Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Retelling For The Next Generation (Poorly): Daredevil: Yellow Is An Uninspired Interpretation Of Daredevil's Origin Story.

The Good: Includes all of the relevant information, Psychologically interesting
The Bad: The artwork, Nothing new on the character or story fronts
The Basics: Now compiled as an anthology, Daredevil: Yellow only offers fans a rewrite of the first few issues of Daredevil with nothing substantive or truly new.

It doesn't take having worked at a comic book shop to know that classic comic books are expensive. Golden and Silver Age comic books from the 1960s and before are ridiculously hard to come by and very expensive when one is able to find them. To help readers of the most popular titles, then, Marvel Comics has begun making anthologies of their oldest comic books so readers may at least get the stories. As part of my Daredevil Year, I read the origin stories of Daredevil in Daredevil Essentials Volume 1 (reviewed here!), which was less "Essential" and more "everything for the first dozens of issues. Regardless, having read that book, I was pretty knowledgeable on the Daredevil origin story and early adventures.

So, when I discovered Daredevil: Yellow at a local bookstore, I was instantly unimpressed with the concept. The idea behind Daredevil: Yellow, which was originally published in 2001 and 2002 over six issues, was to retell the first few Daredevil stories in a slightly different way in order to inform the newer audiences who might not have caught the other anthology of just what Daredevil was all about. The limited series retells the first few adventures of Matt Murdock as Daredevil and it is pretty true to that whole vision.

Unfortunately, there is little more than that to this particular story. In retelling the Daredevil origin story, along with the subsequent adventures, one must hope that they will get something new or pleasing from the experience. Daredevil: Yellow doesn't do that and that is unfortunate when one considers that the anthology of the earliest Daredevil works are reprinted now in black and white. One would hope that the addition of color would improve the retelling, but that is not the case here.

Told from the perspective of Matt Murdock, Daredevil: Yellow begins as therapeutic letters from Murdock to the now-deceased Karen Page. Matt writes to Karen to try to stop feeling the crushing loneliness he has felt since her murder. This takes him back to considering how she became so very important to him. His recounting begins with him already blind and in law school with Foggy Nelson. The two study together and are best friends. While they work to become lawyers, "Kid" Murdock signs with Sweeney, "The Fixer" and begins winning bout after bout in the boxing ring.

What follows then is the murder of Battling Jack Murdock and the birth of Daredevil, in his original yellow costume. While Foggy and Matt form the legal offices of Nelson and Murdock by day, Daredevil goes into the night in Hell's Kitchen to try to find the Fixer's men and get justice for the death of his father. Nelson hires Karen Page and the fledgling law firm has to deal with a visit from the Fantastic Four, who want legal representation for permits for the Baxter Building. While Matt begins to compete with Foggy for the affection of Karen, Daredevil goes toe to toe with Electro. After defeating that costumed villain, Matt recognizes that Karen is becoming obsessed with Daredevil and that Foggy is interested in Karen. Before either has a chance to act, though, The Owl kidnaps Karen and Daredevil's rescue of her makes her stop looking at either of her employers.

The fundamental problem with Daredevil: Yellow, then, is that it is entirely old news. Early Daredevil comic books were plagued by conceits which one might hope would not be continued. So, for example, the Fantastic Four's cameo in the comic book was an obvious attempt at the outset to sell more books by generating crossover appeal with the built-in Fantastic Four market. So, why do writers Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale feel like they have to include this absurd aspect of the early story in Daredevil: Yellow? This is not vital storytelling and it is not even an interesting part of the meeting of Karen Page and Matt Murdock.

What the writers do right is make the parallels between the romantic contest for the affections of Karen Page with the early Daredevil. While Foggy and Matt vie for Karen's attention, Daredevil works to establish himself as the bane of the criminal underworld in Hell's Kitchen. The sense of conflict works in both plotlines and the book develops them simultaneously well. Moreover, there is a strong sense of character for Matt Murdock and his sense of loss over Karen Page's death is palpable. The tie in to Murdock's sense of loss over his father's death - wherein he admits he has not given up his father's apartment because he cannot bear to lose one more part of his dad - is a great character detail. Loeb even gets in a cute comment addressing the dated nature of the source material when he notes through Murdock in chapter four that the costumed villains back in the day didn't actually kill people.

But it all falls down for me with the artwork. Daredevil: Yellow is presented in simplistic sketches that look just terrible. Sorry, Tim Sale, but the watercolors that cover the simple sketches are utterly unimpressive and I remain firmly unimpressed as a result. Despite having a good sense of movement in many of the panels, the artwork is largely sloppy and that detracts from even the recycled story. The sketchbook portion of the anthology is interesting, though.

Ultimately, it is not enough to recommend to fans or casual comic book readers. As much as I like reinvention, I'll take camp over recycled pulp most days and Daredevil: Yellow does not reimagine, it does not recreate or reinterpret. Instead it poorly recycles and feels like a cashgrab for the Daredevil fans. They deserve better.

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


For other graphic novel reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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

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