Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear 1

The Man Without Fear Part 1 by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr

One Sentence Overview:  A young Matthew Murdock is being brought up by his father, a failing boxer, who finds more regular employment from a local gangster

In October 1993, DD321 hit the stands, featuring Daredevil discarding his famous red threads for an armour plated costume and breaking many a comic book reader's heart.  A number of years later, the writer of the regular book at the time, DG Chichester would tell The Man Without Fear's Kuljit Mithra that he was disappointed that his seminal storyline, Fall from Grace, was somewhat undermined by the arrival of another Daredevil book on the stands at the same time as this.  That book was (as if you didn't already know) 'Daredevil: The Man Without Fear'.

Actually, Dan's irritation is pretty understandable and it is kind of remarkable that this comic here was published the same month as a pretty significant moment in the ongoing.  Whilst Dan was trying to plot Daredevil's future boldly, readers could seek solace in a well written tale that nevertheless reworked a familiar origin, thus fueling nostalgia for a character who appeared to be slipping away into unfamiliar, unpleasant territory.

So, nearly twenty years on, how does this tale by Frank and the also returning John Romita Jr stand up?  Well, pretty good.  What is best, naturally, is what is added to that which we already know.  Frank and John open with a large splash page with Matt on a fire escape watching a living, breathing city.  That's a key moment in and of itself - apart from the odd jaunt to Paris, Matt doesn't get to watch much full stop.

Matt, here, is regarded as a good kid - the scene of the local lads mockingly calling him 'Daredevil' because he refuses to do anything is replayed from the comic - but what is added is Matt, on a skateboard, mask and red T-shirt (of course) dashing through the streets and stealing the community police officer's truncheon.

That ambivalence between being good, following his father, studying the law and being the adventurer he always desired to be is captured brilliantly here in Matt as a boy.  

As for his father, Jack's recruitment by the Fixer is portrayed in a much more coercive light than in previous origin stories.  In DD1, for example, Jack goes to the Fixer as a last resort but here it feels like the Fixer is the one doing the fishing (so to speak), compelling Jack to work for him and do dirty work alongside the boxing.  Actually, I prefer the original telling because, in a way, there's more pathos in Jack voluntarily selling his soul, though this story's advantage is that the desire for more realistic, less black and white storytelling, allows us a chance to glimpse Jack as a thug - an unsavoury moment that reminds the reader of how low Jack has actually sank.

Another addition to the tale is a sneaky appearance of Sister Maggie at Matt's bedside in hospital - something not conceived in the early 60s as the character had not existed in the creators' minds!  There's also a nice scene of Jack looking balefully at a picture of Maggie.  

On the minus side (for me) the role of one of my least favourite DD characters, Stick, is amped up and his sarcastic mentor role given full flow here.  Stick always feels a little too much of a parody for my taste though I did enjoy the scene of Matt and he dashing over the rooftops, just before everything goes to hell elsewhere for poor Jack.

The best moment though is Jack's sudden burst of anger when Matt tells his dad he's beaten up a local kid.  Jack responds by thrashing Matt across the face.  

It's clearly an impulsive act of a man fearful that his son will follow him into the same dark corners in which he has become trapped, giving the sense that, at least, Jack isn't an intentionally violent father.  The actions, naturally, have a negative impact on Matt and the scene is followed by a beautiful little description by Frank that gives lie to the notion that Matt's interest in the law was solely down to his father.

The text reads:  "And if even dad can be wrong, then anybody can do bad things.  Anybody at all. The only way to stop people from being bad is to make rules. Laws."  Such is a young man's heart set.  Wonderful stuff.

Daredevil/Matt Murdock

Battling Jack Murdock
Sister Maggie
The Fixer
Officer Liebowitz

Rating: 8 out of 10

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