Thursday, 10 January 2013

Books: Daredevil (2001 - 2006)


Ultimate Collection Book 1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev, David Mack, Manuel Gutierrez and Terry Dodson

Available now from Islington Libraries
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Ultimate Collection Book 2
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Ultimate Collection Book 3
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev and Bill Sienkiewicz

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"I'm Burke. Carter Burke. I work for the company. But don't let that fool you, I'm really an okay guy."

I don't know about you - but for me - calling someone a "company man" is a pretty big insult. I mean - I don't think I've ever said it to anyone's face: but that's only because in my line of work I don't get that many chances to interact with people who do stuff like sell out their mothers for a percentage point (or whatever it is). But - as an avid consumer of all forms of mass media (films, music, TV, comics etc) there's plenty of opportunities to see people go from underground heroes to "selling out to the man." [1] I mean - I'm in no way adverse to seeing people rise up and crash their way into the mainstream: but I always thought that the point was to be able to change things and dictate to the rest of the world the way things should be rather than just joining the rank and file. Or - to put it another (much more simple kinda) way: if you're a square peg facing a round hole then - come on - the plan should be to change the shape of the hole rather than change the shape of your peg (just so we're all on the same page: the hole being mainstream entertainment and the peg being the stuff you create - yeah? Go that? Good).

But the "company men" (or - hell - "company women" / "company person" you know) the get to the point where they should conceivably start to have some kind of influence and instead of exerting it - they just bend over and do whatever it takes to get as much money they possibly can [2]. And - well - to state the total obvious here: people who are motivated purely by the accumulation of money strike me as being impoverished in all the ways that count. Say what you will about Frank Miller and Alan Moore - but back in the day - when they had their big successes they used their power to do - well: whatever the hell it was they wanted: and even if you might query some of the results (and goodness knows - people have) - I can't find any real fault in their devil-may-care attitude (ok - so maybe Frank Miller's Holy Terror - but that's a whole other story) [3].

Maybe it has something to do with a medium becoming entrenched? I mean - look at cinema back in the 1960s and 1970s: seeing how no one was really taking it all that seriously as a medium (well - ok: maybe not the whole medium - maybe more the crime / horror / science-fiction / genre stuff - but whatever) all the directors who have now become legends of their time - could do whatever they wanted and it was fine because there wasn't really a mainstream to join / co-opt them. Of course - give things time to solidify (and the people in charge to realise what sells and what doesn't) and most forms of entertainment will always tend to get a little more conservative: back when punk (another good example) started out it was - well - it was punk: loud and rude and making people kick their own television sets in [5] and nowdays - well - nowadays it's more like music for grandparents - or kids [6] even - having long been de-fanged and neutered: and all the sense of danger and violence successfully removed [7]. Which means that the people who once got into the medium for the sheer love of it (maybe I'm over-romanticising a little - but whatever: I've read Alan Moore talking about (back when he first started) that the social respectability of being a comic book writer was roughly at the same level as being a pimp) end up giving way to those who seem to think of it as a suitable and respectable career option or - in other words - the rebels give way to the suits.

A much quicker way of saying all this is that: things start wild and then they grow respectable (I mean - no dur right?) but really all of this is just my oh-so-typically-roundabout way of getting to the point. Point being: Brian Michael Bendis' Daredevil.

Now - if we were gonna keep things simple then the story would be this: Brian Michael Bendis used to be a comic's outsider with his nose pressed up against the glass. He used to write and draw his own comics (have you ever read his Goldfish? Well - you should - it's really good) and - apparently - spent years and years and years trying to break into the mainstream until - whoa - one day he did. Given the choice of writing for pretty much any of the Marvel properties - he chose Daredevil [8] and the rest: well - the rest is these three "Ultimate Collection" books which collect the entirety of his legendary five year run [11]. Oh: did I say legendary? Yes I did - because (at the risk of maybe building these up a little bit too much before you get the chance to read them) these  are pretty much the pinnacle of modern day continuity-bound superhero books. Of course the operative phrase there is: "continuity-bound" (hell - wait - is that the right phrase? I was also going to opt for "in-continuity" but that didn't sound correct: but - whatever - I'll write some more and you should get what I mean...).

See: the thing is with superhero comics is that all the really good ones (those are the ones that you don't have to feel embarrassed about when you mention them in polite company) don't take place in mainstream continuity: you know - stuff like (to be really obvious): The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen or All Star Superman - these are stories that are (for all intents and purposes [17]) - self-contained - you can pick them up, read them to the end and get a (nice) sense of closure. But - technically speaking: that's not the superheroes natural habitat: rather their natural dwelling place is in a place known as "continuity." For those of you that don't know what that is - well - you know what a soap opera is - right? A never-ending TV programme that goes on forever and ever and ever like a story that forgot where the off switch is? Well - that's what most superhero comics are like: they draw you in with the promise of action and adventure and excitement and then bog you down with a plot that never gets to point where everything concludes: which is basically why superhero comics are such a mess and are only of interest to the hardcore super-geek - because those are the only people who have a chance of understanding everything that's going on (and you know: that's why every few years or so they have a big relaunch (DC: The New 52 or Marvel: Now or whatever and do things like re-boot Spider-Man's marriage [18]) in an attempt to clear the decks because - no duh - in a world where there's costumed heroes running around and getting up to mischief - things can tend to get a little - well: a little convoluted: and so you know - that's like a major understatement right there).

But you're getting the picture yeah? Because of this never-endingness most mainstream "in continuity" (or whatever) superhero comics are scrappy little things that only just barely hang together and aren't really much when it comes to providing the sorts of comforts that most readers expect to get: I mean: a sack isn't suitable clothing no matter how shiny it is or however brightly coloured the material is. In comparison tho: reading these Daredevil books is like: well - it's like putting on a tailor-made leather jacket: it's warm, it's comfortable and - well - it's just nice in that strange kinda way that you only get from things of - well - things of quality: you know?

A big part of that is down to the Alex Maleev's artwork which is all kinds of classy. If Elmore Leonard or James Ellroy ever decided to draw comic books then I'd like to think that it would look something like these Daredevil books: it's all hard and straight to the point but with a level of loving intricate almost-photographic (is it based on photographs?) detail that - well - that Marvel comics generally just aren't known for: the house style has always been much more bright and brash and in your face (you know: Jack Kirby-style) while this stuff feels a lot more - I dunno - like it's taken one step back so that the reader is just slightly removed: so instead of feeling bashed around the head it feels more like you need to peer in to make sure you can follow what's happening - which (you know) is a nice feeling: it's less condensing somehow and more like something for grown-ups (well - as grown-up as you can get about a guy dressed in a devil outfit running around bashing bad guys) [19].

But looping back to that point I was making at the start about people who are more invested in doing what's best for the company than doing what's best for themselves (I could have structured this a lot better - but what the hell - it's a blog: the messiness is part of the point - right?): if you wanna be one-dimensional about things then these Daredevil books are where Bendis was looking out for himself and being a free artistic spirit  and looking out for nothing apart from his muse: and since this idyllic point he's sold out and become a company man and done nothing but churn out ever-increasingly uninspired rights on The Avengers (which - obviously - has become much more of a flag-strip title in this past years then it used to be). And watching Bendis run through the much more typical superhero-y motions of the past few years - yeah - it can be hard to choke down the thought that - man: I wish that either he was still writing Daredevil or (if not that) then at least focusing his (formidable) talents on something that was a little bit more exciting / challenging / experimental. Because - yeah: there is a large contingent of people who think that Bendis hit a sweet spot with these books (the perfect balance between superheroes and seriousness) that he hasn't ever really gone back to: but - hell - one hand: I guess it's a measure of how insular superhero fans can be (sometimes) when it's like - oh he shouldn't be writing this superhero comic - he should be writing this superhero comic (because - guys: at the end of the day - isn't it all much of a muchness?) but then again (on the other hand): he's definitely shifted his style from noir-grittinesses to something a lot more fluffy and sweet (but then - even if it's a reverse of what readers normally expect - who's to say it's not a form of artistic growth? I mean - people didn't complain that much when Alan Moore started writing stuff like Tom Strong and Top 10 - did they?).

But - wait - what the hell am I trying to say? [20] I guess that maybe things are never really that simple? And as much as I deplore the state of affairs when people give up their best instincts to chase the money: is it really fair that Daredevil has become such a noose around Bendis' neck? The same people who complain that Radiohead should go back to their Ok Computer days - I mean: ok yeah - we all love Climbing Up The Walls: but the best thing to do with the past is celebrate it rather than cling to the hope that maybe one day we can return?

I dunno - it's complicated I guess (and am I talking to those people who have already read Daredevil and wish that Bendis would go back to what he was then? Or those people who haven't read them - but are looking for maybe some sort of understanding about their place in the comic's canon? Answer = I don't know - both maybe?).

But - what is clear is (and yeah - maybe you should just ignore everything I've said) that these books are the gold standard of superhero books still and forever more. If you can make it to that first "to be continued" in the first book without feeling that itch at the back of your skull pressing you on and demanding that you finish the whole book as quickly as possible - then - well: you've made of stronger stuff than me. It's the level of detail and thought that's gone into every page - every throw-away line ("Illinois vs. Steve Rogers?" "People vs. Tony Stark?" "Utah vs. Banner?") that makes this a series to hold close to your chest. There's a moment in the third book that is as good as any scene from any movie - any chorus in any song - that made me shiver with a divine mixture of thrill and glee every time I read it (if you've read it - well - then it's the bit that starts ""There are religions and powers in this world that are tens of thousands of years old.") but then - there's a multitude of those kind of scenes to chose from: it's all good you know? And it never stops twisting and turning and trying out new moves and different styles. I didn't take a page count - but depending on how fast you read - these books all add up to a good few solid afternoons of reading - but by the time you get to the end you wouldn't feel tired or wrung out: instead - you'll just be wishing that there was more.

So like it says right at the start: "Have at thee!" If you've never read them - then (well) you really really should and you've read them already: then read them again. For what they are: there's few very comics finer. 

[1] It hurts slightly that I have to put that in scare quotes. But I guess if you want to be taken seriously you can't say stuff like that with a completely straight face. Oh well.

[2] Or something: I dunno - I kinda wanna say something a little more crude here - but in my head this is a family-friendly blog (although I couldn't say for sure how many families actually read it... Two? Three? Four? And do they all read it together? Or one at a time?). But yeah: there was an Alan Moore interview I read the other day ("Alan Moore: why I turned my back on Hollywood" in the Guardian - where else?) where he made a few comments about money that seem relevant to this point (this feeling?) that I'm trying to make - my favourite being: "Pure voodoo... only there as long as we believe in it."

[3] The gold standard of this sort of thing I guess would be Grant Morrison who - yeah yeah (don't stop me if you've heard this before) who went from underground messianic cult figure to DC corporate stooge and who regrets nothing (trying to put this in perspective for those of you who aren't clued in - imagine if John Lennon had ended up writing jingles [4] for Pepsi and you're just about there). Guy sold out so much that Jamaal Thomas over at Funnybook Babylon (I Know I Contradicted Myself. Look, I Don’t Need That Now) has lead to conclude (in heartbreaking fashion) that this means that really the best lesson to learn is not never trust anyone again ever (quote: "We shouldn’t stop loving the books or respecting the people who create them. We can still value online and in-person interactions with creators, and pore over their interviews and profiles. We just shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed when they change their public persona. We should resist that sense of false sense of familiarity or intimacy with people who are essentially strangers.") - which kinda reminds of the same sort of psychological stance that people take after a really bad and messy break-up ("I just need to learn that I can never trust anyone again ever and I'll be fine"): which - you know - isn't really the thing to be aiming for - but yeah.

[4] Admittedly - really good jingles - but still.

[5] We all know that story right? Bill Grundy? Sex Pistols? No?

[6] Punk Rock Baby anyone? ("music originally recorded by The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, Blondie, The Buzzcocks & The Ramones..... re-worked in a lullaby style!")

[7] Whilst looking for that Punk Rock Baby CD above I found this article from the Guardian (Punk spoke up for angry kids. Why won't today's bands follow suit?) written by Krissi Murison (then editor of the NME) written just after the 2011 riots it basically bemoans the fact that all the middle-class musicians of the present aren't doing the same thing as the middle-class musicians of the past (yeah - that's right - let's not forget the fact that Joe Strummer was the public-school-educated son of a diplomat) whilst forgetting that if all your want from your musicians of the present is to do the same thing as your musicians of the past then - well - then you end up with a music scene where nothing much interesting ever happens ever (oh well).

[8] Mainly (so it seems) because of Frank Miller's seminal run (from 1979 - 1983) which opened up the potential of what comic books could be (if you added a few well-chosen crime / noir elements) and took Daredevil from the C-List of under-developed goofy superheroes with silly names [9] to the point that he got his own movie made (yeah - ok - so the movie was a flop that killed Ben Affleck's career so bad that he had to end up becoming a director: but still - a movie! That's something right? [10]).

[9] And it seems that his first battle was up against some dude called "The Purple Man" - which should give you some idea of what we're talking about (I mean - I think I might say this a lot: but what the hey: we're not exactly dealing with Shakespeare here are we?).

[10] I haven't actually seen the Daredevil movie [11] and therefore can neither confirm or deny reports The Purple Man makes an appearance. But if anyone reading this has seen it - then please leave a comment below and let us know just how awful it is. Thanks.

[11] The director of which - Mark Steven Johnson - provides an introduction (or afterword maybe seeing how it's included at the end of Book 1) where he says: "A blind super hero? How cool can that be? Well the answer is right here in your hands." Although all I could think of when I read this was that - one: I know that they got the film director to plug the comic book because films are better and all that right? But - if there was any real justice in the world: then the Daredevil film would have opened with an introduction from Bendis (hell - maybe it does? Like I said - I haven't seen it) and two: thinking of Daredevil as just being a cool superhero kinda misses the point a little (and if the director didn't grasp this maybe that explains why the film wasn't such a hit?) but it's not that Daredevil himself is that cool (I mean - come on: the concept is a little silly:  I mean - if he's blind then why does he have that double D on his chest? Apart from the fact that all superheroes need an embalm of some type - they would have been better off if they just put him in something blank: but maybe that's just me? I dunno) - it's that the stories that you can use him to tell (crime, justice, vengeance, fear, tragic love - all that stuff) is what makes him such a great tool in the hands of the right writer. It's like - well - Batman is cool enough that no matter what you do with him - the reader is probably going to have a good time: but compared that kinda of sledge-hammer icon - Daredevil is more like a knife or a scalpel - you pretty much have to know what you're doing if you want to have some sort of effect - yeah? Like Jessica Jones says at one point: ""People think - they think "super hero" and they think larger-than-life adventure, big colorful characters. But a lot of the time, truth be told, it's a thankless existence." Daredevil's not cool: he's all thankless existence - striving, failing and getting kicked to the floor - you wouldn't want to be him: but he's fascinating to watch.

[12] Ok - so people I start this I feel like I should say something like: "here comes the science bit - concentrate" because - yeah: of course - there are other collected editions out there (some of which are scattered around Islington libraries): so if you can't get your hand on these books then this is how they break down (this is like my public service announcement or something) : Ultimate Collection Book 1 = Daredevil #16-19 & #26-40 [13]. (Collected in volume form as: Daredevil: Wake Up, Daredevil: Underboss and Daredevil: Out). Ultimate Collection Book 2 = Daredevil #41 - 50 & #56 - 65 [14] (Collected in volume form as: Daredevil: Lowlife, Daredevil: Hardcore, Daredevil: The King of Hell's Kitchen and Daredevil: The Widow). And Ultimate Collection Book 3 #66– 81 (Collected in volume form as: Daredevil: Golden Age, Daredevil: Decalogue and Daredevil: The Murdock Papers) Also includes (as a bonus) two stand-alone stories: What If... Karen Page Had Lived? and Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #6 - 8 Spider-Man and The Punisher and Daredevil (with art from Bill Sienkiewicz! Who (so you know) is great and amazing and fantastic) [15].

[13] Interrupted by issues #20-25 (Playing to the Camera), by Bob Gale which (according to The Other Murdock Papers) have "not been collected, and it doesn’t look like they will be any time soon (if ever)." So: sad face there.

[14] Which was interrupted by issues #51–55 by David Mack's Daredevil: Echo - Vision Quest  which has been collected (but Islington currently doesn't have a copy of - sorry).

[15] And just to get it down: the only books Islington has (at the moment at least) is: Daredevil Vol 4: Underboss, Daredevil Vol 6: Lowlife, Daredevil Vol 7: Hardcore, Daredevil Vol 9: The King of Hell's Kitchen, Daredevil Vol 10: The Widow,  Daredevil Vol 11: Golden Age and Daredevil Vol 13: The Murdock Papers [16]. Or - to put it another way - if you want to read the whole story in the proper order with no gaps - you're best off reading the three Ultimate Collections.

[16] Oh: and - lordy - since I'm going into all this detail I'd better mention that there's also a book floating around that's just called "Daredevil Vol 2" that collects issues #26-37 which is Daredevil Vol 4: Underboss and Daredevil Vol 5: Out. Ok. You got all that? Good.

[17] If you wanna be pedantic about it - ok: yeah The Dark Knight Returns and All Star Superman do rely a little bit on the Batman and Superman stories of old (and - yeah well - All Star Superman (seeing as it's written by Grant Morrison) sneakily references a whole bunch other Grant Morrison stories) - and the best course of action is if we just pretend that the Watchmen prequels never happened - so (yeah) basically - my point still stands and get off my back yeah?

[18] If you don't know what I'm talking about here: well - yeah - trust me: you're better off not knowing.

[19] Another way of saying the same thing: if all the other Marvel books out there feel that they would be best soundtracked by upbeat pop music or melodic alternative rock bands - then Daredevil feels more suited  to melancholy / experimental jazz (like the sort of thing that they play in the Homeland titles maybe?).

[20] It's safe to say: don't quote me on that.

All comments welcome. 


Tam said...

I saw the Daredevil film. It's not THAT bad for what it is and you can tell the people involved liked the comics although I wouldn't go so far as to actually say it's worth watching.

The main problem with it is that although there's been the odd good Daradevil comic over the years, (especially Born Again, which I think is probably the best out-and-out superhero comic ever because, among other things, it's about how the hero rises above 'revenge') he does have one of the less plausible origins/powers in comic history.

You can just about get away with that in comics because they're, well, comics but you can't watch that stuff in a film without seeing how utterly implausibly stupid it is...

Islington Comic Forum said...

Reading Grantland ( ) this morning (talking about the Golden Globes and Ben Affleck)and I got this: "Daredevil (the worst modern superhero movie ever made)." Which - frankly - doesn't make me want to go and grab a copy...

I agree that his origin is pretty chesseball - but then: why does EVER superhero film have to show the stupid superhero origin? I mean - I know that many people have said this before but if Tim Burton's first Batman film can skip the how the hero started stuff - then why can't everyone else? (I dunno...).

Also: do you know the teenage mutant ninja turtles / daredevil connection?

Tam said...

Worst Superhero movie ever? That's a BIT harsh. I still preferred it to pretentious crap like The Dark Knight Rises. You're right about not needing origins though, which is another reason I think The Incredibles is still the best superhero film to date

I'm ashamed to admit I do know that the Turtles started off as a Daredevil 'parody'