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The Latest Pull

RETROSPECTIVE: Mark Waid’s Daredevil

It’s probably too early to talk about this run, especially since it just ended and the new run hasn’t even started. In fact, the final trade hasn’t been released, meaning that a good number of comic book fans haven’t finished this run yet. This article might have been more appropriate coming out earlier, but I think that this period between the end of the Marvel Now! era and the All-New All-Different Era, allows from some breathing room away from any new Marvel on-goings. It’s fitting that the book that probably influenced the Marvel Now! finishes up alongside all of the other titles (it even outlasted notable titles such as Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye).

 

 

Art by Paolo Rivera

I’ll admit b=my biases immediately: I’m a giant Mark Waid fanboy. I love pretty much everything he writes. He usually tends to write books with a very upbeat and lighthearted tone, but he can also work with the more serious story-telling elements as well as anyone. Waid’s work is always a blast to read, and his consistency of high quality story-telling is remarkable. His output from the 90’s was absolutely ridiculous, with Kingdom Come, his work on JLA, and his epic Flash run ranking as some of my all-time favorites. Most writers with Waid’s long history in the industry would probably see some decline in quality, or least an inability to keep up with the improving standards of the industry. But, as his run on Daredevil shows, Mark Waid just (somehow) keeps getting better.

 

 

In a perfect world, he would have been editor-in-chief of DC Comics. Just imagine.

 

 

It’s important to consider the “historical” context of Waid’s start on Daredevil; not just the history of the Daredevil series, but the comic-book industry during the mid to late 2000’s to the early 2010’s. Waid’s Daredevil wasn’t the first book that was an obvious attempt at a reconstruction type approach to a character that had gotten progressively darker and edgier. Geoff John’s Green Lantern and Grant Morrison’s Batman took silver-age concepts/ideas and brought them into the 21st century. Both books were smash-hits, but Waid’s Daredevil was probably the first title that was an obvious and un-apologetic love letter to a long forgotten era of the characters history. Sure, Karl Kessel, Bob Gale, and others tried to take Daredevil back to the pre-Frank Miller days, but Waid practically ignored Miller’s work on the character.

The Kingpin, the character who was assigned by Miller to Daredevil’s arch-enemy, doesn’t even show up until the very last arc of the story. Instead, Waid uses the Owl, Stilt-Man, and the Spot as his primary villains during the first 36 issues of the series. It was a shocking and incredibly fresh take on a character who had hit rock-bottom pretty hard during the last decade. Don’t get me wrong, I love the work by Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker, but those ten years or so were incredibly dark. It was nice to see Matt Murdock be happy again. All the Eisner awards this book won must have convinced Marvel to find a direction for a line that was still struggling to recover from the more gritty and somber tone of the post Avengers-Disassembled era.

 

 

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In contrast to previous writers, Waid makes a strong push to re-incorporate Daredevil into the greater Marvel Universe. This was a risky move, as the last attempt to place Daredevil in the center of large crossover event (Shadowland) was controversial and actually lead to the change in the book’s tone. However, Waid actually does a good job at making Daredevil a pretty dangerous hero. While Daredevil doesn’t get any new powers in this run, he wins a lot more.

His run in with the five international crime organizations showcased attributes of the character that’s usually forgotten: his cunning, quick-thinking, and his massive confidence. This isn’t a Daredevil who wins his battles by punching his enemies. Instead, he uses Matt Murdock’s skills a talented lawyer to out-think and out-wit his opponents, sometimes without even lifting a finger. It’s a great idea, that I would love to see in future runs. And not only does Daredevil win, but he actually asks for help, which is something he should have done a long time ago.

 

 

 

There’s special attention given to the supporting cast. Waid makes a smart choice of making it very small and exclusive. Foggy Nelson is given more attention than before. I’d be lying if I said that I found Foggy’s role in the Daredevil books incredibly important before reading Waid’s run. Before this, Foggy was never really given enough attention, and he never really got to blossom. This run puts Foggy in the spotlight, and one could argue that he gets almost as much attention as the title character. Foggy doesn’t change into some sort of badass superhero- in fact, he pretty much stays the same- but his friendship with Matt is explored more than ever before. Not only is Foggy an important part of the Daredevil mythos, but he is probably the supporting character who is absolutely essential.

 

Foggy is the constant in Matt’s life, and it’s great to see the two avocados stick by each other. Kirsten McDuffy is the latest Daredevil love interest, and she eventually becomes a major part of the book. She may not exactly be “spunky,” but she’s just as fearless (if not more), than Matt Murdock. While it’s likely that she won’t be in Charles Soule’s upcoming run on the book, she’s still a great character that should definitely come back. Another character who was probably set up to be a surprisingly important part of the Daredevil world, is Hank Pym. There’s a great issue where Matt and Hank’s brainwaves scramble together, and they share their memories. It really doesn’t get any closer than that. It’s an interesting concept, but it’s never really explored.

 

 

 

There is a good sense of continuity between story arcs here, but they never feel to bogged down by each other. One could probably pick up a trade for the series, and not be too confused by past issues. The first arc involves the Spot, the Klaw, and five international crime organizations which Daredevil has to face. Straight from the get-go, Waid is setting up a very distinct tone from the last decade of Daredevil stories. Silver age villains and new threats pop-up often in the first volume. Despite a silver-age emphasis on characters and story-arcs, this book isn’t afraid to go really dark at times.

The Spot goes from a c-list Spider-Man villain to a victim of disturbing human trafficking scheme. Even the villain Ikari (a Daredevil type figure who can actually see), is part of a larger scheme by a severely disabled Bullseye. The choice to make Bullseye a mastermind behind Matt Murdock’s series of troubles is a smart choice by Waid, since it distinguishes his run from what came before. In contrast to Brian Michael Bendis’ noir take on Daredevil where Matt Murdock’s story was always destined to end in tragedy because of his impossible battle against a corrupt system, Waid’s Daredevil is a man willing to ask for help in fighting his battles. And this is probably the main statement from Waid’s run. Daredevil can only grow as a character if he opens up. He’s only destined to lose if he fights alone.

 

 

After 36 issues, the title is relaunched after Daredevil finally reveals his secret identity. Waid actually presents an argument for why such a move is actually better for the character and his friends. The move to San Francisco is fitting, but might have been more appropriate at the beginning of the run. After all, moving to a new city makes more sense if there’s a massive shift in tone. The second part of this run is only half as long as the first, which makes it feel somewhat unfinished. Due to the massive Secret Wars event, Daredevil’s second tenure in San Francisco isn’t as explored as it could have been. It’s a risky idea moving a character that is so strongly associated with Hell’s Kitchen, and placing him in a much sunnier environment. It may not be as big a change as taking Batman out of Gotham or taking Superman out of Metropolis, but it’s a risky move that ends up working.

 

After the move to the West Coast, things get a little darker. The Purple Children saga explores something that Waid had been covering up since his first issue, Matt Murdock’s depression. The reveal that Matt Murdock’s new personality was just a facade for his still unstable mind was a great reveal that made the run much stronger. Using the Kingpin as the final villain if the run is a smart choice, since it shows how Matt Murdock has become a much stronger person since the beginning of Waid’s run. By having Matt face the villain who made his life miserable for so long, he is able to conquer his demons and build his confidence. The ending wasn’t perfect, but it was fitting.

 

 

 

While Waid delivered some great material, it’s hard to argue that this run would have been as stellar without the help of an excellent rotation of artists. Paolo Rivera kicks off the run with some absolutely beautiful artwork. Rivera is one of the top artists in the industry, and his pencils for Daredevil were incredible. Issue #7, a one off story about Daredevil guiding a few blind kids through snowstorm, is arguably the single best moment of Waid’s run (hell, it won an Eisner award). And Rivera, his inker father Joe, and colourist Javier Rodriguez publish one of the best looking stories I’ve ever read. It’s actually a great Christmas time read.

 

Marcos Martin pencils a few issues, but his layouts and dynamic action sequences are a treat. Eventually, the book found a regular artist in Chris Samnee, who pencils the regular title to the very end. Samnee may not have the same level of finesse that Rivera and Msrtin have, but some of the book’s most emotional and dramatic moments would not have been possible without him. Javier Rodriguez also deserves a ton of credit for maintaining the book’s artistic powerhouse status. His bright palettes complimented all of the artists perfectly, and kept a sense of consistency through the rotations. Matt Wilson took over towards the end of the run and performed superbly. His style is a lot more realistic than Rodriguez’s, but it was perfectly appropriate for stories such as the dark and moody Purple Children arc. This book’s art team was excellent and one of the best in recent years.

 

 

 

There’s not much left to say. This book may not have been a massive financial success like John’s Green Lantern, or a phenomenon like Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, but it’s consistency was unparalleled. Waid holds the title of the longest-tenured Daredevil writer (consecutively, that is), and it’s no small feat to keep a book so consistently excellent for over 56 issues. It’s a shame that this book won’t be released anymore. From 2011 to 2015, Waid’s Daredevil was a great book every time it was released.

 

I love how the clothes spell out “DAREDEVIL”. It’s an awesome detail.