With Charles Soule’s run writing Daredevil now completed and Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto’s take on the hero yet to begin, Man Without Fear is the miniseries that aims to bridge the gap between the two and, presumably, round out the plot threads of the former in order to provide a blank slate for the latter. If that gives you the impression that this is merely an editorial exercise, however, you’d be wrong. If this first issue is any indication, Jed MacKay, Danilo S. Beyruth and the rest of the creative team are crafting a smart and critical deconstruction of what it means to be a Man Without Fear.
Sometimes books like this can fall too far down the rabbit hole; “The Man Without Fear” is, after all, just a tagline that I’m sure was initially thought up because it looked cool on the cover of a comic book, and any deep, critical examination of it in relation to the character runs the risk of coming off as too serious, or even a little pretentious. Man Without Fear #1 skirts all of that nicely, and instead provides a thoughtful eye over Matt Murdock as a man, exploring what it means to dismiss fear entirely, and what exactly that mindset does to a psyche.
Much like Wolverine and his nigh-invulnerable healing factor, if Daredevil feels no fear, he’s more likely to throw himself into dangerous situations recklessly. Logan can heal from any wound, so he’s more likely to get wounded as a result, and Daredevil feels no fear, so he’s more likely to put himself into frightening situations. MacKay examines whether that really is an effective way to do what Matt Murdock does and whether taking that mental stance is actually working as effectively as Matt would like it to.
Man Without Fear isn’t too dissimilar to the Return of Bruce Wayne or Captain America: Reborn, at least in its ambition. Like those books, Man Without Fear is set after the hero has “died” and charts a course for their return. The narrative advantage this series has, however, is that Matt Murdock is still very much alive, and it’s merely his alter ego that’s dead. The question tackled by this book, therefore, is whether Daredevil should stay dead, or even if Matt Murdock can and would live without him. The way this is approached is through a series of dream (or nightmare) sequences experienced by Matt while he lies in a coma, Foggy at his side lending some support and much-needed levity.
Matt Murdock’s survival is dependent on two things: pain and fear. Daredevil’s life has been spent suppressing the latter and embracing the former, and during these coma-induced nightmares, these two aspects of his life take physical forms in Matt’s brain, both with their own goals and ambitions. Fear - a skeleton dressed in Matt’s first, yellow, costume - wants Daredevil to stay dead so that Matt can live. Pain - a skinless Daredevil, the red of the suit comprised of exposed muscles - wants Matt to conquer fear, constantly reminding him of how useful pain can be. In the real world, Foggy sits by Matt’s bedside and talks about what pain and fear really are: Self Preservation. One cannot live without the other: fear makes us learn to avoid pain, and pain reminds us of why we feel fear.
Beyruth’s artwork is perfectly suited to this story. Much like Immortal Hulk, Man Without Fear leans into the horror aesthetic, and Beyruth’s grotesque personifications of Pain and Fear are excellent examples of this. Using scale to depict these forms as overwhelming both Matt and the pages they inhabit, Beyruth’s monsters are genuinely frightening. Likewise, the freedom that an unreal nightmare world provides is an effective canvas on which to go really weird, and while it would have been nice to see page structure played with a little more, perspectives are skewed and backgrounds are left disorientingly vague on purpose to great effect. Similarly, this book wouldn’t work as well without Andres Mossa’s moody palette, providing ominous tones, shocking bursts of color and often claustrophobic shadows to really put the Fear in Man Without Fear.
MacKay and Beyruth have begun Man Without Fear in a strong way. They've subverted the expectation that this is merely editorial filler between volumes of the “real book,” and instead started Matt Murdock - and by extension us, the reader - on a journey that looks to truly deconstruct what it means to be a man who puts on a costume and fights crime. The age-old cliche of “who is more real: the man or the mask?” is lightly grazed here, and that’s a question that has been thoroughly explored before. But Man Without Fear goes a step further, tailoring the debate to Daredevil in such a specific way as to provide a fresh angle on a tired trope. No longer is it a question of who is more real, but rather it is “how can a man be without fear, and why would he want to be?” It’s obviously not healthy, but is it something to be proud of? Is being “the Man Without Fear” really a good tagline, when we need fear in order to survive? And perhaps the crux of the question is, ultimately, should Daredevil embrace pain and fear in order to be better at what he does, and what does this mean for the man Matt Murdock? Mackay, Beyruth and their team have produced a strong debut chapter for a series that will hopefully explore these questions and more.