Sunday Slugfest - Daredevil #100

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Michael Deeley, Chris Murman, Jason Sacks, Nicholas Slayton, Dave Wallace
"Without Fear: Part One of Six"

SPOILER WARNING: The following reviews discuss plot developments of the issue.

Michael Deeley

Mr. Fear gives Daredevil a shot of gas causing hallucinations of his old girlfriends. DD confronts his fears of intimacy stemming from the murder of his monster. Meanwhile, Milla, under the influence of Fear’s drugs, has accidentally killed a man. Also included are reprints of ‘Daredevil’ Vol. 1 #90-91, featuring the first appearance of the current Mr. Fear and the break-up of Black Widow and Daredevil.

The issues from 1972 show how much comics have changed in the last 30 years. The old comics are heavy with action and purple prose. Matt Murdock’s relationship problems are a throw-away scene just to add to his problems. The new story focuses on Murdock’s intimacy issues and his inability to fully love a woman. On the one hand, it’s great that a superhero comic is dealing with a mature issue that all adults deal with. On the other hand, why is a superhero comic dealing with intimacy issues?! I thought these books were about guys in underwear beating each other up! It reminds me how today’s comics are written for adults; many of whom have problems with women. Comics have gone from crazy fight scenes to a psychedelic journey into the soul. It’s a mixed evolution.

An artist jam is always fun to see. It’s even better when it’s relevant to the plot. Memories of Karen Page, Black Widow, Elektra, and Milla are drawn by John Romita, Gene Colan, Bill Sienkiewicz and Alex Maleev respectively. All of these men are in top form. Check out how Colan has changed from a “pulp artist” to a “fine artist”. It makes me want to see him draw new horror comics. Stefano Gaudino, Marko Djurdjevic, and Lee Bermejo also create dark, haunting, and exciting scenes.

When you’ve read comics for as long as I have, (and most you have), you notice repetition in comics. Mr. Fear tried hurting Murdock through his girlfriend in Vol. 1, #375. Fear stalked Karen Page and then framed her for murder. (Murdock cleared her name with help from Wilson Fisk.) Now he faces a similar situation with Milla. Even if she’s cleared of the charges, she could still leave Murdock fearing for her life. Murdock will once again have to choose between his costumed life and his love life. Well, we all know how that goes. He’s chosen the mask over Glorianna O’Breen and Heather Glenn. Karen Page and Elektra accepted his double life and both paid the ultimate price. At this point, I’d only be surprised if Matt agreed to retire from crime-fighting to save his marriage with Milla.

Even though the subject matter is familiar, Brubaker has surprised me in the past. He can write compelling, character-driven drama. He’s shown a firm understanding of the ‘Daredevil’ cast-their motivations, relationships, and feelings. I’m confident this upcoming storyline will entertain us and provide another emotional turning point in the turbulent life of Matt Murdock.

Chris Murman:

Generally, I hate oversized anniversary issues. Publishers reprint work as a way to justify the extra cost of the issue, but the work has already most likely been collected into a “Masterworks” or “Archives” or “Essentials” volume. That being the case, it would be easy to see why I’m docking this centennial issue in the ratings department.

But that’s not why I wasn’t left with a feeling of awe and wonder this time around.

I rather enjoyed reading about the Black Widow’s dealings with Matt Murdock. Hell, I didn’t even know they had a thing once upon a time. One of the problems with being such an old fan of either Marvel or DC is when you get into the other company after getting fed up with hapless editors in chief (we all know which balding EIC I’m referring to); you don’t always know what is going on.

This is the case with this story in the life of The Man Without Fear. I had no clue who Mr. Fear was, or what kind of impact he had on Murdock’s life. At first glance, he appears to be just another science nerd who got his feelings hurt long ago and dedicated his life to destroying a hero, only to be easily thwarted by said hero. When I was reading Brubaker’s story, I thought to myself, “So this is a cheap knockoff of Scarecrow. What makes this guy different?”

While the comparison is closer than some would think, Bru gives this bad guy quite a scheming nature that at least feels different than Dr. Jonathan Crane. In a world where everyone knows Daredevil’s secret identity, Larry Cranston dares to hit the hero where it hurts: his wife. Through some sort of fear toxin that induces a rage, Matt spends most of the issue thinking he is fighting Kingpin, Bullseye, ninjas and flying around with Black Widow.

That’s some good stuff, dude. In my college days I might have been interested in his supplier.

Let’s quickly move through the art because I’d rather not rant too much about it. Sure, the names Romita (the older one), Maleev, Sienkiewicz, Bermejo, Djurdjevic and Colan helped sell a ton of extra books. But this is Lark’s book now, and I would rather have seen his take on all the flashback scenes used in this book. Each of the other artists is great in his own right, and I do not wish to knock their contributions to this book at all, but there was no continuity at all to the art in this book, and I feel like Lark was the odd man out in this issue. He’s the Eisner Award winner, remember? The extra page count may have been part of the issue, but publishers never tell the truth anyway when it comes to guest/fill-in artists. I jumped on to DD when Lark started with Bru, just let me have my artist do as much of the book as possible, please.

The last matter to cover is where it leaves our hero in the end. Much like Planet Hulk losing its steam after several issues, I feel the same is happening with our redheaded lawyer. Is Matt doomed to just hop out of the frying pan and into the fire with every story arc? Maybe it’s due to the fact I care nothing for this villain, and it’s hard watching his handiwork when you don’t even care to see him on the page.

Of course, Matt and Foggy will get Milla out of whatever legal jam she is in, and the status quo will go back to what it went to after “Devil takes a Ride.” I’m okay with that for the time being, but eventually it will feel too contrived to read story after story where Daredevil has to fend off the world from himself and his loved ones, and then go back to life as it was. It’s too Saturday morning cartoon for me, and if I wanted that to keep happening, I’d go watch old episodes of Scooby Doo.

Jason Sacks:

Things go from bad to worse for Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil, in this first chapter of “Without Fear.” Matt’s been kidnapped by an old college rival who now calls himself by the appealing name of Mr. Fear. Mr. Fear invented a gas that forces people to go into psychotic rages. In the previous storyline Matt’s friend the Gladiator had embarked on a killing spree after being exposed to Mr. Fear’s gas, which caused great emotional pain for Matt. In DD #99, Matt’s wife Milla was dosed with the rage drug. And now in this issue Matt is kidnapped and exposed to the same drug. Matt begins acting crazy due to his exposure. Readers are shown both Matt’s psychosis and its affects on the people around him.

This is an eerie beginning to this storyline and manages to be both old school and contemporary at the same time. Several scenes in this issue are drawn by guest artists, including the legendary pair of John Romita Sr. and Gene Colan, two artists who drew the hero’s adventures back in the earlier, more cheerful days of the series. In addition, Bill Siekiewicz, Alex Maleev and Lee Bermejo produce chapters that show Matt’s madness. The art is like a greatest hits collection of Daredevil artists. Only the presence of Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. would make the list complete.

But it’s more than the artwork that makes this story feel old school. Reprinted in the back of this 100-page issue are Daredevil #90 and #91, by Gerry Conway, Gene Colan and Tom Palmer, from the early '70s. Those two issues present the original appearance of Mr. Fear, and the similarities between those stories and this issue’s new story are striking. The plots have many similar elements. For instance, Daredevil mistakenly beats up some police officers in each story--a connection that the Gene Colan pages in the new story explicitly make. It’s really nice how writer Ed Brubaker clearly had referenced the earlier story in his new story, looking to build on Marvel’s past while using those elements to create a modern comics story.

The great trick of the main story is that despite--or maybe because of--its nods to the past, Brubaker presents a story that feels completely contemporary. Aided by the gritty art by Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano, Brubaker shows a desperate and worried Matt Murdock, a man pushed to the edge in ways that previous generations of creators were never able to show him. Matt’s desperation as he confronts Mr. Fear is palpable; Matt’s heroism shows through at the same time as his intense worry for his friends and family stresses him.

The Daredevil presented in this new story is a man with much more experience than the Daredevil in the backup story. The Daredevil of the early '70s could be carefree because he had no idea of the traumas yet to come in his life. Conway’s Daredevil was comparatively very innocent; at that time none of Matt’s girlfriends had died, he had not been thrown in jail, he hadn’t literally been to hell and back. Brubaker’s Daredevil has seen the worst of the world; more than that, the worst of the world has struck him and his loved ones. He realizes that the stakes are higher than they ever have been because he’s been through as many hard times as any hero can ever go through. Life has been hard for our hero, and events keep making life even harder. That life and experience infuses every page of Brubaker’s story.

Daredevil #100 is a great display of how a good creative team can use continuity. In the right hands, continuity isn’t a straightjacket. Continuity is a set of memories and experiences that infuse the present with the stories of the past. Ed Brubaker expertly uses Matt Murdock’s long and complex continuity to provide depth and complexity to his character. That’s why this series is continuing to be so outstanding.

Nicholas Slayton:

Ed Brubaker is awesome. Daredevil #100 is a testament to his skills as a writer. For all intents and purposes, this is a story that I should have hated. It has aspects that have been told so many times in the past that the whole tale should be stale. Yet, the way Brubaker handles this story makes it still feel fresh and entertaining at the same time.

Continuing from the cliffhanger climax of the previous “To the Devil, His Due” story arc, “Without Fear” opens with Daredevil facing off against Mister Fear and his gang of thugs. I'll be honest: I know absolutely nothing about the character, other than the fact that he seems to be a Scarecrow rip-off but with a more personal grudge against our hero than Crane does against Batman. Yet in a few short pages Brubaker lays down Fear’s motive and personality, and he gives Fear a few actions that solidify why he is the big bad of this arc. Granted, I must admit I’m growing really tired of every villain’s goal being to screw with Daredevil’s life, as that’s been told so many times in the past, but the execution of Fear’s plan and Brubaker’s handling of it makes this a pretty entertaining idea.

Another part of the story I was uncertain about was Mister Fear’s fear gas. So Matt has to face his demons AGAIN? That felt even more familiar than the “villain-out-to-ruin-Matt’s-life” routine. Yet, again, it’s really good in this issue. Mister Fear having Matt thrown out of the building, while hallucinating, was great and really provides him some menace. Matt’s immediate fears about his wife feel natural, and even the run through ex-lover’s lane is handled well. The best bit occurs when Matt confronts the memory of his dad, which could have gone sour at any moment, but stays consistent with the quality of the book and proves to be the highlight of the issue.

The cliffhanger involving Matt’s wife from the previous issue is continued into this one, and it’s going to be interesting to see how Brubaker handles this. Matt and Foggy are experienced lawyers, but Milla did kill a man, and Lily is vehemently hoping to get Milla locked up. On one hand, this is going to be one exciting story, but on the other, it looks like all the other subplots are being pushed to the side, and after a whole arc setting those up, it’s odd to see them ignored.

I must admit that I’m not usually a fan of the “cram every artist into this book for the 100th issue” approach, but it works pretty well here as a way to frame Matt’s hallucinations. The artists manage to evoke the different eras of Daredevil, from John Romita Jr’s retro feel, to Marko Djurdjevic’s brilliant take on Daredevil’s ninja aspects. Lee Bermejo’s guest spot was definitely the best, however, matching a poignant scene with brilliant, moody art. Meanwhile, series artist Michael Lark really launched this issue out of the park. The backgrounds, the facial expressions, every aspect of the art felt better.

The Daredevil creative team is on a roll. They’ve found a great balance between Matt’s life as Daredevil and as a lawyer, fleshed out the supporting cast, and set up a serious threat for this issue. I am honestly surprised at how much I liked this issue. Considering how many aspects of this issue have been done before, it really shows how good of a writer Brubaker is, making it feel new and fresh. “Without Fear” is off to one heck of a start.

Dave Wallace:

This celebratory 100th issue of Daredevil picks up where the last one left off, seeing Matt Murdock incapacitated by fear gas at the hands of Mister Fear himself, before being tossed out of a skyscraper and left to run wild through the streets as his addled mind conjours up images of villains, loved ones and other members of Daredevil's supporting cast both past and present. It’s a fun setup for an anniversary issue, featuring some nice little moments which show a continuation of the tight continuity with the landmark Bendis/Maleev run which preceded Brubaker’s tenure (such as Mr. Fear’s frustration at Matt’s arrogance at thinking he could get his life back so easily after being “outed“), as well as marking the new era out as a return to DD’s roots to some extent, paying homage to the best-loved elements of Daredevil history and incorporating them into Brubaker’s own new status quo for the character.

That said, whilst this issue successfully brings together many of the elements of Brubaker’s run up until this point, it doesn’t really take the characters or plotlines to any new places, serving as more of a recap of Matt Murdock’s life, loves, and inner demons than a real progression of the story. That’s a shame, because Brubaker has been ratcheting up the tension impressively over the last few issues, and this story saps the momentum of that gradual build-up, proving to be one of the less impressive scripts that the writer has provided for his run on Daredevil so far. However, a middling Brubaker Daredevil issue is still better than most superhero comics can manage, and since the main draw of this issue is the impressive roster of artistic talent that has been put together to celebrate the book’s anniversary, I can forgive the weaknesses in the story in return for the grand spectacle that is provided.

The current art team of Gaudiano and Lark act as the backbone of the tale, illustrating the linking parts of the story that take place in-between the nightmare/dream sequences (which are brought to life by the guest artists). I haven’t got the space to artistically critique each and every section of the story here, but particular highlights are John Romita’s classic linework bringing Karen Page to life, Gene Colan’s impressive splash page of DD swinging into action, and another glimpse of Bill Sienkiewicz’s enigmatic Elektra. It’s great to see so many great Daredevil artists unite on this project, and their contributions feel very organic in terms of the way they fit into the story (with the transition between artistic styles managing to avoid feeling as jarring as the similar “jam session” that featured in Daredevil #50).

This issue also reprints issues #90 and #91 of volume 1 of Daredevil by Gerry Conway, a nice Black Widow-centric story that I hadn’t read before. The issues are noteworthy for some splendid Gene Colan art (and an unintentionally hilarious final caption to issue #90 - if you’ve got a childish sense of humour, that is), and the fact that they feature issue #100’s antagonist, Mr. Fear, as their central villain. Additional extras take the form of a script extract from this very issue, and a visual progression from pencils to inks to colouring of a single page, which are always interesting for those readers who are interested in the creative process. We also get a glimpse of some of the pencils from other pages in the issue, including some by industry legend John Romita.

This is a fitting manner in which to mark the milestone 100th issue of the relaunched Daredevil book, and anyone with even a passing interest in DD or the artists involved should definitely check it out - I just wish there had been a little more substance in the story to go with the undeniable style of its execution, as the story isn’t quite as thrilling or satisfyingly dense as most of Brubaker’s work on the book has been.


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