My favorite Marvel character is Daredevil. When you’re a kid, you discover the big characters and grab onto those for a while. Your Spider-Men, Batmen, Supermen. Even both of my nephews loved Spider-Man and Batman when they were younger kids. Then there sort of comes a time where you decide “do I want to be a comic book fan or not?” My nephews chose “not” and found God and other things, and that’s awesome. Perhaps if I had found God when I was their age, I wouldn’t be a socially and emotionally stunted fuck-off. But we play the cards we’re dealt, and right now I’m holding all the nerd aces.
So I wound up choosing to be a comic geek, and my foray into this world beyond Spider-Man and Batman was The X-Men. The X-Men formed my love of comics, and deep in my cold, rotten heart, The X-Men will always have a special place for me.
Unfortunately, 98% of the time, The X-Men are easily the worst comics being published. Holy balls are they awful, and representative of everything that is wrong, terrible and fucked about the mainstream comic book industry. But like an abusive relationship, I keep going back, because when the X-Men aren’t beating me, they’re dynamite in the sack.
So while I’ve maintained an off-again/on-again readership with X-Men comics since my first steps into being a hardcore comic geek, there have been two constants in my comic-reading life: John Constantine and Daredevil. Constantine came later in the game, but Hellblazer is a book I’ve been readings since about 1994 and haven’t stopped. In fact only recently did I think about dropping it for the first time ever. But that creative team moved on quickly, and the book became a reliable old standard for me again.
Daredevil, on the other hand, came into my life shortly after the X-Men did. It was around 1988, and for Christmas, looking to bulk up my comic collection after envying the awesomeness of some of my friends’ collections, I had asked for comics. My mom bought a sort of grab bag of comics from the Sears catalog. It was 60 random Marvel books. There were X-Men books in there (Classic #26 and Uncanny #236) among some others which I enjoyed and some which I did not. But there was one comic that floored me.
Jumping into the hobby at that time, I missed Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. I would read them later, and love them. These are the two books from the mid ’80s which redefined how mainstream comics were written and received, and went on to completely change comics altogether – though mostly for the bad. Sadly neither book holds up particularly well through the eyes of a 31 year old jaded cynic, but 14-16 year old me ate that shit up.
But it was a different book for me that changed how I perceived mainstream comics, and showed me just what could be achieved with the form, and probably instilled in me the desire to want to write and draw comics – a dream long dormant.
In that magical pile of random comics was Daredevil #260. Written by Ann Nocenti and drawn by John Romita, Jr., in the very short time I had been a comic fan, this comic changed my entire view of comics. I didn’t know a thing about Daredevil when I read this book. I had never heard of the character, I had never seen him. If he had ever been in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends or any of the old Marvel coloring books I had as a kid, I did not remember him at all. He was a blank slate and I had no idea what his deal was.
As a first issue to read, this was not a great entry. I don’t think he is ever seen without his costume on, I don’t think he’s ever referred to as Matt Murdock or that he’s a lawyer. Or blind.
But it doesn’t matter because I learned all that stuff later on. When old idiot comic fans like myself complain because comics are too inaccessible to new readers, I should always remember this issue. As a 10 year old kid, the story flowed enough that I didn’t care about the missing info or that I seemingly jumped into the middle of a long story arc. In fact, all of that made me want to go out and read more and find out more on my own. That’s what a monthly comic should do!
The issue features Daredevil joining in on a 4th of July peace rally, and in the middle of it, getting ambushed by all of the villains that Nocenti and Romita had introduced during their run. Daredevil essentially spends 40 pages getting the ever-loving shit beat out of him in increasingly brutal and terrifying ways. He’s brutalized so much that he hallucinates and has flashbacks, he begins to attack civilians, believing them to be more of his villains. The Human Torch shows up at one point seeing the chaos in the streets, and leaves thinking “Hey, it’s Daredevil’s territory, he can handle it.” Johnny Storm’s a dick.
Finally, at the edge of his sanity, broken and beaten, Daredevil is nearly murdered by a couple of common thugs (or Street-Toughs!). He is saved from the thugs at the last minute by villain/love interest Typhoid Mary, another Nocenti/Romita creation. Having been spurned by Daredevil for so long, she has arranged for all of this to happen, to get her revenge on him. She kisses him.
And then throws him off a bridge.
Holy shit! SHE THROWS HIM OFF A FUCKING BRIDGE!
This is the last page of the book! There’s not even a “The End”. Or a “To be continued”! The last panel is of Daredevil’s body. Beaten, bloody and broken. Having been THROWN from a BRIDGE!
And that was it. I never saw another Daredevil comic for at least five years. He never guest starred in any other books. I thought Daredevil was fucking dead, and that issue – the first issue of Daredevil I had ever read – was the last one. Ever. And he wasn’t just dead, he was fucking murdered by one of his villains. He left his girlfriend to go march in at this peace rally, and now he’s dead at the bottom of a ravine where he got thrown from a fucking bridge by a villain! There was no resolution! Justice was never going to be served, and the fucking villain just murdered the hero, and the book was over!
This was a superhero comic! The hero always wins, what the fuck just happened?! I was 10!
Of course, I was wrong about everything. It just happened that none of my comic-reading friends liked Daredevil, so they didn’t have any other books with him in it. I was still buying comics from the convenience store down the block from my house, or from the grocery store, and neither of those places would carry a Daredevil comic. As far as I knew, Daredevil ceased to exist, because the bad guy (girl) won and his story ended. This is how stories end.
Eventually I made my way to an actual comic shop (Mavericks at 2312 East Dorothy Lane in the Woodlane Plaza, Kettering, Ohio where trade paperbacks and graphic novels are always 25% off) and saw issues of Daredevil post-260. By this time the book was nearing issue 300, and while I was sort of disappointed to see that the book didn’t end as spectacularly as I had imagined, I was grateful that the book and the character were very much alive and well.
I still wouldn’t read the book regularly for a few more years, but I started collecting back issues. I bought every issue of the book written or drawn by Frank Miller in the early 80s. Miller – at the time – was quite easily my favorite comic creator. I got random issues of the Denny O’Neil run, and of course the “Born Again” storyline by Miller and David Mazzuchelli (who has written and drawn one of the greatest graphic novels I’ve ever read, Asterios Polyp). Then I decided to pick up the rest of the issues of the Nocenti/Romita run.
In general, when people talk about an underrated run in comics, Nocenti and Romita on Daredevil should be the very definition of that. Romita has just getting a handle on his individual style and Nocenti was writing stories that rivaled Miller’s in character, pathos and adventure. She would also bring a darker, supernatural element to some stories, and made it work without ever sacrificing what made DD a great character or book.
Around 1994 or so, after DD went through his ridiculous Jack Battlin/hi-tek armor phase and a couple years of awful comics, J.M. Dematteis (one of the creators from my favorite run of Justice League comics) came onto the regular monthly book and tore down the character once again, and helped build him back up, and I started buying the book from that point on. DeMatteis was followed by Karl Kessel with a young Cary Nord on art, who were followed by Joe Kelly and the legendary Gene Colan (at the time, the first silver age artist whose work I loved [I would later learn to love other silver age masters like Kirby, Ditko, Kane, Infantino, etc]). Ariel Olivietti did a stint with Joe Kelly, back when he would actually use pen and ink, and was actually good. Scott Lobdell and Cully Hamner did a not great, but not really bad either fill-in storyline while Marvel – and the world – waited for filmmaker Kevin Smith to start his run with current Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada on art. No matter what I think about Joe Quesada personally or about the current state of Marvel Comics, I’m always going to love his artwork. He is an amazing artist, and I love seeing anything that guy draws.
Kevin Smith made some amusing movies.
David Mack wrote and painted a short story arc after that, and then Brian Michael Bendis wrote a short story that Mack painted. Bob Gale, the screenwriter behind “Back to the Future” wrote a short arc drawn by Phil Winslade. Six issues later Bendis was back on board with Alex Maleev on art.
An ex-girlfriend of mine had gotten me into Bendis’ work. She made me read Goldfish and Jinx, and that’s pretty much it. To this day, no matter what he does with The Avengers, Bendis will always get a free pass with me. Jinx in particular is favorite of mine, and I will always recall it fondly when thinking of Bendis’ work. Maleev had drawn some “Crow” comics which were pretty bad, but looked beautiful. He and Bendis had worked on Todd McFarlane’s Sam and Twitch series, which was also pretty great. Both of them coming on board Daredevil was amazing to me.
And for four-five years, they did not disappoint. Daredevil, by this point had clearly dominated my life as my favorite character, and now Daredevil was easily the best superhero comic being published by Marvel or DC.
Bendis left and Ed Brubaker was the new writer, along with Michael Lark on art. I discovered Brubaker in the late 90s with his Vertigo series Scene of the Crime and Deadenders and loved his work. Michael Lark amazed me with his work on his Vertigo book Terminal City. Eventually I found Bru’s indie book Lowlife, one of the very few (semi-)autobiographical comics I’ve enjoyed (Veggie Dog Saturn being the other).
Brubaker and Lark took the ball that Bendis’ tossed and did some great work, but it was all too short lived. Brubaker moved on and, much like Bendis had left him with a story yet to be resolved, Brubaker left new writer Andy Diggle with an unfinished tale to be told.
I don’t know Andy Diggle’s work that well. I read The Losers, a book he did with artist Jock for Vertigo Comics (also recently a major motion picture that no one saw. I would have liked to, but I’ve been poor). I really liked The Losers, it was a fantastic action/mystery/political thriller, so I have no reason to dismiss Diggle’s work on Daredevil. Yet.
And honestly, I should really like it, there is nothing wrong with the story or the writing or the art. This is still Daredevil, as strong as the book has ever been. And yet I’m probably going to drop it. For a while anyway.
Y’see, I don’t see myself as the type of comic fan that’s going to read a comic continuously simply because I have been for years. There are folks who will never stop reading a comic even if it’s the worst thing ever, and I can’t get behind that line of thinking. If I did, well, I’d have been reading X-Men comics non-stop, no matter what. If a comic becomes consistently un-enjoyable, I stop reading. The creative team changes, I’ll check it out again, but my loyalty to a book relies solely on the quality of the book. I’ve been reading Daredevil for almost 15 years, and in my opinion, it’s because the book has been worth reading for that long, and the stretches of awfulness (Scott Lobdell, Kevin Smith, Bob Gale) have been short lived.
And for the most part, Daredevil has remained a character and a book unaffected by the Marvel Universe that surrounds him. He’s been part of crossovers before, but usually in as minimal a capacity as possible. Much like Johnny Storm in Daredevil #260, the other superheroes have basically ignored DD, and usually his life is in such ruins that he doesn’t have time to play with the others.
Throughout Marvel’s Civil War, World War Hulk, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, and Siege – these massive, sprawling, interconnected, complicated and obnoxious crossovers that Marvel has shoved down the throat of fandom for a continuous six years straight with no let-up and no end in sight, Daredevil has remained in his own little sandbox, and has consistently been the best book Marvel is publishing.
However, Daredevil is about to become the centerpiece of one of these crossovers – Shadowland. Marvel is calling it a “Mini Event”. This “Mini” crossover includes the Daredevil ongoing monthly comic, the Thunderbolts ongoing comic, a “core” mini-series called Shadowland, 4 different mini-series featuring other characters involved in the “Mini Event” and 4 or 5 one-shot comics.
Fuck you Marvel. For the most part, I’ve avoided all these “events” and crossovers fairly successfully, but now you’re taking the one book I could rely on and fucking it over. Sure, I don’t have to get the mini-series or the one-shots (and trust me, I won’t), but if I want to follow the main story — y’know, the one that’s been building since the tail-end of Brubaker’s run? I still have to get the regular book PLUS the Shadowland mini.
Instead, I’m just not gonna get any of ’em.
I’ll probably come back when it’s over.
Until then, I’ll just remember when Daredevil was awesome and ignored. Y’know. Yesterday.
Anyhow, today’s drawing is an absolute rip-off of Rafael Grampa’s awesomely fantastic pin-up that appeared in Daredevil #500. That guy is amazing and I thought his take on DD’s original costume was so wonderful, I needed to steal the idea and draw it too.
Whew. That was long-fuckin’-winded. Haven’t ranted like that since I used to pretend to care about things.
This week over at Gutter Trash, we reviewed Mike Mignola’s Lobster Johnson.