Thursday, June 9, 2011

Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller – Volume 1 Might Have Introduced A Master Artist, But The Stories Still Meander.

The Good: One or two moments of character, Artwork and colors are good
The Bad: Melodramatic dialogue, Pointless/unmotivated villains, Repetitive plots
The Basics: While Frank Miller’s artwork arguably is the selling point of Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller – Volume 1, the stories inside do not encourage the reader’s attention.

As my Daredevil Year progresses, I have gotten to a nice place where I actually have a little time to keep up with my reading and regularly review the Daredevil books I am encountering. The more I do, the more I am finding that Daredevil is a one-trick pony. In fact, arguably the real problem with Daredevil is that he was not ambitiously enough created. Daredevil is the guardian of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City in the Marvel universe and when one considers that New York City is also guarded by Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four (at least in the comic anthologies I have been reading), Daredevil’s myopic little corner of the world seems pretty inconsequential. I mention this at the outset of my review of Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller – Volume 1 because the main selling point of the volume is the penciler Frank Miller as opposed to any Daredevil plot points.

There is a reason for that weird plugging of Daredevil. Frank Miller went on to draw and/or write Kick-Ass, The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City. So, Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller – Volume 1 is selling the early works of the artist and that’s about all it has going for it. The anthology, which features Daredevil comics 158 – 167 and they are a surprisingly meandering collection of Daredevil stories that are more connected by the melodramatic personal life of Matt Murdock than by any criminal enterprise threatening Hell’s Kitchen.

Beginning with “A Grave Mistake,” Matt Murdock is juggling life as Daredevil with being reunited with Natasha Romanoff (the Black Widow). While Matt expresses interest in both Romanoff and Heather Glenn, he is coveted by a wheelchair-bound employee at the office. Kidnapped by the ridiculous Unholy Three, Matt is turned over to the time-bending Death-Stalker. While the backstory of Death-Stalker is intriguing, he is fairly easily dispatched and Daredevil once again goes on with his life.

This is followed by the three-part arc where mercenaries are hired to kill Daredevil and they, of course, fail horribly. In the process, Daredevil learns that Bullseye has resurfaced and is the one calling the play. Eager to stop the villainous Bullseye, Daredevil leaves the Black Widow wide open and he must once again risk his friends and loved ones to put Bullseye away.

“Blind Alley” follows as a pointless one-shot in which the Hulk returns to New York City and Daredevil tries to reason with him. Beaten to within an inch of his life, Matt Murdock is crippled and left for dead, which is where “Expose” finds him. In that chapter, Ben Urich reveals to the wounded Daredevil that he knows his mundane identity and the origin of Daredevil is recounted yet again in the guise of Urich’s story which he must decide to print or to sit upon.

As pointless as the Hulk episode is, the equally out-of-synch “Arms Of The Octopus” finds Doctor Octopus wreaking havoc in Daredevil’s neck of the woods when an adamantium shipment is passing through and the super-villain decides to hijack it. Eager to create adamantium arms for his contraption, Doc Ock tries to kill Daredevil and take Heather Glen hostage. The only point of this chapter seems to be to make the relationship between Matt Murdock and Heather more murky once again and to give Romanoff the reason to leave that she needs to put her back wherever in the Marvel Universe she is supposed to be. But outside the fight scenes, the chapter reads like a very lame soap opera where the female characters are needy and dripping all over the male lead and it’s just insulting to everyone to read it now.

“’Till Death Do Us Part!” has Foggy marrying Debbie Harris at the inopportune moment when the Gladiator resurfaces and takes hostages in a museum. Motivated by love for his psychotherapist, the Gladiator still needs to be put down by Daredevil. This leads to the final chapter, “The Mauler” where a party Matt Murdock is at is interrupted by the Mauler. The Mauler is a remarkably sympathetic villain whose point seems to be to show that economic downturns truly do lead good people to a life of crime. Unfortunately, what it actually illustrates to readers is how bratty Heather is to Matt and it is tiresome to see near-invincible men being treated like complete tools by the most ordinary female foils.

That brings me back for the analysis of the entire volume. Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller – Volume 1 instantly suffers, not because of the artwork which is well-drawn and magnificently colored in this book, from the lack of characters that pop and plots that are entirely, disappointingly, repetitive. Daredevil is so formulaic in this volume that it becomes irksome to read. There is no thrill in watching Daredevil dispatch Death-Stalker, The Mauler, The Gladiator or Doctor Octopus because there is absolutely no doubt in the reader’s mind that he will succeed. The Hulk chapter is baffling because it begs the question, “hasn’t anyone else ever tried to reason with the Hulk?!”

In terms of plot, the only engaging chapter are the ones with Bullseye. Given that the Black Widow is not native to Daredevil, there exists the real threat that Romanoff will be killed by Bullseye in the book. So, as Daredevil does his usual acrobatics to try to get to where Bullseye has taken Natasha hostage, there is a decent sense of pacing and movement, as well as storytelling tension.

On the character front, only “The Mauler” is an interesting villain with a real developed story to him. While Death-Stalker’s tale fits into the larger Daredevil universe well, the Mauler has a more universal and sympathetic character to it.

Even so, it is not enough to recommend Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller – Volume 1. Frank Miller’s artwork is good, but given that one of the villains is more interesting than any of the protagonists, the volume flounders some. For those who want soap opera super heroes, this is a worthwhile book. For the rest of us, it can be passed by safely.

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


For other book reviews, please be sure to check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!

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

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