Book Club / Where Doing the Wrong Thing Makes You Feel Better

daredevilDaredevil Ultimate Collection Book 1
By Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

I read a thing once that said that stuck with me which said that one of the cool things about Daredevil is: with everything that happened to him it would have made just as much sense if he’d ended up a villain instead of a hero. I mean yeah obviously most secret origins have a tragic dimension to them – Batman has dead parents, Superman has an exploding world, Iron Man has shrapnel in his heart and The Incredible Hulk has a bomb dropped on him – but then most of the time that’s the tragedy is like a key that opens a door to another better world – Batman gets all the money, Supermen gets the special powers, Iron Man the special suit and the Hulk the ability to get all big and green and strong and stuff. And so on and so on.

Daredevil tho… I mean: yeah ok he’s got some upside. He’s got super senses and he keeps himself pretty trim. And erm well yeah – in terms of the positives that’s pretty much it? And in the negative column it’s well – a smogasboard of riches: dead parents (well mum vanished and became a nun for some reason? And Dad worked for the local mafia and got killed because he wouldn’t take a dive in a fight); unlike Batman and Iron Man he was born poor on the wrong side of the tracks in a place called Hell’s Kitchen and his big life defining event that gave him his superpowers wasn’t a bite from a radioactive spider or finding a magic ring or anything so easy – no. He saved an old man being run over by a truck and a radiactive isotope fell into his eyes making him blind (holy shit). I mean – every other superhero has this wish-fulfillment-style quality to them where it’s easy to imagine kids pretending to be whichever character it is in the playground. But if I ever saw a kid pretending to be Daredevil then erm – yeah: maybe that would seem kinda weird? Because he’s not really the type of character that you can really imagine kids (or anyone) really wanting to be.

Plus: he has a bad luck streak that’s over a mile wide. Two of his girlfriends have been brutally murdered in front of him by the bad guys (Elektra Natchios and Karen Page); and his supervillain nemesis knows his secret identity (please go and read Daredevil: Born Again if you haven’t already) and not forgetting that film starring Ben Affleck (LOL). So yeah if he decided to lean into the Devil part of his name and start holding up banks and raging against the status quo – well – it really wouldn’t be that much of a surprise you know? Most people who do bad things haven’t had the best lives.

how did you know

And yet – he doesn’t. He fights crime and tried to do what’s right. And in his day job he’s a fucking lawyer: which on the one hand yeah helps to support a corrupt and evil system but then on the hand is kinda using your words to make a material difference in people’s lives and saving the innocent and punishing the guilty (when it works right anyway…).

Yes obviously the Frank Miller Daredevil books are probably the perfect place to start (have you gone and read Daredevil: Born Again already?) but seeing how we just done Give Me Liberty let’s talk Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev’s seminal Daredevil run from all the way back at the start of the 21st Century which managed to take your typical superhero story shape and then folded it into a cool new exciting dimension…

Part of me doesn’t want to say too much in case there’s anyone reading this who hasn’t started reading them yet but holy wow and what the fuck. I remember back when I first found these books and basically fell into them like they had their own gravitational pull and just ordering the collected volumes one after another from my library and just devouring them like they were the sweetest thing I’d ever tasted. It’s a bit like Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX stuff in that it takes this thing that you thought had already been squeezed dry and then – finds new ways to squeeze it. A superhero comic with a noir / crime show twist doing things that you didn’t think were possible / allowed and then dancing in the ashes / setting even more fires.

Basically: it’s the comic without fear.

Guess we should count ourselves lucky that’s it one of the good guys.

What do you think?


AMANDA
Barbican Comic Forum

One area where Daredevil has had luck is in writers and artists. The consistency and longevity of creative teams behind Daredevil is astonishing: Bendis/Maleev from 2001 to 2006, Brubaker/Lark from 2006 to 2009, Waid/various 2011 to 2015. I can’t speak for the Miller or Soule runs as haven’t read them, but to get more than a solid decade of top-tier superhero writing is… unusual.

But yeah poor Matt Murdock – he really doesn’t catch a break otherwise. Every Batman writer wants to do their own take on the Joker, and I’m guessing every Daredevil writer wants to do their own take on making Matt Murdock suffer in new and cruel ways (except maybe Mark Waid, who perhaps only reluctantly forced his dad-joke Daredevil through hardship). Superhero comics don’t exactly have a reputation as much beyond throwaway fluff, but Daredevil is grim and heavy and difficult to rush through because of it. There’s so much to dig into.


MIKE
Crossover Cosmos

Salute to the discussion of Daredevil so far. Yes, DD/Matt Murdock has made a fault out of being unlucky and hard pressed. Yes, this might have made for a resentful almost-villain (maddened like the Joker), but hey, couldn’t he just be enraged about injustice? Of course, Frank Miller made him a bad mutha – “No More Mr Nice Guy”, but there’s more than muggers to fight, and Matt could have put his lawyer skills consistently at the service of the oppressed.

Rather than a pathetic sap, Matt and DD could focus the anger of the underprivileged – fighting injustice and corruption as well as professional criminals. But then comic books (and comic book companies) have a problem with fighting injustice, it either has to be disguised as a cosmic metaphor (Galactus, Darkseid) or as a petty crook, like a gangster or a landlord. (Mention of any exceptions gratefully received. ‘Give Me Liberty’ is one, but “set in the future”.)


LOZ
Peckham Library Graphic Novel Book Group
Barbican Comic Forum

Well, the thing is, I read all of this a few years ago and time has dimmed my recollection, so the few things I can remember straight away are;

1) The art is not great. The line work is okay but the colouring often makes it difficult to work out what is going on and, it being a Bendis comic he’s not going to do anything to help the readers work out what is going on.

2) The end of the first arc, with the reveal of DD’s secret identity is great.

3) I think the only way you can read this is in the collected editions of the entire run because, ugh, Bendis pacing.

4) It goes way off piste in the middle when Daredevil ‘becomes’ The Kingpin. From what I remember it comes from Bendis having an idea for a 180 twist but then having absolutely no idea what to actually do. Matt disappears, alienating all his friends, all of Daredevil’s superfriends assume that he’s gone evil, with no evidence, and there’s no clear thought given to how a superhero can be the head of a massive crime organisation, in the same way that Superman doesn’t shut the Injustice League down by beating up Lex Luthor and declaring himself the head of the organisation and that they are disbanded, they will just work around it.

But like I say, it’s been a while since I read it, I prefered the Mark Waid run and the current storyline with Mayor Fisk is quite fun too.

5) The art. I know this is the same point as point one but it really is a problem you guys.


OWEN
Barbican Comic Forum

Fap! Karashh! Pok! Krash! Boop!

Wow, I enjoyed this on so many levels. I think that Bendis and Maleev really do the character justice with this telling. They just get what he is; or at least what he should be.

Going back to Joel’s post about the tragedy Matt Murdock has faced in his life: well, that’s just what makes him the perfect hardboiled hero and Bendis and Maleev play up to that really well in this book. He’s a tragic hero fighting crime in a dark world and for that reason he lends himself really well to noir fiction. What world is blacker than the world of a blind man?

door

crowd

Matt’s world is bleak (it’s called Hell’s Kitchen for Hell’s sake). He’s a crippled, orphaned loner hero in a dark, dark world fighting a seedy underbelly of organised crime. This is a world of cigarettes and raincoats, alleyways and rainstorms, courtrooms and street hoodlums. It’s almost Tarantino-esque with the non-linear timelines but perhaps that’s slightly off-topic.

Maleev’s art does the job beautifully with muted colours and sketchy lines which give a really gritty tone – I mean come on, the stipple shading he uses actually looks like grit. Coincidence? The panels also make heavy use of black as a colour with black page borders and heavy use of ink in general which sets the scene perfectly.

In the beginning it was different of course. I felt that the first chapter/ section it was so different it was almost a prelude to what was about to follow rather than the story proper. It was as if they were saying to the reader “hey, we’re about to do something different here”. On page one we’re immediately thrown into a classic hammy superhero battle filled with all the juicy onomatopoeia that I love, and just when you’re thinking wtf, they wrench you straight out into a beautiful psychedelic splash that reads: This is the Real World

kid

Aside from telling the actual story it felt almost like they were saying to the audience: this is what was, now get ready for where we’re taking it… this is Daredevil for grown-ups. Otherwise, why else use the superhero pastiche as a narrative tool? There are other ways they could tell that story. And yes, I appreciate there has been Miller and others in-between (and no I haven’t read those yet), but even so it’s clear to me that they’re trying to say something here.

There are three styles to the artwork in this volume: some of those I liked and some I didn’t. The first chapter was trippy and hard to follow: it’s a nice nod to the mental imbalance of the child and great contrast from the first three pages as I mentioned earlier, but not my cup of tea and I found it hard work (this is probably the same reason I struggle with Sandman). We then moved into what I felt was the story proper with the gritty noir style I spoke about earlier and loved, loved, loved. At the end the style shifted again but that was due to the introduction of Gutierrez and Dodson as artists so clearly they’re going to have a different take.

For me, the first chapter was all about staging. We see little textbook definitions interspersed throughout which all seem to foreshadow the noir tone Maleev and Bendis are going for:

words

justice

This is played very nicely against the subtext running throughout the chapter about a child’s perception of comics and heroes: old vs new dialectic. On the topic of foreshadowing, I also noticed the film Matt is watching in the cinema dream sequence was Taxi Driver which I don’t think was any coincidence either: you can’t get a more classic modern noir than this.

I’m definitely going to read Miller after everything that’s been said here but I have to say I really enjoyed this take on Daredevil. I hope you did too.


PROTON

I’m not sure I enjoyed this book. It is so gritty and dark and seedy and grim and I suppose I found all this misery a bit boring and hard to get through. It’s not that I think the book is poorly crafted, on the contrary, I think it does an excellent job of making the reader conjure anger at injustice and images of wretchedness…

eyeballs

But there is something about this book I actually really liked, and it’s these questions everyone keeps touching on about heroes, and why people become heroes, and this thing Matt touched on about whether or not our superheroes are really doing the most good in the world that they could be doing.

In the courtroom segment, when Dr Reed Richards is on the stand, we’re presented with his assertion that being a hero is just the desire to make the world a better place.

fantastic

He makes no mention of heroic deeds – he doesn’t say a hero has to be exceptionally brave or courageous, they just have to want to help people, which kind of begs the question, how good are our superheroes at actually helping people?

There’s an interesting thought experiment that was once pitched to Will MacAskill who wrote the effective altruism treatise Doing Good Better, it goes like this: there’s a burning building with a helpless child in one room and a Picasso painting hanging on the wall in another room. You only have time to save one or the other. If you save the Picasso, you will sell it for £20M and donate the money to charity to make a much greater positive impact on human welfare than by saving the one child. What is the right thing to do? Most people would save the child even though they could save a lot more lives (how many more? I don’t know exactly, but if you want to back-of-the-envelope it you’ll need this) by selling the painting.*

The sequence of scenes where Matt Murdock blows the $75M deal with Rosenthal and then goes out prowling as Daredevil that night and rescues a child from a burning building made me think immediately of this thought experiment. If helping people is what’s driving him, wouldn’t Matt Murdock have worked a little harder to keep his smug ego in check in the meeting so he could save all the people that $75M can save? I get that he saved one life that night, but he left thousands to perish by blowing the deal.

Further, doesn’t vigilante crime fighting seem almost like a form of buttressing the broken system that produced the criminals in the first place – people who might not have become criminals if they had safer housing and nice libraries like that $75M could have provided? I guess what I’m wondering is whether our superheroes have some other motivation for being vigilante crime fighters? I’m not sure if doing good is a rational explanation of their choices…

If faced with the burning building myself I’m pretty sure I’d succumb to my congenital ape like instincts to value the life in front of me more than the ones far away and I’d save the kid not the Picasso. I’d bask in the warm glow of the young mother clutching my arm and cooing “my hero!” But it would have been objectively the wrong thing to do. It would have been weakness ascendant. There are probably other examples of situations where doing the wrong thing makes you feel better – even morally better – and wins you the approbation of your friends and peers, but why would my feelings be the final arbiter of righteousness?

I get that the whole tragic beginnings becomes vigilante hero narrative makes for interesting storytelling. I learned from Max Hasting’s book Warriors that an uncomfortable number of history’s greatest military heroes have three things in common: (1) trauma, neglect and abuse in childhood; (2) a resulting baseline emotional state where they don’t care if they live or die; and (3) a general failure to form successful personal relationships of any kind (see Audie MurphyGuy GibsonEddie Rickenbacker but really there are too many guys like this to count…).

But insomuch as stories are transmitters of ideologies, what are the consequences of so much fiction based on this narrative thread? Don’t we need more stories about the kind of “do-gooding” that dismantles the system that produced the tragic beginnings in the first place?

*A lot of people try to escape the discomfort of the dilemma or justify saving the child by poking holes in the framework. They say things like “what if I can’t sell the painting?” or “maybe it’s insured?” or whatever. This is a bit of a cop-out, hence I request that you accept the full assumptions of the thought experiment – you know everything about the scenario beforehand, you can definitely save exactly one of them, and you can definitely sell the Picasso for 20M


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

You know that feeling when you’re like: oh hey yeah everyone check out this comic? It’s like totally the best thing ever! And then when you finally get the chance to sit down and read the stupid thing yourself all the way through you’re like – oh wow. Maybe this isn’t as good as I thought it was?

Like: in my head the Bendis and Maleev run was like the stuff of superhero champagne. The elegant and delicious and refined twist on genre staples – more daring and further reaching than anything else of it’s type. The problem I found on my re-read tho was that even tho it does manage to take all of your typical superhero stuff further than it normally goes: it is still all basic superhero stuff and if you want to compare to that to a drink – it’s less champagne and more coca cola. And well there’s only so far you can take fizzy sugary drinks you know?

It be fair – it does have moves. Loz has already pointed out the bit about them revealing DD’s secret identity. And well yeah I mean – what else can you add to that apart from how genius it is? Superhero comics normally being all about statis and lack of change and the status quo being returned to again and again and again it feels so – I don’t know – naughty to encounter a storyline that instead of just timidly kicking the apple cart actually going that extra mile and actually flipping the whole damn thing over.

its me

Except when it gets to the point where it actually hits a brick wall.

What was it Loz said?

It goes way off piste in the middle when Daredevil ‘becomes’ The Kingpin. From what I remember it comes from Bendis having an idea for a 180 twist but then having absolutely no idea what to actually do.

Yep. Strong agree. It’s like this beautifully oiled crazy machine that keeps doing these amazing somersaults until it ends up flinging itself off the table. I mean – Bendis man – what was the point of this? Where were going with this? Was it your idea to hand it off to someone else and then they managed to extend your contract without you knowing or what? It’s like Batman finally cleaning up Gotham City and made himself Mayor and just when you’re like “oh wow – what’s going to happen now?!” and it’s erm – Cut to: A year later and we’re just going to pretend that stuff never happened or something?

I mean: that’s not all of it. There’s also just the general superhero-ness of it all. The way that there needs to be a fight ever issue because that’s what the public wants. The fact that sometimes character do stuff because the characters need to do stuff (ermmm – Matt are you really going to just leave your blind wife alone in a hotel room after you’ve just got back together to with her and you’re not even just going to pop your head in and say why??) and well yeah also on a similar tract – (and of course I get that maybe this is a totally stupid thing to say) why is every single female superhero constantly walking around with their.. bits showing?

matt

Like – I don’t want to sound like a prude but erm could you guys just do your zips up just a little? Please? Or you know – find more appropriate clothing or something? I don’t know.

Also comparing it to Garth Ennis’ (far far superior) Punisher MAX series is pretty instructive. Because you know – yeah while that is mostly about the adventures of a man with a skull on his T-Shirt going around killing people – it also manages to pull off the impressive trick of making it feel like it’s actually about stuff. Revenge and guns and masculinity and power and guns and war and guns and stuff. While Daredevil (Proton’s interesting comments not withstanding) mostly just feels like it’s about… Daredevil. His secret identity. His relationship with the Kingpin. His way with the ladies. And well yeah – not much else.

Saying that: my favourite part of the whole “grim and heavy and difficult” run is one of the stories towards the end – Decalogue. I don’t know how many people got that far – but it’s the one where it’s all just a bunch of people doing the support group thing sitting around in a church basement and sharing stories about Daredevil and well yeah: it’s twisty and weird and strange and it has one of the best (ONE OF THE BEST I say) mid story twists that I think I’ve ever seen that doesn’t really do that much to add to the story but is so damn cool that it just makes me smile like a crazy person anyway (I’m guessing everyone who’s read it knows the bit I’m talking about without me having to spell it out).

And well yeah – maybe that’s the best you can hope for with this kinda stuff? No grand schemes or things all adding up to somekind of proper climax instead it’s just… well… nice cool little moments.

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