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Kevin Smith & David Mack’s Runs on Daredevil (Hardcover Vol. #1)

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It’s also been said that Frank Miller’s Born Again pretty much defined Daredevil. So it should really come as no surprise that Kevin Smith borrowed from that particular story wholesale for his relaunch of the character back in 1999. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – Smith has the decency to admit that the concept isn’t incredibly original – and in a way it provides a suitable note upon which to relaunch the title.

Bring your child to work day was not the resounding success Matt Murdock expected...

Smith’s initial run on the title – Guardian Devil – was the cause of much consternation to fans. There were the constant delays between issues – and then there was the revelation of the archetect behind the whole scheme. Having had the ending spoiled for me and reading the story in a collected edition, neither really is really a concern to me.

The arc is reasonably solid. Though up not quite up to the standard that Miller himself set on the character or which Brian Michael Bendis or Ed Brubaker would offer in the coming years, it’s a solid and, at times, interesting saga. Structured into eight parts – much as Born Again was – it see Daredevil entrusted with a child who is (depending on who you listen to) the child of a fifteen year old runaway, the reincarnated Jesus Christ or the Anti-Christ. It’s admittedly a hokey premise for a character traditionally as grounded as Daredevil (who feels more at home as a gritty urban vigilante than a hero tangling with forces of heaven and earth), but Smith manages to pull most of it off by using the plot as a means to explore Matt’s lapsed faith.

Smith is well-versed in Christian theology – as anyone who actually watched (instead of mindlessly protesting) Dogma will know. Perhaps it’s his own perspective that helps him find Murdock’s voice as the character is placed through the wringer. Yes, certain aspects seem forced (the character’s latent misogyny, for example, brought to the fore by mind-altering drugs), but for the most part Smith has an insight into the character that implies that he really gets Daredevil.

For all that insight, there are some problems with Smith’s writing. He structures the story as a mystery – but the culprit behind the chain of events is next-to-impossible to figure out. He also over-indulges his fanboy urges from time to time. There’s all manner of sequences which serve to slow down the narrative, but seem to exist because Smith wanted to write certain characters or scenes. One of the downsides of a shared continuity is that fans will wonder why the hero never asks for help or talks to a character from another series about their current dilemma – so Smith has Daredevil literally commune with the Marvel universe’s answer to the devil to determine the child’s divinity. It’s hard to fault the call – since he exists, Matt might as well ask – but it clutters the story. The novel would have worked just as well without that scene and that cameo. It’s hard to take the urban grittiness of Hell’s Kitchen seriously when the character has just been talking to Satan.

These are minor weakness and, to be fair, Smith is as willing to concede his own weaknesses as anyone else, so we will give him credit for that. In confronting the archetect of the plan, Daredevil observes that it is nothing but a “greatest hits” collection with nary an original idea among all the complex little facets. It’s hard not to smile when his “large ham” of a villain opens the climactic chapter (immediately after his revelation) with a warning that “this is my denouement … which means I’m going to be talking up a blue streak. So, if you’re looking for action, you’re out of luck”. It’s a sign that Smith isn’t taking himself entirely too seriously.

The villain is an interesting choice to say the least. (Spoiler warning, highlight to read) I suppose the character makes perhaps the most logical sense for both the scenario that Smith has crafted and a comic book writer who originally wrote movies. In fairness, I’ve never been too familiar with Mysterio outside the classic 1990s Spider-Man cartoon, but I thought Smith handled him well, exploiting the whole “showbiz” angle quite well. It’s quite something for a writer to turn a novelty villain into a complete monster, but Smith manages to make him a character that the audience loathes by the end of the story. Of course his death isn’t permanent (in fact, due to delays in the publishing of the arc, he was actually resurrected in another series before the issue where he died was published), but it makes sense for the arc Smith has plotted for the character. 

Being honest, I’m not too sure about Joe Quesada’s art, which links the work of the two writers collected on this hardcover. It is incredibly bright and cartoony for the character – particularly with the dark tones of what Smith is writing. Everything is too beautiful and smooth. It doesn’t work, but nor does it create an effective contrast either. That said, Quesada is a talented artist undoubtedly. His work fares much better on David Mack’s arc – Parts of a Hole – perhaps because there’s much more freedom with the design and layout (and perhaps because the story affords him a much greater opportunity to show off).

Mack’s Parts of a Hole is a solid Daredevil story which reintroduces Kingpin into the modern Daredevil mythos (he was at best a perepheral character during Smith’s original arc). It’s a fun arc which moves relatively smoothly and does what it needs to. There’s very little original here (Matt Murdock gets romantically entangled with the wrong woman? no!), but it’s a fun and fasicnating ride. Not to mention that Maya Lopez, and her pseudo-criminal persona Echo, has a lot of potential and is a fascinating creation in her own right.

In a way, it’s hard to believe that the idea of an opponent with another sensory impairment didn’t occur sooner. Daredevil is a blind hero who gets by on his other enhanced senses, but it’s never really been explored how that must define his relationship with world. Maya is deaf, but compensates with enhanced senses (mostly the ability to feel vibrations), creating a lovely – albeit simplistic – tie between the two characters. It’ll be interesting to see how she is incorporated into Daredevil’s rogue’s gallery in years to come, but she’s an interesting prospect, even if the romantic angle has been done-to-death before.

What’s striking about these two stories collected together is that they serve to demonstrate the weakness of Daredevil’s assortment of villains. Smith coopts an admitted second-stringer from another hero’s selection of villains for his story and Mack crafts a new one from scratch. Both stories feature the long-favoured Bullseye and Kingpin, albeit in supporting roles. It’s interesting to note that the new series was not launched with a firm reestablishment of even his leading rogues (most of whom would eventually get revisited in the Bendis and Brubaker storylines).

It’s easy to dismiss these issues as just a prelude to what was to come. Indeed, Bendis would begin his first story on the title immediately after the end of Parts of a Hole (though he would skip another arc before taking over fulltime as the writer on the title). While neither story here really stands up to what that pair of writers have done to character, they do provide a firm base. The give us a bit of a grounding in his world – Smith firmly redefines Murdock’s character for the modern age and Mack gives us a bit of context to the world he inhabits.

It’s a reasonably solid collection, if not the best on the market. It does represent a good place to pick up the character – collecting the first fifteen issues of the second volume – and the stories are interesting in their own right. If you are interested in becoming acquainted with the hero, this is a solid collection.

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