I haven’t written much (if anything) about the comics I read on this site, but one of my “resolutions” of 2005 was to include more about comics here. If only because I spend so much money on them, the least I could do is try to get someone else hooked on my drugs :). So the inaugural post will be about the “The Murdock Papers” storyline in Daredevil. This is the final story arc for the creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, whose run on this comic I believe will be known as one of the best creatives on any comic, ever. The canon is that the Frank Miller run on Daredevil was both one of his best, and the best run on Daredevil. But I firmly believe that Bendis’ run (and in particular the long partnership with artist Alex Maleev) surpasses even that.
Which, I realize, is quite the statement. So why do I think this? Simple: Daredevil has always been a “noir” superhero. He lives in Hell’s Kitchen, and for the most part, his concerns are the small, daily toils and troubles that make a great noir story. And Bendis is a great crime, and more specifically, noir writer (see, if you doubt me, all of his pre-marvel graphic novels such as “Jinx”, “Goldfish”, and particularly “Torso”). These two (Bendis & Maleev) first teamed up on Todd MacFarlane’s Sam & Twitch, and they kept most of the atmosphere from that crime series when they joined forces on Daredevil. Bendis is a master of dialogue, and he’s also very good at letting the art do the exposition. This, I think, both stretches the artist’s skills and leaves him room to tell very engaging stories. Rarely do you hear a Bendis character explain what they are, or are about to do. Alex Maleev’s art is highly stylized, and takes some getting used to. I used to find it quite static, but as I’ve read more and more work featuring his art, I’ve come to see the nuances in how he depicts action. Most importantly, I think, is that Maleev uses quite a minimal and subtle palette, which is important to keep the noir feel. He has a variety of techniques to help distinguish levels of shadow or sunlight, etc. The other selling feature for me is that his people are always very real – no impossible-figured women or overly muscular men are found in Maleev’s world. Sure, they’re clearly super-heroes (or -villans, or -powers) where appropriate, but he recognizes that not every single woman in the world has a 22″ waist and 38DD chest. Which is refreshing.
But on to the story-arc. There’s been a long and twisted story leading up to this point, including such things as the imprisonment of The Kingpin (crimelord, arch-nemesis of Daredevil), Murdock nearly being outed as Daredevil to the press (officially – his secret identity is one of the worst-kept secrets in comic-dom, I think), his mental breakdown, subsequent marriage & separation, etc. It’s been a whirlwind of troubles for Daredevil under Bendi’s watch – another plus – Daredevil has become a somtimes intensely personal look at one man’s descent and his struggles to rebuild after losing everything. The story arc opens with the Kingpin wanting to cut a deal with FBI – he’ll provide them with proof that Matt Murdock is Daredevil (for various reasons the feds want to lock Matt Murdock/Daredevil up), in exchange for exile. The story is then one of the Feds pressing the Kingpin for information, while Daredevil and friends search for the papers themselves, to prevent them falling into the hands of the police or the press. (WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD!) What makes this story so great, and such a fitting end to the run, is that Daredevil fails in this. He’s instead shot, seriously wounded by a police sniper. The very last panel shows him, half in uniform, his identity revealed, sitting in a police car, handcuffed. The FBI has him. The story guest stars all of the major surviving players in the Daredevil mythos, and has a number of twists and turns (including the somewhat predictable final twist that there are in fact, no such papers, it was just a ploy to bring Daredevil into the open) that mark the best noir writing.
I’m quite worried about what will happen to Daredevil under a new creative team. I’m worried that they’ll pick up the “Let’s make big shit happen to Daredevil” theme of the Bendis run without the very, very important “Let’s stop and examine the personal effects of this big shit” minutae that made the now-ending run so fantastic. So many Marvel comics subject their characters to events that should be highly traumatic. But apparently, they all have such superior psyches that it just bounces off them. I’d hate to see the psyhological angle lost from this comic, as there’s so few that actually venture down this path (and you’d think it would be more popular, given the whole “Secret Identity” aspect of super-heroes).