MATT MURDOCK IS MISERABLE AGAIN, THANK GOD (Daredevil #1 Review)

Daredevil #1

Writer: Charles Soule

Artist: Ron Garney

Color Artist: Matt Milla

Previously:

Mark Waid and Chris Samnee wrapped up their successful and mostly very good run, with Matt Murdock in San Francisco living out and proud as Daredevil, with his girlfriend Kirsten MacDuffie and best friend-slash-law partner Foggy Nelson. For the first time in a long time, DD was happy.

What Happens:

The issue begins with Daredevil diving into action- literally- as he flings himself into the East River to save a hoodlum named Billy Li. It seems that Billy has fallen out of the good graces of his boss, Tenfingers (more on him later), and his crew is assigned to get rid of him via dropping him from the Manhattan Bridge. Daredevil saves Billy (despite his difficulties using his radar sense underwater) and proceeds to take out the gang with the assistance of brand! new! character! Blindspot. It appears that DD has taken Blindspot- whose battery operated-costume allows him to turn invisible- under his wing as a protégé/sidekick.

 

After leaving the scene, Daredevil makes his way to Foggy’s apartment in Hell’s Kitchen to use as an impromptu safehouse for Billy. Foggy, who is most definitely not on good terms with Matt for… reasons, is less than enthused about opening his home to a criminal. We also learn that, other than Foggy, the rest of the world has somehow forgotten that Matt Murdock and Daredevil are one and the same.

Cut to the next morning, where Matt is in lawyer drag for his position as the newest prosecutor at the NY District Attorney’s office. We’re briefly introduced to his colleague, Ellen King, on whom Matt uses his self-effacing, charming blind guy schtick he does so well, before he meets with his client, Billy Li. Hey, we know him already! Turns out that Billy is turning state’s evidence on one of the higher ups in Tenfingers’ crime syndicate (presumably for immunity), but he’s getting cold feet. Matt puts the fear of the devil in Billy, reminding him that his “friend” Daredevil saved him last night on Matt’s orders, and that Matt can order him to not save him just as easily. Sufficiently cowed, Billy allows Matt to lead him into the courtroom.

Meanwhile, in Chinatown, the head thug who failed to dispose of Billy is getting punished (by having his fingers cut off? By NOT having his fingers cut off? It’s a little unclear). Regardless, fingers are apparently of great value in this crime ring, as we meet Tenfingers and realize how literal his name is. He actually has 10 fingers on each hand (or 9 fingers and a thumb, for you pedants out there) and it’s really gross. He orders his thugs to kill Billy and his lawyer, Matt Murdock, in court tomorrow before he has a chance to testify. Aaaaannd scene.

The Good, the Bad, and the Meh:

Full disclosure, at this point I instinctively roll my eyes whenever Marvel slaps a “#1!!! First Issue!!!” on their series. But, in this case, it feels earned. This new Daredevil is a clear departure from its predecessor in almost every way. And, while I enjoyed the Waid/Samnee run (runs, I mean. Hey there, arbitrary series reset!), it was due for a shakeup. I mean, Daredevil was happy. And while I love Matt Murdock like a personal friend, as a reader I need to watch life relentlessly kick him until he’s down, and then kick him some more. Waid also wrote himself into a corner having Matt reveal his secret identity. While it effectively created good drama at the time, it ruined a lot of the tension inherent in Daredevil. The dichotomy of Matt’s day and night jobs, and the lengths he takes to maintain that duality is a large part of what makes him so compelling.

Charles Soule takes a back to basics approach for Daredevil, and it works. It feels right to have him back in Hell’s Kitchen again. And having him return to lawyering, but on the prosecution side instead of defense, is a great spin on a familiar role for him. Matt has also returned to form of being a pretty crappy pal and confidante, as seen in his strained conversation with Foggy and the complete absence of Kirsten MacDuffie. You’re kind of an ass, Matt Murdock. Never change.

Soule writes the character of Daredevil well, though I’m not convinced he’s completely found his voice just yet. While he nails DD’s intimidating thirst for justice/vengeance (both in his battle with Tenfingers’ goons and in his conversation with Billy at his office) and his undeniable charm, Soule doesn’t really showcase Matt’s sardonic sense of humor.   

New character Blindspot is… fine? I guess? We don’t really get a feel for who he is yet, but I’m at the very least intrigued to see how grumpy Matt Murdock deals with his own boy wonder. The new big bad, Tenfingers, gets even less screen time than Blindspot, but he is already effectively established as a formidable, and frightening villain (those hands in the final panel are really quite terrifying).

A lot of this is due to artist Ron Garney’s striking character designs. I am not fully on board with Garney as a storyteller yet- I think he’s passable, but his pencils don’t have me jumping up and down with excitement. His designs, however, are remarkable. Tenfingers’ hands are startling and immediately put me on edge. Blindspot’s costume is simple, yet smart and functional. Garney’s big accomplishment however, is Daredevil’s redesign. The costume, now mainly black with red highlights, evokes an old school boxer with wrapped gloves and tall, laceup boots. It’s effing hot.

Garney owes color artist Matt Milla a big thanks, as he takes what are just fine pencils and makes them shine. He uses a very austere color palette, lots of blacks, whites and grays, with a faint sheen of red over everything. It completely sells the grim, noir tone that this book is shooting for and sets it apart from what every other Marvel book looks like at the moment. Kudos, Matt Milla!

Final Say:

For people like me who love their Daredevil dark and gritty, this new series feels like a welcome return to the glory days of Bendis/Maleev, with enough changes to keep it from feeling like a retread. Not all the changes in Daredevil’s life are explained (Why is he back in New York? How is he allowed to practice law again? What morally ambiguous decision did Matt make to reclaim his secret identity?) but the issue is so effective at throwing us right into the new status quo that I didn’t have time to care. Soule, Garney, and Milla appear to gel very well together and have a clear vision of what they want this book to be. If they maintain this level of quality throughout their run, we’re in for a good time.

Rating: 8/10

A promising start for the series and new creative team.

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Justin Klinger
My unhealthy obsession with comics began in the summer of 1991, not from comic books, but from the Marvel Universe Series 2 trading cards. My friend showed me his collection, and I instantly fell in love with Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler, and begged my mom to take me to the nearest comic book store to buy Excalibur #41. I went back a week later for more Excalibur, and on a whim, decided to buy X-Men #1 (the cover with Colossus, Rogue, Gambit, and Psylocke). From that point on, there was no going back.

Nowadays, my pull list includes: all x-titles (including the solos), all team Avengers titles, Daredevil, Captain Marvel, Defenders, Champions, Ms Marvel, Hawkeye, America, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Wolverine (Laura only, I'm allergic to anything Logan related), Totally Awesome Hulk

In addition to comics, most of my time is spent with my 4 miniature pinschers, eating cereal, and getting into deep philosophical discussions about RuPaul's Drag Race.