Murdered corpses strewn about the ground floor of a townhouse. A figure clad in red and black confronts an immense bald man with the words, “I’ve come to finish it.”
And as the Kingpin reminds this depression-era Daredevil, “To know the end of a story…you have to know the beginning.”
So we get a taste of how it will all end — in blood and bodies and good and evil — but then we flash back to see how it all began in this third installment of the Marvel Noir line. Unlike “X-Men Noir” or “Spider-Man Noir,” which shoehorned characters into Elseworld-style settings that didn’t make much sense beyond the high-concept of taking character A and slapping him in old-timey era B, “Daredevil Noir” is not much different from the best Matt Murdock stories from Miller, Bendis, or Brubaker. Daredevil, done well, tends to be noir-ish, and this series, save for a few funny hats and antique cars, could probably take place today.
From what I understand, that was how the project was originally proposed, but the story was turned into a period piece and folded into the Noir line instead. Unfortunately, nothing seems to have been gained by the adjustment. While the out-of-regular-continuity Noir approach might give writer Alexander Irvine a relatively free hand to tell a story without worry about how his Kingpin intersects with what Brubaker is doing in the main title, the change in setting doesn’t particularly add anything to the Daredevil mileu. It’s just Daredevil and Foggy playing historical dress-up, and because it’s not set in the present day it all seems to matter so much less.
It’s quite possible that “Daredevil Noir” will develop into a worthwhile series before it’s all over. I found the beginning of “X-Men Noir” problematic, but it won me over by the end, and I thoroughly enjoyed the vicious pulp antics of “Spider-Man Noir” (and his amazing freakshow friends). I just don’t see any in-story reason for plucking Daredevil out of 2009 and sending him back in time seventy years, other than to fit into some not-quite-imprint that nobody seemed to ask for.
Even if the story starts slowly, and it does, and even if the setting seems unjustified, and it does, there’s still one big reason to check this comic out: the art of Tomm Coker. You may remember Coker from some odd-looking Wildstorm titles from the 1990s (where his long-limbed characters seemed to clash with the house style of the time), but his style has completely changed since then. He’s now a post-Alex Maleev artist working in a gritty, semi-photo-real style, and I think it’s better than anything Maleev has done in years. It’s perfect for Daredevil and perfect for noir, so it’s no wonder that he was hired for this project.
It’s very good work that seems wasted here, in this Elseworlds Hell’s Kitchen. But Coker’s work is good enough to keep me coming back for more, and the story might develop into something special by the end. It’s happened before in the short life of Marvel Noir.