Heroes Never Rust #9 by Sean Ironman
In Defense of Daredevil
Whenever I’m in a conversation about the worst superheroes, someone mentions Daredevil (him and Aquaman). I think much of this comes from the poor Mark Steven Johnson film starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. It’s not a great film, but there are far worse superhero films: Steel, Meteor Man, Supergirl, any Marvel character film before Blade, Blade Trinity. I won’t go into the Daredevil film, there’s not much more I can offer other than, it’s not so bad. (The director’s cut is a much stronger film). I’ve noticed that in these discussions of bad superheroes, the people who don’t like the character don’t read the comics, while the defenders have read the comic series. When I was a kid, I didn’t like the character, but I had heard such good things about Brian Michael Bendis’s run on the title that I picked up the first volume. Now I own nearly enough Daredevil trade paperbacks for their own bookshelf. There is something that casual comics fans and the mainstream do not understand about Matt Murdock.
Created in 1964 by Stan Lee and Bill Everett (with some help from Jack Kirby), Daredevil wore a mostly yellow and red acrobat tights and fought with a billy club. Matt Murdock, blinded by radioactive chemicals when saving a blind man from an oncoming truck, has heightened senses and becomes a superhero to seek justice for the death of his father, a boxer names “Battling Jack” Murdock. During the day, Murdock serves as an attorney with his friend and partner Foggy Nelson. Even though Daredevil, had some of comics greatest working on it (Stan Lee, Bill Everett, John Romita Sr., Gene Colan, Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, Marv Wolfman, etc.) it wasn’t until Frank Miller took over the title that things took off.
Nothing against Stan Lee’s portrayal of the character, but Matt Murdock wasn’t much different than many other superheroes out there. Until Frank Miller arrived. Miller started as the artist, but as sales dwindled and the series came in danger of cancellation, the decision was made by editor Denny O’Neil to give Miller a shot as the writer as well. To this day, many (including myself) cite Miller’s Daredevil tales as the greatest. He took the superhero and turned him into an antihero. “Battling Jack” Murdock was no longer another type of Uncle ben character, but a violent drunkard who physically abused Matt. Spider-man’s villain, Kingpin, became Daredevil’s nemesis. And Daredevil became less of a swashbuckler and more of a noir detective. In one issue, he breaks into a hospital room and plays Russian roulette (with an unloaded gun) in an attempt to scare a now-quadriplegic villain. Ninjas were introduced (everyone loves ninjas), and then came Elektra, Murdock’s ex-girlfriend turned ninja assassin, who is later killed by Bullseye.
Eventually, Miller left the title, and the character floated around for a years, not really doing much. Miller returned with a story of Daredevil’s origins, Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. In the ‘90s, Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy) wrote the title with art by Joe Quesada (who eventually became Marvel’s Editor-in-chief and is now Chief Creative Officer). Their first story, Guardian Devil, began the rebirth of Daredevil. This rebirth was finished by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev in their four-year run. Bendis took Murdock to the brink, having Daredevil beat up Kingpin and take over Hell’s Kitchen as the new Kingpin. Bendis left his replacement, writer Ed Brubaker, in a tight spot with Matt Murdock going to prison for lying in court about not being Daredevil.
There are two more great runs after Bendis (Brubaker’s and currently, Mark Waid’s), but Bendis’s run brings me to what’s so great about the character versus characters like Spider-man or Batman. (And yes, I know this is going to sound crazy.) What makes Daredevil a great character is that the mainstream doesn’t like him. He’s a cult character.
He’s really impossible to mess up. No one cares about him, so writers can have free reign, for the most part. Miller changed Murdock’s backstory around. Bendis had the character have a mental breakdown. Brubaker took him out of Hell’s Kitchen for a global adventure. Mark Waid dropped much of the depression from the character and focused on a mystery adventure with heart and humor.
Daredevil is in a unique situation. He has superpowers and lives in a shared universe (the Marvel universe). He can come into contact with heroes like Captain America and Spider-man. Yet, he also gets to have really gritty and mature stories. I always think of him as a step above other Marvel characters in terms of maturity and adult stories.
He’s a superhero for people who think superheroes are for kids. The best part of the character is the lack of status quo. Other than Foggy being his best friend, there’s not much there. He’s always changing, even the very tone of the comic. When a writer comes onto a title to write a character that’s been around for forty or fifty years, many fans can get angry about changes. The writer is then tasked with keeping old fans happy, gaining new fans, and keeping the character in a position to make the company money for years to come. Daredevil writers seem to do whatever the hell they want. Let’s kill off all the people that love him. Great! Let’s give him a mental breakdown. Fantastic! Let’s throw him in prison and reveal his identity to the world. Now we’re talking!
In fact, don’t read Daredevil. Leave him for me. Don’t go to Amazon or your local comic shop and buy some of the greatest superhero comics in Miller’s seminal run and Bendis’s. If too many people read it, maybe those corporate suits will start cracking down and make Daredevil stay in some kind of stasis for the next hundred years of stories constantly being undone. He’s lasted nearly fifty years by getting the crap beaten out of him and having his world turned constantly upside down and never winning for too long. I like my Daredevil just the way he is, a pile of clay for writers and artists to smash and reform however they want.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.