Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Graphically Speaking: Andy Diggle's Daredevil

Words: Christopher Irving

For the first time since about 1994, I'm going to quit picking up Daredevil.

The reason? The new found level of mediocrity on the title. Under the new creative team of writer Andy Diggle and penciler Robert De La Torre Daredevil has, after two months, left me missing $6 spent.
Daredevil's last direction, under writer Ed Brubaker and artist Michael Lark, ended with Daredevil taking over the ninja clan The Hand, operating under New York City. How cool is a superhero in charge of countless ninjas? Pretty damn cool, you'd think.

Not feeling it under Diggle's new tenure.

Let's count the ways, but be warned that there are spoilers:

Don't start a new direction from a one-shot stemming out of a crossover. Daredevil #501 starts with Daredevil feeling the ramifications of Bullseye killing a building full of people. That's great, maybe if you picked Daredevil: The List but, if you're a new reader, you're totally lost (which, in all fairness, is probably an editorial call). Hell, we even get five pages of expository dialogue from Foggy Nelson to catch us "new readers" up that slows the story down inexorably. The run starts with #501: it should stand on it's own.

Know the characters. Kingpin didn't become a criminal mastermind by trusting anyone, right? Then why is he spilling his plan to his underling, Lady Bullseye? There's even a point in #502 where he gets the Owl's underlings to take over the now-crippled villain's racket, but only if they report to him instead. If he really wants to set enemies against one another, why not just get the idea in their head, and let them go? Or, if he wants to appear as if he's really "lost his nerve", why not let the Owl's lieutenants walk out of his office thinking they're in charge, without having Lady Bullseye behead one of them?

Don't be predictable. Master Izo is apparently killed by Daredevil at the end of #501. We find out, next issue, that Izo just slowed his heart rate down. Old ninja trick, one of the oldest ninja tricks in the annals of books about ninjas (I know Batman's done it before, and probably Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe). Seriously, this is The Hand, an apparently merciless and highly trained ninja clan. Wouldn't they expect something like this? And, even then, wouldn't they want to do something much more harsh like behead Izo?

Show it, don't say it. Daredevil claims he has to be sneaky about not really killing Izo to prove himself to the Hand, but this is the kicker -- we're only told the Hand is keeping an eye on Daredevil, but we're not seeing it. A simple plot device like putting an elder of The Hand in New York to keep an eye on him would create tension.

Another thing: the opening recap page claims Daredevil plans to "take back the streets of New York from Osborn's corruption". He has a ninja clan at his behest, and he's determined to clean NYC up. Why is it that we don't see him even trying until the last page of #502? And why isn't he looking for legal ways to trap these corrupt judges and cops? Even if he isn't being Matt Murdock anymore, he does have that estranged friend Foggy and that reporter friend Ben Urich to turn evidence obtained by ninjas to.

Make us care. Foggy is defending someone, and a corrupt judge overrules the jury's verdict (which may or may not even be legally possible); do we even know the name of Foggy's client? No. We have no emotional investment of that specific character and, when Foggy blows up and has to be walked out in cuffs, we have no incentive to care or even understand what he's really fighting for.

What about Daredevil? We're not really shown much Matt Murdock, other than a rather aimless dream sequence that warns Matt of his own self-destruction (something we're not seeing enough of, either). Kingpin, who Brubaker fleshed out into an incredible character, becomes a one-note Snidley Whiplash criminal mastermind character that we have no reason to care for (and, yes, we should care for the badguys, as well). Even the crooked cops at the end of #502 read like bit parts from an '80s action movie ("See, you die resistin' arrest, we get a commendation an' a big fat raise.").

At the end of #502, Daredevil goes after a handful of crooked cops with about a dozen ninjas. Seems to me, one Daredevil could clean half a dozen badguys up on his own. Why have a ridiculous amount of back-up, other than for a bad-ass splash page?

Yes, I admit, I'm being a tad harsh on the book. That's true, but I don't feel any of it's undeserved. The last time I stopped forking out money for Daredevil, it was after the suit of armor and the Jack Battlin alter ego happened. It was beyond bad. I picked it back up when Kesel and Nord had their under rated run, and even stuck through the Joe Kelly and Gene Colan issues, welcoming the Marvel Knights' injection of awesomeness. I've realized that Daredevil is the only book I've picked up, no matter how broke I was at the time (and the only superhero book I've consistently bought), for about fourteen years.

Diggle may be a good writer on books like Thunderbolts, Green Arrow, and The Losers --
and he may deliver great Daredevil issues a year from now. But, at the end of the day, a good comic book writer makes it work with their first issue. Kevin Smith did it. David Mack did, as well. So did Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker. But right now, I'm going to have to drop Daredevil, because I definitely won't spend any more money on a book that may or may not "become good".

Each issue should deliver enough story that gives incentive to come back for more: that's just good comic book writing.

But I really hope they keep De La Torre on for a long time. That guy's work kicks ass.

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