Friday, September 2, 2011

It's Weird When You Start Empathizing More With The Villain: Daredevil: Golden Age!

The Good: Decent story development, Good character work, Stylistically good artwork.
The Bad: The artwork is largely stylized, It is easier to empathize with Melvin Potter than Matt Murdock.
The Basics: A Daredevil graphic novel worth picking up, Daredevil: Golden Age is a fast read for a surprisingly engaging story.

As the year speeds toward is inevitable close, I find my Daredevil Year coming to an end and I have been pleased to find a little more time of late to catch up on the newer storylines for the Man Without Fear. The other day, I was in a hurry, so my selection was based entirely on the volume size, yet it turns out Daredevil: Golden Age was a good book to reinvigorate my interest in Daredevil. The book, written by Brian Michael Bendis, focuses on a heretofore unknown Daredevil villain who is exploiting Melvin Potter to kill the outed Matt Murdock.

And here, I have to say, whoa! What is it with Daredevil writers now picking on Melvin Potter?! In the late 1990s, he was reformed and now, it seems like every new Daredevil volume I pick up, he is being mentally manipulated, angered or just extorted to becoming the supervillain The Gladiator yet again! I mean, I get that he was a classic Daredevil villain and for Daredevil: Golden Age I can recognize that the book would need someone old enough to actually be present in the 1940s when the story begins, but Melvin Potter was a mentally ill man. His story arc has, classically, been one of the sadder ones because he is largely characterized as a schizophrenic, doing what the voices in his head tell him to do. So, instead of leaving poor Melvin Potter alone and letting Marvel readers feel like mental illness can be treated successfully, Potter is trotted out whenever any psychopath has an agenda. In Daredevil: Golden Age, he actually tells Murdock he wishes that Murdock had or would kill him already.

So, throughout the five issues that comprise Daredevil: Golden Age, I actually found myself empathizing more with Melvin Potter than with Matt Murdock. That is not a good sign for the protagonist, especially when we are supposed to care because he is getting beaten to a bloody pulp on the street.

After the turn of the millennium, Alexander Bont is released from prison. He is an old man, who discovers his mobster restaurant has been turned into a DVD store and that others have filled the void he left when he went to prison. As he considers how he united the mobs in Hell's Kitchen, he ropes Melvin Potter into helping him get the now-outed Matt Murdock for his scheme to kill Daredevil. Potter, overwhelmed by Bont's strength - Bont is using Mutant Growth Hormone despite the fact that it is killing him - and extortion abilities, becomes the muscle for Bont's revenge scheme.

The day before Murdock is thrown on the street as a bloody pulp to be killed by the Gladiator and Bont, Matt Murdock makes direct contact with the agent assigned to bring him down. Angela Del Toro is supposed to make the definitive link between Daredevil and Matt Murdock, but has a crisis of faith when the amulet from the now-deceased White Tiger comes into her possession. She convinces Murdock to lower his guard enough to show her how to use the amulet and develop some of her own strengths as a result. But even as Del Toro explores becoming a superhero, Melvin Potter stalks the Daredevil for Bont's end game.

I rarely say this, but I'm getting to the point where I'm ready to see a whole generation of super heroes; Marvel and DC bite the dust permanently. Daredevil: Golden Age is forced to use Melvin Potter for a villain because he was age appropriate in that when he was introduced in the 1960s, he wasn't a kid. Even so, for him to be about twenty in the 1940s means he was about eighty-five when the current-day action in this book takes place. The only thing that is more troubling than am eighty-five year old villain gutting a sixty-five year old hero on the streets is that Matt Murdock doesn't look to be in his sixties and that the universe they populate - while acknowledging different years and decades - never seems to appropriately age them. My point is, even heroes die and it's about time for human characters in both universes to have some final adventures and then explore how heroically they can die.

I mention this during my analysis of Daredevil: Golden Age because this would have been the perfect story to kill Daredevil off with. Not some phony retirement or faux-death with the possibility of resurrection, but actually the final, permanent death of Matt Murdock. It works because the whole volume is about consequences. Alexander Bont became a Kingpin and he went to prison for a lifetime, Matt Murdock wouldn't take his case back in the day, so Bont wants revenge. Melvin Potter had secrets and a business that was funded corruptly, so others like Bont have a tool to exploit him. And Matt Murdock has been exposed as the Daredevil after decades of crime fighting, so someone was bound to come a-knockin'. Matt Murdock being martyred for vigilantes as a lesson on what happens when they are outed makes a great story that could have had real ripples throughout the Marvel universe.

And there is hope. Even as Murdock falls, Del Toro is picking up the mantle of another superhero. Sure, heroes die, but new heroes take their place.

Sigh. Sadly, the book isn't quite that. But it comes close and that makes it very easy to recommend. Brian Michael Bendis tells a very engaging character-driven story that has a Shakespearean quality to it and reads very well independent of the rest of the franchise.

As for the art, I like the idea, but not all of the execution. To delineate the various time periods this book happens in, Alex Maleev does different styles and has coloring from black and white to a classic comic coloring to bright, rich glossy colors. That works perfectly. What doesn't is the artwork within the panels. Much of the black and white is not just stylized, it is sloppy. And much of the current work looks manically or ridiculously drawn, making for a less effective use of the medium. Even Bont's reaction to the MGH is less stellar artwork than I would have hoped for.

That said, there is enough to the story to eagerly recommend Daredevil: Golden Age for anyone who wants a great superhero story about the impact of consequences on a vigilante's life.

For other Daredevil books, please check out my reviews of:
The Essential Daredevil Volume 1
Daredevil Vs. Bullseye
Daredevil: Visionaries Volume 1 - Frank Miller
Born Again
Typhoid Mary
Guardian Devil
Parts Of A Hole
Daredevil: Yellow
Batman/Daredevil - King of New York
Daredevil Noir
Daredevil: Hell To Pay - Volume 1
Daredevil: Hell To Pay - Volume 2


For other graphic novel reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

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

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