Monday, March 17, 2014

Review # 102: "Daredevil - The Man Without Fear"

I have no idea who to attribute the quote to, but when someone said that Frank Miller gained great success from turning Daredevil into a psychotic version of Batman before moving on to turn Batman into a psychotic version of Batman, that person was bang on. What Miller did for Bats in "The Dark Knight Returns," he did for Daredevil first in "The Elektra Saga" and "Born Again." Unfortunately, by the time "Batman: Year One" came out it was almost as if Miller's run on Daredevil never happened. He's credited always as "Frank Miller, author of 'Sin City,' '300' and 'Batman: The Dark Knight Returns,'" omitting the title where he arguably did his best work.

Now let me step off to mention that "The Man Without Fear" does not represent Miller's best work. This is the weakest of his Daredevil content, easily, and can be aptly described under the alternate title of "Daredevil: Year One." Originally written as a film treatment, he offered it with revisions to John Romita Jr. who suggested the pair collaborate. The result was, without a doubt, fantastic. Just not quite on par with what had been offered earlier.

Miller played fast and loose with Daredevil's past when he took over writing duties in the early 80s, inserting previously-uninvented-yet-instantly-vital characters into Matt Murdock's past. "The Man Without Fear" tweaks new canon into Daredevil's origin, suggesting he didn't instantly develop his radar sense and was rather trained into harnassing it. Early on is when we first meet the blind ninja "Stick," Matt's first mentor. Miller outlines where he fit into Matt's early days and why Daredevil wasn't admitted into a previously mentioned "cause." This fills a monstrous hole in continuity.

More important is the story about how Daredevil meets Elektra, already a stone-cold assassin who takes down a group of NYC rapists without even breaking a sweat. The stories with Elektra steal this collection, particularly a sequence where she picks up Matt in a convertible during the winter and takes him for a spin in the snow at top speed with the top down. Matt's inner confessions about feeling alive really stick with you. It's another great moment in their complicated relationship, and after being slightly jaded in the brilliant-yet-unsatisfying "Elektra: Assassin" it's nice to be reminded why I love Elektra and this sparingly-used pairing.

It just wouldn't be a good Daredevil story without the Kingpin, though, and he shows up - ALSO written into an earlier part of Matt's history. We get to see how Wilson Fisk earned his name and his first dealings with Matt, through the abduction by one of his cronies of a young girl. That's another part of the story I liked - seeing Matt leave and return to Hell's Kitchen, finding a reason to stay. I feel like I need to point out the obvious Miller crutch, though: a valiant hero with baggage befriending a young girl. Never seen THAT in your work before, Frank...

But that's just nitpicking. This doesn't have the ambition of "Elektra: Assassin." It doesn't have the innovation of "The Elektra Saga." It certainly doesn't have the story of "Born Again." But as the last gasp of Frank Miller's "Daredevil" as read for the first time by me, this was freaking awesome. I blew through "The Man Without Fear" cover-to-cover in the blink of an eye. It's an absolute must for a fan of Miller's work with the character.

Rating: 9/10

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