The Man Without Fear Book 1 by Brian Michael Bendis

This may be my second Daredevil book of this month but it's exactly the tone of narrative and kinds of storyline that strongly appeal to me. Writer Brian Michael Bendis and I have an enjoyable relationship so far in comics. I often do get invested in his X-Men titles particularly the first twenty-nine issues of All-New X-Men and his entire The Uncanny X-Men run, as well as that groundbreaking piece House of M. I only read Frank Miller's work before this one so I don't have anything else to compare it to, but I can say that this first book of Bendis' run for Daredevil has astonishing potentials, rife with insightful characterization, believable dialogue and very atmospheric plots which are only enhanced by the four artists who gave life to each scene, all with their distinct visual styles.

Hailed to be "one of the greatest creative tenures in Marvel history" by IGN, Bendis' Daredevil: The Man Without Fear truly lived to that praise with its first volume comprised of issues #16-19 and #20-40. The first story arc was illustrated by David Mack whose artwork was really aesthetically elegant that I took a while looking through the pages as I read the narrative. It wasn't even a Daredevil story per se, but rather a Ben Urich-centric piece. As a dutiful and noble journalist, Urich begins to investigate a case which centers an abused and traumatized child whose father was a costumed crook known as Leap Frog. The exploration of Urich's psyche and heartfelt insights were highlighted by artist Mack's expressive illustrations which also depict the many layers of the grimy and tortured world of Hell's Kitchen and its maltreated youth through the ironic use of beautiful watercolors. 

This four-issued arc is exquisite in its stylish execution, and particularly stirring for its intimate portrayal of how crime and death affects an innocent soul. Thankfully, the boy in question, Timmy, wasn't corrupted even after that stunning revelation that unraveled the mystery of his father's death. Daredevil did appear right in the end to comfort the poor boy which was a great character moment for him, lending his vigilante persona the humanity it is often deprived of.

Here are the pages that really spoke to me. Look at how gorgeous they are!

The next story arc is a major one that happened to have a twofold development; one is a gritty crime drama concerning mobsters and the law while the other is the repercussions dealing with the exposure of Daredevil's real identity as the visually-impaired yet brilliant lawyer Matt Murdock. I expressed before in my previous Daredevil review that I was a fan of Netflix's characterization of Wilson Fisk, otherwise known as Kingpin, and although he made an appearance for this volume, he was sadly cast aside (murdered Caesar-style, even) by a gangster named Sammy Silke who fancied himself as Brutus or some ego-trip shit like that. Anyway, he's irrelevant as a character I can sympathize with, and aside from his role in Kingpin's demise, he also became privy with a secret concerning Daredevil's alter ego. When Fisk's widow Vanessa took it upon herself to avenge Kingpin, Silke got desperate enough to reach for the help of the FBI by offering them the information about Matt Murdock.

What follows is a torturous process that made Matt question his life as a superhero and his calling for social justice. He gets into an exhausting argument with his long-time partner and best friend Foggy Nelson who tries to convince him to retire from being the Daredevil and just commit to their work as lawyers, as well as surprise visits from his ex-girlfriends Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) and Elektra which didn't really help him and their appearances only served as a painful reminder of his past failures. Now as much as Foggy disapproves of Matt's other life, he remains steadfast and dedicate to him as a fellow lawyer, citing that Matt is already a hero in his daily life as a litigator and so there really is no need for him to be the Daredevil in order to make a difference. He makes accurate observations that most of the losses and suffering Matt had undergone are also connected to his secret life and if he truly wants to move forward and be happy, he needs to give up that part of him that keeps him tethered to darkness and death.
Now hounded by the media, Matt almost loses his shit over the scandal and lies that are beginning to pollute his personal life. Even though he has supporters from other costumed heroes and civilians (Ben Urich for one, and Peter Parker/Spider-man), Matt feels lost and misunderstood, especially with all his critics forming very harsh opinions about the cause he is fighting for and what he's supposed to represent for the city he lives, fights and would die for. One of the most memorable sequential art featured in this arc was that sequence drawn by artist Alex Maleev where Matt as Daredevil runs on top of the rooftops, angst-ing away, while key moments of conversations in his past pops up on the sides, serving as memory bubbles. One that struck me particularly was those that feature his late girlfriend Karen whose death he still blames himself for. Matt has clear unresolved issues and later on, he gets so upset that he almost exposes himself as Matt without his mask to a crowd of journalists. Luckily, Spider-man gets him out of there and snaps him out of his momentary lapse of stupidity. 

It was revealed eventually that a disgruntled employee of the FBI was the one who leaked the truth about Daredevil to several media outlet for some easy cash. I thought this was a great plot point because there was no grand conspiracy trying to bring Matt Murdock down from the shadows--rather, it was a desperate action committed by a man who opted to sell him out because of reasons of self-preservation as oppose to malice. Still, the damage is done and Matt had no choice but to put his reputation on the line by suing a media newsprint for libel. The lawsuit would have been quiet handled with an understanding between Matt and the head of the company but said head was so annoyed by how smug Matt was to think he is above the law, and for calling him and his newspaper liars. Basically, his journalistic integrity was wounded and he wanted to punish Matt for it. So the newspaper in question, The Daily Globe, maintains that what they reported was the truth, and Matt is just going to have to adjust to the reality that his private life has now been made public.

The last arc for this volume was a pretty disheartening one, actually. It had something to do with the costumed hero White Tiger being put into trial for murder and theft because of a misunderstanding, a situation which was all kinds of stupid and leaning on the side of racial profiling, mind you. I was angered by how the story was resolved too, not because it was terribly written, oh no, but because of the powerful message it settled for. Bendis decided to give us an ending that provoked some righteous indignation from the readers because what happened to White Tiger was depressing and unfair and even Matt himself was powerless to stop it. Some good did come out of the dreary circumstances because the real culprit did step forward in the end, though, so that's enough consolation, I guess. 

In any case, this volume just made me so excited for the next installment! A rather brilliant, gritty and exciting exploration of the politics and repercussions of a life dedicated to crime and justice, Brian Michael Bendis' Daredevil: The Man Without Fear has proven itself to be an already a refreshing take on Matt Murdock as its titular figure with this tantalizing freshman volume. 



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