Monday, March 2, 2015

Digest Origins: Daredevil: Season One Underwhelms!

The Good: Moments of character
The Bad: Most of the character arc is rushed, Incomplete plots, Simplistic artwork
The Basics: In rebooting Daredevil (yet again!), writer Antony Johnston gets the highlights of Matt Murdock’s early adventures without giving a truly meaty origin story . . . to the detriment of Daredevil: Season One.

I have often said that one of the problems with having characters that are decades old is that it is tough to keep them fresh and relevant and tell new stories. At some point, it has all been done and one of the obvious solutions in the comic book universe is to end the story and then reboot. DC Comics has done that remarkably ineffectively with The New 52 (most all the stories were rebooted and rebegun, but essential pieces like Green Lantern hinge on recent major crossover events like Blackest Night, so it makes absolutely no sense to have the story continuing and rebooting at the same time) and I understand Marvel has done something similar with Marvel Now! I’m not even sure if Daredevil: Season One is a Marvel Now! work (it does not say that anywhere on the graphic novel), but given that it is the origin story of Matt Murdock as the Daredevil, I suspect that it might be.

Actually, what Daredevil: Season One is is a digest version of the earliest adventures of Daredevil, like writer Antony Johnston went and read The Essential Daredevil Volume 1 (reviewed here!) and condensed it into a much slimmer volume. As a result, Daredevil: Season One is not so much an origin story of Daredevil (the first page glosses right through the accident that gave Matt Murdock extraordinary abilities) as it is a summary of the first few adversaries and adventures Daredevil has.

The core characters from the beginning of Daredevil’s career are here and the basic story is familiar to the fans: in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer by day, working with his best friend Foggy Nelson. Both of them pine for the firm’s paralegal, Karen Page, who is dating Nelson, but is obsessed with the costumed heroes fighting crime in New York City. At night, Matt Murdock takes up the mantle of Daredevil and in that guise, he attempts to bring justice to the guilty. He incapacitates Slade, the triggerman who shot his father and he tries to get a confession out of The Fixer, who arranged to have Jack Murdock killed. When The Fixer dies of a heart attack before confessing, Daredevil is left with a sense of failure and a lack of resolution, not to mention a public relations problem.

But, Daredevil has some early seminal victories: he thwarts Electro and manages to stop The Purple Man from using his influence to rape Karen Page. The firm of Nelson & Murdock looks over the lease for the Baxter Building for the Fantastic Four. Daredevil rescues Page from the Owl and goes a couple of rounds with The Matador and Mr. Fear’s crew. Threaded throughout the battles with super criminals is the story of Matt Murdock trying to save his local church from the efforts of City Councilman Doyle’s attempts to destroy the church through a land lease deal he has with the mob! What Murdock cannot achieve in court, he uses Daredevil to do on the streets!

Fundamentally, the problem with Daredevil: Season One (other than being entirely under-developed versions of previously-told stories) is that it is already being rendered as a formulaic adventure. While there is the legal not-so-thriller for the dayside which makes leaps in the narrative to reach its conclusion without having an actual detective story to it, the nighttime adventures of Daredevil are already trapped in a predictable formula. Daredevil encounters a villain, gets thwarted because he does not understand their powers and abilities and then he comes back prepared the next time and incapacitates his adversary.

But none of the villains are particularly well-defined in Daredevil: Season One. Mr. Fear is a coward who uses a gas to make others cowardly, the Purple Man can simply push his will upon others and Electro just shows up, ostensibly because he did in the original Daredevil comics as one of Daredevil’s earliest adversaries (or, if you’re jaded like me, as an obvious cross-promotional event to try to build an audience for Daredevil based upon the existing popularity and audience of Spider-Man). Because none of the villains in Daredevil: Season One are particularly well-motivated, Daredevil’s heroics seem somewhat less impressive; he’s just a guy going through the motions, just like the super-villains he is thwarting.

In a similar fashion, Daredevil: Season One entirely underplays Matt Murdock’s blindness and his super-senses. That’s a tough balance to find for the audience who knows Daredevil and I understand Johnston trying to avoid being repetitive. The problem in Daredevil: Season One is that it is so underplayed that Murdock’s blindness and radar sense are treated as afterthoughts. He does not significantly use them in Daredevil: Season One to do anything genuinely extraordinary. Similarly, Murdock’s blindness in his day to day life is not treated as much of a challenge. The result is a book that feels like a Batman volume more than a Daredevil book.

The artwork in Daredevil: Season One is very simplistic. Gone are the dramatic painted panels of the early 2000s that helped one get into Daredevil by giving it a distinctive visual style that was different from other comic books. The world in Matt Murdock’s radar sense is depicted almost as mundanely as the panels that show an objective perspective of the world. In short, there is nothing special about the look of Daredevil in Daredevil: Season One.

Ultimately, that makes Daredevil: Season One a much tougher sell than it ought to have been. It, truly, is an unremarkable reboot – it is a simplistic retelling instead.

For other Daredevil origin stories, check out my reviews of:
Daredevil: Yellow By Jeph Loeb And Tim Sale
Daredevil: The Official Comic Adaptation (Of The Film)
Daredevil Visionaries By Frank Miller


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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