In an abrupt change of direction from the long era of misery, degradation and demonic possession that goes back through Brubaker, Bendis – and almost unbroken all the way to Frank Miller in the early 80s – Mark Waid brings Daredevil back into the sunshine with this new series. For once, starting again at number one seems almost justified. Or maybe they should’ve renumbered from 158 (Miller’s first issue) because this really is a return to the more light-hearted, swashbuckling style of the formative years of the title, when Gene Colan was the first Daredevil artist you could think of.

The new number one opens with a bright, colourful daytime scene in which Daredevil drops in on a mafia wedding at the Cloisters in upper Manhattan. We’re immediately a long way from the darkness of Hell’s Kitchen (although is Hell’s Kitchen really that bad a place these days?). Daredevil shows a breezy show-off athleticism and even flirtatious verve in stealing a kiss from the bride, telling her ’that perfume drives me wild!’

Matt Murdock’s back in New York and making a fresh start. He was outed as Daredevil, but he keeps light-heartedly denying it, making a joke of it in the hope everyone will forget the whole thing in the same way celebrity gossip fades.

Waid invokes that old law that says when superheroes meet they have to fight. Daredevil gets into an inconclusive tussle with Captain America,which seems to be the first step in re-integrating DD back into the Marvel universe – he’s also joining the Avengers – which might be exciting for some, but I expect I’ll drop out as soon as this title gets embroiled in the next mega-crossover.

But at the same time, Waid uses the ongoing Jobrani case to entwine Matt Murdock’s law practice with his superhero life. Murdock backflips off the top of a tall building still wearing his suit and on the way down we see his red-gloved hand toss the now-discarded business attire into a random open window. Transitions between everyday life and superhero adventure happen as suddenly and seamlessly as that. He uses his two guises to tackle the same case from different angles. Murdock and Daredevil inhabit the same locality instead of the superhero adventures happening in their own world.

The artwork by Paolo and Joe Rivera (and in issue 4 by Marcos Martin) is clean, smooth and bright, giving a fresh look and a new approach to depicting DD’s radar sense.

So everything’s fine except there’s nothing very exciting going on, the villains are strictly second rate and the Nelson & Murdock’s law firm seems pretty much how it’s always been. It’s an enjoyable, light, easy read, it looks lovely, but you can’t escape the sense that so far, after 4 issues, that the new team is still all about settling Daredevil down, re-setting the character and his world, reassuring the reader that nothing truly horrible is going to start happening to Matt all over again. That’s nice, but there’s got to be some danger and threat kicking in soon to shove this comic into top gear. There’s a lot of goodwill for this DD reboot, but it can’t remain merely pleasant for too much longer.

And furthermore…

A video interview with Mark Waid about healing Daredevil.

And another one at an attorneys’ website that focuses on Matt Murdock’s day job.


Criminal – The Last of the Innocent

Criminal - The Last of the Innocent, issue 4, cover

Criminal - The Last of the Innocent, issue 4, cover

With Criminal – The Last of the Innocent (Icon/Marvel) Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have crafted a classic noir scenario of conspiracy, double-cross, a femme fatale and framing for murder.

Clean-cut all-American boy Riley Richards is the main protagonist. He seems a nice enough guy at first and the reader never entirely loses sympathy with him even as we get to how corrupt his life in the city has become, struggling to pay off gambling and whoring debts to loan sharks. A couple of people call hime a ’self-centred prick’ as the story goes along and we get to know him better.

Riley reminds me of Ray, Maggie’s sometime boyfriend from Love and Rockets, slightly overweight, on the verge of middle age, in a loose suit, a creased shirt and a tie, smoking a cigarette and telling self-justifying tales in a monologue.

Back in high school Riley made the wrong choice in taking sex princess Felix over nice girl Lizzie. Now, in 1982, he wants to erase the last fifteen years and make the right choice the second time around. When his father dies Riley goes back to his hometown of Brookview and ’it’s like we’re discovering each other all over again. Like we’re still those crazy high school kids.’ He wants to move home for good and recapture the past, but part of him is always going to need the city. In fact, his way of engaging with the old place and old friends is to bear down on them with that hard, ruthless big city attitude.

What makes this story work so well as comics is the use of a simplified, cleaner, more cartoony, ’Archie’ style for the interspersed flashbacks to childhood (in self-contained strips called Life With Riley), in contrast to the noirish tone and rougher pen and brushwork of 1982. It’s not just the artwork, but also the more light-hearted diction of the text, written almost like a sitcom, homing in on a punchline at the end of the page. Of course, Jaime Hernandez also employs that Archie look for kids’ tales.

So we get scenes from childhood and teenage years told in the form of children’s comics, using the clear-line style to imply more innocent times, but these flashbacks show the roots of character traits among these kids that grow exaggerated in adulthood and determine the direction of the story. For instance the character Freakout is introduced as a boy unable to control his appetites for sodas, banana splits and ice cream in a throwaway gag, but the grown-up Freakout is gripped by heavier addictions and his loss of control is key to how everythings pans out. When Freakout goes missing on two separate occasions, in sixties Brookview and in the city in 1982, the first time it’s funny, a kid on the loose from a school trip, the second time he’s trying to score smack and it ends in a vicious, bloody streetfight.

Lizzie and Felix in high school

Even teenage sex scenes are drawn Archie-style – carefree and wide-eyed, contrasting with the betrayals and guilt of the present day, setting up a series of rippling echoes between past and present. When Riley falls asleep on a sofa while reading old comics from his childhood he falls into a dream and finds himself flying over Brookview, dropping in on his own memories played out by cartoony versions of himself and his friends. He reaches out to touch, to intervene, but can’t cross between the boundary between the two realities designated by the two distinct styles of drawing.

Riley awakes

Idyllic, always-sunny Brookview compared with the cold grimy reality where Riley lives now. Riley awakes at dawn to the sound of birds chirping and pictures the sunny clear-lined, primary-coloured town of his youth, but when he opens his eyes it’s to grey, haggard reality.

One exception to this rule is the juxtaposition of a ‘Life With Riley’ flashback of a day at the beach with Felix with an up to date visit to the same beach with Lizzie – ’and it’s perfect. How it always should have been.’ With Felix it was fun, but never quite right. But after Riley moved with Felix to the city Lizzie stayed behind in Brookview and ’stayed so pure’. Now Riley hopes some of that will rub off on him.

On the final page Phillips’ art style morphs panel by panel from the gritty realism of the present to the clarity and primary colours of the idealised past. ’So now I can be whoever I want’, says Riley. He’s somehow regained a fresh outlook on life by erasing past mistakes, rewinding to an earlier version of himself and making a new choice amid the forking paths of life.

And furthermore…

On his blog Sean Phillips shares work in progress from Criminal and other projects.

There’s also an official Criminal blog.

Ed Brubaker tells ‘MTV Geek’ why the new Criminal is the ultimate crime comic.

And here’s a Comics Reporter interview with Brubaker.

October 2016
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