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

19 March 2010

Daredevil: Lone Stranger

Collects: Daredevil #265-273 (1989)

Released: February 2010 (Marvel)

Format: 216 pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 9780785144526

What is this?: Reeling from Inferno and Typhoid Mary’s manipulations, Daredevil wanders, exploring his heroic motivations.

The culprits: Writer Ann Nocenti and penciler John Romita Jr.

Sorry this wasn’t up earlier — taxes must be done at some point. It’s the law, after all. So in that spirit, today I’m looking at Daredevil: Lone Stranger, which stars the only lawyer comics readers like.38 Fortunately, it’s a little more interesting than preparing taxes.

Daredevil: Lone Stranger coverOn the other hand, there’s nothing in here like the rush of seeing your refund grow (or what you owe go down). It starts out with Inferno and deals with literal demons, Mephisto the most prominent. If you are a connoisseur of the weird and outlandish bits of the Marvel Universe, I’ll say this book has a scene with Daredevil kissing Mephisto and be done with it.39 Neither Inferno, in which machines come alive and start eating people in New York because of off-screen demonic activity, nor Mephisto appeal to me, especially in the adventures of such a street-level hero as Daredevil. (Would you have guessed that superdemon and Ghost Rider villain Blackheart made his first appearance in Daredevil #270? I wouldn’t have, and I’m not sure I will even after reading it.) The supernatural villains don’t quite fit with his milieu, especially since Lone Stranger is just coming off the very grounded, very emotionally charged Typhoid Mary storyline.

That Typhoid storyline is relevant; all that emotion has left Daredevil, and now he’s trying to keep from getting involved. He fails, of course, and his denial of his heroic background gives his adventures in this book an aimless feeling. He wanders into towns, sets things right, and then is off again. There’s almost a Western feel to the book, which makes “Lone Stranger” appropriate. Still, even though we see signs of Daredevil emerging from his heroic stupor at the end of the book, there’s a listless core to writer Ann Nocenti’s work in this one.

The battle against Pyro and the Blob of Freedom Force in #269, for instance, should be more fun or more dramatic, but because the characters lack any energy, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why doesn’t their teleporter stick around to help them capture the renegade mutant? Why do they fold so quickly? Why don’t they, you know, show some effort? Why don’t they keep looking for the mutant? Why is Pyro English? Daredevil is uninterested in the legal and moral questions of government mutants hunting down other mutants, and both he and Nocenti seem to be marking time (or serving time) in crossovers from more popular franchises (Spider-Man shows up randomly in #270) until something more interesting comes along.

Once Daredevil picks a fight — with a drug dealer and government stooge against his idealist daughter — things pick up. Nocenti’s never the subtlest of writer, and she makes her point in broad strokes, lumping drug running with the military-industrial complex, human experimentation and brainwashing with inhumane factory farming. I don’t agree with all of her politics, but it’s fun to see Daredevil against some truly villainous villains. It gives Daredevil a direction and someone to protect. (My favorite part involves the man who has developed a Stepford-wife laboratory beneath his factory farm; when pigs start breaking their legs on the grates meant to slough away their excrement under their pens, he orders his geneticists to design a pig without legs.) Still, by the time this storyline starts, two-thirds of the book has gone by, and a seemingly unrelated Inhumans subplot from Nocenti's Inhumans graphic novel takes up space in two issues of this storyline.

Daredevil: Lone Stranger coverPencils are provided by John Romita, Jr. I really shouldn’t have to say more, except that he’s between his ‘80s Spider-Man / X-Men Marvel house style and the more angular and distinct ‘90s / 21st century style that made him a top artist. This is a good blend of the two, actually. He uses a lot of the shading and crosshatching that marked his later style while still being able to draw a smoother, cleaner figure (like Spider-Man or Pyro) in the midst of the rest of the art. (I really like his all-curved-line Blob — probably my favorite version of the character, although as you might guess, I haven’t really been keeping track.) His Pyro does look a lot like Daredevil — similar masks, and in a fire it’s hard to tell the difference in their color schemes — and I’ve never for the style of drawing demons that he uses here. But those are minor nitpicks, and the demons are mainly Marvel house style (scaly, spiky plates, limited color palette), anyway.

(As a final note, I’d like to give Marvel credit for finally adding page numbers to their TPBs. Thank you. Now, was that so hard?)

This one is just too slow and flat for me. However, Daredevil kissing Mephisto? That does raise it above the bottom of the barrel. (How did Nocenti ever sneak that past the CCA and Marvel?)

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

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