02 December 2011

Daredevil #6


And here we go! Starting today and (fingers crossed) every Friday, the Flashmob Fridays gang will congregate right in this space (well, on this blog) and weigh in on one particular comic book or graphic novel! For details on what it's all about, how to participate as a writer or get your comic considered for review, read my introductory post from yesterday, and thanks for checking out Flashmob Fridays! If you like what you see, please bookmark us, subscribe to our RSS feed (in the sidebar at left), tell your friends, and buy the CafePress Flashmob Fridays hoodie! (Just kidding. For now.)

And now with no further ado, because, as Stan Lee once said, we've exhausted our supply of ado, here's the first new Flashmob Fridays, a look at this week's Daredevil #6 by Mark Waid and Marcos Martin, published by Marvel Comics.

Joseph Gualtieri:

If anything good came out of Marvel’s Brand New Day Spider-Man reboot, it was Marcos Martin. Oh, Martin had been around for awhile before that, but he never seemed to make too much an impression, despite penciling Batgirl Year One. His work was sporadic, and mainly consisted of fill-ins. Marvel’s been using him as something of a pinch-hitter, but his Paper Doll arc in Amazing Spider-Man #559-561 seemed to finally win him a fan base. By contrast, Mark Waid has, of course, been one of the biggest names in superhero comics since his “Return of Barry Allen” storyline way back in 1993 (and writing that makes me feel quite old). One would hope that teaming up a well-regarded writer and a hot artist would produce a great comic; Daredevil #6, unfortunately, isn’t the best work from either one of them.

The opening sequence is gorgeous, as Daredevil saves himself after being thrown into the sea by Bruiser, apparently in the previous issue. From there though, the comic goes downhill as the characters are convoluted, the plot makes little sense, and worst of all, makes poor use of Martin’s skills. A good portion of the blame for this does not fall on Waid, necessarily, but rather on whoever’s responsible for the recap page. For some reason, despite being Daredevil, the recap page is presented, as in Amazing Spider-Man, as the front page of an issue of the Daily Bugle, and like the ASM Bugle recap pages, it’s short on information that might help a new reader. The whole point to a recap page should be clarifying things for a new reader so that the comic isn’t bogged down with unnecessary exposition. If you’ve ever read a run of Marvel comics from the late 1960s through the early '90s (say, in an Essential) you’ll probably find yourself skimming a lot as it seems as if at least a quarter of the average issue was devoted to in-text recaps. With the trade being the final form of most comics these days, it’s understandable and desirable for writing styles to change to accommodate the format change, but the recap page needs to utilized properly for the single issue to work on its own.

Daredevil and Bruiser’s motivations and reasons for being in this issue are clear, but the other three major characters in this issue are all muddled. First up is Randall, who planned to betray the Midas Corporation by exposing a deal they made with five of the evil terrorist organizations in the Marvel Universe. It’s never clear why he was doing that, what sort of evidence he had, or anything else. Overall though, those are minor compared to the other two characters. Zachary works for Midas and hired Bruiser to go after Randall. That’s clear enough, but what’s his role in Midas? Is he the head of the company? Is he a mid-level manager? Is the threat of Midas gone when he dies? I have no idea. Then there’s Austin Cao. I have absolutely no idea who this guy is, despite him being mentioned on the recap page as a client of Matt Murdock’s who was fired from Midas. He’s also referred to as being a friend of Randall’s, but the connection there on the page is zilch otherwise and he just plays the role of boy hostage in this issue.

All of that should have been covered by the recap page. Where the issue itself turns Byzantine is the plot. Brusier grabs Randall and brings him to Midas’s extremely boring and bland looking base, DD follows, a fight ensues and during that Zachary has some techs unlock security on the Omega Drive, which contains information related to the five-way deal. The Omega Drive replaces Randall as the McGuffin for the second half for the book, but it’s never clear where it came from or why Zachary had the security on it unlocked. Maybe this was evidence Randall had on him proving the deal, but that’s nowhere in the text.

While Randall is the real villain of the issue, most of the comic is taken up by a fight between Brusier and Daredevil. As I already noted, it takes place in a bland, boring base. Martin does choreograph the fight well, and there’s the occasional flourish like all of page 12, overall this just doesn’t come off as the best use of skills. Bruiser himself is a mixed bag; the idea of an up-and coming super villain seeking sponsorship is a neat idea, but he’s seemingly sponsored by every evil organization in the Marvel Universe. I don’t watch a lot of NASCAR (okay, any), but usually, one company in a certain product field sponsors someone. Having AIM, the Serpent Society, and Hydra all sponsor you is sort of like getting sponsorship from Coke, Pepsi, and Polar. Further muddling things, for Brusier has a Luchador mask, which doesn’t fit the corporate sponsorship theme. His power set is neat though; rather than being a typical super-strong type, he can focus his mass one part of his body and enhance that. It’s almost like some weird combination of the Blob and Ultra Boy. There’s some potential here, even if Waid and Martin didn’t bring it all out.

Overall, while there are some decent elements to this issue, it’s far from the best work of the creators involved, even if some of the blame falls on editorial for not properly utilizing the recap page.

Alan David Doane:

When I was 15, there was no comic I look forward to more every month than Frank Miller and Klaus Janson's Daredevil. Claremont, Byrne and Austin were doing fun, exciting stuff on Uncanny X-Men, Simonson was tearing it up on Thor, but there was something about Miller and Janson's DD that really got under my skin and kept me coming back for more, month after month.

Unfortunately, that legendary run of comics got under Marvel's skin, and the skins of many thousands of readers, too. For decades, Daredevil as a comic book has been defined either by its debt to Miller/Janson (Chichester, Bendis, Brubaker) or by its sometimes-flailing attempt to do something, anything different (Nocenti, Smith).

Mark Waid, a writer who can do truly extraordinary things when given some free rein (see his first run of Captain America with artist Ron Garney), seems to be enjoying just that privilege these days, and has reinvented Daredevil (both the comic and the character) in a manner that neither evokes Miller/Janson nor strikes one as a counter-response to same. I wouldn't call it sui generis, as stylistically the book these days reminds me a bit of the Gene Colan era (seriously, would Mike Murdock be that out of place in this version of Daredevil?), but it does feel fresh and contemporary. The current issue concludes a storyline that saw Matt Murdock protecting and defending a young man who gets in a little over his head and ends up endangered by numerous longtime evil secret groups like AIM and HYDRA. The most pleasing thing about this issue, and this run, is that Waid is actually telling comprehensible stories with a beginning, middle and end. Sure they're designed to be collected into trade paperbacks, but unlike the majority of Marvel and DC titles these days, stuff actually happens over the course of the stories, characters are built and explored, and the reader is invited to dive into the world being created and have fun along with the creators. The events of recent years -- from Brubaker's outstanding run to Andy Diggle's disastrously awful one -- were acknowledged early on, and then thankfully moved on from.

Artist Marcos Martin brings a light, visually appealing Pop Noir sensibility to the book, reminiscent of stylists like Darwyn Cooke or David Mazzucchelli without any obvious debt to any particular artist. My favourite artistic run on Daredevil of the past decade was the work Michael Lark did with writer Ed Brubaker, but that era's over and Martin really does make a nice creative partner for Waid. "Nice" is probably not the most evocative or compelling word I could use to convince you to give this title a try, but along with "fun" and "entertaining" it's my honest reaction to the current run on Daredevil. Considering how many superhero comics are not very nice these days, or any fun at all, there's many worse things it could be called.

Matt Springer:

I spend a great deal of time pondering Mark Waid. Perhaps more than is healthy. How was that mocha latte, Mark? The one I watched you purchase this morning while sitting in my riot gear and underpants outside the Starbucks on Melrose?

I think a lot about Mark Waid because he is one of those creators whose gifts are so exceptional as to be invisible. When you love a writer, sometimes there's an urge to place her into a neat cubby hole -- Morrison's the eccentric one, Brubaker's the crimey one, Johns is a blood-drenched thirteen-year-old with dual shotguns under his black trenchcoat.

There was a time, and maybe that time is still now, when Waid was recognized as the "silver age retro" guy who could whip your sorry ass at obscure Superman trivia with one hand while writing Who's Who entries about the Legion of Substitute Heroes with the other. Thanks largely to his creator-owned work on the dark superhero series Irredeemable and Incorruptible, he's been able to shed that mantle to a degree. (I'm waiting for the kids version, Incorrigible.)

So now he's encamped at Marvel where he's spearheading the latest revamp of Daredevil, a character who has become most familiar to readers over the past couple decades for enduring a parade of tragedy that would inspire the welcome release of suicide in lesser men. And at first glance, Waid's Daredevil fits into the lazy stereotype of the Waid comic -- it's a character we all love, and he's fun again! Just like in the sixties! Next issue, Foggy Nelson becomes Turtle Boy!

But it's not that simple. There's nuance here, and breakneck action, and villains distinguished by casual, naked greed. Coupled with Marcos Martin's pencils, each page is so crisp and clean you could eat off it. That opening splash alone -- Martin's pitch-perfect rendering of Daredevil submerged deep underwater at the lower right of the panel, with a single caption, "There's one advantage to being underwater."

It seems so simple but it's packed with meaning. On the first page of the issue, Daredevil's immediately in danger. Even if you've never picked up the book, you're drawn in by that simple fact. The black of the water is accented by the subdued red of Daredevil's costume. He's positioned upside down, falling through that water, and with the flatness of the page itself, he already looks beaten. Of course, he's not, but the suggestion of imminent defeat from the very first page creates suspense. One page, one big panel, practically a master class in comics.

There are great writers who are great just because they execute on the raw fundamentals of storytelling better than anyone else. They find a character, understand the fundamentals of what's special about that character, and then they simply amplify those traits. Mark Waid is one of those writers, and his Daredevil is awesome.

Scott Cederlund:

How do you classify artists like Marcos Martin? In Daredevil #6, Martin is doing something that you don’t see a lot of artists in superhero comic books doing today; he’s drawing elegantly. He’s drawing what should be a classic style where each and every line is absolutely essential to the image and to the story. It’s how the Marvel style was built by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. It’s what John Buscema and John Romita carried on. Those early Marvel artists all knew the power of the line and applied it judiciously to the page. They didn’t go crazy and just splash ink everywhere (although there is a time and a place for that artistic approach as well) but established Marvel by drawing just what they needed to on the page. That could mean a wild Ditko dimension or a solid Avengers argument between Black Panther and Hawkeye or one of Read Richards’ other worldly adventures.

For too long, Daredevil visually has been defined by night and shadows. Frank Miller, John Romita Jr., Alex Maleev, and Michael Lark, just to name a few, have made Daredevil as grim and dark of a character as possible. Like Paulo Rivera has done of the first five issue of this latest Daredevil series, Martin draws anything but heavy heavy shadows. Martin’s Daredevil moves on the page thanks to the artist's simple yet elegant (there’s that word again) line, which defines the characters and settings but also moves with the characters. Movement is such a hard thing to convey through static drawn images, but a character like Daredevil needs to move through a page.

Martin draws a two-page spread in the first third of the issue where an image of Daredevil kicking a henchman spreads across the entire two pages. It’s one of those perfectly captured moments, like a perfect photograph to capture a boxing match or other sports event. All the power, energy and character of the moment is captured in one perfect image. Daredevil comes in from stage left, his body stretched out in mid-air as his heel connects with an AIM lackey’s jaw, sending the lackey reeling to the far right of the image. A hostage, arms tied behind his back, ducks below Daredevil as if they spent weeks practicing this move. It’s the kind of image and moment that in real life you hope you’re lucky enough to capture once or twice with a camera. It’s the kind of captured image that’s even rarer in comics.

Over the years, there have been plenty of images of Daredevil kicking a thug in the face but it’s Martin’s simplicity that makes this image and his art in the whole issue something special. The clean lines that Martin uses to draw Daredevil make it nice and easy to just follow the action from one side of the page, all the way across it and then out of the page. His Daredevil looks like he belongs in the air, not like he’s flying but more like he is an acrobat or martial artist and this is just one of his go-to moves. Martin carries that lightness and motion of the character throughout the book.

The other thing that Martin does consistently is he surprises the readers. Whether it’s through one panel or an inventive layout, most pages have at least one unique element on it that make you just stop and say “wow.” The very first page is one of those with Daredevil sinking into the blackness of the ocean, with a thin line of air bubbles leading up to the surface. It’s a different kind of darkness than the character usually knows and Martin makes it both familiar and different that way. On other pages, a brief panel shows how Daredevil experiences the world around him. It may be an interesting layout or it may be a great splash page showing that the bad guys have been set up in a Mexican standoff shown from an unique angle; Martin makes sure that at least every other page has something on it that catches your eye because it’s so different than anything else you see in a comic book right now.

I wonder if we need to come up with a new term to describe the type of art that Martin and Rivera are doing in Daredevil. The first thing that pops to my mind is “superhero minimalism.” As shown in Daredevil #6, Martin knows what he needs to put on the page to tell the story. He doesn’t put too much information and he doesn’t put in too little either. Each line is part of the storytelling process and contributes to the panel, to the page and to the whole issue. Kirby knew how much information needed to be on a page (even if some of his inkers didn’t agree with him) and he pretty much built the Marvel style of storytelling. That’s not to say that Martin is the next Jack Kirby but he understands how Kirby’s art worked and connected with an audience and he actually manages to apply those lessons to his own art. It’s not about what you’re drawing but it is about how you’re drawing it. Martin draws really well.

Johnny Bacardi:

Like (I suspect) many others, I had become so bored with the whole dreary, melodramatic, brooding, suffering, tortured Miller/Bendis/Brubaker take on Daredevil, that Mark Waid's run so far has been like encountering an oasis in the middle of a hot, endless desert. It's not so much that Waid has revived the swashbuckling, wisecracking DD of my youth, even though that was long overdue...it's that it seems like Waid just went away and actually thought about the character for a good long while- about what made him tick, what could make him interesting and engaging and dare I say even fun to read, about cause and effect and what his supporting cast should be and how they should react...and has set about to write the best superhero comic series he possibly can, with all of us as the beneficiary. I don't mean to gush so unabashedly, but I sure never saw this coming, and it's so surprisingly good that it makes me fear the fanman backlash- the same people that help keep so much Big Two junk alive won't embrace this, surely. Anyway, be that as it may, I think sales have been pretty good so far so we'll keep fingers crossed.

I haven't even mentioned the fact that Waid is assisted by two of the best of today's superhero artists, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin. Rivera I was less familiar with, but he's provided one clever, smart visual after another, and Martin has excelled on his alternating arcs as well...I've enjoyed Martin's work on other projects such as Batgirl Year One and the Dr. Strange mini of a couple of years ago... he has such a intuitive grasp of layout and staging, and a facile, supple way of drawing people, that he (I think) is as close as we'll get to a modern Ditko. Unfortunately, he's leaving the rotation, but Rivera's staying on, thank goodness.

This particular issue had me a bit concerned...the Unbeatable Big Bad named Bruiser that was introduced last issue seemed a bit crass somehow, and reminded me more than a little of the guy with the flag on his face from that long-ago Miller/Mazzuchelli story arc, whose name eludes me. But not to worry; the rematch between DD and the new guy was a clinic in how to make a superhero fight interesting. It was all tied in to a bigger-picture arc which had Matt Murdock striving to protect a young blind man who accidentally overheard something which jeopardized his life at the hands of five of Marvel's criminal organizations- you know, AIM, Hydra, etc., and it was resolved in exciting, even humorous (I laughed out loud at the joke on page 19) fashion. Waid even cleverly sets himself up with a plotline, should he choose to pursue it, that will lurk for next few issues, I'm sure.

I'm really trying hard to be critical here, honestly, but it's hard to be objective. I don't know what has gotten into the good but never THIS good before Waid, but I intend to enjoy it as long as I can. Along with Thunderbolts, Daredevil is most certainly, in my opinion, the best superhero comic Marvel has to offer right now, and is better than anything that its distinguished competition is throwing out there as well.

Christopher Allen:

Last week I was reading a book from TwoMorrows that collected a lot of Stan Lee ephemera (old proposals, interviews, and a number of tributes). In a 1967 interview, Lee reflected on his various ongoing Marvel titles and his only regret at the time was that he had thus far failed to make Daredevil distinct from Amazing Spider-Man. They both fought some of the same villains, and both had John Romita, Sr. providing the artwork around this time. Although Gene Colan did bring a different atmosphere, when most readers think of Daredevil now, it’s with the weight of years of Frank Miller’s noir-inspired work, which has cast its shadow on recent runs by Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker and, most recently, Andy Diggle. Evil ninjas, demons, and an increasingly tortured Matt Murdock who could be desperate or calculating but rarely having much fun or seeming in command of his faculties.

Well, superhero comics are all about change, or at least the illusion of change, and so it wasn’t surprising that with Spider-Man group editor Steve Wacker taking over the editing of Daredevil, things would come sort of full circle with a return to a brighter, more upbeat book for DD. Wacker is a pretty imaginative guy but in this case, getting Mark Waid to write the book was a no-brainer. Waid had already worked with Wacker for a few years as one of the rotating crew of writers that restored Amazing Spider-Man to not only a good book, but a good book to get every week. And although Waid is no stranger to darker superhero stories (Kingdom Come, Irredeemable), he also has a track record of coming onto books that have gone off the rails into darkness or stupidity and making them enjoyable again.

This issue concludes a two-part story in which Daredevil tries to rescue a scientist from the clutches of representatives from five of the biggest Marvel Universe criminal/terrorist organizations, including A.I.M. and Hydra. To do this, he has to first get through a new villain called Bruiser. This sounds fairly generic, but Waid is a very clever, playful writer, offering a lot of nice details and ideas. We get Daredevil’s observation (while underwater, apparently dumped overboard in issue #5) that sound travels faster in water than air. We get the fact that Bruiser is not just a tough guy but has the power to shift his center of gravity, making him not only able to strike with great force but also difficult to flip or knock down. And we get the revelation that the innocent young man used as leverage to get the scientist to comply is the scientist’s lover, not his son.

It would be easy to take the book at face value, with the clean, Romitaesque storytelling and lack of shadows as a Silver Age throwback, and indeed Waid has been guilty of this before, not that it’s anything to feel guilty about. But while the art and the Stan Lee-inspired cheek of “Simperin’ Steve” Wacker’s letters page are clearly nods to simpler times, Waid never resorts to parody or in any way dumbs down his writing. My only concern is that this is the last issue for Marcos Martin on art, with the not-quite-as-good Paolo Rivera returning. But if smartly constructed stories that only take an issue or two to wrap up, with humor, clever twists and relatively bloodless action are considered throwbacks, then I’ll take more, please.

Buy Daredevil. Vol. 1 HC by Mark Waid, Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera from Amazon.com.

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