Daredevil – by Mark Waid
Comics are an inherently crippled medium in that they strike on only one of our senses, sight, and they even do this in what is both a flawed and fully conceited manner, by restraining the drawings into two dimensions. Despite this brutal flaw these books are still able to involve us almost completely; inhaling us into their panels where we live with the world’s people for as long as there is another page to turn, just as long as the author allows. If you think about it this is an amazing feat, or at least it is until you read Mark Waid’s re-booting run on Daredevil and witness something truly amazing.
The protagonist of the Daredevil series, Matt Murdock, is not just a leather-clad superhero with ludicrous skills but also an established lawyer, ladies’ man and all while being legally blind. Mark Waid, madman that he is, looked at Matt and seemingly thought ‘How can I make my take on him interesting?’ the answer being to write the book, this purely visual medium, from the perspective of a blind man. Anywhere else this wouldn’t be such a strange idea: a film without visuals could work, musically telling the tale of a blind man obviously would too and prose has never had literal visuals so why would that start being an issue here? Comics however, are as aforementioned an entirely different ball game.
Sound could be for these stories what it is for Murdock himself, a singular solace and way to structure the world (in his case via a sort of sonar), but of course comics are a mute medium and so this idea must be scratched entirely. Touch is interesting but a tactile narrative experience is entirely beyond our means at the moment, and wouldn’t really be a comic in the traditional sense. Then there is smell, but the idea of a scratch and sniff comic should be ruled out before it’s even spoken off. That only leaves sight and how the hell does one convey blindness through that? Black out every panel? Like the man himself this combination shouldn’t work, and you can certainly see why so many other creators have marginalized or even ignored this element of Matt’s character, but in this run there is no escaping it, nor would you ever want to because it works so damn well. There is simply no other way of saying it, this Daredevil is differently abled.
For all this talk of complications and impossibilities the ways in which Waid and artist Paolo Rivera work to reveal just how and what Matt is seeing are actually remarkably simple, so much so that you have to wonder just why no-one else has thought of them before. From objects made of onomatopoeia, through highlighting striking sensory elements in neat white boxes and all the way to really giving the reader Matt’s radar vision, every approach is explored and all of them are appropriate and enlightening to the overall experience. For so long it’s been fine for us to only know when Matt senses something and he might occasionally say what to spell it out to us readers, but this approach puts us inside the how, and how that changes things. We now understand why Murdock is able to do what he does and that makes him a much more impressive character to me than the simple, omniscience of the original; it also makes the read itself much more interesting, involving as it does the audience in the action, furthering our immersion like a good comic book should.
Though how they tell the story is in this case the most intriguing part the story itself is also not so shabby. Though it has none of the flash of the other oft-overlooked trait Waid has also decided to put some focus on the fact that Matt is lawyer. His judicial calling is not just a good place to set the cold opens before Daredevils real reach for justice begins, but an inherent part of every issue: each monster of the week has a spine in his law firm, either a client he is representing or a case he is trying, but more than that it is ingrained in his character, when cornered he doesn’t charge in against the death defying odds like other heroes would, but actually attempts to litigate his way to a beneficial solution.
Now you might be thinking that this sounds like the dullest and most depressing super-hero book ever written but in fact the opposite is true; for the story of a crippled lawyer this comic is a whole hell of a lot of fun. Though he reserves some grit and gravitas Murdock is still more than willing to let slip some sly quip or witty line when the time is right; though he isn’t Spiderman shooting one-liners out desperate for a laugh, all of his dialogue is smart and succinct, he does after all speak for a living. Most important of all though in a book like this is the action and this first trade nails this most of all; there is such a profound sense of adventure in each and every panel that the book reads like a pre-crisis chunk of innocent, but never childish, entertainment.
Newbies shouldn’t be afraid to jump in here because this book acts as a re-introduction without necessarily discarding all of The Devil’s past adventures and fans of the character or of comics as a whole will have to look pretty far to find a book that they enjoy as much as this. There is surely no better antidote out there for the death and doom of the contemporary comic’s universe; or, for that matter, our own.