Sunday Slugfest - Daredevil #67

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Bob Agamemnon, Jason Cornwell, Michael Deeley, Shawn Hill, James Redington, Jason Sacks
“Golden Age” (Part 2)

Bob Agamemnon

Plot: The reasons behind former Kingpin Alexander Bont’s vendetta against Matt Murdock are revealed as Bont makes use of Melvin Potter (the Gladiator) to exact his revenge.

Comments: The current story arc in Daredevil is a showcase for the talents of artist Alex Maleev and, significantly, the broad range of colorist Dave Stewart. Brian Michael Bendis’ writing, a channeling of screenwriter David Mamet by way of novelist David Foster Wallace, maintains its customary level of propulsive rhythm, a quality he brings to all of his current Marvel titles, but one which is most effective in the harder-edged Daredevil. But it is Stewart’s voice that takes the lead in the current issue. Rarely does a comic demonstrate so clearly the impact of a colorist’s work on not only the atmosphere, but also the narrative power of a book.

As with the previous issue, Daredevil #67’s creative team uses contrasting styles to communicate flashbacks to two different periods in Bont’s life. The book opens and closes in the present with the dark tones familiar to readers of the series. A close-up of Murdock’s face as Potter pummels him on the opening page is typical of the thick, dark lines and rough textures that define Maleev’s approach. But as the transition is made from the present to the 1970s, this characteristic style does not change; instead, it is Stewart’s shift from heavy smudges of dark shadow to the light, clean effect of Benday dots that gives the vivid sense of peering into another epoch. Maleev’s composition and particularly the lines of his faces are the connective tissue that maintains a sense of continuity within the issue itself and with the previous installment.

A stark switch to black and white defines the third time period in this issue, the 1940s. As Jason Cornwell noted in his review of Daredevil #66, there were certainly color comic books at this point in history, but the black and white here is not meant to represent the authentic look of comics at this time, but rather an imagined form of the past. Again, it is the fact that Maleev’s style of drawing remains more or less constant that saves this comic from becoming a sort of purist exercise in historical recreation. Memory is not documentary, and it is through the skewed lens of Bont’s mind that we view this story.

By telling the tale from Bont’s point of view, Bendis saves it from becoming yet another superhero revenge saga. Although the ending of the last issue seriously compromised any compassion the reader felt for the elderly ex-con lost in the contemporary world, one can’t help but feel Bont’s relish as he stands over the captive Murdock: “I waited a long, long time for this. To punch that smug smirk off your smug face.” The young Matt Murdock mouthing off to the crime boss in the 1970s was smug, and the story, regardless of his moral superiority, still seems to pull us again and again into uncomfortable sympathy with the defeated old man.

This issue adds to the growing number of Bendis’s Daredevil stories in which we barely glimpse the hero in costume. Here, the “DD” peaking out from Murdock’s half-opened shirt is all we are granted. The only typical superhero action occurs sixty years in the past, and ends with a forgotten costumed crusader’s brutal death. Under Bendis’s pen, Daredevil has become a kind of “meta-superhero” exploration. As in a Hitchcock film, the fact that Murdock is Daredevil is simply the “McGuffin,” the unimportant detail that brings the characters together and creates the impetus for action. Fans of superhero comics may find this insufferable, but with no shortage of straightforward baddie-bashing titles on the horizon, surely we can see the value in a unique examination of a man who also happens to be Daredevil.

Jason Cornwell

Plot: The book opens with Matt Murdock as the unwilling guest of the recently released Alexander Bont, who was the Kingpin of Crime before Wilson Fisk. We then learn that before he was sent to prison by Daredevil, Bont had risen through the criminal ranks largely because he was the first criminal to kill a costumed crime-fighter. Bont appears ready to make his return by being the man who kills Daredevil, but he wants it to be a long, painful death.

Comments: Brian Michael Bendis does a pretty good job of inserting Alexander Bont into Daredevil’s past, as well as giving the character a pretty good motivation for wanting to target Matt Murdock. Now I’m not quite sure how well the Gladiator’s back story fits into the story, as I’ve always understood the character as a mentally disturbed man whose acts of villainy were driven by a second personality, rather than the reluctant hired thug concept that this issue presents. Since I’m not familiar with the early appearances of the character, Brian Michael Bendis might have the right idea. In any event this issue does benefit from the fact that it drops the readers right in the middle of the action, as Matt is captive of Alexander Bont and the Gladiator, which does get the action off to a rather abrupt start, and the tension of the present day sequence manages to grab and hold on to one’s attention, with the final page sequence being a particularly effective display of Bont’s anger toward Matt Murdock. As for the flashback material, it takes a bit of effort to figure out where these scenes fit into the overall story. I’m guessing the scene in the costume shop is set shortly before Gladiator’s first meeting with Daredevil, while the black and white scene is clearly set before Alexander Bont began his rise to the position of Kingpin of Crime. As for the scene in Matt’s law office, it would appear this is the first meeting between the two men, and it’s this meeting that put Bont on Daredevil’s hit list. In the end this is a pretty solid issue that makes good use of its rather unconventional plot structure.

The different styles that are used to reflect the various eras in which the story takes place make for a fun little exercise. I hold a certain nostalgic fondness for the dot coloring process, and I love the extra detail that has the edges of the page yellowed to reflect the idea of the age of the material. The back and white material is also quite effective; Alex Maleev’s art really stands out in this format, and the level of detail on the page becomes even more impressive. Plus one has to imagine that the scene where Alexander Bont puts a bullet in the head of the Defender wouldn’t have had nearly the same degree of impact in color. However, while the different eras make for a fun visual experiment the material set in the present day is far and away the strongest art in the issue, as the panel
where the Gladiator prepares to behead Matt is a wonderfully ominous visual.

Michael Deeley

Former gang lord Alexander Bont blackmails Melvin Potter, the Gladiator, to capture, beat, and kill Matt Murdock. He’d better hurry because the FBI have learned he killed an old “associate.” The flashbacks reveal that Bont brought Gladiator under his thumb, was insulted by Murdock, and made his rep by killing a masked hero.

This story has been a perfect example of how coloring can affect a comic book story and art style. The modern scenes have the usual brilliant, dark, rich colors of Dave Stewart. The scenes from the Silver Age have the more limited palette of pre-computer coloring. They also have the obvious dot pattern of old comics. But the scenes from the 1940s are done in black and white. To me, this is where Maleev and Stewart drop the ball. These parts of the story just look like the modern parts without any color. I’d rather Stewart used the bold and often muddy colors of Golden Age comics. Maybe Maleev could have altered his style a little bit to resemble the works of Joe Simon or Jerry Siegel. As it is, the transition from Modern Age to Silver Age creates the illusion that the world really was covered in tiny dots and bright colors in the 1960s. But the spell is broken when we look back on the black & white 40s.

The story seems pretty simple: Bont is looking for revenge against Murdock because Daredevil first put him in jail. Now the Feds have him for murder. This could conclude next issue. But I see it’s a 5-part story. That probably means we’re going to see more of how Bont was brought down for good, and Murdock getting the crap beat out of him. I’ll have to wait and see if Bendis could have told a shorter story.

For now, though, I like what I’m seeing. I’ve been buying Daredevil since issue #9, and I don’t see myself dropping the book anytime soon. It’s usually a good series, and this a good story.

Shawn Hill

Plot: Bont rounds up an old foe to put some hurting on a captured Daredevil, I mean Matt, I mean I really don’t know who believes what about his identity these days.

What’s interesting: Maleev does a great job with a challenging assignment here: three story threads from three different eras are presented, and he comes up with a compelling visual distinctiveness for each. The current time is the same old over-inked murkiness we’re used to, but the seventies era (when Bont first encountered Matt) has a somewhat rougher, more airy style that’s far more appealing (replete with obvious Ben day dots that exaggerate the printing process of the time, credit due I imagine to colorist Dave Stewart). Then the forties/fifties era, a rough time of manly shoot-em-ups (as Christopher Walken would say) from Bont’s younger days is in a crude but effective black and white. So while Maleev doesn’t flagrantly imitate the past (there’s none of the “in quotes” anatomical stiffness of the actual comics of the forties, nor any of those now-goofy “Make Mine Marvel” dramatic angles from the seventies), he comes up with a powerful way of alluding to it. Together he and Bendis create an effective translation of the history of the medium (and, in-story, of the careers of costumed adventurers and their nemeses).

Bendis has yet again challenged an artist to do his best, pushing the limits of the medium in a playful, knowledgeable way. Would that Avengers Dissed had been half so ambitious and subtle. This story is playing to Bendis’ strengths. Even though Matt is mostly out of action in this issue, which treats Bont the subversive antagonist as the main character, a compelling portrait is made of a criminal legacy, with powerful scenes in each era plumbing the depths of Bont’s corruption.

Most interesting: My favorite scene in the issue is when Bont tries to hire law-school-fresh young attorney (complete with unruly bangs and sideburns, which are totally in style again by the way) Murdock, and is driven to apoplexic rage by Matt’s refusal to do business with him. Maybe it’s the leisure suit (you can virtually feel the polyester), maybe it’s Matt’s smirky calm, but both characters are perfectly delineated in this verbal confrontation: Matt handsome and witty, his foe crude, arrogant and outclassed.

Also interesting: In the present day, an unwilling Gladiator (seen trying to go straight even in the past) may be Matt’s best hope, but, knowing Bendis, the bonds of the past are pretty hard to break for anyone. This arc explores that sense of inevitability with strong sequences that trace an ongoing enmity between two big players in Hell’s Kitchen.

James Redington

I really found it hard to write something about this comic, hard to form an opinion. There is nothing really wrong with it. It’s just that I have found it hard to enjoy, and that’s not because of the different artwork styles (which are pretty cool) or the writing (which is as good as ever). I guess the problem is with everything that happened to Matt Murdoch lately, I find this situation a little boring.

Jason Sacks

I’ve been a fan of Brian Michael Bendis’s writing for quite some time. I can’t remember the first thing he wrote that I enjoyed. It may have been Powers #1, which I remember blowing me away with its unique blend of insight, clever plot and wonderful dialogue. Or it may have been Fortune and Glory, his wonderfully well-written look at the bizarre and surreal world of Hollywood movie making. I definitely was a fan by the time he launched Ultimate Spider-Man with an outstanding first serial.

I say all this to lead in to the fact that I hated his work on “Avengers Disassembled.” Despised it. Thought it was absolutely one of the worst comics in recent memory. I didn’t hate the events of the series as much as I thought that execution of the story was awful, full of unresolved and awkward plot threads, poor characterization and pointless twists. Heck, you can read my reviews of those issues on this site, so it’s all on the record.

I’m relieved and happy to see that the Bendis who stunk up the joint on Avengers is nowhere to be found in this month's issue of Daredevil. Daredevil #67 is a clever and thoughtful comic, a book that plays to all of Bendis's strengths as a writer while also telling an interesting story in an intriguing way. It is full of atmosphere and tension, and contains dialogue that both advances the plot and illuminates character. All of those things are hallmarks of Bendis at his best, and all were missing from “Disassembled.” The way he depicts the Gladiator is especially wonderful, showing the
terrible ethical dilemma that the former villain faces.

Alex Maleev is a terrific partner for Bendis. This issue contains two different flashbacks, and Maleev does a brilliant job of using different styles and color schemes for the present day, the recent past and the deep past. He’s really adept at faces and body language; really, Bendis couldn’t ask for a better artist for his type of story.

Bendis is back!

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