Review of Daredevil Ultimate Collection — Book 1
Well past the point of becoming a cliche by now, the presentation of the superhero tale in a nuanced caricature of violent justice and the repercussions that entail from the pursuit of catching the bad guy must have struck a nerve in the comic book world after Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev ‘s run of Daredevil was released. Having won the Eisner award for “Best Continuing Series”, it’s easy to see how Bendis and Maleev real life approach to Daredevil resonated with an audience hungry for tales that were more than just fist fights and drawn out battles. At times a psychological study on the nature of vigilante justice, while at others an episode similar to Law & Order, this collection of Daredevil comics portrays our hero as a man torn by grief over dead loved ones and his own moral obligation to pursue those who commit crimes while maintaining a normal life as a criminal defense lawyer.
While this tale was no doubt revelatory in its realistic portrayal of the ramifications that ultimately ensue from the inevitable pursuit of justice at the time of its release, the story in 2017 feels outdated and worn by the trappings of the comic genre that Bendis and Maleev seem to be tapping into.
For example, the character’s dialogue are filled with swearing and false machismo presented in the form of grandstanding and epic deliverances, which while are tantalizing, feels hollow and at worst distracting from the real themes the authors are attempting to establish, namely how a hero can torture friends in his life while failing recognize his own complicity in their own torment. Daredevil is shown as a character who seems hell bent on using his fists to bring peace while ignoring the damage of his actions on those innocent bystanders who are witnesses to his vigilantism.
But perhaps the most haunting and heartfelt study of just how much damage can be inflicted by this pursuit comes out of the opening story of the collection. The book opens with the recounting of a little boy named Timmy who saw the death of his father–Leap Frog–by his own hands after stumbling in on him and Daredevil fighting on a rooftop. The boy is in clearly in shock over the incident, struggling to recall the incident to Ben Urich, who is investigating the disappearance of the villain despite protests from The Daily Bugle owner and operator James Jonah Jameson. And while the boy seems to find solace and comfort in seeing Daredevil ultimately as a hero who rescued him, the point is clear that someone has to pay for our own pursuit of what we consider doing the right thing. Further reinforcing the theme of torture is Ben’s own recounting of trauma at the hands of Daredevil, hinted at via a flashback in the form of a memory of Electra stabbing him while sitting in a movie theater.
As the story unfolds, we realize that not only has the people in Daredevil’s life been victims of revenge and violence, but that Daredevil himself faces his own shame and grief over his own violence, going so far as to be chastised by his defense partner Foggy Nelson for the death of Elektra and former love interest Karen Page by the hands of his archrival Bullseye.
Trying to cover for his own guilt, Daredevil decides to defend a relatively unknown superhero White Tiger for the murder of a cop. Under his real life identity Matt Murdoch, Daredevil ultimately loses the case, and in a moment of his own conviction of morals, witnesses his client shot down by the police after he is found guilty of the crime.
While the story feels overdone and worn out, there is a fresh relief in reading a tale that doesn’t rely on meaningly and groan inducing fist fights that slow down the actual story being told. Instead, this is a human drama focusing on actual fleshed out characters who face real moral dilemmas more suited for a Shakespearean tragedy than a pulp novel. Daredevil is portrayed thru inner dialogues reveal his own thoughts and insecurities while narrating a tale dripping with revenge and melodrama. The White Tiger is shown as a humanized and sympathetic person trapped by a burning desire to do right while fighting to keep a relationship with his wife. And Kingpin is shown as a human struggling with his own demons, trying to maintain his grip on the New York crime scene while fighting with men who aim to take over his position as the crime leader in charge.
And therein lies the beauty of what this comic has achieved. Thru portraying our hero as a man struggling with the ramifications and conclusions of violence, our authors have found a new vein to tap into in a worn out character haunted by the ever controversial presence of his first celebrated author Frank Miller, whose own Daredevil seemed to change the landscape of what the superhero tale could be. While I’ll hold my praise as to say this book is groundbreaking, I admit I found the narrative gripping enough to want to continue on reading the next book in the series. Tho Bendis and Maleev rarely soar any higher than your average television crime drama, the authors do achieve a balance of tone, staying firmly between pop drivel and high brow drama, landing the delicate punch of showing us a tale just gritty enough to satiate a market stuffed on realist and nuanced takes of the superhero. They hit that ever desired sweet spot of pulp and noir that is best suited by the illustrated format of the comic, and that only was enough to satisfy this reader.