A lot of things kind of happened all at once that made me fall in love with Marvel's Daredevil aka blind lawyer Matt Murdock. Up until Mark Waid's run I'd really only followed the book once, more than a decade ago - when Karl Kesel and Cary Nord were the team on the book (though I'd given D.G, Chichester a few issues in the early 90's when Daredevil's costume got all gray and razor-y). I'd certainly read decent Daredevil stories, but he never quite clicked with me as a character. Like Superman, his super-powers (heightened senses) seemed to get him out of any situation that came before him, and, upon initial impression, his personality seemed more defined by who was writing him at the time than who he was as a character. Plus, he always felt like Marvel's Batman knock-off to me - a regular guy who used his fists and smarts to tackle street-level crime and the occasional super-villain.
I enjoyed Waid's run right from its start in 2011. It had a lot of the same qualities that I enjoyed in Kesel's short run (a more free-wheeling sense of fun; not bogged down being grim). Waid's Daredevil is always really good, but some issues reach beyond, up into true greatness (#7 springs to mind), and it's the kind of run you never want to end. I can't speak to Brian Michael Bendis's or David Mack's work on the character or how it compares to Waid's, but a part of me thinks that maybe they'd taken Daredevil about as far down the hard-boiled crime story path as they could, and it was time to reinvent. Daredevil is often my favorite monthly book from Marvel and there's a big pile of awards that it's accumulated to validate my opinion, if it needed validating.
So, while I'm enjoying Waid's take, you might remember that director Joe Carnahan tried desperately to get a rebooted Daredevil film project off the ground for Fox before the cinematic rights to the character reverted back to Marvel Studios and Disney. I cover Marvel news for Movies.com on a regular basis, and was asked by my editor to take a look at "Born Again," the classic Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli collaboration that would inform Carnahan's take. (The project died, by the way, and DD rights returned to Marvel.)
Now, this was not my first experience with Frank Miller on Daredevil. I've read reprints of the classic Elektra storyline, which saw Matt Murdock's college sweetheart returning to the states as a lethal assassin after some years away. The story never really stayed with me, perhaps in part because its shock ending was already common knowledge among fans at the point in time in which I read it. Its outcome may have felt like a thunderclap in monthly bursts, but in one sitting, knowing what would happen and the fall out from it, it definitely lost some of its impact.
"Born Again," on the other hand, felt more like the crackling Frank Miller I knew - prone to lengthy, rich character monologues and a dun-dun-dun rhythm to his fiction that is as deliberate as a beating drum. It's an adult story, one where Daredevil's former lover-turned-druggie-hooker sells him out and the lawyer sees his entire life turned upside down by arch-enemy, the Kingpin. He loses his law practice, his friends, his identity, and his sanity, only to hit a personal rock bottom and rise like a phoenix at the end (albeit a broken one). Liberties would have to be made to adapt it properly to film, but the central conflict is certainly deep enough that it would make a great foundation for a killer DD script.
It was really good. I now started to get a sense of why Daredevil had his fans and what made Daredevil tick, and how Miller's Murdock and Waid's Murdock could be the same guy, but certainly at different points in the lawyer's complicated life. Murdock is defined as a fighter, a lot of times with quite literal symbolism whenever they flashback to anything involving his prize-fighting father. Miller took that will to fight to its extreme in "Born Again;" Waid plays with it as a kind of tenacity. When Murdock is faced with a challenge wherein any logical person would think, "this is too big for me," the thought never seems to enter Murdock's mind. He's going to figure it out, defeat it, solve the problem, or it's just never going to happen at all. Murdock probably doesn't even realize how motivated he is by the old saying, "If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself." It's an important variation on Spidey's "Great Power" philosophy, (but close enough to ensure that those two heroes get along very well).
These two things - Waid's monthly and "Born Again" - were important, but they weren't the clincher. I've talked about the Sidekick Store before. It's a place here in Austin that offers thousands of back issues for just a buck apiece, and it's a great way for a comic fan on a budget (ME) to feel like a king with just a ten-dollar bill. Over a couple of visits, I picked up a smattering of Daredevil back issues - Denny O'Neil's interesting, relaxed follow-up to Frank Miller's classic run and Ann Nocenti's super-wacko existential Daredevil run with John Romita Jr, on art (a run that teams him up with Gorgon from the Inhumans for several issues and eventually has Daredevil standing up to Marvel's version of Satan, Mephisto). They were never, ever boring. This is important, because when you're just choosing back issues from the 1980s at random from a box, you come across more stinkers than winners. Even as off-putting as Nocenti could get, she was doing stuff that was unpredictable and gonzo (as gonzo as Marvel got in their superhero books, anyway), but never dull. Daredevil quickly became a title that I could feel confident snagging from the discount bins and knowing I'd always be in for a good time.
BUT WAIT - THERE'S MORE! When Comixology did their big "every first issue is free" promotion, I realized I'd never read DD's first issue. I'd read almost every bit of the birth of the Marvel Age of comics, but not Daredevil's. It had somehow managed to escape me over the years, never being as heavily revisited as Spider-Man's or Fantastic Four's or Hulk's. Stan Lee's story, with surprisingly superb art by Bill Everett, turned out to be one of my favorite origin tales. It's a brisk, exciting read, even when Lee gets too heavy with his own concept (a blind superhero! Can you even imagine?!?!). In fact, considering that DD's handicap was the gimmick on which the entire book was built around, it comes across as even better as a first issue just knowing how much rich story mileage they'd be able to get from it. I read it on my iPhone and immediately ordered Essential Daredevil Vol. 1 the next day. It sits by my bed, where I read a bit of it every night before sleep.
And that is how I fell in love with Daredevil. I wasted a lot of time not knowing just how cool DD is, but I'm going to have a lot of fun catching up.