Here’s another of Marvel’s new graphic novels retelling origins that were, frankly, probably fine to begin with!
I wonder how these “season one” graphic novels are selling. When I reviewed the X-Men one, writer Dennis Hopeless stopped by and said his was doing fine, but I don’t know how the others are doing.
I’m buying these based on the creative team and the characters, and I like Antony Johnston, who wrote this, and have nothing against Wellinton Alves, who drew it. So I figured it was a good book to pick up (I don’t have any feelings toward Nelson Pereira, who inked it, Bruno Hang, who colored it, or Clayton Cowles, who lettered it). As has been the case with these GNs so far, this is $24.99 and clocks in at 100 pages, plus a reprint of Daredevil #1 by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, and Marcos Martin.
Before any of these came out, I think we could predict fairly well that no writer was going to deviate from the template too much, but Johnston does give us an original story mixed in with some early Daredevil villains. Really, if you’re going to re-do the origins of your biggest iconic heroes, you know the art is going to have to be a strong point, because how many times can you retell these stories, and unfortunately, Alves isn’t quite in the class of, say, Jamie McKelvie (who drew the X-book). I like how Alves shows Daredevil’s radar sense – it’s always interesting to see how artists do it – and his panel-by-panel storytelling is fine, but he lacks a sense of style that could differentiate his art from any number of Marvel artists. His page layouts tend to be a bit bland, and his pencil work alternates between sloppy and choppy when he’s doing long shots or action drawings to smooth and photo-referenced when he’s doing close-ups. I imagine he used photographs as references for some of the faces, and that’s fine, but the care he, Pereira, and Hang put into the faces of the characters when we see them in close and straight on is markedly different from other scenes, to the point where the art looks rushed in some panels but fine in others … on the same page, occasionally. I know that as we get further away from a character, the less we’re going to see of the definition in his or her face, but it’s a bit ridiculous in this comic. Plus, Alves isn’t quite a fluid a penciller as he could be, so the action scenes occasionally look stiff, which hurts the book. His Foggy also looks different at certain points in the book, which is weird.
Finally, he usually does a decent job with the characters’ facial expressions, but there are times when a character will grimace or glare very strangely. If this were a brilliant story or if we didn’t have Rivera and Martin to compare it to in the same book, the art would be fine. It’s too bad Johnston isn’t really at the top of his game here and that DD #1 is reprinted in the back.
Johnston wisely gets the accident and Daredevil’s revenge against the Fixer out of the way early on and instead focuses on how Daredevil got people to take him seriously as a costumed superhero. That’s not a bad idea, although it does seem a bit weird that in Johnston’s Marvel Universe, none of the other superheroes (specifically, Spider-Man, to whom everyone keeps comparing DD) had any problems and now everyone loves them. But that’s fine – this isn’t Spider-Man’s story, after all! Johnston’s main plot is a somewhat banal story about a priest who’s about to lose his church to a land developer but can’t produce any paperwork to say he deserves to stay, so he hires Murdock and Nelson to fight the evil capitalists. Of course, there’s a lot of secrets that get dredged up, and Matt has to balance his love for the law with his love of kickin’ ass, and if you thought the politician that Matt admires at the beginning of the book WASN’T going to be corrupt, well, you’ve never read anything fictional ever. Johnston takes his time, dropping in some random villains – Electro, the Purple Man, the Ox and the Eel, Mr. Fear, the Matador – for DD to fight so that the book actually has some costumed dudes wailing on each other, but he always comes back to the main plot. He also does a bit with the Foggy/Karen Page romance, but not too much. It’s a weird comic – Johnston is a better writer than is in evidence here, and I don’t know how much he was bound by the fact that it’s Daredevil, and if you’re retelling the origin, there’s not too much you can do. I mean, of course we get a priest wondering about Daredevil lighting a candle in his church “with a name like that.”
That’s such a cliché – he’s not named after SATAN, he’s a daredevil because he takes chances!!! – and it comes so early in the book that I began to be aware of some weird things in Johnston’s writing. Matt won’t take the Owl’s case because “no reputable defense lawyer” will? Doesn’t everyone deserve a competent defense, even someone like the Owl? Perched on top of the Empire State Building, Matt can hear Karen yelling at the Owl? Really? The way Matt doesn’t challenge the priest when he knows the priest is lying? What kind of lawyer is he? It just seems off, somehow – the actual story isn’t too bad, and Johnston does a nice job showing how well the Lawyer Matt Murdock can work with the Vigilante Daredevil, but the writing seems to be focusing on getting us where we need to go and ignoring logic. As an attempt to show how Matt Murdock became the costumed hero we all know and love, it’s not a bad effort, but it’s somewhat by-the-numbers, unfortunately. Johnston does give us a decent reason for the costume change, so that’s something!
I wanted to love this book, but I didn’t. It’s not a terrible read, and it’s mildly entertaining, but Johnston doesn’t really tell us anything all that new about the character. I’m much more looking forward to reading The Coldest City, his graphic novel from Oni, on which I imagine he has far fewer restraints!