Future generations will look back on the seemingly endless, unbearable months that Daredevil spent as the demon king of the Ninjas (see Shadowland), sitting in a big Ninja castle in New York City (the place that the Fantastic Four and Avengers live, but presumably they were fighting Galactus on the moon or some shit), beating up all his friends of a similar power level (Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Spider-Man etc, because of Iron Man and the Human Torch being far beneath the earth’s crust fighting Mole Men, maybe) the same way we look at Ben Reily, electric blue Superman, Azrael armour Batman and possessed demon weapon Punisher, and its architects will be summoned to the Hague to answer for it.
How long is suitable to feel sorry for yourself before you can come back and pick up where you left off as the chief vigilante in a section of the city where you once held court in a mysterious Ninja castle? Apparently the four issues of the stodgy, hand-wringing Daredevil: Reborn miniseries. How will the new creative team, headed up by Kingdom Come/Irredeemable/Incorruptable writer Mark Waid and Mythos artist Paolo Rivera handle that? Well, they’ll just do what the rest of us will and NEVER TALK ABOUT IT EVER AGAIN.
If there was any complaint about Brian Michael Bendis‘ (Powers, Alias, Ultimate Spider-Man) incredible four year run, which backed into a similarly toned one from the equally brilliant Ed Brubaker (Captain America, Uncanny X-Men), was that nearly a decade of noir and melodrama was unrelentingly miserable, and Daredevil’s life seemed to be nothing more than an endless run of tragedy, death, betrayal and near insanity. It’s effective and powerful stuff, and painted an incredible picture of who Daredevil was beyond ‘a blind Spider-Man’, but Sweet Ninja Castle, it wasn’t half exhausting.
That’s not the world Mark Waid wants to write about. Yet while respecting the past, and acknowledging it, he explores the other side to Daredevil’s comic-book history, taking the Silver Age path that’s been overgrown with weeds and disinterest since Frank Miller redefined the character as lightning, rain, junkies, prostitutes, Ninjas and Catholic guilt back in the Eighties. Intensity has always been the defining characteristic of Daredevil from Miller onwards. It’s how the blind superhero perceives the world – a storm of noise, smells and tremors – and it runs through his background – blinded by a truck carrying toxic gunk and orphaned early when his boxer father, Battlin’ Jack Murdock refused to throw a fight for the mob – through to his classic storylines, his Ninja girlfriend Electra murderer by the psychopathic Bullseye, the outing of his secret identity as lawyer Matt Murdock and his imprisonment surrounded by the people he helped put away (an arc that coincidentally featured by far the best mainstream Marvel depiction of survivalist power fantasy The Punisher). Dead parents, dead girlfriends and endangered allies, the cover art lets you know things are different from the off as Daredevil swings through a city given form only through its noises, a smile plastered across his face.
There’s something about Waid’s approach that says, this is new, this is fresh, but it’s as loyal to the past as anything that came before – echoing the exhilarating realignment of Grant Morrison‘s Batman & Robin, Peter Milligan‘s X-Force (later X-Statix) and Robert Kirkman’s Invincible. Waid’s Daredevil is redefined along existing reference points, tying his Sixties incarnation as a laughing literal daredevil, the Man Without Fear, who is content with just surviving and experiencing the moment, because he’s unable to escape its cacophony of noise and smell – depicted in a brilliant spread in the back-up strip where he leads his law partner, the slovenly Foggy Nelson through a New York street. He even has a set-to with the somewhat unsettling Spider-Man antagonist the Spot, just to shake things up from the usual thugs he deals with, before closing with an ambush from Captain America, who like a good soldier, comes prepared, firing radar chaff at him to turn his landscape into an incoherent mess of shapes, and all he can do is grin at the brilliant of it all, and square up for a fight as the shield whizzes towards him through the blizzard in his mind.
In that subtle and beautiful back-up strip, in which noise is rendered as part of the physical landscape with pure cartoon brilliance, Matt visits his father’s grave, turns to Foggy and explains why things are different this time.
“Sometimes in my dreams… just sometimes… I can see.”
“What do you see?”
“That I want to live.”