Hell's Kitchen around midnight, in the grim, crime ridden alley ways, a woman clip clops precariously on high heels, hurrying home, aware from the whispers, and footsteps in the shadows that she's being stalked. A figure looms before her, the flare of a cigarette lighter's flame glinting off the barrel of a gun pointed at her. A gravelly voice from the blackness demands she hand over her purse, and anything else of value, rough laughter at her back telling her that her assailant is not alone. Suddenly, something whistles through the air, a billy club on a wire of some sort, cracking hard into the hand of the armed man, ripping away his weapon and maybe breaking a finger or two in the process. A shadow falls over the scene, stifling any outraged cries from the throat of the criminals. Standing precariously on the roof of a nearby building is... what? A man, dressed in garish red leather, horns on his head, crimson lenses over his eyes. Daredevil!
Since April 1964, Marvel Comics Daredevil has been a mainstay of its ever more populated universe. Grounded firmly in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, the story of criminal lawyer Matt Murdock and the desperate life he lived after being blinded accidentally by toxic wastes as a child. Gifted with a sonic sort of sight, and a practiced agility that gave him the nickname, 'The Man Without Fear," Matt takes to superheroing after the death of his father, "Battlin' Jack Murdock' after the boxer refused to throw a fight at the demands of a mafia gang, and seeks to bring justice to those that slip through the cracks of the law. In the years since his creation by comic legends, Stan Lee, Bill Everett and Jack Kirby, Matt's been a spy, moved to San Francisco, fought such notables as the Owl, and Stiltman, and dated both his ultimately doomed secretary Karen Page and the mysterious, sultry spy known as the Black Widow. But it was not until Frank Miller's run on the title beginning in 1979 that the true Noir-ish tone of the increasingly dark book became cemented.
Bullseye kills Elektra
Miller took Matt back to his roots in Hell's Kitchen, and brought over the menacing and imposing Kingpin, an mobster with as much power as he had girth, who up until this point had been jostling space for in the cramped rogue's gallery of the Amazing Spider-Man, one of Daredevil's most trusted superhuman allies. Up until that point, Daredevil's own menagerie of villainy had been other costumed powers, but with the Kingpin a new element was added, one alluding back to the death of Matt's father-- organized crime. The Kingpin, aka Wilson Fisk, had no powers, but he held together a massive crime ring with just the strength of his will, his intelligence and his ruthlessness. With the intro of the Kingpin, new villains were brought to defeat the grim hero-- Bullseye, a sociopathic assassin who never misses, and Elektra, Daredevil's ninja trained on again/off again tragic love interest. The death of the latter at the hands of the former is one of the most heart-wrenching and iconic moments of the series, defining and shaping Matt's life for years to come.
20th Century Fox's Daredevil starring Ben Affleck
Darker times were head for Daredevil though. Karen's pages heroin addiction lead her to sell the secret of Matt's identity, the Kingpin uses this knowledge to blow up Matt's house, nearly kill his partner and best friend Foggy Nelson, force Matt's disbarment, and driving him to a nervous breakdown. Elektra was resurrected, and then killed again. The book took on a religious tone in story that had Matt protecting a child that was either the Anti-Christ or the Messiah. Karen page dies of AIDS, later to revealed to be a hoax. The psychotic Purple Man casts his hypnotic powers over the pages of the book in the mid to late 90s. Daredevil took on topics like child abuse, sexism, racism, mental illness. The list of writers swelled to include names like Kevin Smith, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, with contributing artists like Joe Quesada, John Romita Jr, David Mack.
In 2003, Daredevil hit the big screen, to mixed reviews, starring Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock, Jennifer Garner as Elektra, Colin Farrell as Bullseye and Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin. Making a box office total of $45,033,454 its opening weekend, Daredevil was the 2nd highest February release at the time, behind only 2001's Hannibal. Garnering a spin off, 2005's Elektra, despite its average or less than average reviews, Daredevil told a version of Matt's rise from an impoverished and tragic childhood to a violent anti-heroic vigilante until he finds faith and love, becoming a true superhero despite the losses and heartache such a character is forced to endure. Though the movie is not considered the critical success of say Spider-Man or Iron Man, its inherent message is the very core of the character's longevity and importance in the Marvel lineup - the ability within to conquer fear and hatred by refusing to let it define us.
Released this week, Daredevil 500 is an enormous book for its $4.99 price. The Return of the King Conclusion by Ed Brubaker, with art by Lark, Gaudiano, Janson, Samnee and Azaceta, concludes the ongoing destruction of Matt's life by the Kingpin, leading him to make a moral decision that will change the face of the book for some time to come. Followed by Dark Reign: The List - Daredevil Preview, by Andy Diggle with Billy Tan's pencils, we get a brief glimpse at how the title will attach to the current events of the Marvel Universe, specifically the reign of Norman Osborn, now running the Avengers. Jacks, a back up vignette by Ann Nocenti, with David Aja on art is little more than a filler, but it's solidly written and deserves the space it gets in this page heavy tome. A reprint of Daredevil #191 showcases what is one of the finest issues in Frank Miller's tenure on the title, and the book is rounded off by a Pinup Gallery and a Cover Gallery, though the latter is almost useless without a magnifying glass, considering that the pictures are nearly postage stamp sized.
So, after 45 years, what is it that brings us back to Daredevil? After all, it is hardly what one would call a feel good book. But maybe that's the key, that's what drives us to root for this man, and to lay our hopes on his horned head. Like so many of Marvel's characters, Matt Murdock suffers in his quest to do right. Handicapped by the loss of his sight at a young age, Matt is forced to decide between a life in certain darkness, or one in pursuit of metaphoric light. Desperate in his need to honor his father's memory by doing what's right even when it's difficult or painful, Daredevil, called the Man Without Fear, sacrifices time and again, belying his nickname by proving that he does fear. Matt Murdock is afraid of the world that will come beneath the corruption that seems hellbent on consuming the world. He's a man who can hear the change in a heartbeat that accompanies a lie, but one who's own heart has been shattered time and time again. He's a man who can see where the evil in the world lies, but who has never seen the faces of the women he's loved. Yet, no matter how hard Matt's life is, no matter the tragedy, the drama, the trauma, he pulls himself back up by his bootstraps, and ventures out into the night to do what needs to be done to save the city he loves, give hope to the innocent, and bring justice to those who deserve it. If he can overcome such a life, how scary is it to pay the taxes, to break up with an abusive spouse, to do what is right when the world seems to push us to do wrong. Daredevil is a lesson in courage, and vision, and in the end, hope for a better world. That's what makes him a hero.