Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

17 June 2009

Daredevil, v. 5 (hardcover)

Collects: Daredevil v. 2 #66-75 (2004-5)

Released: June 2006 (Marvel)

Format: 256 pages / color / $29.99 / ISBN: 9780785121107 (hardcover)

What is this?: A hardback that collects two Daredevil arcs: “Golden Age,” which features the return of the old Kingpin, and “Decalogue,” in which a bunch of New Yorkers talk about how Daredevil and supervillains entwined their lives.

The culprits: Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev

I started buying collected editions of books just as the third Daredevil hardcover came out. Armed with money to start building a TPB collection, I jumped all over those three and the fourth when it came out the next year. It was good stuff, too: Kevin Smith, Joe Quesada, and David Mack in the first volume, followed by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev’s long run in the following volumes.

Bendis turned Daredevil’s life upside down by outing him to the press while making sure nothing could ever be proven. Bendis used this to take Daredevil’s life down predictable and unpredictable paths. It was fun, but by the end of the fourth volume, I was beginning to wonder how long Bendis could continue to dance between the raindrops. Not long, I figured, and that, along with the high price of the hardcovers (even with a discount, it would take up half my monthly budget) kept me from v. 5. But after a few years, you can sometimes find things cheaper …

Daredevil, v. 5 hardcoverSo you have Daredevil, v. 5 (hardcover), which contains two storylines: “Golden Age” and “Decalogue.” There is a vast difference in quality between them, but they both feature the same chatty, “naturalistic” Bendis style of dialogue and pacing. Some people love it, and some hate it; you know which category you fit into.

“Golden Age” inserts a previous kingpin into Marvel continuity, Alexander Bont. Preceding Wilson Fisk,31Bont was ousted by the FBI and Daredevil at the beginning of the Silver Age. He used Gladiator, a costumed criminal who later went straight, as his failed instrument of revenge. Now, an old man, he’s released from prison, but now he knows exactly who to blame: Matt Murdock.32 Blackmailing the reformed Gladiator and using MGH, he seeks his revenge: blood and humiliation.

It’s an interesting story; I have to give Bendis that. The story shifts from the ‘40s to the ‘60s (Golden Age to Silver Age) to the present. But although the time shifts allow Maleev to show off, I’m not sure what they add. Bont gained criminal prestige in the ‘40s by having (a little) audacity and pulling the trigger of a gun; he was a licentious old man in the ‘60s. These are not exactly revelations. These scenes feel like padding for what should be a two-issue story.

Not helping things is Angela del Toro, the FBI agent assigned to the Daredevil case. She’s inherited the Jade Tiger amulets that allowed her uncle to be the White Tiger. She comes to Matt in a horrible conflict of interest to ask what makes someone become a hero. Matt responds in the jerkiest way possible — he’s even a bigger jerk than if he told her to buzz off. The subplot seems tacked on as a trailer for the White Tiger miniseries, especially since nothing is mentioned of Agent del Toro in the next storyline, “Decalogue.”

But we can be happy for Ms. del Toro, because “Decalogue” is a talky mess. The only thing worse than a bunch of Catholics33 sitting in a church basement yakking about Daredevil is each of them telling the story about how a demon baby touched their lives. Did you know Daredevil functions better without supernatural elements?34 Sure you did. But Bendis didn’t. Still, he takes five issues to tell this story, although admittedly he doesn’t introduce the demon baby until the third. The preceding two issues are a “touched by a Daredevil” special episode and a criminal tale. One might make a change of pace between storylines; two, during a storyline, tries the patience. Overall, “Decalogue” is confusing and dull. And set in a church basement, where confusion and dullness spend their summers.

And that’s not even taking into account that Matt all but admits he’s Daredevil to a basement full of strangers. He claims he never said he was, but he ventures far past the point of plausible deniability. That clinches a crap rating for “Decalogue.”

Thank God for Maleev. His work is well fitted to the character, and I think he goes into the conversation of best Daredevil artists of all time, along with Frank Miller and Gene Colan.35 I don’t think he’d win, but he’s still excellent. In this collection, he gets to pitch his art as black-and-white Golden Age stuff (disclaimer: his art looks like nothing from the Golden Age) and as pantoned Silver Age material (it does look like some of the Silver Age). His work reminds me of series of stills, even at it’s most kinetic; that’s not a complaint, just an observation on stylistic choice. There are, however, many double-paged spreads that are just talking heads; it’s unnecessary and confusing, but given the prevalence of the practice in Powers, I can blame that on Bendis too. My only real complaint about the art, other than some odd color choices in “Decalogue,” is the lack of blood in a suicide scene; a character is supposed to have slit her wrists and gouged out her eyes, yet it’s impossible to see the character, in a wide shot, has anything wrong with her (the head is averted). Could be a coloring problem, but there doesn’t look like there’s anything in the pencils to indicate a large, seeping crimson pool.

This is a frustrating book. It goes steadily downhill, from a promising beginning to an ending that nosedives into the dungheap. Without Maleev as a saving grace, this book would hardly be worth picking up, even if you were picking it up to throw into the recycling bin.

Rating: Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (1.5 of 5)

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