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Daredevil: Yellow (Review)

The rest of the story you know too well. It’s been told a lot of ways, with many other people in my life, but this is the way I choose to remember it when I think of you.

– Matt Murdock

The first part of Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb’s informal ‘colours’ trilogy (Spiderman: Blue and Hulk: Grey being the rest of it), Daredevil: Yellow has a lot going for it beyond the two talents behind a trilogy of iconic Batman stories (Haunted Knight, The Long Halloween, Dark Victory). Cynics would describe it as the last classic that Loeb wrote. The truth is that it offers a wonderful eulogy for the carefree comic book stories of old, simple and ridiculous fare with simple storylines and clear-cut good guys and bad guys. It’s a nostalgia trip – which means it isn’t quite as compelling as the duo’s work on Batman – but it does lend the collection a nice feel to it. If you are in anyway interested in the olden days of comic books without the retro-post-modernism that typically accompanies such fare, this is the story for you.

Daredevil's come on leaps and bounds from his early days...

Very simply, Daredevil shares a close relationship with Batman across the comic book companies. There’s no shortage of shared writers and artists who have worked on the title (with Denny O’Neil and Frank Miller both turning in important runs on each and Ed Brubaker is a more recent example). Each character is undoubtedly unique and has their own quirks and characteristics, but they are arguably the two biggest noir-themed heroes at the two biggest comic book companies. As such, there might be an expectation built up that Daredevil: Yellow would represent an attempt by Loeb and Sale to produce a version of The Long Halloween for the man with fear. To presume such a thing is arguably unreasonable, as a read proves it is certainly unjustified.

The Long Halloween was an attempt to modernise Batman, to pull him forward. To define him in terms which complimented Frank Miller’s excellent and iconic Year One. It reshaped the way that we looked at the character. I’ve always claimed that Denny O’Neil never got enough credit as the writer who returned the character to his noir roots, but The Long Halloween represented an attempt to anchor those roots and give the chance for green shoots to grow from them. Without The Long Halloween, for example, there would be no Gotham Central and certainly no movie like The Dark Knight. The Long Halloweenwas an inherently progressive piece, an attempt to cement a new look at Batman’s early years.

Powerful stuff...

In contrast, Yellow is unashamedly retro. And such is its beauty. In recent years we’ve seen a move away from the darkness and violence which the nineties introduced into the genre – arguably which Frank Miller helped usher in during his run on Daredevil in the eighties. This has taken the form of Geoff Johns’ reconstruction of the Green Lantern mythos and of Hal Jordan and Grant Morrison’s runs on All-Star Superman and Batman among others.

Arguably Marvel’s recent line – including Brubaker’s post-Civil War Captain America and Matt Fraction’s Iron Man– follow a similar template. A return to a time when heroes could be unashamedly heroic without being dismissed as boring. An attempt to move away from the darker and edgier elements of the genre which have shaped the genre for years. Leob was ahead of his time here and manages to accomplish all this without the distracting post modernism or self-consciousness which can creep into such works.

The Devil you know...

Yellow was original published as a miniseries, but really only works in the context of the on-going series which has been running for years now. Most of the story is told via flashback, but the framing device takes place after Kevin Smith’s relaunch story Guardian Devil, with Matt Murdock writing a letter to the deceased Karen Page, the love of his life – in fact both Bendis and Brubaker suggest that the loss of Karen is the biggest single factor to happen to Matt in the past few years (which, for those keeping score, includes having his identity revealed to the public, becoming Kingpin, getting married, getting separated, getting arrested and sent to prison, seeing his wife driven insane and taking control of a squad of international assassins). Though the story arguably stands quite well on its own two feet, it is arguably best read in the context of the last decade of stories which have been slowly and painfully taking Matt apart. In fact, the relaunched series would arguably be better suited to drop The Man Without Fear subtitle in favour of something more descriptive like The Universe’s Whipping Boy.

There is next-to-none of that angst here presented in Jeph Loeb’s account of Daredevil’s origins. From the start the book is mainly interested in light colour schemes, rapid fire events and the moments which should bring a smile to anyone’s face. For example, there’s the Fantastic Four dropping by and causing massive property damage, or Matt hustling a bunch of bigots over a game of pool. Being a superhero is cool again – it’s not something depressing and dark. Sure, there’s responsibility and the familiar whisp of loss waiting just around the corner, but – for the most part – it’s bright and colourful.

Matt swings by the office...

The style fits because Loeb uses his framing device well. He hints throughout that this is the past viewed – ironically enough – through those rose-coloured glasses Matt typically wears. Maybe times really were more innocent, but there’s a sense of good-natured fun about things – including encounters with villains like The Owl and Electro.

Villains would talk a lot back then. They didn’t leave innocent women in a pool of blood… I guess… I haven’t really thought about it… but the ones in costume never used to kill anybody.

– Matt Murdock

Heroes are heroes, villains are villains. It’s all so simple, but joyfully so. As Matt himself observes, “it was all so ‘There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here… !'”

In fairness, Loeb hints at the darkness around the corner and coming down the line for Daredevil and the genre as a whole. It’s hard not to see the Purple Man abducting Karen Page and taking her to a hotel room without thinking of Brian Michael Bendis’ chilling version of the character as a sexual sadist in Alias. There’s more than a hint of darkness (literally and narratively) accompanying scenes of Slade’s execution – with Murdock unable to bring himself to taunt his adversary as he would one fallen in battle. These sequences are generally well separated, but there’s enough there to suggest a cloud or two on the horizon and effectively foreshadow the coming tribulations for the character.

It's not a hard cell...

The story is essentially written as a love story, between Karen Page and Matt Murdock. These sequences are cute and breezy. But in a way, it’s also a love story about Matt and his alter ego. At this stage in his career it’s still great fun. He enjoys making a dramatic pass by the office in costume and sneaking in as the blind lawyer to hear Karen swoon over this superhero. He speaks about how, wearing the costume, “you think you’re going to live forever” or how he “thought [he] could fly” and fondly remembers even the unglamourous aspects, like getting changed in an alleyway. Even though Frank Miller’s The Man Without Fear posits a contrary origin which isn’t officially part of the character’s history (it’s… complicated), Loeb wisely sidesteps most of the areas cover by that work – college and Elektra, for example – and only really shares coverage of the huge parts, like the death of Matt’s father. It’s a shrewd move, as there’s no need to cover ground that has already been well-trodden.

The collection itself is an affectionate shoutout to the stories of old. Though there is obviously an over-arching story and theme, Loeb structures it essentially as a series of one-shots – the last three chapters featuring one confrontation a piece with Electro, The Owl and the Purple Man – calling to mind the classic one-issue, one-story method of selling comics before the era of decompression (though there’s certainly no shortage of splash panels and double-page spreads here). Even the introduction by Stan Lee (ending with the phrases “True Believer” and “Excelsior!”) seems calculated to call to mind the old days.

Shocking...

Tim Sale’s artwork is beautiful here. That’s the only way to describe it: beautiful. It’s like he’s painting The Long Halloween in bright and shiny colours. Everything looks perfect and shiny – except when it gets dark (don’t worry, Sale is also well able for that too). Sale’s stylistic flair suits the project down-to-the-ground, complementing the notion of a narrated flashback, where the sun is always shining and the world seems vibrant.

There’s really little more to say. If you’re interested in Daredevil, this collection makes the perfect compliment to the fantastic string of work which has been happening on that title for the past decade. If you’re interested in bright and cheerful old-fashioned stories and have grown tired of darkness for the sake of darkness, this is also the collection for you. I’m not sure there’s enough here to wholeheartedly recommend this to somebody starting out, as it’s very much a book aimed at those who feel nostalgia for the good old days, but it’s an excellent read.

This is part of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s unofficial “colours” trilogy involving nostalgia for the early days in the careers of Marvel superheroes. If you’d like to check out the other books in the collect, they’re listed here:

4 Responses

  1. I love this comic, and your reviews. Please keep writing them.
    Which is your favourite of the “Colour” series?

    • Yellow, I think. Easily.

      And thanks for the kind words!

      • No problem, the kind words are deserved.

        Yellow is the only one I’ve read and I love it (I think it’s a better origin tale than Man of Fear, even), and I was always surprised that people called it the worst of the three. It’s nice to see somebody else show it some love.

      • Really? That surprises me.

        I’d argue it’s head and shoulders above the rest, because it’s the only one of the three I’d feel comfortable handing to somebody who knew nothing about comic books. Grey and Blue are good on their own terms, but they tend to require a deeper understanding of the focal characters and their history.

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