Fluid Exchange: Matt Seneca's 'Daredevil 12"'A comic review article by: Nick Hanover, Danny Djeljosevic
Since their origin comics have proven extremely adaptable and with that in mind, it's no wonder that their history has long been tied up with sex. From the hidden but long established connection to pornography that the Big Two have to Tijuana Bibles to R. Crumb, comics have never been dissociated from sex, yet we rarely talk about sex in comics. That's where Fluid Exchange comes in, as an opportunity for CB's staff to pontificate on the more erotic artistry that's out there in the medium, whether it's the gorgeous and painstakingly detailed work of the Manaras and Moebiuses of the world to the quirkier sexperiments of Los Bros Hernandez and the boom of erotic webcomics, we're here to discuss it.
(Note: Many of these art samples are cropped. To see the full images in all their pornographic glory, click on the thumbnails.)
Nick Hanover: A couple weeks ago an envelope appeared in my mailbox. The stamp was a scene from A Bug's Life, the ink was pink and there was a rainbow sticker below my name. I don't know how I expected Matt Seneca's gonzo porn parody Daredevil 12" to reach me, but I know this was not what I had in mind.
Daredevil 12" is exactly what it sounds like-- a stark red, white and black comic that lasts about the same time as your average 12" single and features our hero Daredevil getting it on with the Black Widow, who may not be dealing with 12" exactly, but is nonetheless clearly capable of handling what DD is packing. Like the packaging of the envelope, its smart design aesthetic and excellent integration of Frank Miller's DD-era style is smartly misleading but make no mistake: this is a comic that is frank in presentation and execution and it wastes no time with plot or conjecture or whatever the fuck you think you need to make illustrated sex okay for you. It's simply DD and Black Widow hanging out on a rooftop, bored and thus inspired to give in to some experimental desires.
What makes it particularly worthy of closer examination, though, is the way Seneca plays with the concept of blindness and how it might make DD's experience different from the norm, as he fetishizes radar and heart beats and sensory experiences that those of us without visual impairment take for granted. It's poetic and efficient and fun and as titillating as it may be, Seneca's decision to explore an often underutilized element of Daredevil's life makes it that much more worthwhile. Or am I reading too much into this?
Danny Djeljosevic: On one hand, Daredevil 12" is reminiscent of one of the great traditions of comics' underbelly -- bootleg pornography. Back in the day they were called Tijuana bibles and nowadays aspects of doujinshi culture is a bit like a successor to that -- though not all doujinshi are pornographic or even based on established characters, it's just that a lot of the stuff that makes its way to the English-speaking internet appears to be that way. There's an undeniable base appeal to Daredevil 12" in that Daredevil and Black Widow do fuck, and Seneca doesn't withhold that from a reader.
But this is also a comic from Matt Seneca, a critic, creator and enfant terrible of the comics world, so I'm loath to just leave it at "yep, they certainly did it."
What strikes me the most about Daredevil 12" is how much Frank Miller is going on in the aesthetics of this book, all black and white and red. And the panel of Black Widow getting herself off as her increasingly intense heartbeat cuts the image in half is way reminiscent of something from Miller's legendary run. It seems unavoidable when you tackle the character -- I marathoned Daredevil through Miller through Bendis through Brubaker a couple years ago and they seemed like slight riffs on the same thing, right down to that minor thug Turk showing up. I think it's a necessary thing to do if you're trying to create a bootleg Daredevil porn comic, using the language of that world for a sense of authenticity. Strictly from a masturbator's perspective, you kind of want the fantasy to be authentic. You want to believe these are the same characters you read about in the "official" stories, except now they're fucking on a rooftop.
But here's a thing: in the two-page spread where Widow and Daredevil are sixty-nining one another, we see a cityscape with a billboard that reads "Crepax." Usually when artists draw cities, there's always a sign with some classic artist shoutout on it, "Eisner Boulevard" or whatevs. Here Seneca tips his hand a bit by shouting out Guido Crepax, legendary Italian erotica artist who drew some surreal shit in service of people fucking. Just google him, he's fantastic.
You can get a sense of the Crepax influence on the following page, where Seneca does two tight close-ups on minor movements to fill in the sequence between two larger panels together; Crepax always does a bunch of those. The page preceding the sixty-nine has a really cool full-page depiction of an orgasm, as -- let's call it a "rainbow" -- shoots up from Black Widow as she moans up toward the heavens. It's not necessarily Crepax-esque -- he tends to take more of a maximalist surrealist approach than what's going on here -- but it's a visually exciting way to depict something that's happening within another person's body, which I think is in the spirit of the master.
Nick: In a sense, this comic is all about Daredevil (and us, by extent) getting off on the way his senses allow him to essentially "feel" another person's pleasure, whether it's through things like the aforementioned heartbeat and rainbow sequences, or the end of the comic, which features him seemingly floating above Black Widow as she remains in post-orgasmic bliss. As explicit as Daredevil 12" is, I'd nonetheless love for that kind of take on Daredevil's physicality to make it into the comics proper, because as far as Marvel heroes go, Daredevil has always been pretty sexualized, with his dalliances with femmes fatale like Elektra and the 616 Black Widow. Something about his "evil" appearance and sensualized nature have made him an easily seductive figure ever since Miller's run and though I know Marvel would never be cool with a frank depiction of sex in its main line (maybe Daredevil MAX would have to suffice?), I don't think it's that hard to imagine a brave writer bringing some elements into play, like the heartbeat excitement.
I'm also interested in exploring why this comic works in a way that the New 52's Catwoman #1 did not. Both prominently feature rooftop trysts between heroes and their femme fatale love interests, but Catwoman notably felt weird and forced and kind of gross while Daredevil 12" feels somehow more real and authentic. Maybe it's because it doesn't hinge on a cringeworthy bit of sexual innuendo (there's no innuendo here, it's all right in front of you, clear as could be), or maybe it's because both these characters appear to be enjoying themselves, while Catwoman's climax came atop a grimacing Batman who looked like he wasn't really there at all, as if he was instead fantasizing about crime fighting or the Joker or whatever it is that gets Batman hard.
Danny: Part of it is that 2011's Catwoman #1 was part of a big conversation happening around the New 52, where this attempt to attract "new readers" was not female creator-friendly, nor was it -- as we found out come launch-time -- female reader-friendly. Granted, this is all about male gaze -- specifically, the gaze of a blind guy with radioactive senses -- but I think it's also that there's a subversive element to Daredevil 12", as it's a bootleg comic about sex between two established characters who have been in movies. It's just healthy consensual sex that doesn't feel like the person making the comic is a horrible creep.
Moreover, there's an insight into Daredevil's powers, but not in a fanboyish "Yo, can Reed Richards' dick stretch" way. The most interesting part of any Daredevil story is completely divorced from Bullseye, Elektra, Kingpin or even Frank Miller -- it's that speculative element of how Matt Murdock perceives the world around him. We all know the checklist -- he can hear stuff from far away, read regular print with a swipe of his fingers and sense where stuff is via radar vision which makes him a better fighter -- but then there's a wealth of contextual stuff to explore. For example, there's a gag I always loved from Ann Nocenti's run where he sniffs out everything in Karen Page's grocery bag, including water, which he claims has a smell that normal people can't recognize. That moment sticks in my mind more than the fact that it's a Typhoid Mary issue. Even the 2003 movie does some cool stuff with his powers -- the way he uses the pitter-patter of the raindrops to "see" what Jennifer Garner looks like or how he sleeps in an isolation chamber so he can get respite from the sounds of New York City.
Since Daredevil 12" is centered around one sexual encounter, let's go back to that aforementioned "get yourself off" panel with Black Widow's heartbeat with the above paragraph in mind. Maybe he's not hearing her heartbeat, but listening for it. His senses are hyper-sensitive, so he gets to experience things about the sexual being's own mind doesn't even perceive. Jump forward to the next page and that black/red divide down the middle of the top panel is Daredevil's own view of this woman vocalizing. Maybe the "rainbow orgasm" on the next page isn't just Black Widow, but a representation of Daredevil's tongue as it both tastes and feels what's going on inside of her.
Meanwhile, Catwoman just wants to fuck Batman.
Nick: There's also the whole "sex as a weapon" thing that Catwoman is tied into, where far too often her character isn't shown to enjoy the act so much as she enjoys what she can get with it. For quite some time, that's been treated as a handy element of her history for writers who want an excuse to make her less than clothed as frequently as possible, subbing out the subtle, sultry naughtiness the character started out with in favor of a more direct approach. Black Widow, as far as I can recall, has never been retconned as a former sex worker so her style has remained relatively innuendo-based and so a comic like this one, where the subtlety is removed, has a deeper impact but not just because we're getting some frank panels. If anything, what makes it stand out is her confident enjoyment of what's going on.
How sad is it that a character enjoying sex isn't just something to be celebrated, but something that also comes with a huge disclaimer of uniqueness? You never get the sense that Black Widow is fucking Daredevil because she needs to get some microfilm off of him, or distract him while she completes a heist, or any of those scenarios you so often run into with someone like Catwoman or Bond women. Instead, it feels like we're getting a rare glimpse at two people who represent the pinnacle of human physical prowess doing what comes naturally to them in a thrilling setting. It's as though we were dropped into a webcam show in a room in the athletes' village at the Olympics except, you know, with more radar love than usual.
The comic notably even ends with an orgasmic astral projection, as ol' DD wonders when Black Widow might come down from her afterglow. It's kind of sweet, an acknowledgement of the happiness the act brings to two people whose lives are normally mostly fucked up. We, the comics community, get worked up over sex all the fucking time, but usually it's because it's presented in an ugly fashion in mainstream work (and even in not-so-mainstream work), or because we're instigating knee jerk defenses when people call out our enjoyment of adolescent boner art. Having to defend things like Power Girl's boob window or Psylocke's wedgie suits or Wonder Woman's lack of pants is exhausting and depressing, but we put all that right out in the open, on grocery store racks and in reddit imgur threads, while something like Daredevil 12" probably won't even get discussed anywhere but here, let alone gleefully shared with friends and that's painful.
I decided to test that myself the other night when I had a bunch of friends over for something completely unrelated-- I think it was a standard night of watching insane videos and playing bizarre board games. Anyway, I brought up this series that we were starting and how this was going to be the first entry. After the initial awkwardness of me telling everyone I was in the process of writing about a Daredevil sex comic and the silence that followed, I asked if they wanted to see Daredevil 12" for themselves. And you know what? It was a unanimous YES. Not only did everyone want a chance to look through the pages for themselves, they got into it and were surprised at how well it stood up as an actual work of art rather than just some porn panels. And I think that says more than anything I could write.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, where he reigns as the co-managing editor, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter ego at Fitness and Pontypool.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions) and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his Tumblr. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, recently ended, so now you can read it in its entirety.