Friday, February 10, 2023

My favorite run of Daredevil

Frank Miller defined Daredevil. . .

. . . and with Mazzucchelli broke him down and redefined him. 

Kevin Smith revived him. 

Mark Waid, arguably, did the same. 

Seminal runs, all. 

That stated, my favorite run on Daredevil was by Ann Nocenti, John Romita, Jr., and Al Williamson: issues 250-282. There's a fair bit of nostalgia attached to that run -- this was early in my time as a comic reader/collector and shortly after the point where I started buying Daredevil regularly -- but, for me, this run stands the test of time and is a collection of comics that I can return to and enjoy, without fail. I love this run! 

But what is it about this run that stands out for me? (Especially, as I learned on a recent episode of CGS, when there is an apparent backlash against it from DD fans). 


First and foremost, the art from JRJr & Williamson really stands out in this run of comics. I am a fan of Romita Jr. -- especially when he's drawing Spider-Man . . . or ol' Hornhead -- and his dynamism is on full display in these comics. Williamson, a classic comic artist in his own right, adds another dimension to Romita Jr.'s art. Williamson's slick linework softens the characters, while also adding more depth to the imagery through his use of blacks. It's a matter of two artists I love collaborating to craft artwork that is beyond what either have done on their own. There's a litheness to the figure of Daredevil that comes from Williamson's inks, while still retaining the physicality epitomized by Romita Jr.'s pencils. 

This art team also innovates: delineating new characters like Number Nine, Bullet, Blackheart, and most notably, Typhoid Mary, while also crafting a Mephisto the likes of which had never seen, before or since. The excess bulk of Mephisto, as drawn by Romita Jr. & Williamson, with a face unrecognizable to what readers were accustomed, and stringy hair(?) cascading from his head and arms, is overwhelming and otherworldly, befitting the demon lord of Hell in the Marvel universe. The grotesqueness of this iteration of Mephisto adds to the unsettled feeling we, as readers, should experience whenever this character enters a story. It's inspired and ugly and wonderful, all at once. 

Equally important to me in this run is the writing of Ann Nocenti. Nocenti followed the classic (and my all-time favorite superhero story) "Born Again," by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli. She smartly opted to take the character in a different direction, getting back to DD's superheroic roots, rather than trying to play in the noir setting that Miller, with the likes of Klaus Janson & Mazzucchelli, so artfully exploited. It was a wise decision on Nocenti's part, which does not mean it's all spandex, purple-and-green clad villains, and biff, bam, pow! Nocenti is anything but a safe, traditional comic creator. 

Nocenti brings a quirky sensibility to everything she writes, and being someone who entered comics from outside the field, she was not hampered by a decades-long reverence to these heroes, like many of the fans turned creators have. Nocenti infused her run on Daredevil with social commentary, tackling gun violence and sexism, while also creating characters like Blackheart and Typhoid Mary. She utilized the Inhumans -- lesser-known ones, Gorgon and Karnak -- as companions for Daredevil, as she took him out of New York, putting even more distance between her run and previous iterations of the character. There are some wonderful stories during DD's road trip, and in the end he finds he must confront Mephisto in the demon's realm, as the lord of Hell and his lackey, Blackheart, have been harassing and haranguing Daredevil throughout much of this run. Daredevil descends to Hell and battles hordes of demons, trying to keep alit the torch he has carried through the snows unleashed by Mephisto. DD laments what his life is, "endless fighting," and wonders if he can change. He asks himself: "What if I just stopped? If I just stopped fighting. If you stop fighting, isn't the fight over?" This sequence emblazoned this Daredevil run on my heart as a favorite, and it has only risen, in my estimation, through the years. 

Oh, and he also gets a helping hand from the Silver Surfer, with Nocenti doing her best Matt Fraction captions years before Fraction was lauded for his quick, sharp descriptive phrases. Just glorious!

This run was unconventional, even while returning DD to his roots as a superhero, with engaging characters, influences from outside of comics, and lovely art that hit me at just the right time in my comic-reading life. And it is a run that I have enjoyed many times since. It's the quirkiness -- grounded in good writing and good character work, along with character defining art from Romita Jr. & Williamson -- that appeals to me most about this collection of issues. 

They're fantastic!
Or amazing!
Or, possibly, uncanny!
Regardless, I think they're great. 


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