Daredevil (Volume One) by Mark Waid (writer) and various artists: Paolo Rivera, Joe Rivera, Marcos Martin, Javier Rodriguez, and Muntsa Vicente.
Mark Waid’s Daredevil is one of the best comic book titles of 2012, and I’m comparing his work with some of my favorite authors of all time who have written top-notch runs on Daredevil: Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis, and Ed Brubaker. Waid’s work, though different, is equally good, and even though I’d recommend as excellent starting points both the runs by Bendis and Brubaker, Waid’s first volume might be even more accessible (However, I am skipping the controversial work on Daredevil by Kevin Smith, who killed off a major character of the series). The artwork by several different teams is equally impressive. The art and writing taken together make for a five-star offering both for those who have read Daredevil before and for those who are new to his character.
Daredevil is Matt Murdock, a Lawyer who as a teenager was blinded in an accident while saving a man from a runaway truck. The truck carried radioactive material that led to Murdock’s gaining heightened senses of smell, touch, hearing, and radar-like vision. The fact that Daredevil, like Batman, works the streets as a vigilante means there is the possibility for a similar noir approach. For this reason, Miller, Bendis, and Brubaker — three of the greatest noir comic book writers of all time — have been drawn to this character. One of the key tensions in noir comics is between society’s code — the law — and the vigilante’s code — the code of honor. The two do not always go hand in hand, hence the tension between Batman and Gordon. The beauty of Daredevil is that this tension is embodied within a single person: Daredevil, costumed vigilante, and Matt Murdock, courtroom lawyer defending the innocent and victimized.
Another feature of the noir genre is darkness in tone, plotting, and setting. Miller, Bendis, and Brubaker have followed this path, putting Daredevil/Murdock through a physical and emotional wringer. Mark Waid has taken the opposite approach by seemingly asking this question: Can we have a Daredevil title with a more carefree Matt Murdock? His answer is obviously yes, and even a quick glance at the art will show that the various teams of artists, though they vary in style, do not vary in brightness. Waid’s run is a colorful run. As he said in an interview in which he acknowledged that Daredevil doesn’t have to be a beaten, dark character, “I want to show that Matt is a bit of a swashbuckling adventurer.”
We get to follow this “swashbuckling adventurer” through a building story arc that does not end in this volume, though there is a sense of closure at the end of issue six. We also can see the importance of supporting characters in this series: There is a hint of beginning romance, as well as the development of a humorous relationship with his law partner Foggy, who is becoming more serious than Murdock is. I particularly like that Matt’s trying to get Foggy to eat better and exercise more. One of my favorite scenes is his taking Foggy on a walk outside during the day to appreciate life in the city. That’s not a scene I ever expected in a Daredevil title, and it turns out to be one of the best and most memorable.
What else makes this series enjoyable? Mark Waid starts out simply and builds his cast as he goes, a great technique for bringing in a new audience, and based on an interview I read, this is a purposeful approach for him in writing a new title. He said he used this technique when writing Flash for DC: “In books with big supporting casts, rather than hitting you over the head with everyone at once, I want to get comfortable with each one. I did the same with Flash several years ago. I stripped the cast down to a couple of characters and built it up from there.” Along with slowly introducing the reader to each character, there is a wonderfully humorous cameo by the well-known Captain America, and there’s a hint that Daredevil will be checking in with the Fantastic Four very soon.
Perhaps the biggest appeal of the comic is the art: It is simply some of the best art you will see in any comic book. It’s consistently of the highest quality, very vibrant in color, and dynamic in the action sequences. Mark Waid, unlike Bendis, keeps his writing to a minimum to give as much panel space to the artists. My favorite new technique is the portrayal of Daredevil’s radar vision: When we “see” from Daredevil’s or Matt’s perspective, we see all the lines that wrap around shapes by echoing back to Matt. It’s a very memorable visual detail.
This book is at the top of the monthly pull list for most people I talk to, whether they are primarily Marvel or DC fans. It’s that good. You don’t need to keep up with other Marvel titles to enjoy it, and if you keep up with any comic on a monthly basis, this would be a good one. And though I often recommend Comixology for comics, the artwork here demands the attention better afforded by the trade, now available at a reasonable price in paperback. It includes the interview I quote in this review. Also, keep an eye out for future releases of this comic in trade if you don’t collect the comics on a monthly basis. You won’t regret it: I agree with other critics and fans that Waid’s run on Daredevil is destined to be a classic comic book series.