Writer: Carmine Di Giandomenico, Zeb Wells (script)
Artist: Carmine Di Giandomenico
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Dave Wallace: Matt Murdock’s dad has come in for a fair amount of attention recently, largely due to Joe Quesada’s Daredevil: Father miniseries. It was long before that series, during the Frank Miller era, that the character really began to be fleshed out, with an exploration of his rocky relationship with his son and controversial instances of child abuse being inserted into the characters’ history. Regardless of the details, however, the basic facts of his story always remain the same: Jack Murdock is a tragic character, a flawed boxer who falls into a life of crime, working as an enforcer for “The Fixer” - who eventually asks him to throw a fight. His refusal to do so gets him killed and leaves a certain Matt Murdock fatherless.
Chris Murman: You hit the nail on the head: we know this story. I have the opinion that if you are going to re-tell a story that's been fleshed out in the past, I need something new right off the bat. When I saw that Matt's father was getting his own mini-series, my first thought was, "Why?" He's not a strong enough character to get his own voice, even if it's just to tell DD's origin in a different way. What are your thoughts on the strength of Jack Murdock, Dave?
Wallace: I guess I don’t really have much of a strong opinion of him one way or the other. He’s very much a plot-device-as-character, I think: Much like Bruce Wayne’s parents, it’s not really his character that makes him important but the effect that his death has on Matt Murdock. Even then, though, there are other influences that went into shaping Daredevil (especially if you accept Man Without Fear as the definitive origin story), so it is a fairly surprising move to focus an entire mini-series on him. I guess Carmine Di Giandomenico and Zeb Wells think that they can bring something new to the table.
Murman: Exactly, would you buy a book about Bruce Wayne's father? Wait, DiDio's laptop just fired up, so stay tuned!
Wallace: Di Giandomenico and Wells cleverly structure the entire mini-series around Murdock’s final boxing match (this first issue is titled “Round 1”), allowing us an extended look at Jack’s last attempt at redemption which is interspersed with flashbacks of his life story. As sports-based drama goes, the boxer is probably one of the most appealing characters to use: there’s a raw power and rage in the boxing ring which inevitably gets reflected in his personal life, and the scenes of domestic unrest which accompany Jack’s fall from grace into a life of crime and alcoholism in this issue couldn’t help but remind me of Martin Scorsese’s powerful Raging Bull. However, the character is sympathetic enough that he also evokes Sylvester Stallone’s more loveable Rocky, and
this balance between showing us a man who means well but who ends up in a bad situation beyond his control is crucial if we’re to remain sympathetic to a character who has screwed up his life so badly.
Murman: I'll begrudgingly agree with you about boxing analogies. From Russell Crowe to Damon Wayans, we have seen the warrior mentality exploited in every facet of entertainment. What I like about Jack Murdock being portrayed as a boxer is the fact that he loses in the end. You don't see that a lot. What you do see is our flawed hero using the phrase that he has to lose for Matt's sake. He can't take care of himself, so he has to throw this fight. If he cares so much for his son, why does he choose death for himself and an orphanage for his child in the end? Seems very flawed in the end, which is, of course, the theme for this book as you have said.
Wallace: Yes, I enjoyed the repeated mantra of Jack having to be “weak for my boy.” Still, I’m not sure if Matt ever ended up in an orphanage, did he? I seem to remember him being at college when Jack is killed. However, that doesn’t really jibe with Matt’s appearance as a baby in this issue. It’s a bit of a nitpick, but the timeline definitely seems a bit off somewhere. We might have to call artistic licence on that one.
Murman: Repetitive narrative...we're just going to have to agree to disagree on that one. I'm not sold on it. Maybe I'm just burned out by All Star Batman.
Wallace: Anyway, it’s the extensive flashbacks about Jack that are the real meat of the story, and we get to see many of the key moments from the character’s past brought to life here. Although there are subtle hints towards a more troubled relationship between father and son in future, the book steers clear of the child abuse angle for now, seeming more interested in how Jack’s life fell apart. Still, there’s not a massive amount of insight, with Jack’s characterisation as an alcoholic with a short fuse but a good heart never really standing out as particularly original or compelling.
Murman: Don't you just love a tragic hero? The writers practially beg for you to be on the side of our battlin' boxer before we really get the chance to feel that way on our own. "He's the father of Daredevil, you HAVE to be on his side!" To me, it's sitting with your hand out in front of the mall. We all know in the end what happens, so we don't truly trust his intentions of taking care of Mattie, do we? In the end, this man does what he wants for himself and thinks of nobody else.
Wallace: It’s true, there’s perhaps not a huge amount of work done to get you invested in the character if you’re not already a Daredevil fan. Personally, I think that Jack’s good intentions as depicted here are meant to be genuine – but you know what they say the road to Hell is paved with.
Daredevil fans will enjoy seeing a rare appearance of Maggie, Matt’s Mother, and other cameos include a pre-pubescent Turk and a youthful Josie of Josie’s bar (and if that big plate glass window doesn’t shatter before the series is over, I’ll be very disappointed). However, these supporting characters aren’t given a huge amount of introduction, and as such, I feel like it’s playing to a very specific audience, as there are a lot of plot points and characters who will only mean something to you if you’ve got a working knowledge of Daredevil’s history. Luckily for me, I’m quite a fan of the character, and it’s undeniably fun to revisit these characters in their early incarnations. On the other hand, though, I could see the book falling victim to Star Wars prequel
trilogy syndrome, with the reliance on the familiarity of these supporting characters closing the story down rather than opening it up with the invention of a new cast and more original plot points.
Murman: Again, I would like to see something different being shown in the flashbacks. My DD history is a bit hazy. Has Maggie always been a nun? Did she abandon her baby and baby's daddy in years past? It seemed to me the writers were sort of using her lovin' and leavin' as the source of Jack's drinking. What do you think?
Wallace: I’m not an expert, but I think that Maggie’s history has always been a bit vague. Bar a few appearances in Frank Miller’s classic “Born Again” and Man Without Fear arcs, and more recently in Kevin Smith’s “Guardian Devil,” she’s quite an enigma. I don’t know if her abandonment of Matt and Jack has ever been as explicitly tied to Jack’s fall from grace as it is here, but I know that Miller explored the idea that her decision to leave and become a nun was a selfish one, at least in part. Again, it’s not really fleshed-out enough. Maybe we’ll get to see this angle explored more in future issues.
Art-wise, the book succeeds. It never looks pretty, but that’s the point: the fight sequences are as brutal as they need to be, the quieter domestic scenes benefit from Wells’ keen eye for expressive faces and body language, and the muted, almost sepia-toned colouring gives the book a suitably nostalgic tone. The art is often called on to carry important story points, with Jack’s short temper and rage really coming through in the scene where he and the Fixer run a protection racket, and a convincingly youthful Matt Murdock making an appearance as a babe-in-arms.
Murman: Best part of the book. I agree that the fight scenes were brutal, and that's maybe what changes Murdock's mind in the end about how the fight should end. No real warrior can take a dive in the end. You get sweaty and bloody in the heat of the moment and forget what you should do. I remember a moment during the fight in The Great White Hype when Wayans takes a punch in the mouth and realizes, "I'm gonna beat the bejebus out of you, whitey!" That's got to be the reason for Battlin' Jack's selfishness in the end right?
Wallace: I think that it’s Jack’s final moment of purity, and an attempt to atone for his sins (don’t you love Daredevil’s Catholic guilt?) that were committed in the employment of the Fixer. It’s an idea which was given quite a positive, inspirational spin in Loeb and Sale’s Daredevil: Yellow, but it could definitely be seen as quite a selfish move in some ways, leaving Jack’s reputation intact but Matt bereaved and alone. I’m guessing that we’ll see this series explore Jack’s decision not to throw the fight in far greater detail, and it should make for some compelling drama.
Despite the importance of Jack Murdock in the Daredevil origin story, the decision to focus on Matt’s father for an entire mini-series seems a little surprising: he’s a supporting character whose story is already familiar, and there’s not a lot of wiggle room for Di Giandomenico and Wells to significantly alter elements of his history without undermining some pretty important elements of the Daredevil mythos. Still, whilst I feel that this book will only be of real interest to those readers who are already Daredevil fans (like me), the story that’s being told is a solid one, and even if it’s not the most original plot, it’s good to see Marvel pushing the boundaries of their superhero universe with slightly more grounded and character-based projects like this one.
Murman: Nah, there's too many plot holes for me to recommend this book. The only reason to recommend this book are for Matt Murdock fans who need this to complete their collection. Much like the great Star Wars reference you made, Dave, this series is going to be nothing more than a poorly made prequel. Gritty art and tightly paced scenes are not enough to make the script a keeper.
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