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Picks of comic book week: A blind super hero's buff

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Daredevil #2

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Book of the week: Daredevil #2

Is this the second "number two" issue of Mark Waid's "Daredevil" within less than three years? Marvel's madcap relaunch strategy is doing its' work, attempting to spike sales in the short term for what has become an Eisner winning run of "the man without fear" produced by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and colorist Javier Rodriguez. The bigger question is whether this effort to bring in more readers for what is a critically acclaimed run will succeed, especially at a higher cover price per issue than before. Sales during this run of "Daredevil" had fallen to roughly 31k an issue, which is above cancellation range but perhaps not what Marvel Comics sought to settle on considering the character is set to appear on a Netflix TV show soon. To their credit, Waid and Samnee have capitalized on the renumbering of the series to shift the setting for their hero as well as fiddle with the supporting cast a bit.

As detailed in the last issue, Matt Murdock has fled from New York City after revealing his identity to thwart the entrenched plots of the "Sons of the Serpent", a feat which saved the city but cost him his ability to practice law. Having previously lived in San Francisco during Gerry Conway's run on the title in the 1970's, Murdock and his new legal assistant Kirsten McDuffie decided to set up shop on the west coast. Since San Francisco is a different town than New York City, and also because they lack as many superheroes as the overly cluttered Manhattan, Murdock quickly becomes indispensable to deputy mayor Charlotte Hastert, who assigns him cases to "consult" on. "Foggy" Nelson is believed to have died from cancer, but enough was shown last month to suggest this is simply cover, likely to protect him as he recovers without Murdock to defend him. Having established this status quo in the previous issue, this one starts up the first real arc of this era.

The issue does a quick but efficient task of introducing the central character for this, the Shroud. Created by Steve Englehart and Herb Trimpe in 1976's "Super-Villain Team-Up #5", he was always envisioned as a loose homage to both the pulp hero "the Shadow" as well as DC Comics' "Batman". For much of his history, he was simply yet another caped vigilante who operated in the shadows, with the gimmick that he could control them. However, during some 1980's runs of "West Coast Avengers" and "Captain America", he posed as a costumed criminal in order to better infiltrate the underworld - even to the point where he led his own team of criminals, the "Night Shift". This was a far more interesting angle for both him and the other heroes around him, although it didn't last nearly as long as his tenure as yet another forgettable vigilante. Waid introduces him as a clearly unhinged figure who envisions himself as a very important superhero, but in reality has cracked under the strain and now is something else entirely.

Naturally, Shroud (or Max Q. Coleridge) exists as a countering force to who Daredevil has become now. Not only is he a blind person with super powers and training to compensate for it, he also is someone who is tormented by demons and a zeal to battle evil. The difference, it seems, is that after yet another bounce upon "rock bottom", Murdock chose to make more effort to remain in the light, while the Shroud hasn't. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is while Daredevil was both blinded and empowered by accident, the Shroud chose to do such things to himself in his drive for vengeance. Visually, Samnee has a ball depicting Shroud's powers in action as as well as visualizing a good reference to "The Princess Bride", as well as capturing the atmosphere of Shroud's powers.

Once more it seems that Waid is more willing to have Daredevil fight other established characters to make up for the lack of a deep rogues' gallery rather than attempting to fill that gallery himself. On the other hand, the Shroud hasn't done much for years, and Waid always has a knack of picking antagonists which push his hero to the limit in the narrative along with bringing out the best in Samnee and Rodriguez's art. Regardless of the cover price or issue number, this run on "Daredevil" has produced consistent must-read comic books month in and month out for almost three years now, and this issue continues this proud tradition.

Honorable mentions:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #33: Previous regular artist Mateus Santolouco is back for this revamped incarnation's version of the "Return to New York" plot which was originally published by Mirage Studios in 1989. Having licked their wounds from their last battle against Shredder and his Foot Clan by heading to April's parents' property in Northampton, the Turtles and their allies have decided that they can't hide from their enemies anymore and are now seeking to take the offensive. Although the Turtles themselves get in some action and some scenes of foreboding between Donatello and April, most of the issue focuses on Casey Jones' family and ties. Casey was mortally wounded being bait in the Shredder's last plot against the Turtles, and his father utilized mutagen to bulk up into the new leader of the "Purple Dragons" gang, Hun (a villain originally created for the 2003 era cartoon). Now, the Shredder has offered Hun a last chance to save his son by convincing him to join their cartel, but that's something which may be easier said than done. Readers also get to see more of Angel, her bar owning father Brooklyn as well as some figures from last year's annual. Tom Waltz, co-creator Kevin Eastman and editor Bobby Curnow continue to craft scripts which make the most out of every character's scenes and especially establish a lot of depth to their villains. Hun is an abusive mass of muscle, but he does have a desire to make up with his son even if he hasn't a clue as to how. Even the Shredder, who is incredibly ruthless and manipulative, isn't beyond things such as reason or even loyalty, for instance. This naturally brings out the best in the heroes as they're not just facing "black hats", they're facing villains more complicated and thus dangerous than their cartoon roots might suggest. It is because of this, in addition to work from good artists such as Santolouco and colorist Ronda Pattison, that IDW's era of TMNT continues to be essential reading for fans of the "heroes in a half shell" both new and old.

Original Sin #0: The summer has official begun when Marvel Comics releases a prelude issue to their next crossover series. Naturally, that means it is produced by a creative team which in no way will handle the rest of the series, who may end up being superior. To this end we have Mark Waid uniting with artists Jim Cheung and Paco Medina with colorist Justin Ponsor and at least five inkers to produce a simple yet enjoyable tale featuring Nova and the Watcher. The latest Nova is Sam Washington, an average kid from a not so average family whose slacker father turned out to be involved in space drama before going missing. After a battle with a giant robot and some words with the Avengers, Nova rockets to the moon for a revealing meeting with the Watcher that seems to lay both their souls bare. The theme of the event are the revelation of secrets, and this issue points out quite a big one involving not only why the Watchers do what they do, but Uatu's lonely search for vindication. The art is incredible while Waid, as always, captures the voices of his characters in a near flawless manner. Considering the actual series will be written by Jason Aaron, whose work has been more hit ("Ghost Rider") or miss ("Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine"), this issue may turn out to have been the best of the entire series. Regardless, this was a successful prelude and the best possible foot that "Original Sin" could put forward.

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