The Good: Dark tone, Character moves forward
The Bad: Repetitive feel, Artwork
The Basics: Daredevil: Hell To Pay, Volume 1 is the first half of a very dark story that puts Matt Murdock on the outs with Milla, his ex-wife, and the law.
Every year, the two big comic book companies come up with major crossover events in order to try to sell more books – including the ones few people ever buy. I’ve enjoyed some of the big DC ones, like Blackest Night and Justice League: Generation Lost, but I’ve yet to read any of Marvel’s – though this year’s Fear Itself seemed like it had potential to be better than this summer’s DC outing, Flashpoint. I mention this at the outset of my review of Daredevil: Hell To Pay, Volume 1 because it is the first Daredevil graphic novel I have read that takes place after their Civil War event. Having not read it, all I know about the Marvel Civil War is that the superheroes are supposed to register and many of them, like Matt Murdock apparently, are outed.
So, as someone coming to this volume - pardon the pun – blind, it was a little inaccessible. It seems between the volumes I last read and this one, Matt Murdock has not only gotten married, but gotten divorced as well. I can live with that. The tone of the book, however, is much darker and much more oppressive than most other volumes of Daredevil. The problem – because I do like darker stories – is that I was hoping for something more original. The plot structure becomes so mundane and predictable in the formula for this type of superhero story that I soon found myself not actually caring who was behind the mystery murders. Instead, I just felt like I was reading an especially violent or melodramatic soap opera.
Returning to the streets of Hell’s Kitchen at night as Daredevil, Matt Murdock begins to try to rebuild his life. Without the law to practice, he is more invested in his nighttime activities, which puts a rift between him and his ex-wife Milla, whom he has been hooking up with again. But Murdock takes a personal interest in a case coming out of prison when it appears Melvin Potter – The Gladiator – is killing inmates. Potter claims to have no idea how the murders are happening and pleads innocence, which Murdock comes to believe is the truth.
As Murdock searches for the answers as to how Potter could be killing, but not be responsible, Milla begins to feel more and more distanced from him. At night, Daredevil tries to confront the mystery and deal with cleaning up the streets, while avoiding being arrested. But as he nears the truth about how Potter is being used, Milla is put into peril . . .
. . . and that peril would be remotely interesting were it not for the fact that this is pretty much what happened to Karen Page. And, from what little I know about her, Gwen Stacy. The families of Marvel superheroes (and a few DC ones!) do not fare well and that could be interesting, except that Ed Brubaker writes Milla much like virtually every other writer wrote Karen Page. Having not read anything beyond this volume (except volume 2), the resolution to the conflict with Milla seems like they are doing another Karen Page-type story, but with Milla and Murdock twisting in the wind for awhile. It would not, for example, surprise me if Milla became a demented supervillain.
My point here is that great stories do something different and mix it up. Too frequently, Daredevil: Hell To Pay, Volume 1 reads like writers saying “What if we had another crack at Karen Page? What would you do?” “Well, I’d torment the hell out of her for much, much longer.” “Great idea!” Instead of having something substantive, this volume finds Matt Murdock in yet another downward spiral as Milla becomes more and more of a liability to him. Moreover, Milla’s character starts making less and less sense as she takes less and less solace in Matt’s presence and she becomes targeted by the hidden villain.
Having read a lot of Daredevil now, this story feels pretty old. The Kingpin’s recurring strategy was to wear Daredevil down and then try to kill him and this reads a very similar way.
As for the artwork, Michael Lark’s presentation of Daredevil is sloppier than many of the other graphic novels. The colors – dominated by grays and browns – have a washed out look to them that looks runny and I did not care for the style at all. I prefer my artwork clean, crisp, vivid. This is too frequently messy and there is not a great sense of movement within or between panels. The result is an ultimately average book that leads into Volume 2, but makes it hard to care where it is going. This book is probably better for the neophytes as those with familiarity to this character will find too much of it . . . familiar.
For other Daredevil books, please check out my reviews of:
The Essential Daredevil Volume 1
Daredevil Vs. Bullseye
Daredevil: Visionaries Volume 1 - Frank Miller
Parts Of A Hole
Batman/Daredevil - King of New York
For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here.
© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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