Weekly Recommendation: Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

Daredevil is a character with a lot of baggage. Matt Murdock suffers many tragedies, including being blinded as a child, losing his father to the mob, and constantly losing people he loves. Enduring so much pain is part of what makes Murdock relatable. Like any of us, Daredevil experiences the many hardships of life. The trait that makes Daredevil so compelling, however, is his resilience. Murdock not only manages to survive his personal trials, but he thrives. Daredevil continues to fight injustice as both a lawyer by day and a hardened vigilante at night. Within the comic book industry, Daredevil is a character full of rich history. Throughout the years, many great writers and artists have left their mark on the character. The diverse set of styles from so many different creative teams makes Daredevil one of the most consistently well-written titles in comics. Daredevil’s many exciting tales have produced a broad portfolio of comics from which readers can enjoy.

The Man Without Fear

One creative team which manages to capture the history of Daredevil, while still adding something new to the mix, is that of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev. Bendis puts Murdock through the ringer. Without spoiling anything, Murdock faces challenges that are unprecedented for superheroes in general, let alone his horn-headed alter ego. Through exciting new challenges, Bendis allows Murdock to do what he does best: fight back. As a result, many new developments take place, which give Daredevil the chance to move forward. More importantly, Bendis manages to incorporate the history of Daredevil into his run, creating a holistic experience for new readers. Iconic friends, villains, love interests, and storylines are referenced, showing Bendis’ understanding of Daredevil. Bendis crafts a gritty, street level crime drama that provides a well-rounded Daredevil experience.

A guardian devil

Matt Murdock himself is depicted in a very human light. Even in the beginning of Bendis’ run, Murdock grieves over the loss of Karen Page, Murdock’s great love. Bendis uses the loss of Karen as the straw that broke the camel’s back. The toll of repeatedly losing loved ones releases Daredevil’s pent-up anger. Small-time villains like the Owl take the brunt of Murdock’s rage, as Murdock proclaims “I can almost promise you…this is going to hurt”. Dardevil’s anger manifests itself in a very self-destructive manner as well. Murdock isolates himself from others, taking on threats much too large to handle on his own. It becomes quite apparent that Daredevil is overwhelmed when he takes on an entire army of Yakuza, barely surviving. Despite all of his flaws, Murdock remains quite endearing. Dardevil’s mission is simply to protect the people of his neighborhood, either in the courtroom or on the streets. The dual roles of Matt Murdock and Daredevil reveal a man who fully dedicates himself to justice. Murdock can represent fellow vigilante White Tiger in court, while going after his client’s potential assassins as Daredevil.

Just a regular day at the office…

Bendis complicates the lives of Matt Murdock and Daredevil throughout his run. Many complications arise from the consequences of media sensationalism. Every move that Daredevil makes in this run is under intense media scrutiny, leaving little room for error. The feelings of exposure heighten the tension around Bendis’ narrative. Murdock spends so much time trying to defend his image as Daredevil that his own private life is neglected. All of Murdock’s loved ones suffer from this neglect. For example, Foggy Nelson has to run Nelson & Murdock, the lawyers’ shared practice, on his own. Bendis also deals with the frustration that comes with Murdock’s life of loss and turmoil. At a certain point, Murdock has had enough. Daredevil’s frustration culminates in beatdowns of villains such as Bullseye and the Kingpin, claiming Hell’s Kitchen as his own personal territory. Exploring Murdock’s attempts at progress, Bendis also examines Matt’s self-isolation. Daredevil isolates himself from his loved ones by devoting himself obsessively to cleaning up Hell’s Kitchen. Moreover, Daredevil isolates himself from other heroes, who become concerned for the vigilante’s mental stability. When Daredevil finally asks for help after being ambushed by Yakuza members, he benefits greatly. Help from others allows Murdock to take down the Yakuza, and more importantly, attend more to the people he loves, such as love interest Milla Donovan.

One man army

Classic villains are brought into Bendis’ run, such as the Owl, Bullseye, Typhoid Mary, and many others. The villains from Daredevil’s history serve to emphasize the pain inflicted upon the character through the years. Fighting Bullseye, all Daredevil can think about is the number of loved ones which the assassin has taken from him. Bendis most importantly explores the history of Daredevil and Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime. The Kingpin’s journey parallels Murdock’s. The Kingpin is blinded, nearly killed, returns to New York, gets beaten down, and ultimately returns again. The rollercoaster of events which the Kingpin endures makes him the other side of Murdock’s coin. Additionally, Bendis makes it abundantly clear just how sick Murdock is of the Kingpin. Before a brutal fight, Daredevil says, “I’m sick of outwitting you. No more games. No more chessboard of life. Now I think I’m just going to beat the $%#@ out of you!!” Bendis uses Murdock’s history with Kingpin to convey the frustration behind their encounters, enhancing the tension between the two.

Deadliest enemies

The supporting cast of this run is quite diverse. Characters include mainstays such as Foggy Nelson, Matt’s law partner and best friend. Foggy is more than just the funny, good-guy best friend. During important moments in the story, Foggy is willing to call Matt out for his reckless behavior. For example, Foggy forces Matt to confront his grief over Karen’s death. Foggy’s good sense provides a nice foil for Murdock’s self-destructive behavior. Other street level heroes play a prominent role in Bendis’ run, such as Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Spider-Man. The heroes are depicted as a sort of community, supporting each other in times of need. When Matt goes too far in Hell’s Kitchen, for example, he is confronted by a group of heroes who are concerned for his mental stability. The support provided by the heroic community challenges Matt’s isolationist attitude, forcing him to finally ask others for help. Bendis explores many of Matt’s love interests as well. Past loves such as Elektra and Black Widow make occasional appearances, reminding the reader of Daredevil’s lengthy history. Additionally, these femme fatales serve as a reminder that Murdock’s relationships never end well, adding additional layers to Murdock’s character. Karen Page is another constant reminder of Matt’s tragic love life, which compounds his struggles as Daredevil. Despite this tragic history, Bendis brings Matt into a new relationship with Milla Donovan, a blind housing agent. Introducing Milla moves Matt’s story forward, while at the same time emphasizing his unsavory history with women. When Bullseye attacks Milla, Murdock frantically rushes to her rescue, remembering the tragic fate that has befallen his previous loves.

Great opening line

Maleev’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous. There is a very abstract style to Maleev’s pencils which adds to the gritty, noir-esque feeling of the comic. Maleev’s splash pages wonderfully capture some iconic moments throughout the run, from key battle scenes to raw emotional moments. The artwork also works well with Bendis’ use of Daredevil’s history. One story arc features flashbacks to Daredevil’s early days, which Maleev captures perfectly. The flashbacks transform the comic into a vintage, 1960s-style comic book. Furthermore, every Daredevil story has to depict Murdock’s radar sense in some form, and Maleev goes above and beyond. Maleev’s abstract style meshes well with Murdock’s view of the world.

Eat your heart out, Avengers

Bendis & Maleev do a wonderful job on Daredevil, but this run is not without its faults. For one thing, the ending is quite inconclusive (depending on your perspective). Ending the run on a cliffhanger, Bendis removes some of the satisfaction that comes with concluding such an epic saga. To gain a sense of finality Bendis’ concluding story arc, readers have to continue on to the next creative team. Of course, this is not the worst thing in the world, as Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark’s run is also fantastic. Going into Bendis’ run can also be a bit challenging, as certain aspects of Daredevil feel like they should be known beforehand. For example, the constant references to Karen Page and her death can be confusing for those who have never read Daredevil before. The run is still quite accessible for new readers, but certain details can be jarring at first. Additionally, some smaller story arcs in the run do not land quite as well as the others. Specifically, the trial of the White Tiger does not do much to move the overall narrative forward. This story arc is not bad, but, especially without Maleev’s art, it does not feel consistent with the rest of the run.

New readers: “Who?”

Daredevil is a character that endures many hardships. The struggles of Matt Murdock are those with which many can connect: loss, grief, anger, and isolation. It is Murdock’s ability to come back from his trials that makes him a compelling character. As a vigilante and an attorney, Daredevil fights against the forces that would bring him down. Bendis & Maleev exemplify Matt Murdock’s trials throughout their run on Daredevil by integrating the history of the character with new stories. Bendis & Maleev continue Daredevil’s trials, with all of the ups and downs, adding to the lore. The respect for history and a desire to move forward elevates Bendis & Maleev’s run as one of the definitive Daredevil sagas.

And these are just the covers!

If you liked Daredevil by Bendis & Maleev, here are some other recommendations:

  • Daredevil by Frank Miller
  • Daredevil by Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark
  • Daredevil by Mark Waid
  • Daredevil by Chip Zdarsky
  • Daredevil: Yellow by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

That’s all for this week. Thank’s for reading! Feel free to follow the blog on Twitter @book_column and share with your friends! See ya next week!

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