Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Lousy Daredevil Anthology That Ends Well: Daredevil Vs. Bullseye

The Good: Moments of character, Moments of story, Moments of artwork.
The Bad: Bullseye's origin is pretty lame, Fractured stories in between, Missing "episodes," Static artwork.
The Basics: Right before the feature film Daredevil, Marvel Comics reprinted the "essential" Bullseye-related comics in an anthology that falls pretty flat.

Unlike many people, I enjoyed the cinematic rendering of Daredevil (reviewed here!). I thought it was a cool idea that was well-executed by a pretty amazing cast. It might be because I appreciated the film that I have made 2011 my "Daredevil Year" as I try to make my way through the collection of assorted graphic novels and trade paperback anthologies on the market pertaining to the hero, Daredevil. Unfortunately, I'm finding many of the works are dated, campy, repetitive or just plain bad. The latest to follow that trend is Daredevil Vs. Bullseye. Daredevil Vs. Bullseye was actually released right before the film Daredevil hit theaters and in many ways I am glad I did not find this volume before I saw the film.

Daredevil borrows much from Daredevil Vs. Bullseye, both in terms of story and in visual style. There are key moments that appeared in the comic books anthologized here that ended up in the movie and the truth is, they worked better in the film because they were given more time to breathe and resonate, like Bullseye impaling Elektra on her own weapon. The first real strike against Daredevil Vs. Bullseye is that it is not a single story, nor is it truly all of the best of the conflicts between Daredevil and the villainous Bullseye. Instead, it is a compilation of six comics from 1976, 77, 81, 82, and 83 which feature the origins, some of the recurrences and demise of Bullseye. What is particularly annoying is that some of Bullseye's adventures happen in the middle of other storylines or there are missing bits - like, apparently, a chapter where Bullseye kidnaps Matt Murdock - which are not included in Daredevil Vs. Bullseye.

More than that, some of the dialogue is dated and there is a campy quality to much of the interactions between Daredevil and Bullseye that reads as awfully cheesy. The two men banter as they fight and one has to wonder if the late-1970's audience truly needed that much exposition. As it is, Bullseye is one of Daredevil's most formidable recurring villains and Daredevil Vs. Bullseye features some key struggles between the vigilante and the villain.

The book opens with the two-part story of Bullseye's origins. For those who don't know, Bullseye is a simple robber who extorts his victims for money and if they do not pay, he kills them by throwing objects at them. Bullseye's villainous gift is the absolute ability to hit anything by throwing it. He tosses paper, knives, cards, and shoots firearms all with the exact same lethal intensity and accuracy. He arrives in Hell's Kitchen and makes a demonstration of holding up two rich people before Daredevil intervenes. The blind vigilante encounters Bullseye and must attempt to stop him, though Bullseye's sense of theatrics puts the pair in the middle of a circus ring to fight publicly to the death.

It is that sense of theatrics which rules the story that follows, almost a year later. Daredevil is tracking the man he knows to be Bullseye and stops him from stealing a rare firearm, though the man gets away. Irked at being delayed by Daredevil yet again, Bullseye takes hostages at a television station and threatens to kill his hostages if Daredevil does not show up for a battle to the death.

"Devils" finds Bullseye going mad. Suffering from hallucinations wherein headaches cause him to see everyone around him as Daredevil, Bullseye begins a random spree of killings. He finds his way to a movie theater where he takes two men hostage. Following the cough of one of the two old men, Daredevil tracks Bullseye and finds himself in a position to reveal his flawed humanity when he must choose to kill Bullseye or get him the medical attention he desperately needs.

That choice pretty much comes back to bite Daredevil in the ass in "Last Hand" when Bullseye makes a prison break and discovers that the Kingpin has replaced him with Elektra as his chief assassin. Enraged, Bullseye decides to hurt Matt Murdock and crush Daredevil at the same time by killing Elektra, an act which puts Daredevil in a moral quandary explored in the book's final chapter.

Daredevil Vs. Bullseye is missing key elements, like how Bullseye and the Kingpin ever end up doing anything together. That is entirely absent from this book, despite it being a key motivation in the later chapters. So, there is a very fractured sense throughout Daredevil Vs. Bullseye.

Add to that, outside the moralizing of the final chapter, Daredevil Vs. Bullseye suffers greatly because there is no real character development. While Bullseye is given a fair amount of characterization - in fact, quite a bit more than most comic book villains - it is presented largely through initial exposition and it never moves beyond the original scope of the character. In other words, he is set in stone at the beginning and never changes from that in this book. On the hero front, what leads Daredevil to his decision in the penultimate chapter of this book is not clear because so much of the story in between the chapter prior and the battle between Bullseye and Elektra is absent.

What the book has is fairly good artwork, though even much of that has a surprisingly static feel to it. There is much better movement between panels than within each panel. Like many of the older comic books I have read of late, Daredevil Vs. Bullseye reads like a series of snapshots with dialogue instead of a fluid experience, like a filmstrip.

In the final analysis, this book is good in that it explains and explores the essential Daredevil villain and it ends well with a less-action oriented story that takes on the always timely problem of children with handguns. But it is not a satisfying reading experience and while the colors have been restored to look bright and potent, it does not improve the frequently banal series of conflicts between Daredevil and the showboating Bullseye.

For other Daredevil books, please check out my reviews of:
The Essential Daredevil Volume 1
Typhoid Mary
Guardian Devil
Batman/Daredevil - King of New York


For other book reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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