Deconstructing Daredevil: Daredevil #1 by Kyle Ross

Hello again everyone, and welcome back to COMFORT FOOD COMICS Presents: DECONSTRUCTING DAREDEVIL, wherein I take apart Marvel Comics’ Daredevil runs in order to identify the best tastes and core ideas of them – focused, for the time being, on Daredevil vol 3 (2011) by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, Chris Samnee, Javier Rodriguez, and Joe Caramagna.

The previous installment of this column can be found here – introducing the concept for the column and explaining the concordance of events that led to me pre-ordering this volume of Daredevil, beginning with the first issue, once it was solicited.

And now, with that out of the way, let’s dive into Daredevil vol 3 #1.

I’ve already talked about my thoughts on the main cover in the previous article, and they hadn’t changed much from when I had first seen it until I held it in my hands. I loved it so much that I also ordered the poster of it, which hasn’t come down off my wall in the almost 10 years since it came out.

Instead of a recap page, the issue starts with a one-page “Daredevil-in-a-nutshell” sequence by Fred Van Lente, Marcos Martin, and Nate Piekos. On its own, the page is great. Martin is a master of creative layouts, and a book of these for a bunch of characters, like a simplified OHOTMU, would have been awesome. I’m not sure this page is really necessary here, but does at least save them from recapping most of these basic details of the character in the main story.

In interviews leading up to the book’s release, Mark Waid said that the book would abstractly deal with the fallout of Shadowland and Daredevil: Reborn, by having other characters be wary about Matt and the way he’s acting and whether or not they can trust him after those events, but not by directly referencing or focusing the plot on it. Well I can understand the “start fresh” impetus, a brief recap page or mention of what has happened leading up to this, to give new readers context for why people are wary of Matt’s attitude, might not have hurt.

The new attitude, though, absolutely does not miss, as the main story properly starts with, for me, one of the most fun action scenes in Daredevil history.

Matt, after returning to New York and (somehow) getting his life straightened out after all that “you were evil and presumed dead” stuff, has heard a rumor of a pending hit at a mob wedding, but it turns out to be a kidnapping instead, by D-list Spider-Man villain The Spot.

If you, like me, were raised by episodes of Spider-Man: The Animated Series in the ‘90s, you immediately know who this is. He is the coolest damn villain with a really neat power that has tons of possibilities for criming, but the combination of a silly name and looking like a cow mostly relegated him to being treated as a joke.

In this issue, Waid and Rivera say “Screw that, what if the Spot was fucking good at what he does? And could find absolutely fucking awesome and creepy ways to do things with his powers? And looked really fucking cool and not-at-all like a cow when Daredevil sees him with radar sense?”

Being the first scene in the first issue of this run, this is also the first time we see how Rivera, Martin, and Rodriguez chose to visually depict Daredevil’s radar sense. In interviews, the creators likened it to a topographical map and achieved the look with pink lines on black forms to try and demonstrate how sounds, bouncing off of the world around him, gives Matt a very exact sense of the shape and depth of the environment. It’s unique to this run, and feels like the first time significant thought was given to how to depict Matt’s radar sense so that his world truly looked different from how everyone else sees things, instead of just showing him using radar sense by having concentric circles imposed over his head.

The advantage to his radar sense, of course, is that The Spot can’t sneak up on him, allowing Matt the opportunity to save the girl and finish the fight. The creators lean hard on Matt’s new, overconfident attitude, truly making sure his every action depicts him as the titular “Man Without Fear,” who will dive headfirst into one of The Spot’s interdimensional portals after stealing a kiss from a mafia princess at her own wedding.

From there, we cut to the next day as Matt buys himself some coffee on the way to court, opening up the other side of his life. It’s the first appearance of Matt’s new catchphrase for the opening part of this run – “I’m not Daredevil” – and Waid packs the following pages with expositional captions to fill the reader in on the essentials of where Matt is at personally, professionally, and with regards to his secret identity.

Foggy Nelson shows up, law firm partners with Matt once again, but the creative team quickly dispels any misapprehensions that it’s just like old times, as the paparazzi hounds Matt about his unconfirmed double-identity and a scummy lawyer manages to use the rumors to get Matt’s case delayed. It’s some excellent legal drama work that Waid credits fellow comic-writer and actual lawyer Marc Guggenheim for helping him with, and, more importantly, it sets up the next scene.

The thing about Daredevil that sets him apart from a lot of other Marvel characters is that Daredevil absolutely (pardon my language) fucks. Whether it’s Karen Page, Black Widow, Heather Glenn, Elektra, Typhoid Mary, Echo, Milla Donovan, Dakota North, or Kirsten McDuffie, the women that Matt is (shall-we-say) “involved” with often play a vital role in driving his stories, and Waid and Rivera were knowingly tapping into that energy when they created Kirsten McDuffie. Waid even described the back-and-forth between Kirsten and Matt in an interview as “sexy” and “almost foreplay,” which is creepy to imagine him saying, but also, yeah. Absolutely.

Kirsten’s wit and attitude make her immediately likeable, a fantastic new love interest to go with Matt’s new outlook, instead of trying to reconnect him with a love interest of the past who might have dragged him and the series back down into the pits of depression associated with them. Waid made it clear that one of his goals was to put out a Daredevil comic that didn’t leave the reader feeling like they needed a stiff drink after reading it, and Kirsten quickly proved a great way to add the levity he was looking for.

Of course, as soon as Matt is done telling her that he isn’t Daredevil, he takes the information she has given him and sets out to investigate it as Daredevil, setting up the end of the first main story.

As gorgeous as Rivera’s art and Rodriguez’s colors have been throughout the issue, the heavy blacks (inking is by Joe Rivera, Paolo’s father) and color choices in these Daredevil-at-night scenes immediately stand out and give the pages such a great atmosphere that they become some of my favorites of the issue.

Then, after establishing what Daredevil’s radar sense looks like earlier in the issue, they deliver a great panel to show how it can be messed with. Instead of the smooth, curved lines we saw earlier, there are a lot of sharp, jagged lines, filling the area with unfamiliar and unnatural contours and shapes, making it just as hard for the reader to discern the environment around Daredevil as it is for him to do. His world has quickly turned from one that looked different, but made sense, to a disorienting M.C. Escher painting.

And to cap (ha!) it all off, we get the surprise, cliffhanger ending splash page that just demands the reader comes back for the next issue to see what’s about to happen.

Obviously by this point in reading the first issue, I was already sold on the idea that it was one of the greatest comics ever and had no regrets over putting it on my pull list. But wait, there’s more!

Maybe, unlike me, you were a regular Daredevil fan before this point and liked everyone’s dark, gritty takes on destroying Matt Murdock’s life. If that’s the case, Mark Waid and Marcos Martin made sure to throw in a page for you!

It’s pretty clear now that they were attempting commentary on what Matt Murdock would see if he looked at the stories of his life as past creators have told them – a rather large graveyard, on fire. But then they take this page, and contextualize it in story, as after Matt leads Foggy on a cheerful and gorgeously illustrated walk through the city – explaining his super senses and learning to play a violin by ear on the way – they come to Jack Murdock’s grave, and the dialogue from the opening page of the story comes back around.

What does Matt see?

“That I want to live,” he tells Foggy, without specifying the imagery that makes him see that. He goes on to explain that “all this pain and all this loss and… I just can’t bear the weight of it anymore and stay sane. I know that.”

Matt absolutely knows what he’s doing – living in denial, ignoring the depressing problems that have compounded in his life over the last several years – but it is what he feels he needs to be doing. I’ll admit that I didn’t really get this at the time, nor did I get Foggy’s answer of “I’m not sure…” when Matt asks if his coping mechanism is acceptable to his friend, but on a reread, knowing what’s coming, it makes for a poignant moment.

Last in the issue is the Letters pages, which are normally not very significant in a first issue. But, in this case, there are a few things on these pages that drew my attention.

The first of the two pages features part of Mark Waid’s pitch (in red text) and his take on Matt’s attitude is great. “He doesn’t worry about what happens next, nor does he allow himself to be haunted unendingly by his past. He’s been through enough agony to have confidence that nothing will break him and (more importantly) that no pain lasts forever.”

I love this. It’s optimism, but, unlike Daredevil, it’s not blind. It’s not “hope is the best and life will be good one day,” but rather “things have been bad and will be bad again, but you can survive it.” Sometimes, I need that energy in my life more than people just telling me to “have hope.”

The page also features small images of something that I was mostly unfamiliar with as a concept at the time (and, to be fair, in 2011 Marvel hadn’t gone completely apeshit crazy with them yet), variant covers. In total, the issue had 5 covers initially – the main cover, a Marcos Martin variant, a John Romita Sr. variant, a Neal Adams variant, and a blank cover variant – the 2nd most covers of any issue of Daredevil at that point (as issue 500 had 6 covers before the 2nd printing).

Now, if you wanted to say I have impulse-control issues, my wife would not argue with you. Knowing these covers existed, and loving this issue as much as I did, meant that I had to have them. Of course, my new comic book store was too small to meet the order requirements to get any of them, and so was my old comic book store. I was able to track down the blank, Martin, and Romita variants at a large store that was a mere 2-hour drive away, but the Adams variant had an order requirement ratio of 1:75 and they didn’t have it, so to eBay I went, spending more than I ever had on any single comic at the time in order to get it.

And then there were Dynamic Forces signed and remarked editions to order. And eventually I found a CGC 9.8 copy, signed by Mark Waid. And “Ooh, ooh! Can’t miss 2nd printings.”

In the end I accrued 12 different copies of Daredevil vol 3 #1. In hindsight, this was the beginning of an obsession, although at the time, it just seemed like harmless fun.

My 12 copies of Daredevil vol 3 #1 – regular, 3 variants, blank, 2 remarked, 2nd printing, 3 signed (Waid, Rivera, Romita Sr.), and 1 CGC signed by Waid

Finally, the last thing in the issue, on the second “letters” page, is a tribute to Gene “The Dean” Colan, who passed away right before the comic went to press. It’s lovely to see the respect and sentiments expressed for a man who worked on nearly 100 issues of Daredevil and so many other great comics, and I have lots of respect for editors Ellie Pyle (whatever happened to her?) and Steve Wacker for putting the rushed effort into getting this in so close to going to press, instead of saving it for the 2nd issue, or neglecting it all together.

So, in closing, the core flavors put forth in this issue are a new tone and attitude, establishing Matt as a brash Man Without Fear, smiling and daring in the face of danger, but also that the mistakes and darkness of the past are going to come back to challenge this attitude, no matter how much Matt doesn’t want them to. In the next column I’ll dive into issue 2 and see if these flavors are still strong in the dish, and if anything else gets added to bring further bring the meal together.

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