What makes a mediocre comic more offensive than a bad comic? Effort. It is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all. Incompetence is generally more endearing than indifference, something that makes Ed Wood’s filmography more watchable than Ed Wood director Tim Burton’s recent filmography. Daredevil #1 written by Charles Soule and illustrated by Ron Garney with colors by Matt Milla is a perfectly acceptable comic. On a scale of one to 10 it’s probably a five and if I had to give it a letter grade it would be a D+. But, with Garney bleeding out some of the best work of his career with Milla, this was one good script away from being an actually good comic.
Ron Garney’s work has never been to my liking. If you’d asked me after reading his work on Thor: God of Thunder and Men of Wrath, I would describe his pages as messy and unfinished as if he had missed a vital stage of inking his pencils. And I’d still say that about those books but then I’d have to tell you that his work on Daredevil #1 is fucking phenomenal. That sense of his pencils being messy and unfinished is still somewhat present but here it reads as an occasional burst of energy from the figures on the page that imbues them with a special sense of violence. He even reins it in to be more contained in the quieter scenes to indicate that this appears to be a conscious decision on his part. The inking, which I will have to assume Garney did himself as there is no separate inker listed, here would normally be strong enough to make the case for this book being released in black and white if it weren’t for the absolutely vital contribution Milla makes to the comic.
Milla adds texture and depth reminiscent of Matt Hollingsworth’s work on the title a decade ago and Daniel Freedman’s coloring on the otherwise terrible Daredevil Noir. The dots he employs in his coloring are effective at establishing the grit of the world as they recall the cheaper printing of comics from decades past. It’s a simple technique, yeah, but it’s more work put into creating a sense of tone and place than the script provides. Whites and light beiges that fill in figures stand out as elements of each page as reds and blacks generally dominate the opening sequence. When the next scene rolls around and the environment becomes entrenched in blues, the red and black of Daredevil’s costume stands out that much more as if they’re packed in to contain all of the violence of the previous, all red and black scene. Even at peace and in conversation, Daredevil looks violent. The browns that accompany Matt Murdock to his workplace create a drab and boring look that sort of fits the environment a little too well as it makes the pages, well, drab and boring. The lawyer scenes do not draw on any of Milla or Garney’s considerable strengths and feel lifeless as a result.
My other ultra-specific issue that I had with Milla’s coloring was the way Matt Murdock’s hair appeared brown even as the red of his glasses, tie, and cane stood out. I honestly don’t know how that happens. Is Matt Murdock being retconned into a brunette in addition to getting his secret identity restored? All is forgiven if the two are somehow related but otherwise that’s just a strange error to get through to publication without anyone catching it.
Most superhero comics would be lucky to have this much work put into them so why doesn’t this issue work? The script delivered by Soule is lazy, appearing to check all the boxes it needs to in order to appear competent without ever striving for more. The opening fight scene takes up 12 pages with two of them devoted to Matt Murdock in mid-dive off of a bridge accompanied by captions that read “I am Matt Murock. I am Daredevil. And I am not afraid.” Daredevil in mid-dive is not a new image or rendered so beautifully as to deserve a full page to itself in a comic book with only 20 pages. Nothing about the action or the setting makes this a noteworthy image to lead-off with.
Characters speaks largely in expository dialogue with Daredevil in particular delivering several, unnatural mouthfuls as he explains why he jumped off the exact perfect part of a bridge or what it’s like to live life without fear. The dialogue spends so much time explaining and setting things up that it leaves very little room for character. Daredevil’s new crimefighting partner Blindspot makes an appearance in this issue and all readers really learn about him is that he’s a Chinese American and spends a lot of money on batteries. The character appears in only six panels even as Daredevil tells someone that “Blindspot is the one thing [he’s] sure is right.” I enjoy painfully direct irony as much as the next person but even I had to roll my eyes at a blind man declaring that Blindspot, a word describing an area a person can’t see, was the one thing he was certain he could trust in this self-serious comic.
This script is lacking heavily in conflict or character. It relies almost entirely on joining things en media res to create these things. We start with Daredevil mid-dive to save a man’s life and then bursting into a fight with a new gang he’s been trying to take down. We see Matt Murdock’s personal life in disarray as he and Foggy allude to a recent transgression with the subtlety of a brick going through a window. Instead of being intrigued by whatever drove Matt and Foggy apart, I was struck by how weightless it felt as their conversation revealed nothing about their personalities and relationship. Matt suddenly having a change of heart that saw him become a prosecutor who bullies witnesses into testifying in court is drastically out of character which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Characters that have been continuously published for 50 years can’t and probably shouldn’t be consistent for that entire time. But this new perspective from Matt Murdock doesn’t have anything behind it yet. It just serves as another example of taking a shortcut to create drama. This script just ends up feeling completely empty as it lazily hits all the beats.
Daredevil #1, featuring a drawn out action scene that takes up more than half of the page count, feels like it was written in an hour or maybe an hour and a half. It’s a boring composition that follows a basic “action scene, expository scene, expository scene, cliffhanger” cliffhanger structure. There’s not much in here to justify it taking up 20 pages of comics which shifts the entire burden onto the art team. Soule is leaning heavily on his collaborators here in a way that seems to indicate that he doesn’t know he’s leaning at all. His script is workmanlike in the worst sense of the word, giving the impression that this script is just another in a long line of jobs to be completed with the greatest artistic endeavor being to make a deadline. On one hand, I can admire someone treating corporate comics like the job that they are and not putting in any more work than they see necessary. But corporate comics are meant to be, if not always art, entertainment and I do think that readers are owed a level of quality that indicates that the creator is invested somewhat in providing a good product.
Daredevil #1 being a job didn’t prevent Garney and Milla from putting in quality work. Writers generally aren’t going to put in as much time and work into these comics as the artists are but Soule could have at least tried matching their effort. He didn’t and that just leaves this great looking comic thoroughly mediocre.