Friday, April 19, 2013

With Daredevil: Father, Joe Quesada Tells An Intriguing Story Of Consequences!

The Good: Engaging story, Interesting characters, Some of the artwork
The Bad: Censorship, Repetition of panels, Erratic artwork
The Basics: In Daredevil: Father, Matt Murdock tries to save an abuse victim while at night he confronts vigilantes angry about how the criminals Daredevil has purged from Hell’s Kitchen have spilled over into the other boroughs.

It has been a while, I am sad to say, since I wrote a graphic novel review where I really delved proudly into the book and felt like I did complete justice to the work. I know exactly why that happens; I read so many and more often than not, I get them out from the local library system and have returned the book after reading it, but prior to my review. As a result, I only have my notes and my own, imperfect, memories to go off of. The result is that I have a few less-detailed graphic novel reviews that I am not as proud of as I would like to be.

Today I am changing that with my review of Daredevil: Father. Despite it being my She-Hulk year, I have been going back a bit to read new-to-me Daredevil works and Daredevil: Father is the latest I have found in that series to enjoy. And enjoy it I did. The anthology of the six-issue limited series Daredevil: Father is ambitious and it mostly works with what it sets out to accomplish. However, in its anthology form, it seems either repetitive or thematically heavyhanded with the flashbacks Matt Murdock has to his father.

And that is, rather obviously, much of the point of Daredevil: Father. After all these years of the book, Matt Murdock is wrestling with the issues that stem from his father being a criminal (an enforcer for one of the local mobsters). That emerging stress surfaces over the course of six chapters wherein Murdock’s past and present converge in an appropriately complicated way.

Opening with chapter 1 – “Father’s Day,” the premise of the book is established. Internally, Matt Murdock recalls his disillusionment with his father, which took the form of him witnessing his father leaning on a local butcher. While this shook Matt, after he was blinded and vowed to help people and his father died, he seemed to repress much of his disappointment for his father. In the present, Matt Murdock takes on a new client, Maggie Farrell, who has gotten ovarian cancer from pollution related to New Jersey Power & Light. The chapter only teases the idea of Nestor Rodriguez, a young man who worked to create a positive youth organization – the Street Angels – but went into recording after his father’s death. The chapter ends with a grisly murder in Manhattan.

This gets Daredevil: Father off to a good start. From the beginning, the reader has the idea that this is a complicated story that is going to have layers. The initial panels, which feature the flashbacks to Matt Murdock and his father are beautiful – arguably some of the best artwork to ever appear in a Daredevil book and the yellowscale and black coloring makes them seem especially vivid. The artwork gets successively worse, so that by the time Rodriguez is introduced, the artwork has a somewhat sketchier quality. Either way, it is a compelling opening to the book and enough to make one want to read more.

Daredevil: Father continues with “Heat Wave,” which has the boroughs of New York City around Hell’s Kitchen reeling from murders committed by a villain the media dubs Johnny Sockets. Johnny Sockets has been removing his victim’s eyes. Inside Hell’s Kitchen, Daredevil has effectively cleaned up the streets. But, when Sean, the husband of Maggie Farrell appears to be beating her, Matt Murdock is drawn out. While tracking Sean, under the suspicion – from the scent of his cologne and chemotherapy chemicals – that he might be Johnny Sockets, Daredevil is lured into a trap.

This chapter establishes a sense of repetition with the artwork. Daredevil: Father uses the same essential sequence and that makes it seem like Matt Murdock’s character revelation will be absolutely essential at the end. Unfortunately, it comes across – when it reaches that point – as more of a series of plot conveniences, as opposed to a truly shocking character moment for Matt Murdock. Even so, Daredevil: Father is still engaging at this point and the reader truly feels for Maggie and her predicament (it sucks to be dying of cancer and being an abused spouse!).

The trap is fully sprung in Chapter Three, “Orisha.” In that chapter, Daredevil comes up against the gang of vigilantes led by NeRo. Beaten up by the gang that is upset that Daredevil has simply pushed his problems out of Hell’s Kitchen, Matt Murdock takes a beating. After a brief check-in with Maggie, Daredevil goes out in a samurai outfit for a rematch.

In “Street Angels,” the samurai-armored Daredevil tries to make peace with the Santerians, but one of NeRo’s men picks for a larger fight. After the murders from Johnny Sockets pick up, Daredevil pays a visit to NeRo in order to show him that he has uncovered his mundane identity and they come to a resolution of sorts.

Daredevil: Father could be half as long without the whole Santerians/NeRo c-plot. This is where the book nearly lost me. First, while the idea of father issues compelling the villain might be compelling and feel a bit different, father issues spurring on another superhero is just redundant. After all, in Daredevil: Father, the reader knows immediately that Matt Murdock has father issues. His issues with his father led him, in some ways, to become the vigilante Daredevil. NeRo’s replication of that seems both obvious and redundant.

These two chapters seem to be the requisite physical action. Daredevil: Father is otherwise a cerebral story, low on physical violence or conflict and high on emotional turmoil, implied conflict, and a menace that is largely “off camera.” These two chapters find Daredevil in full ass kicking/ass kicked mode and they are distracting from the main story. Moreover, the artwork is sloppy and the samurai suit for Daredevil is an odd departure that is not satisfactorily explained (a jaded part of me would suggest that it was just a merchandising ploy, but I don’t think Daredevil is that popular in the merchandise). Either way, this departure was unnecessary and feels more like a comic book convention, rather than an organic offshoot of the story being told.

Chapter five, “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!” has Matt Murdock making his assumption for who Johnny Sockets is. After an agent, who feels he has a personal debt to Daredevil, turns over evidence for how Johnny Sockets has been choosing his victims – using Matt Murdock’s client address book – Matt makes the leap that Sean is the serial mutilator/murderer. In an effort to protect Maggie, Matt Murdock confronts Sean.

Fortunately, this chapter got me right back! The revelations surrounding the conflict between Sean and Matt are compelling. Sean explains his feelings of inadequacy and the dialogue-heavy chapter actually makes him a well-rounded character. He and Matt Murdock play off one another exceptionally well and it draws the reader right back into the book.

Daredevil: Father concludes with “Reunion,” which utilizes the familiar conceit of poor Foggy Nelson being captured by the killer and Matt Murdock coming to the rescue. In this chapter, Joe Quesada proves an adeptness for storytelling in that he takes the disparate elements of the book, especially the flashbacks, and ties them all together. Daredevil: Father is all about consequences and the killer’s motivations are sensible but only inferred up until the moment they are made explicit in the book.

Without spoiling the end, the resolution is entirely satisfying, even if there are elements of it that seem a little bit forced. More than any other comic book of late, I found myself bothered by the language in Daredevil: Father. Simple curse words are edited and that is distracting in a book filled with deep father issues and graphic serial killers. In other words, those who can understand the psychology of Daredevil: Father and handle the creepy killer storyline can handle the word “shit” and heavier, I suspect.

The coloring in Daredevil: Father is consistently vivid and while there is an erratic quality to the art in the book, the panels are universally colored with a quality that makes the book look good. Overall, Daredevil: Father achieves what it sets out to do, even if it gets a little distracted from itself in the middle. And, thematically heavyhanded or not, Daredevil: Father does have a decent sense of psychology to it to make it worth reading!

For other Daredevil books, please check out my reviews of:
The Essential Daredevil Volume 1
Daredevil Vs. Bullseye
Daredevil: Visionaries Volume 1 - Frank Miller
Marked For Death
Born Again
Typhoid Mary
Guardian Devil
Parts Of A Hole
Daredevil: Yellow
Batman/Daredevil - King of New York
Daredevil Noir
Daredevil: Golden Age
The Devil: Inside And Out, Volume 1
The Devil: Inside And Out, Volume 2
Daredevil: Hell To Pay - Volume 1
Daredevil: Hell To Pay - Volume 2
Lady Bullseye
Return Of The King
Daredevil: Shadowland
Daredevil: The Official Comic Adaptation


For other book reviews, please visit my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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