Double crosses, femme fatales, people struggling to do right in a wrong world. These are staples of Noir fiction. They're also regular elements of Marvel Comics' "Daredevil" series. So it's not too much to ask of readers to reimagine the character of Daredevil as a costumed defender in the noir-esque, morally murky New York City of the 1920-1930s. Writer Alexander Irvine and artist Tomm Coker do just that in "Daredevil: Noir" a four-issue miniseries that kicks off this month. CBR News spoke with Irvine about the project.
Alexander Irvine is best known as a science fiction novelist. His latest work, a future-noir thriller called "Buyout," was released last month. "Daredevil: Noir" marks Irvine's second collaboration with editor Axel Alonso, who he first worked with on the 2006 "Son of Satan" miniseries for Marvel's MAX imprint. "Axel and I were kicking around ideas about what might come next. Daredevil came up and I've always been a fan of Daredevil. So I put together a proposal," Irvine told CBR News. "By the time we got through talking over it and tinkering with it, we'd decided to make it a part of the Noir line, which fit the story idea I'd originally had perfectly-and also let me go back to the historical period when the noir was born and flourished."
The stories in the Marvel Noir line are set around the 1920s-1930s, so Irvine had to change the back-story of his title character in order to make him a believable part of that time period. "There's no convincing way to make him a blind lawyer at that time. I spent a lot of time thinking about what a kid in his situation might have been able to do, and I settled on the performing arts," Irvine explained. "In the early 20th century, Hell's Kitchen was one of the centers of vaudeville in New York City. I used that both in the creation of Matt's new origin story and as a way to create a long-standing relationship between Matt and the Kingpin."
Matt Murdock's friend, Franklin "Foggy" Nelson, also has a different vocation in "Daredevil: Noir." "It wouldn't be a classical noir without a private investigator, right?" Irvine remarked. "Foggy and Matt work together as investigators-or it might be more accurate to say that Matt works for Foggy, who has some knowledge of his Daredevil identity."
The time period and his occupation may be different, but the origin and personality of the Matt Murdock in "Daredevil: Noir" is very similar to his counterpart in the mainstream Marvel Universe. "One thing that's always fascinated me about Daredevil's suite of abilities is that they would turn him into an essentially perfect human lie detector. If he can sense changes in heartbeat and the composition of someone's sweat, there's just no way to lie to him. Once he realizes that, it's a very short step to him thinking that he can never be fooled, and that he's always in touch with the truth of any situation," Irvine explained. "There's a certain kind of arrogance there, but it's tempered by his dedication to the Kitchen. Even though the noises and the smells of the city keep Matt constantly on edge, he can't imagine going anywhere else because he feels a responsibility to keep the people in Hell's Kitchen from suffering the way he did as a result of Battlin' Jack's murder."
In "Daredevil: Noir," the most immediate threat to the citizens of Hell's Kitchen is a brewing mob war between the Kingpin of Crime and a young upstart named Orville Halloran. "He's a pretender to the Kingpin's throne and he's trying to move in on the Kitchen, first by negotiating with the Kingpin and then through an all-out shooting war that involves a mysterious assassin known as the Bull's-Eye Killer," Irvine said. "Daredevil sees the potential for mass casualties among innocent bystanders, and he starts looking into it-just as a mysterious woman named Eliza walks into Foggy's office and asks them for help with a problem involving Halloran."
For Daredevil, matching wits with the Kingpin and Halloran means dealing with two very different types of underworld figures. "The Kingpin is his suavely ruthless self, only set free in what seems to be his historical natural habitat. He's a lover of the finer things, of good conversation and gamesmanship," Irvine explained. "Halloran is a street kid, a murderous gang leader from the turn of the century who is just out of prison and looking to get back into his traditional line of work. The contrast between the two, both personally and with respect to their criminal methods, is one of the things that drives the story."
Rounding out the cast of "Daredevil: Noir" are two very important supporting characters. "There is of course the Bull's Eye Killer, who is slowly teased out into the open over the first three issues. And it wouldn't really be a noir without Eliza, the classic femme fatale with a dangerous secret; actually a couple of dangerous secrets," Irvine revealed. "I kept the cast small because I wanted everyone to have enough time to develop on the page, and also because it felt like a small cast was a natural reflection of the kind of emotional claustrophobia Matt sometimes feels."
In the regular Marvel Universe, Daredevil's adventures are gritty street-level tales that often feature fantastic elements like super powers or martial arts mysticism. For "Daredevil: Noir," Irvine chose to keep the action relatively realistic but with one exception. "You won't see any outright fantasy, but just as Daredevil has abilities that straddle the line between possible and outrageous, his opposition has to be able to match him. Don't expect any magical resurrections; do expect heightened, intensified abilities and the fights that would come with them."
In addition to being grounded in reality, "Daredevil: Noir" is also inspired by history. Several of Irvine's novels involve real life figures and events, and the author was able to work some historical details into his latest comics series as well. "Orville Halloran, the Man Who Would Be Kingpin, is based on a real Hell's Kitchen gangster named Owney Madden," the writer said. "A real psycho, this guy. A couple of the flashback moments about Halloran's history in the book are derived from things Madden actually did. I also used a couple of real restaurants and speakeasies of the day because when it comes to Prohibition-era Hell's Kitchen, there's really no improving on reality. Splicing together bits of history with bits of fiction is something I've always liked to do in my novels, so naturally I wanted to do it here, too."
The title "Daredevil: Noir" tells readers exactly what to expect from the book's tone. "It's noir as heck. Crosses, double- and triple-crosses, alienated vigilantes whose only armor is idealism. Gangsters. Femmes fatales," Irvine explained. "And in the middle of it all, a guy who is trying to be a little better than the world wants him to be"
Illustrating "Daredevil: Noir" is Tomm Coker, who Irvine feels brought the perfect look to the project. "The streaks and scratches give everything a kind of visual patina that reminds me of watching old prints of noir movies," the writer said. "And since so much of the book takes place in the dark, it's a good thing Tom gets so much expression out of black and the deepest shades of gray. I confess that I wasn't familiar with his art until we started working on this book; when I saw the first pages coming in, I couldn't believe my good luck."
"Daredevil: Noir" is a self-contained limited series, but given the chance, Alexander Irvine could tell plenty more adventures of the Prohibition era Man Without Fear. "And sure, I'd love to pick up the regular Marvel U Daredevil," he confessed. "I've had an idea about him for a long time that would be a huge kick to do. It'll be interesting to see where Andy Diggle takes Matt in coming issues."
"Daredevil: Noir" #1 hits stores April 8 from Marvel Comics.