Monday, January 11, 2016

DAREDEVIL: The Man Without Fear by Frank Miller


My only connection to the Marvelverse comics for the longest time was with their X-Men. It was only recently--thanks to the movies--that I began to enjoy what other Marvel heroes could offer I go insane for Captain America LIKE YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE. Now, like most people in the early 2000's, I barely remember the film adaptation of Daredevil starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Gardner but everyone agrees it sucked major balls. All I can remember is that I did like its soundtrack sung by The Calling--and that was it. Years later, I binge-watched the Netflix adaptation for three days every morning before I went to work--and I was absolutely enthralled! 

I knew I had to experience Daredevil in his original medium so I ventured on to look for the most recommended comic books from his line-up. I came across three that I will be reading for this year and I start with a Frank Miller work for January because this was was a collaboration between writer Frank Miller and artist John Romita Jr. I knew Miller from his work for The Dark Knight Returns, and I have fond memories of that particular Batman work. In line with that, my first impressions of the tonality and storyline of The Man Without Fear is that I think the fact that it was Miller who wrote this that it was unavoidable for me to make a little Batman connection. Though, admittedly, it probably only clicked for me like that by the last two issues. But then again, every brooding vigilante who is too committed to his ideals that he has no social life whatsover is immediately drawn parallels with to Batman (the CW's Oliver Queen is essentially very Batman-esque, and I ate it up to the point I no longer felt guilty demanding more servings of it). But Matt Murdock to me stood out on his own while reading this, mostly because I thought Charlie Cox was so amazing in the role and I already like him enough there so he was the one I'm imagining while reading Miller's version.

And that is where some disparities lie. If you're like me and you watched the Netflix series first, and then you picked this up, you will notice that there are some liberties that the series creator and staff took to, I suppose, 'soften up' their version in the show. Matt Murdock in Miller's story is far more brutal and often impulsive and reckless. In the show, his Catholic upbringing was more emphasized which for me was what made him so relatable and human because we get to see him in copious amounts of time talking to a priest or to that nurse as he feels guilty for his transgressions such as violence and killing, no matter how self-righteous they might be. He is apologetic but still pretty adamant that he must kill or punish criminals, and that is what makes his characterization so complex because inherently he knows he is losing a part of his soul that has a relationship to his God. But he feels it is a necessary loss--yet it still terrifies him so he goes to confessionals and tries to find a middle ground. I'm an agnostic who used to be a very devout Catholic myself so the show's characterization of Matt in that aspect really translates to me because it's intriguing to see him struggle with the religious upbringing still ingrained in him, while finding a cathartic release in hunting down and beating up thugs and truly abhorrent evildoers.

Meanwhile, in Miller's work--he's kind of a dick and this was only emphasized in his relationships with his supposed-to-be significant others. I can't say I didn't like him but I was perturbed by how callous he can come off most of the time. He was damn angry and even the death of his father didn't feel personal and sad; but more of only something to further drive him into taking up vigilantism to work out his severe rage issues. His relationship with his mentor Stick is also very impersonal so their falling-out wasn't so interesting because I was hardly invested in it as a relationship that shaped Matt into more than just being some fighter. His best friend, college roommate and fellow lawyer, Foggy, is present here but unlike in the show where their friendship and disagreements are integral to Matt's conflict and eventual development, Foggy here feels like he was only shoehorned in. His only memorable and intimate relationship is with the crazy Elektra who is just as messed up as he is so it's not a mystery they collided and eventually repelled. I found their violent courtship tango very amusing and sexy to watch unfold, but it was hollow and contributed nothing to Matt's growth except have him experience passion and heartbreak for the first time.

Before I discuss some other pertinent concerns I have about Miller's story, I just want to show you one of the panels in the last issue where we finally get to see Matt attacking one of the illegal child slavery operations of Kingpin, and his costuming here (as well as the action sequences) was the one we see adapted in the pilot of the series so it was a thrill for me to see this:



It's funny to be raising these concerns now because back while I was reading the five issues, and even after a few hours when I finished the entire story--I was very much into everything. But after letting some days pass before writing this official review, I realized that I much prefer what I watched in Netflix. It's weird for me to admit that because I do have some purist streak in me when it comes to comic book adaptations but I think this only goes to show that as much as Miller had all these great concepts which the show creators have borrowed from (I think The Man Without Fear is what the Netflix show is one of the major stories it was loosely based from ), these same concepts were improved upon in the other medium where the viewing audience I believe had a better experience with Matt Murdock than readers of this comic book. I think another point of concern for me was Miller's characterization of Wilson Fisk, the villain known as Kingpin, who is hands-down a favorite of mine in the show because his backstory and character-centric episode Shadows in the Glass have moved me deeply. In The Man Without Fear, however, the Kingpin serves no purpose but to play the bad guy who has no other dimension beyond than that, and who only appeared by the time the story wrapped up.

I think I can recommend Frank Miller's The Man Without Fear for someone who can't use the Netflix show as a comparison because I will say here that it was a more superior story than what I read here. It just was. Matt Murdock in Miller's story is so damn disagreeable and so consumed by his ego and anger management issues that I can't really sympathize for him because ultimately I wasn't able to get to know him beyond the premise of a chemically-blinded child whose boxer of a father was murdered by criminals, and then he was trained by another visually-impaired martial arts expert who seemed to be preparing him for some shady showdown in the future. Miller's prose is delicate and expressive in a lot of areas particularly when exploring Matt's psyche but as much as the language and style hooked me in, I was dissatisfied by how he characterized Matt Murdock who is really insensitive and excessively violent and cold sometimes. His relationships are not even secondary--they're kind of non-existent. The only deep connection he made was with a woman who was too unstable and fickle to even stick around until the end of the story itself. Anyway, here is how this comic book ended:



RECOMMENDED: 8/10

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