Mazzucchelli
1. Frank Miller
And that's that. 20,000 words over the past four weeks on "Daredevil" comics and we never even got to the Ed Brubaker issues that motivated this discussion in the first place! We'll get to it someday soon, if readers demand it.
In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.
Follow Tim on Twitter: TimCallahan