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Friday Slugfest: Daredevil Black & White

Posted: Friday, August 6, 2010
By: Thom Young

Various
Various
Marvel Comics
This stand-alone issue publishes three Daredevil stories in black and white. Peter Milligan and Jason Latour present what might happen if Matt Murdock’s sight was restored, and how it would affect his crime fighting abilities. Rick Spears and Mick Bertilorenzi present the Kingpin explaining his elaborate-yet-effective plan to manipulate Murdock’s two lives to serve his goals. Finally,Ann Nocenti writes a text story with illustrations by David Aja about Daredevil solving a girl’s murder from his distinctive point of view.

Michael Deeley:
Robert Tacopina:
Shawn Hill:




Michael Deeley:

I was on the fence about whether to give this comic book three-and-a-half or four bullets. Daredevil fans would certainly enjoy this issue more than other people. On the downside, Peter Milligan’s story is a little weak. However, I concluded that the stories by Rick Spears and Ann Nocenti were good enough to recommend the issue to readers who are new to Daredevil.

In the first story, Milligan uses a plot device I haven’t seen in a Daredevil comic since Stan Lee and Wally Wood’s 1965 story “That He May See” in Daredevil #9 (first series)--Matt regaining his vision at the expense of his other powers. I’m surprised it hasn’t come up more often.

The premise can be taken in a couple of different directions. In Daredevil #9, the only doctor who could perform the surgery dies, thus sparing Matt from making the tough decision of whether to opt for his sight at the expense of his other abilities. In Milligan’s story, Murdock wrestles with the choice in the form of a dream. Yes, it’s another one of those, “It was all a dream!” cop-outs. Still, it presents a likely series of events.

Matt revels in his restored sight. However, after fighting in darkness for so long, his ability to see distracts him in battle, which ultimately leads to the accidental death of an innocent woman. The dream convinces Matt not to get the surgery and risk compromising his fighting skills. Heroic self-sacrifice or cowardice?

Latour’s art straddles the line between comic book realism and cartooning. It has the look of an experienced indy comics artist, which is exactly what Latour is. Check out his Web page and Deviant Art gallery at http://jasonlatour.livejournal.com/ for great pics of Iron Fist and an angry, drunk Iron Man). After seeing his efforts here, I’m willing to track down more of Latour’s comic work.

I did enjoy Milligan and Latour’s hidden references to old DD continuity. The museum janitor looks like Stick, Matt’s sensei. There’s a panel from Bill Sienkiewicz’s Elektra mini-series, and a few villains from Ann Nocenti’s run on the series--Ammo, Typhoid Mary, and a Wildboy--make cameos. Additionally, names of previous Daredevil writers and artists are scattered throughout the story. These Easter eggs make me think the story, if not the entire comic, was created specifically for longtime fans like me.

“Secrets and Lies,” the Kingpin story by Spears and Mick Bertilorenzi, is my pick for the best of the issue. It effectively demonstrates Wilson Fisk’s cold, calculating evil as the Kingpin. He arranges for the deaths of several innocent people, destroys the life of a reporter, and even uses Murdock as both lawyer and crime fighter to achieve his ultimate goal--increased circulation for a newspaper so he can continue using its trucks to smuggle illegal goods.

Fisk’s plan is just complex enough to be brilliant, yet simple enough to succeed--and it depends on Fisk’s understanding of people’s behavior, which is what makes the Kingpin such a dangerous and successful villain. His understanding of people’s emotions and motivations enables him to manipulate them for his own ends. This understanding, combined with an almost complete disregard for human life, has ensured his place among comicdoom’s greatest villains.

Bertilorenzi's art here is fantastic! Not only is the figure work nearly perfect, but the inking also emphasizes the mood. The panel of Fisk before he kills a man conveys the monster behind the mask of humanity. It is the most memorable image from the comic, and one of the most disturbing I've ever seen.

Finally, Ann Nocenti's text story captures the sadness and futility of murder. She wrote a comic book story about a blind man without using pictures to convey the protagonist’s visionless world. David Aja provides a few spot illustrations, but they don't show any of the action. The concept is so simple and obvious, I can't believe it's never been done before.

We follow Daredevil through his senses as the action is described in terms of sound, smell, and feelings. The fight between DD and the killer is a nearly random series of sensations that still conveys the feelings of the fight without Nocenti describing it or Aja presenting it visually.

The story reminded me of how good Nocenti's run was on Daredevil. She had a habit of using the series as a soapbox, but her writing was more mature and complex than is found in most superhero comics. In fact, I'd say Nocenti didn't write Daredevil as a superhero book. She wrote it as either a personal drama, a crime story, or a spiritual journey, but not as a standard superhero book.

Overall, Daredevil: Black & White is a great comic book. We see Daredevil and the Kingpin from the point of views of creators who don't spend all their time writing and drawing superhero comics. It provides fresh views and new ideas of these well-known characters. I hope Marvel continues to publish specials like this for other heroes and indy talents.




Robert Tacopina:

Daredevil: Black & White was quite a pleasant surprise this week. It’s a title that I wasn’t sure I was going to pick up, but I am ever glad I did. Three stories, with each three being equally captivating and engrossing.

This comic book was a rather ballsy call by Marvel for two reasons. First, it is entirely in black & white as the title suggests. Second, the style of these stories are not what you would typically expect to find within the pages of Daredevil--Nocenti’s story particular.

Colorless art in a comic is usually the death knoll for me, but all three artists made the visual portion an attractive element that entirely enhanced each story. There were no cases of the dreaded blurries--where the two fundamental colors mix and cause a blurry gray appearance. Instead, the artwork was crisp and vibrant despite being void of color.

While totally distinct from each other, all three artists used their respective styles to elicit the emotion of the stories they depicted. My only complaint is that David Aja had such a minimal contribution due to the approach Nocenti’s story took.

The writing of all three stories was very impressive, and the strong suit of the book. Each writer delivered a wonderful chapter that was unique but somehow managed to tie be linked by an underlying theme. The characterizations were spot on, ranging from Matt’s take on regaining his sight to the unwavering violence of the Kingpin. The boldest display however belongs to the incomparable Ann Nocenti, who decided to tell her tale as a text piece, which I found to be the biggest surprise of the issue; somehow she managed to pull it off and serve up what was quite possibly the strongest of the three chapters.

I was totally pleased with Daredevil: Black & White; it was easily one of my favorites of the week. The format was a gamble (as was Nocenti’s approach), but I think it was pulled off in remarkable fashion. Again, my only gripe would be that Aja wasn’t a prominent factor, because he happens to be one of my favorite artists.




Shawn Hill

Of course, every reader wants to enjoy the stories he reads, but I really wanted to enjoy Daredevil: Black & White more than I did. I respect the creators involved, and if anyone is suited for the black and white, noir-lite treatment, it is Marvel's answer to Batman: Daredevil.

In fact, the art is the best thing about the book. Jason Latour does very credible work on the first story (lots of nice old-school Zipatone effects) and nice supporting character work. The second story finds Mick Bertilorenzi taking a more hard-edged approach, which leads to somewhat stiff figures (a drawback considering the acrobatics in a typical Daredevil story), but he provides nice mirrored and reflective effects as the Kingpin ponders the world he's made for himself.

David Aja is really the star, however. He turned in an amazing cover that works in both of its forms--somewhat augmented with red on the actual cover, and reprinted in black and white on the inside (which is my preferred version). Aja was apparently inspired by David Mazzucchelli's classic work. His illustrations for Ann Nocenti's short story inside are also effective, but I'm not looking for illustrated text pieces when I read a comic; sorry.

What hurts this issue is the clichéd nature of the plots. Milligan's reasoning for Daredevil's choices in this tale (where a doctor offers a certain red-headed lawyer a surgical solution to his predicament) is obvious and telegraphed, we even get a "you have to act now or it will be too late" formulaic bit of artificial tension.

I appreciate the nuanced attempts to populate Hell's Kitchen with colorful denizens, but the victims in this story unfortunately verge on racist stereotypes--and the denouement is hardly a revelation.

Similarly, the Kingpin tale has a lot of mood and tells a believable story, but the foregone conclusion is a moribund genre convention, and the characters deserve better.

There's no feel of anything epic here, just grim and gritty in a context where Matt looks more like another doomed victim than a hero. It's too existential for me. Almost nobody is saved, making the issue an unrelenting and uninspired downer.



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