The Good: Stylish, Well-executed concept, Culls from the strongest Daredevil themes and character traits
The Bad: I'm not wild about the artwork
The Basics: In one of the most enjoyable Daredevil books I've yet read, Daredevil Noir reinvents Daredevil during the Great Depression in a way that works!
When one has a whole universe to play in, it often surprises me that the creative forces of that universe feel the need to leave it. And yet, with the Marvel Universe, just as in the DC Comics Universe, there are occasional concept stories or events that reinvent the franchise. As I go through my Daredevil Year, I've finally encountered a Daredevil concept novel in Daredevil Noir and I have to admit, I enjoyed it. I have not, traditionally, enjoyed concept graphic novels, like Wonder Woman: Amazonia (reviewed here!) which I read last year. I wasn't a fan of that one because I felt all it was was the same old story repackaged and the novelty of it wore off very quickly for me.
But Daredevil lends itself perfectly to the film noir style of the pulp detective works set in the 1930s and 40s and that is how Daredevil is reimagined for Daredevil Noir. And having read the earliest Daredevil works, Daredevil starts his career as something of a novelty with less substance than I liked anyway. So repackaging Daredevil is not necessarily a bad thing. Daredevil Noir repackages Daredevil with the most successful and recognizable elements of the Daredevil comic line intact: Daredevil, Foggy Nelson, the Kingpin, and Bullseye. The two villainous elements of the Daredevil franchise were not introduced from the outset and so Daredevil Noir recreates the story in the Depression with those elements (and an alluded element of the very popular Typhoid Mary) intact from the outset.
Daredevil has penetrated the lair of Fisk, the Kingpin, and is preparing to end their conflict once and for all. But to stall for time, Fisk asks Daredevil to recount how he got there and the story flashes back to Daredevil, already a vigilante acrobat, trying to clean up Hell's Kitchen. Daredevil's leads to organized crime overrunning Hell's Kitchen leads him to Halloran, a businessman who is threatening a woman named Eliza. Eliza comes to Foggy Nelson's law office after Matt Murdock assists Foggy in one of his cases. Murdock is not a lawyer, just a tracker for Foggy and he instantly is taken with Eliza, who is one of Halloran's girls and wants out.
Fearful that getting out will get her killed, Daredevil tracks Eliza, even as a string of murders attributed to the Bull's Eye Killer. Eliza reveals that Halloran is the man who killed Murdock's father and Murdock knows she is telling the truth. When Halloran and Fisk meet to discuss preventing all-out war in the streets of Hell's Kitchen, Daredevil prepares to move in on them both. But Eliza is captured and Daredevil must make a play that will put his moral code into jeopardy!
Daredevil Noir has all the conceits of the noir genre: the sense of alienation in the protagonist, the desire for moral absolutes in a world colored in shades of gray, the stilted dialogue, the woman who enters with the case that the protagonist cannot resist, and, of course, the betrayals. Writer Alexander Irvine has a firm handle on the conceits and he makes them work because he selects the elements from the Daredevil mythos that most work in that setting. Gangsters and serial killers are frequently used as noir antagonists and Bullseye (or the Bull's Eye Killer) and Fisk/the Kingpin are perfect subjects for the book.
Moreover, Irvine captures the essential Daredevil conflict and in the new window-dressing, he has a real chance to highlight the strengths of the story of the disabled hero. Matt Murdock is blind, but with an absolute sense of justice. In Daredevil Noir, Murdock is not exceptional, only Daredevil is. So Daredevil tries to take on the hundreds of thousands of injustices in Hell's Kitchen and, naturally, he finds himself drowning in the maelstrom of inequities.
What worked less well for me was the artwork. Daniel Freedman has an excellent sense of color for Daredevil Noir with each page being a study in black, white and red with very few other colors. This is a purposely dark book and from a color perspective it achieves its goals perfectly. But Freedman doesn't have much to work with and that is because Tomm Coker does not draw the book with much of a sense of movement. For example, the fourth page into chapter two (the book does not have page numbers) features Daredevil disarming two thugs. The artwork is so sloppy, it looks like Daredevil is holding a gun while kicking one of the assailants. In actuality, Daredevil is kicking the thug with the gun as another thug falls back from an attack not shown.
Daredevil Noir, in trade paperback form, features all of the covers and the variant covers for the four issues of Daredevil Noir. There are also three pages of character sketches, which are all right, but in no way essential.
This book actually is more enjoyable than many of the early Daredevil volumes and if one wants to skip the '60s campy Daredevil and leap into the gritty '90s works, Daredevil Noir is a great primer. It's also just fine for those who want some good pulp!
For other Daredevil books, please check out my reviews of:
The Essential Daredevil Volume 1
Daredevil Vs. Bullseye
Daredevil: Visionaries Volume 1 - Frank Miller
Batman/Daredevil - King of New York
For other book reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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