Axel-In-Charge: Waid & Samnee on "Black Widow" and the Dawn of the All-New, All-Different Era
Having just edited, and written some of, a collection of essays titled The Devil Is in the Details: Examining Matt Murdock and Daredevil (debuting from Sequart at Emerald City Comic Con), I’ve spent a lot of time reading Daredevil comics. I’ve soaked them all up, processed them, and seen them analyzed scores of ways.
Daredevil is an amazing character and title, and there will always be runs and stories that get praise; we hear about them constantly. So I wanted to quickly bring light to some of my lesser-known favorites. Here are six Daredevil stories that are consistently ignored and yet I think you should track them down.
1. Daredevil/Black Widow: Abattoir
This 1993 graphic novel was a gem I didn’t even know existed until very recently. I had never heard anyone mention this weird and violent tale from Jim Starlin and Joe Chiodo, and I worried that might be because it was terrible. I was happy to discover, after finding a secondhand copy on Amazon, that wasn’t the case.
The story has Black Widow chase down a brutal butcher family of sorts that’s killing telepathic S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Daredevil nominates himself as the guardian devil for his old flame, and the game is afoot. What follows is as much a psychological game as it is a barbaric fighting match. Axes and chains are as dangerous as flashbacks and barbed words. This book is a mature read, as the blood flows loosely and we even get a narratively charged female-on-female kiss — something I have to assume was risqué for a Marvel book in the early ‘90s.
Starlin does a good job putting this short but punchy tale together, but it’s really Chiodo who steals the show. His style feels as if it’s aimed at aping Bill Sienkiewicz on Elektra: Assassin, but it also does a few other things: He charges Black Widow with beautiful energy like Howard Chaykin often does with women, and when he swerves into the flashbacks he brings a cartoony style like a detailed chalk drawing on the sidewalk. The art is emotive and elevates this tale through characterization and page structure. I had my doubts about this one but there’s plenty to love.
2. Battlin’ Jack Murdock
This 2007 miniseries received some praise at the time of its release but then quickly fell off the radar to the point where I never hear it discussed. It’s a shame because this four-issue story from Zeb Wells and Carmine Di Giandomenico is poignant and perfectly structured. Each issue is a round in the final fight Matt Murdock’s father was supposed to throw. The main crux of this issue is covered in Daredevil’s origin, but here Wells and Di Giandomenico add some amazing layers of emotion.
Throughout the fight, a bloody affair reminiscent of Raging Bull in its stark depiction of pugilism, flashbacks show us Jack Murdock’s life as he becomes a father, loses a love and finds some new ones. This mini is very much an analysis of fatherhood and how it shapes a man. The way we are shown Jack’s decisions and actions shaping Matt and eventually himself is done with nuance and a real punch that has to hit you on the jaw.
Most people cite Daredevil: Yellow as the modern take on the mythos around Jack Murdock, but it was really this mini that updated the tale and expanded it to finally carry the weight it deserves.
This one’s not actually the best tale. It’s a murder mystery, it’s got some sweet twists, and it’s a comforting read in that it challenges you (but not too much), and it does work on rereads. The real reason this six-issue miniseries has stuck with me is the fine work from Joe Quesada. He writes a sound tale, but his artwork here is some of my favorite stuff of his; he controls the page in inventive ways so he can drop major beats and emotion in a manner that artfully engages you.
The major reason I dig this book is the way he chose to craft Daredevil. Quesada’s thinking was that the son of a boxer would himself have some physicality, and so he renders Daredevil as a hulking beast of a vigilante. This might not be a visual that’s in continuity, and I don’t even think it’s a change I would want instated, but here it works so brilliantly as a visceral image of the man. It also makes for some of my favourite covers of all time, each one dripping with depth and tenacity.
4. Flying Blind
A guilty pleasure, this is the story that ended the first volume of Daredevil, so make of that what you will. All I know is that S.H.I.E.L.D. tasks Matt Murdock with assuming a new identity, right down to his conscious level, to solve a crime in France. Matt becomes the dark-haired Laurent Levasseur, forgets he is Matt Murdock, and battles against another Kingpin crime via two never-beens named Synapse and Le Concierge. It’s just so ridiculous that’s it’s fun. Or funny.
Either way, the absurd inventiveness of this four issue story still holds my attention today.
This 1981 issue is #28 from Vol. 1, and it’s co-plotted and drawn by Frank Miller with inks by Klaus Janson. It posits a world where Tony Stark is at the scene of the accident that steals a young Matt Murdock’s sight. He delivers the boy to the nearest helicarrier and a new agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. is born.
What follows is a high action set of pages of Murdock busting HYDRA heads in the bombastic style Miller and Janson do best. These are the Miller/Janson pages you don’t want to miss out on because they’re just as good as what they did on the main title but not beholden to anything. This is What If …?, and that’s a place where you can go crazy and just have fun. That’s what this issue is, a whole mess of fun in what is ostensibly a fight comic. And it’s got one of the best cover/character redesigns of all time.
6. Daredevil #297: The Termination of Typhoid
The first part of the “Last Rites” storyline from D.G. Chichester and Lee Weeks, it’s a surprisingly dense and gritty tale that evokes the Miller era without feeling too much like a pastiche. Well, maybe a fair bit, but not completely. And it’s this opening issue that drops one of the ballsiest Matt Murdock moments of all time.
Typhoid Mary had been a thorn in Matt’s side for some time by this stage, and so he executes a morally ambiguous plan to remove her from his rogue’s gallery. Due to her mental instability, Matt, as Daredevil, lures her in with a kiss in the rain — a spectacular splash page — and then whisks her away to a seedy motel for a night of debauchery. When she awakes, she finds herself in her modest Mary persona, alone, and about to be sent away in a straight jacket due to the commitment papers Matt has forged and left behind.
This emotional roller coaster has to be read to be believed. It’s exhausting and shines a new light on the Lothario of the Spandex set.
These are six stories and issues I never find a lot of discussion about but which absolutely capture my imagination and heart. I hope you remember them fondly or else go out and chase them down to see what all the fuss is about.
As for my book, The Devil Is in the Details, I should have some early copies of the book at ECCC at the table I’ll be sharing with Paul Allor, and it will be solicited soon through Diamond Comic Distributors. The collection features essays by some of the best current writers about comics like Tim Callahan, Kevin Thurman, Julian Darius and myself — if I’m anywhere near that list. We cover a multitude of topics around the Man Without Fear such as his extensive love life, his supporting characters, some specific runs worthy of discussion, and plenty more. It is the absolute must buy addition to every Daredevil fan’s shelf.