I have to admit to being one of those finicky people who must always read the book or series before I watch the television series or movie based on it. Sometimes that desire gets a little ridiculous but I can’t help it. It’s what drove me to finally read Jessica Jones and likely what will drive me to finally read Preacher. Since this week is the release of the second season of the Netflix Daredevil series, it seemed the perfect time to talk about two of the best runs of Daredevil that have ever been written. The run that is written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Alex Maleev is a perfect introduction before watching the first season of the Daredevil TV show while the run that is written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Michael Lark is a perfect introduction to the darker events in Daredevil’s life, including a run-in with the Punisher. Since the two runs occur one after the other, I’ll be talking about both for this week’s Graphic Review. Bendis began his Daredevil run in 2002 and covers 13 issues, illustrated by Alex Maleev. Brubaker picked up where Bendis left off in 2006 and covers an additional seven issues, illustrated by Michael Lark, before handing the reins off to another writer. Between the two of them, Brubakeer and Bendis put Matt Murdock through the wringer both physically and emotionally and take the reader on one hell of a ride.
To be honest, before I picked up the Bendis run of Daredevil, I really wasn’t much of a fan of him as a superhero. It probably didn’t help that my only knowledge of Daredevil came from the terrible 2003 Daredevil movie with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. If that’s your experience with it as well, just take a moment and bleach that memory from your mind.
For those unfamiliar with Daredevil, the basic concept is that as a boy, Matt Murdock was hit by a truck carrying chemicals and this caused him to lose his sight but also to gain super senses. This means that Matt can hear what people blocks away are saying as clearly as if they were standing next to him, the smell of food cooking in one room in an apartment building down the block or the exact movements of someone just behind him. During the day, Matt Murdock is a lawyer as well known for his tenacity and knowledge of the law when protecting innocents as for his blindness. At night however, Matt protects his home neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen, with honed martial arts skills and the use of his super senses as the vigilante Daredevil. Matt’s identity is kept secret and is known only to some of his fellow superheroes and his best friend and law partner, Foggy Nelson.
The graphic novel series succeeds where the movie failed because it understands Daredevil. Gone is the brooding superhero who spends his time either backflipping everywhere or staring dramatically into the night. Bendis writes Daredevil as a multi-faceted person whose regular identity is as much of a part of him as the superhero mask. The main problem for Daredevil while Bendis is writing is the conflict between Matt Murdock’s need as a lawyer to follow the letter and the spirit of the law by defending those in need and Daredevil’s need as a vigilante to solve the problems of Hell’s Kitchen with his fists and superhero senses. This is a difficult line for Matt/Daredevil to walk and one that he has varying degrees of success with. Bendis builds Matt as a character by showing the level of dedication and focus that it takes when you have super senses to be able to function as a normal person, let alone take out the criminals destroying your city. All of this comes to a head in the Bendis run when someone outs Matt Murdock as Daredevil. Will Matt be able to continue his dual existence as defender of the law and lawbreaker or will he have to face the consequences of his actions?
The Brubaker series picks up where the Bendis run left off, with Matt in serious legal trouble and his life in shambles. Tortured heroes are Brubaker’s specialty. Where Bendis built Matt Murdock up as a man who both wants to defend the law and is compelled to break it in order to save his neighborhood from the crime that haunts it, Brubaker breaks Matt down as the consequences for his actions pile higher and higher. Matt Murdock is one of those characters who can seemingly never be happy. Any time he comes close, things go horrifically wrong and life just becomes one big mess. Brubaker takes this theme and runs with it. A series of bad decisions on top of bad decisions leads Matt to an extremely dark place and while you just want to shake Matt for being an idiot, Brubaker makes all of it seem so perfectly reasonable for someone in Matt’s situation. It’s an incredibly well written slide into darkness for an already fairly dark superhero. One of the best moments of the series involves the Punisher and Daredevil confronting each other in the infamous prison on Ryker’s Island. Brubaker is the perfect author for one of Matt Murdock’s darkest periods.
What makes the Bendis and Brubaker runs of Daredevil so damned good is the ways in which they take Matt Murdock on an unforgettable journey from determined vigilante to a man and a hero on the edge of sanity and who no longer can really tell where the line is, let alone how to walk it. The artwork by Alex Maleev (during the Bendis run) and Michael Lark (during the Brubaker run) is both dark and gorgeous. Maleev in particular paints scenes that I would happily have as wallpaper all over my house. It’s dreamy and yet violent in the best possible way. Lark’s art is not quite as pretty as Maleev’s but it fits Brubaker’s crime noir style perfectly. While the series isn’t perfect and has a few mediocre issues (a Constantine-esque one featuring a baby demon is particularly bad), it’s still one of the best superhero runs I’ve ever read. It completely changed my opinion on Daredevil and made me ecstatic for the Netflix television series. If you get a chance, whether you’ve already seen the Netflix series or not, make sure you pick up both the Bendis and Brubaker runs on the character, they are not to be missed!