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Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Paolo Rivera et al’s Run on Daredevil (Vol. 3) (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Daredevil had been one of the most consistently reliable books at a major comic book publisher over the last decade or so. Under creative teams from Kevin Smith to David Mack to Brian Michael Bendis to Ed Brubaker, the gritty street level superhero has enduring a whole host of twists and shifts that have made the book a compelling read. Indeed, the only real problem with the run was that Andy Diggle couldn’t quite stick the landing and so we ended up closing out that incredibly run with a bland and generic crossover like Shadowland.

Still, Daredevil remains an exciting book – a comic that affords the writers and artists a bit more freedom than they’d enjoy working on a more high-profile or major character. When Spider-Man’s identity was revealed by J. Michael Straczynski during Civil War, the publisher almost immediately hit a reset button in the form of One More Day to tidy up everything. When Brian Michael Bendis revealed Matthew Murdock’s secret identity to the world, there was no attempt to stuff the genie back in the bottle. That radical shift remained in play for the rest of Ed Brubaker and Andy Diggle’s run, casting a shadow over Mark Waid’s as well.

The big smoke...

The big smoke…

However, reading Andy Diggle’s Daredevil, it’s easy to get a sense that the character was suffocating under the influence of Frank Miller. Frank Miller and Klaus Jansen enjoyed a character-defining run in the mid-eighties. For Miller, it paved the way to The Dark Knight Returns, and it really shook the foundations of the superhero genre. Suddenly superheroes weren’t infallible; suddenly fights could get genuinely dirty; suddenly dressing up in a silly costume to fight crime was treated as something that might be deemed a little eccentric.

This had a dramatic impact across the superhero genre. At the same time, however, it really defined the character of Daredevil. In his year years, Daredevil often seemed like a cheap knock-off of Spider-Man; an imitation of a far more popular hero. With the work of Frank Miller, Matthew Murdock become more conflicted and more complex. He became a hero who could make mistakes, a hero who didn’t have the best judgement, a hero who could fail. This pushed the character of Daredevil more towards gritty urban crime and film noir conventions, and further away from superhero conventions.

Radar love...

Radar love…

Decades after Born Again, writers are still drawing on that iconic take on Matthew Murdock. The Kingpin is still considered one of the – if not the – greatest foe of the Man Without Fear. Kevin Smith killed off Karen Page, the character who betrayed Matthew Murdock in Born Again. Brian Michael Bendis wrote a story featuring the character who planted the bomb in Born Again, two decades after that story was published. Miller cast a long shadow over the character. One of the (many) problems with Andy Diggle’s Daredevil was the way that it demonstrating that riffing on Frank Miller was getting old.

And so, Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil is absolutely fascinating. It’s a clear departure from the grounded urban realism that came to define the character, often feeling like an attempt to reconnect with the character’s Silver Age roots. Brought to life by some of the best artists in the business, the run just pops off the page. At the same time, Waid doesn’t ignore or avoid or overlook what has come before. He just seems to realise that there are other ways of approaching the character.

On top of the world...

On top of the world…

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