Daredevil is an underappreciated character, much to his benefit. Because he doesn’t have the profile or popularity of Spider-man or the Avengers, Marvel has seemingly always felt free to let creators have their way with him. Daredevil the character has just as many failures as he does successes, but as a result, there are a ton of great Daredevil stories (let’s ignore Shadowland). The end result of being put through the wringer time and time again is that it’s a lot of mileage for a super-hero. Today, we’re going to look at a story that examines what happens when that mileage finally takes its toll.
A number of top-notch creators have left their mark on the character while making DD a ninja, an organized crime boss, or prisoner, or worse (like the mayor!) along the way. Another great tradition amongst Daredevil writers is leaving the character totally in shambles at the end of a run before a new writer takes over. It’s like a hazing ritual, and the new guy has to figure his way out of whatever crazy cliffhanger they’re left with. Bendis had DD arrested. Brubaker had him possessed. Shadowland just made Daredevil sucky. Waid had his identity outed and Matt Murdock disbarred. The last writer, Charles Soule, left Daredevil incapacitated after being blindsided by a truck and almost dead in a story called “Death of Daredevil.” Not “Almost Death.” Whatever.
Normally, picking up the pieces of that would fall on the next incoming writer, who happens to be Ghost fave Chip Zdarsky.
Marvel decided to go a different route, however, and released a 5 issue weekly mini-series to bridge the gap between the Soule and Zdarsky takes on the character. Maybe they thought Zdarsky couldn’t handle it? I’ve read his twitter feed, he does sound kind of dumb sometimes. Just kidding. He is writing a bajillion books at Marvel at this point, so maybe he was overwhelmed. Maybe they wanted to capitalize on the last of the Netflix buzz around the character with a quick mini? I’m not sure why. Chip Zdarsky, seems poised to tell a tale of Daredevil the addict, sometimes recovering, sometimes not. That’s what I’m getting from the one issue I’ve read thusfar. Maybe he wanted to hit the ground running and he needed a Matt Murdock who could run, albeit not as effectively as he used to. I’m not sure what the reasoning was, but the end result is the Man Without Fear mini-series. Written by Jed MacKay, with art by a rotating panel of artists including Danilo Beyruth (Issues 1 and 5), Stephano Landini (2), Iban Coello (3), and Paolo Villanelli (4), The Man Without Fear serves as a quick bridge between the breaking of Daredevil by Soule and the exploration of the consequences by Zdarsky. MacKay was tasked with building Daredevil up just enough to be a usable character again, but not building him up so much that he’s totally infallible. The new status quo: Daredevil has officially turned into my car. Yeah, I can use it, but I shouldn’t be too cocky. There’s a number of belts or moving parts on that sucker that could go at any time. Also, I think my car is addicted to potholes the same way DD is addicted to violence.
Before we go too far, I should mention that Daredevil is also a character I’ve always related to. Even more-so than my (and everybody else’s) favorite Spider-man, who seems to be a character made of just the right mix of fantastical power, humility, and hubris, Daredevil seems more relatable. Whereas the mixture of Spidey is just right and colorful and fun, there’s always something about Daredevil that’s a little bit off. He’s got the super powers, but he can’t see. He’s got the law degree, but he also has a penchant for dressing up in red tights and running around after dark punching folks. He actively fights his demons while he fights on the side of the angels. That pull of what sends him off-track is always there, but Daredevil always strives to overcome it. He knows he’s a bit off; the supporting characters know it; and even the readers know it, yet Daredevil perseveres. Perhaps I’m revealing too much about myself here, but I know I’m not the perfect combination of anything. Like Daredevil, I have firm beliefs in what’s right, and I strive to use my abilities towards those goals. Also like DD, I suffer a similar guilt of not being able to be all things to all people, and I even have demonstrated a fairly consistent aptitude for messing things up from time to time. Still, I persevere on a daily basis. We all can be thankful I’ve never ventured into to the red costume hitting folks with sticks business.
As someone who isn’t perfect, I need stories like the one MacKay gets to tell in Man Without Fear. I need the reaffirmation, the building back up, in order to wipe off the dust and get back to my high-minded ideals. Because Daredevil is constantly screwing up or being pulled apart, he also fairly frequently gets these reaffirmation stories to remind readers what makes Daredevil great to begin with.
This mini series starts by continuing the breakdown of the character and providing a tour of the last few rounds of meaningful characters in the life of Matt Murdock. The aim is match the physical low of Soule’s incapacitated in a hospital bed Daredevil with a mentally broken one, too. In the first issue, it’s all Foggy Nelson, DD’s best friend, almost rejoicing that Murdock’s in such horrible shape that he will have to retire from superheroing. In the second issue, we see remnants from the Soule and Waid takes on the character. Waid’s Kirsten McDuffy is pushed away as Matt Murdock languishes in his condition, and Blindspot shows up to call Daredevil a coward. Little does he know the cheesy personification of fear is lurking inside Matt Murdock’s head, reminding him that he’s broken, he’s no good, and that he fails the people that are most important to him. By the third issue, Murdock’s at his lowest while his super-hero pals Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones recount DD showing an insanity level of no-fear in order to protect Ben Urich. Still, Matt Murdock pushes his friends away because he’s ready to give up. It isn’t until issue 4 when the Kingpin shows up and talks about Daredevil losing his edge that sparks whatever fight Murdock has left in him. Then, in issue five, Daredevil learns that he might never get rid of his personification of fear, but that he can deal with it. Matt Murdock goes back to the teachings of his father to remind him “We handle fear. We do our job. We do what has to be done.”
Man, these stories get me every time. There’s something about the formula behind Daredevil. You take an unshakeable belief in what’s right, multiply it by a combination of Catholic guilt and superhuman abilities. Than, divide it by impulsive and poor decision-making. Sprinkle in some swashbuckling superhero action and some legal acrobatics to taste. Ok, that last part is more recipe than math equation, but they’re all related in superhero storytelling math.
For the first few issues of this mini, I was down on the story. The personification of fear taunting Daredevil seemed hokey and forced, and watching Daredevil giving up was difficult. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Beyruth art in the first issue, either.
To make matters worse, I never had time to adjust because the artists kept changing from there. That’s never a plus in my book. As companies embrace the idea of double-shipping books each month, or in this case, publishing a weekly stop-gap, at least try to keep creative teams consistent from issue to issue in a story arc. I can understand the occasional fill-in issue as a matter of necessity, but that should be avoided when possible. If it’s an arc, it should all look like the same arc. If it’s an anthology story, rotate away–anthologies are meant to be story sampler platters. Otherwise rotating artists demonstrates a lack of care for the quality of the product. Of course, the fact that editor Devin Lewis can’t be bothered to keep the artists on model doesn’t help, either. Stephano Landini clearly works the Netflix actor portrayal into his versions Foggy Nelson into issue 2, which would be fine if he was doing the whole story. But he’s not. The Foggy in issue 1 doesn’t match the Foggy in issue 2 so when Foggy shows up again in issue 5, it’s jarring. It’s not even a matter of a different artistic style, as much as the artists are working from different character models within the same story.
The editor has a duty to step in and fix that. I didn’t mind the Netflixing of Wilson Fisk in issue 4 because that was the only issue in story he appeared in, so it was consistent in the story. But switching artists so much made me realize that I’m paying full price for a try-out book.
It’s a shame, too, because by the time Daredevil finds his purpose by making the Kingpin run from his own fear-embodiment, I was all-in on the story.
MacKay does manage to write an inspiring tale of Daredevil rediscovering his purpose and how to handle the pain and fear that goes along with it. The story reflects a slight maturation of Daredevil the character after it showed him dropping to the lowest of the lows (ignoring Shadowland as we all should). Matt Murdock is a fighter from a family of fighters and there’s nothing in the character that’s going to stop him from fighting, even when all common sense dictates he should.
Now, in addition to common sense, Marvel is adding the consequences of aging and the limits of physical recovery to the fight Matt Murdock has in front of him. It’s ironic this story isn’t taking place in the main DD book proper, as this is the story that’s always skipped over en route to Dark Knight Returns-esque tales where the grizzled, broken veteran shows up to reclaim his former glory. Marvel is turning Matt Murdock into that grizzled broken vet that’s losing ground to father time right before our eyes here. I hope that sticks for a while because it’s a hard road to come back from. Old Man-So-and-So stories usually have endings that traditional super hero tales don’t. That’s why it’s usually reserved for Elseworld tales. Dan Slott tried this with Dr. Octopus in the proper continuity, and it led to some entertaining stories as he went from broken Sinister Six leader to occupying Spider-man’s body …and then it got derivative as Ock jumped into a robot body and a Jackal clone body and this and that and will never get back to traditional Doc Ock without some sort of time-transfixing macguffin that we’ll all have to acknowledge and then quickly block out of our minds so we can have classic Ock back again.
Come to think of it, every other writer does a variation of this with Daredevil’s secret identity (this time it’s Purple kids; the last time it was Dr. Strange), so maybe I shouldn’t worry too much. They’ll find a way to get the toothpaste back in the tube when they’re ready. Matt Murdock the character will persevere. He’s a fighter.
When Murdock sees the fear following Kingpin as well, that payoff made the earlier cheesiness worthwhile. Mackay then really taps in at that point of the story and briskly moves forward with a story that represents what is great about the character. I even warmed up to the Beyruth art in the back half of the story. Watching Matt Murdock pull himself back up when everything else in life is pushing him back down inspires me to be better, and it’s one of the reasons why Daredevil is a personal favorite. If Daredevil can persevere, I can, too.
The story is a solid, uplifting, reminder of what makes Daredevil such a powerful and relatable character. MacKay does commendable work setting the table for Zdarsky and putting the pieces of a broken man back together. He’s let down by the substandard art practices that are all too common in the industry today. Still, at the end of the day, in spite of my grievances with the art, I really did enjoy the story. At the covers were consistently done by Kyle Holtz. Hopefully MacKay gets a shot down the line, either with Daredevil or a different character entirely, to show what he’s capable of with a stable partnership on the art side of the equation.
Final Grade: B.
If you’re interested in catching up on this mini, there’s a good chance a comic shop near you can get you caught up.
Until next time, keep fighting, kids. Not literally. Stop… Stop fighting, darnit. I meant the perseverance part. That kind of fighting. Don’t make me pull this car over.