Thursday, January 12, 2017

Return To Form: Daredevil: Back In Black Volume 1 - Chinatown Is Solid, But Predictable!

The Good: Interesting new dynamic with Blindspot, Familiar feel, Good story, Much of the artwork
The Bad: Some of the artwork undermines the writing, Predictable reversals, Somewhat generic resolution with the villain.
The Basics: Daredevil: Back In Black Volume 1 - Chinatown puts Daredevil back in New York City with a sidekick and a new enemy and a very familiar format!

Apparently, during my hiatus from Daredevil comics, Marvel Now's reboot of the title went south and the writers had to do a course correction. Moving Matt Murdock to the West Coast turned out to be a mistake for a book that used the setting of Hell's Kitchen as a de facto character. So, Daredevil was returned to New York City and readers like me who lapsed and then pick up Daredevil: Back In Black Volume 1 - Chinatown are in for a return to form, as opposed to more adventures of Matt Murdock and his family in California.

Daredevil: Chinatown establishes the premise of the latest reboot incredibly quickly. Matt Murdock has found a way to erase everyone's memory of his tie to Daredevil, so only Foggy Nelson remains with his memories intact. The result is that Daredevil is back to a very pure form as a vigilante hero, while Matt Murdock is once again able to practice the law unencumbered by his celebrity - or the liabilities that come with using extralegal methods to dispense justice. Daredevil: Chinatown has a very familiar feel to it and writer Charles Soule does a decent job of re-establishing the character and patter, though the somewhat generic quality of the villain's resolution makes the book feel a bit too familiar for those looking for a solid read.

Daredevil takes a leap off the Manhattan Bridge into the water after Billy Li, who is being killed by lackeys working for Tenfingers. After rescuing Li from the East River, Daredevil confronts the Church Of The Tenfingers and only survives with the aid of Blindspot. Daredevil brings Li to Nelson's apartment to keep him alive and the next morning, Matt Murdock goes to work at the District Attorney's office. Murdock has to convince Li to testify against Tenfingers and when he is successful, Tenfingers charges his minions with killing Li and Murdock right in the courtroom. Samuel Chung is given the contract, but converts Li by taking some of his fingers (raising his position in the Church), which destroys Murdock's attempt to prosecute it.

But when Daredevil and Blindspot drop in on Tenfingers's lair, Daredevil instantly recognizes the power the cult leader is using as the power utilized by The Hand. The Hand's members come to take back their power, but they are repelled by Tenfingers, who comes to visit Matt Murdock at the office and make the argument that he is not a villain. Murdock is shaken by that idea and turns to Steve Rogers, who uses Daredevil to take out a neighborhood bombmaker. While Murdock fails to get the absolution he wants from Rogers, Samuel Chung confronts his mother about her place in Tenfingers's Church which is right when The Hand attacks again! As Tenfingers confronts The Fist, Daredevil and Blindspot must work to save as many people as possible!

Daredevil: Chinatown is distinct for its truly creepy cult of Tenfingers. The Church Of The Sheltering Hands is disturbing for the way its practitioners lose, give and gain fingers. Despite the minimal amount of time actually explicitly constructing the Church Of The Sheltering Hands, Charles Soule makes the organization clear and distinct in a way very few comic book cults ever become. By the time Tenfingers is shown with ten fingers on his right hand, the reader knows something truly unsettling is going on in his cult and is ready for something weird and monstrous.

At the other end of the spectrum is Blindspot. Blindspot is a new super hero, who is very smart and had an invisibility suit powered by D batteries, which is both clever and subtly hilarious. Blindspot enters the narrative in his super hero apprentice form and Soule unfortunately telegraphs his mundane identity very early on in the book (more than by the rendering of the artwork, which is very much not clear right away) by giving a very specific name to only one other recurring character in the narrative. That robs the book of some of the shock value of the revelation, but on the plus side, Soule does not drag out the "hidden identity" thing and put a number of red herrings in the reader's way. Instead, Blindspot is given a decent and compelling backstory that sets him up as a guardian of Chinatown and gives him a potential recurring villain of his own that might well lead to some serious character conflicts.

The artwork in Daredevil: Chinatown is somewhat problematic. First, the stylized artwork makes many important things very unclear. Foremost among these is the use of Daredevil's billy-club. Daredevil throws his billy-club at a number of adversaries in Daredevil: Chinatown and the way the artwork is rendered with the club hitting a person's face with lines of force at the point of impact that resemble blood splatters makes it look like Matt Murdock is dispensing with his adversaries using lethal force; putting his weapon right through his enemy's skulls. Similarly, the artwork does not reveal to neophytes who Tenfingers is . . . the end of the first chapter makes it appear as though the revelation will inform readers (outside simply counting fingers), but it just appears to be a melodramatic way to introduced the much-alluded to villain.

Beyond that, the artwork undermines the story long before the final battle. The positive mechanism of control (the carrot) Tenfingers has over his followers is that he promises to keep his people safe and he appears to make good on that promise. Despite that, the artwork in the battle with the ninjas of The Hand shows things like a guy (from the Church) getting a sword through the neck. Despite things like that where it is entirely implausible the victim would survive, there is no crisis of faith among the followers of the Church; they continue to believe Tenfingers can keep them safe. It undermines both Tenfingers and The Hand as the only way the book may be rationally interpreted by the text is that Tenfingers successfully repelled The Hand with no casualties on his side. That is a somewhat absurd premise.

As for Daredevil himself, Daredevil: Chinatown does a good job of reinventing Matt Murdock effectively. Murdock is essentially on his own again and that has, in the past, made for some of the most moody Daredevil books. Daredevil: Chinatown gets away from the moody by giving Daredevil Blindspot and it works very effectively. Blindspot and Daredevil's use of him as an apprentice also takes the theological aspect out of the book and that works well. Instead of Matt Murdock whining about God periodically, he channels his energies into making sure the fight for right outlives him. That is a very effective transition for Matt Murdock and the Daredevil graphic novels.

Ultimately, Daredevil: Back In Black Volume 1 - Chinatown is a strong start that reboots the very old hero quite well . . . even if it fails to address how Steve Rogers is now 90 years old, but Matt Murdock is still in fairly youthful fighting shape!

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
Daredevil: Father
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 Reborn
Daredevil (Volume 3)
West-Case Scenario
Daredevil: The Official Comic Adaptation


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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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