Monday, June 20, 2011

More Preludes To The Cinematic Daredevil: Parts Of A Hole Engages!

The Good: Artwork, Engaging story, Good character development for Kingpin
The Bad: Somewhat predictable/repetitive for the main antagonist.
The Basics: More often than not, Daredevil: Parts Of A Hole gets it right on the important fronts, but for Daredevil scholars it reads as surprisingly familiar.

As my Daredevil Year continues, I've become very familiar with the blind superhero and a number of the conceits used to keep the hero fresh over the decades that writers have been writing Daredevil stories. The more I read and review, the more I feel that the film Daredevil (reviewed here!) truly was a "Best Of" compilation of the various Daredevil stories. From iconic imagery in the comic books like Electra being impaled by Bullseye to Daredevil hugging the cross atop the church, virtually everything in Daredevil had been done in the comic books beforehand. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but I do notice these derivative things now when I read the books. From Daredevil: Parts Of A Hole, there is the use of the playground, both for a scene of innocence and then as a place where Daredevil's fighting skills are tested with an opponent who is both his equal and his love interest.

Daredevil: Parts Of A Hole is a six-chapter (originally six comic book) storyline which finds Daredevil in mourning and is actually a rather engaging story about the Kingpin and an adversary whose similarities to Daredevil are greater than her differences. The book is odd in that there is a missing chapter where, I can only assume, the storyline diverged from the "Parts Of A Hole" story before coming right back into the main narrative, but in graphic novel form, the story works well. And if so far my study of Daredevil has been mostly disappointing, Daredevil: Parts Of A Hole reinvigorates my interest in the blind superhero and paints an intriguing picture of the character, even if he is more peripheral to this story in some ways.

Also, by way of spoiler alert, it is worth noting that it is hard to discuss Daredevil: Parts Of A Hole without revealing part of the end of the arc Kevin Smith wrote for Daredevil, so for those looking for a pure reading of Guardian Devil or Parts Of A Hole, this might not be the ideal review to read.

With Matt Murdock still mourning the death of Karen Page, Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) visits and tries to help him. Murdock is virtually inconsolable, which is why Foggy Nelson does most of the work with establishing the new law firm of Nelson and Murdock in the brownstone Murdock bought. Their first client is an incomprehensible man, murdered in the Nelson and Murdock offices, a man who was prepared to expose the Kingpin. While Foggy starts the legal work needed to indict the Kingpin, Daredevil searches for leads and takes on a cliche-spilling assassin team.

Meanwhile, the Kingpin is working to protect himself and his business interests. To that end, he brings into play a musical protege he has essentially raised. Maya Lopez, the deaf daughter of the man who helped Wilson Fisk establish his business enterprises, is an amazing pianist because she can simply mimic whatever she sees. Maya plays piano and boxes expertly and as Nelson tightens the noose on Fisk's business operations, the Kingpin sees this as an opportunity to rid Hell's Kitchen of Daredevil. Showing Maya videos of both Daredevil and Bullseye, Maya learns to mimic both of their abilities and the Kingpin sets her loose on Daredevil.

But the plan is a bit more complicated than that; by day, Maya and Matt Murdock have been set on a collision course and Murdock quickly becomes intrigued by how Maya has overcome her own handicaps. Similarly, Maya is taken in by Murdock's charms and idealism and the two begin a relationship which moves toward the romantic. While Matt, as Daredevil, realizes that the assailant he is fighting is Maya (calling herself Echo), Maya does not make the connection. And the Kingpin's plan seems like it might well be successful when Maya takes out Black Widow and moves in on Daredevil for one final confrontation!

What makes Daredevil: Parts Of A Hole so good is that the characters are very smart. While Romanov seems added to the narrative to provide an emotional tether and to act as a plausible ragdoll cannon fodder (Foggy is too busy this book to fill that niche for a change), the rest of the characters truly work. Matt Murdock is brooding and dark in a way that makes him interesting to follow this time and the two main villains are presented in ways that are compelling.

Wilson Fisk is given a huge part in this narrative and it is ultimately refreshing to read. The Kingpin is pretty much a generic businessman villain throughout much of Daredevil, so to be given his backstory finally works wonders and to read of his rise to power and the friendship and conflict with "Crazyhorse" Lopez makes his improbable stranglehold on Hell's Kitchen even more believable than ever before. In fact, if Parts Of A Hole does anything well is illustrate a sense of randomness to the Marvel Universe that works. Fisk was simply in position to take another person's work, just as a character who manages to do what Daredevil has never succeeded in doing, is simply at the right place at the right time with an appropriate motive.

In a similar way, Maya's character arc is interesting. Like Murdock, the reader knows that she is just a tool and we know well before it is made explicit that Fisk is skewing the story of Maya's father's death to frame Daredevil, but the plan works. In other words, Wilson Fisk is a smart enough antagonist to plausibly set up all of the circumstances whereby Daredevil can be framed for Lopez's murder. And Maya is smart enough that when the truth comes out, she is able to reason the way Murdock needs her to. In other words, Maya is presented as an artist, an intellect, so when an intellectual argument is made, she rightfully buys into it.

What doesn't work so well for me is the unreal principle of comic books which is continued here where no one stays dead. I like adult stories and oftentimes, that means casualties. Real stories with real consequences means death and the consequences of it. Karen Page is a real casualty, as is the informant who tries to rat out the Kingpin to Foggy Nelson. But beyond that, sheer willpower seems to be all that it takes in Daredevil's universe to survive and that is frequently frustrating to read. If the conflict is endless, there is no hope, no real success. Without consequence, the heroes and villains are not all they ought to be. So, while this might be a great Kingpin narrative, the lack of mortal consequences for him, Maya or Daredevil ultimately reads as "comic booky." I love the fantastical as much as anyone, but I want it tempered with enough realism that I care about what could happen to the characters. If everyone important always lives, it's hard to maintain my interest.

The only other serious detraction comes in the artwork. Daredevil: Parts Of A Hole is generally amazing in the artwork department. Largely done by Joe Quesada, the artwork is frequently creative and exceptional. But Quesada does not always create a sense of movement within or between panels that is ideal. Even worse, some of the panels are underdetailed, lending an inconsistent quality to this book. For example, Chapter Two - "Echoes" has Maya looking more like a cartoon character ten and eleven pages in and that is disappointing.

It is especially disappointing considering that Quesada does amazing work the whole rest of the chapter where he tiles the panels as a puzzle that Daredevil/Murdock is assembling and the visual aspect of the story plays very well to the medium. Moreover, by the end of the chapter, Quesada is presenting the artwork as painting-quality panels as Maya transforms into Echo and that sequence is artful, beautiful and in every way the best of what the medium can provide.

Ultimately, Daredevil: Parts Of A Hole goes on my list of "essential" Daredevil storylines. My "essential" Daredevil differs from the books called "Essential" Daredevil in that those volumes are simply the stories that came first or are so long out of print that the publishers think calling them "essential" means that readers must read them. My "Essential" Daredevil would be the stories that resonate long after they are read and for that, Daredevil: Parts Of A Hole certainly qualifies.

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


For other book reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

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

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