Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review # 151: "Daredevil by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson Vol. 1"

I've gone at length before about how Frank Miller's work on "Daredevil" does not get enough recognition, mainly due to the name value of the title character. But it's worth saying again: he may have done his best work on that property, particularly when you consider that he was great from the start.

Miller began work on "Daredevil" as penciller-only, attempting to fill the big shoes of Gene Colan who had just quit. Marvel through in a snippet on the first page saying that he would be "a bombshell." Bold words, perhaps. Not so much when the company would do that all the time for many of its new creative members. In this case, though, it's a true prophecy. Paired with Klaus Janson on inks (whose effort is noticeably better than Miller pencils alone in an also-included Daredevil/Spidey team-up,) Marvel had struck gold.

But... there was a problem.

While Miller speaks fondly about his time working with Roger McKenzie, it's of pure diplomacy. Sure, the two did have some great ideas like the creation of hapless mob lackey Turk, the acceleration of Bullseye's madness, mentally ill villain Melvin Potter attempting (and struggling) to redeem himself, and Bugle reporter Ben Urich deciphering Daredevil's identity. But overall, the writing is mediocre and - the first time I read this - it had me wondering if Miller's run was all it was cracked up to be. When I finally saw Miller's name as writer - after Frank pulled a frustrated "he goes or I go" demand - I had serious doubts. I thought "How much of an improvement could this possibly be?"

And then "Daredevil #168" ends up being one of the greatest single issues I've ever read.

The key is the introduction of the greatest character Miller has ever created: Elektra. Matt's first love that we had never previously known about, she shows up mysteriously as a merciless assassin. From Murdock's shock at her presence to the story about how they fell it love to their temporary reunion, it's perfect. In later years, Miller would make the (correct) decision to depict Elektra as a complete psychopath from the start, but it doesn't lessen the impact of what is a landmark issue in comics history. Miller's pencils and Janson's inks are stunning. The darkened tones of NYC streets, the beauty of Elektra's movements (keep in mind, it's a book. Nothing actually moves!)... unbelievable.

For the remaining four issues of the collection, Miller and Janson don't let up as they set Daredevil's chief enemies for... what is it? Nearly 35 years now? Bullseye becomes his physical rival, going completely crazy and killing people in the street. Worst of all, Matt is given a reason to feel responsible. Sealing up volume one is the appropriation of Kingpin from the pages of Spider-Man. Wilson Fisk had been fairly menacing already as a mob-head enemy of Peter Parker. Miller turns him into a monster, physically and mentally, who is robbed of his only link to morality. It gives Daredevil a face representing everything he's trying to fight in a battle that has stretched for decades and can be as entertaining now as it was then.

And Miller and Janson were just getting started.

Rating: 9/10

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