Friday, January 31, 2014

Suckdevil

Daredevil: The Man without Fear: written by Frank Miller; illustrated by John Romita Jr. and Al Williamson (1993): What a dreadful piece of high-gloss hackery this miniseries is! Writer Frank Miller returns to the character he made essential reading in the early 1980's and pretty much carpetbombs everything that made Daredevil a sympathetic, tortured superhero in the process of completely rearranging and reimagining Daredevil's origins.

Events and characters become grotesque parodies of their earlier selves. Elektra is now crazy from the beginning, and has somehow gained so much heft that she resembles Jack Kirby's Big Barda more than her previous renditions. The pre-Daredevil Matt Murdock intentionally and unintentionally kills several people. Events that once occurred while Daredevil was actually Daredevil now occur before he adopted the costume.

Miller's guru-figure Stick, retconned by Miller into DD continuity in the early 1980's run, has now been retconned into an entire training sequence lasting months or even years for the young Murdock. And more Stick is not some sort of bonus -- he was already one of the most tedious Yoda figures ever inflicted on a hero. Now moreso.

John Romita Jr.'s art is a weird study here, as he occasionally evokes Miller's own artwork in certain sequences and panels. One really jarring panel sees Romita Jr. referencing Ronin-era Miller. It's jarring because Ronin-era Miller had just devoured French comics great Moebius's work and was in the process of regurgitating it all over the page; it's an homage of an homage. Romita Jr.'s work is competent, but it also isn't entirely 'him' -- and the Miller influences aren't organic at all, instead leaping to prominence on one page and then vanishing on the next.

It's the cynicism and meanness of this book that I suppose rankles the most. The characters are almost universally loathsome. A new, young, teenaged girl/sidekick gets added to Murdock's story, I'm assuming because Miller hadn't yet got his female Robin from 1986's The Dark Knight Returns out of his system. At least she doesn't suit up.

And boy, do Miller's previous tendencies to portray women as madonnas and/or whores get ramped up here. That and perhaps the world record for most uses of the word 'scent' in a superhero comic book. What a cruddy, cruddy book. Not recommended.

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