Frank Miller’s Daredevil And The Ends Of Heroism by Paul Young (book review).

I have to confess I wasn’t really sure what to make of Paul Young’s book, ‘Frank Miller’s Daredevil And The Ends Of Heroism’. Was it going to be hero-worship of the comicbook creator or a proper analysis of faults and all. Thankfully, it was the latter. He also did the curtsey of giving an extended opening chapter of the history of Daredevil before Frank Miller took over the title. I’m going to be reacting to what I’m reading a lot here which is always a good sign of me paying attention.

For me, when I switched to Marvel Comics back in the mid-60s and then renewed my interest in comicbooks in the mid-70s, ‘Daredevil’ was always in my reading list. Less so with the other comicbook fans I knew at the time. When Miller took over the title and it piqued their interest, they found it difficult to get his early issues, I said I already had them as I’d always bought the title. Mind you, I did buy the majority of both Marvel and DC Comics super-hero titles anyway. Well you would, wouldn’t you? At the time, to me, all Miller did was make DD a lot more grimmer and violent. I just took that in my stride as just another take on the character than anything iconic.

Paul Young’s observations are spot-on in most places. He does neglect the main reason why Matt Murdock had his Daredevil identity as it was a promise to his Dad that he would be a lawyer and needed a different name so as not to break that promise. Under different circumstances, Murdock might actually have fulfilled Frank Miller’s desire to have a noir detective in the Marvel Universe only with super-senses.

One thing both Marvel and DC Comics shared in common was to have an origin story for their first issue and then get on with crime-fighting. Sometimes, it was only a few panels. Just enough to establish but not to go into depth. With the 1970s, Miller led the way by wanting to know what else Murdock was doing before he became Daredevil and fleshed out his origin. He did a similar thing with the Batman in ‘Year One’ at DC Comics as well.

I did wonder if he was right as to whether Murdock was the first lawyer to be a super-hero and a quick check reveals the Black Spider from Ace Comics and DC Comics even had a title called ‘Mr. District Attorney’, so it’s hardly like an ignored profession. It isn’t as though Daredevil is the only blind super-hero. Before him, was Dr. Midnight as DC and with Marvel, much later, the Shroud who has a similar sense to DD although from ‘mystic’ means, whatever that meant.

A common thing about Stan Lee’s take on super-heroes was to either give them insecurities as with Spider-Man or some disability that they had to overcome like the shrapnel near Tony Stark’s heart, Ben Grimm living with his monstrous look and Matt Murdock’s blindness. If anything, at Marvel Comics, the super-villains are a lot more physically wholesome than the super-heroes.

As to the variety of super-villains, Daredevil faces. Granted it is always up to the whims of the writers but he doesn’t go out to face them unless they are on his turf. Although it’s pointed out in a later chapter, DD even takes on the Hulk under Miller’s tenure. Now that takes bravery against all odds.

Young seems a bit confused by Kilgrave, The Purple Man, forgetting he predates Mesmero and his key ability is to control people. People see his colour not his power which is sensible as a means to identify him. After all, you wouldn’t want to go near someone whose pheromones instantly control you, would you?

There’s always been some confusion with people about Daredevil’s radar sense. People have always assumed it’s a variation on Spider-Man’s ‘spider-sense’ when all Parker’s ability does is warn of some imminent danger to his person. DD’s radar sense is literally just that, enabling him know the position of objects about him.

I like Young’s observations of the ‘Marvel Method’ of art and scripting. Although the artists might not have gotten as much co-credit, at least in the financial sense as the writers, the contrast in art between what they did at DC Comics compared to Marvel gave them a lot more freedom in interpretation and control of story pace without having to rush things on the last page.

Miller’s dispensing of DD using his billyclub shooting a nylon thread to leap from building to building brought in parkour before it was even recognised or done until the mid-90s.

A problem that often comes up is why doesn’t the super-hero kill menaces like Bullseye who will surely kill again if let free? Granted we’ve since had the likes of the Punisher who would and the rise of the anti-hero but it also brings up the problem that would be the way all super-battles would end.

The examination of the Kingpin, Elektra and Bullseye makes for some interesting observations. I’m less sure if I would call Wilson Fisk fat though as his run-ins with Spider-Man clearly indicated his bulk was muscle. I didn’t know that Elektra’s design was based specifically off bodybuilder Lisa Lyon. Although this is rather contradictory considering that Young points out Miller’s figure drawing not being in proportion most of the time.

The analysis of Miller’s art is OK as far as it goes. What Young misses is that Miller tends to draw from the emotion of the scene and his art is simplified to make that point and ignore everything else around the action. Even from the sample pages shown, assuming you haven’t seen his work, it’s obvious that Miller doesn’t use backgrounds to any depth unless he needs them. It shouldn’t work but he does get away with it when you compare to other artists.

As you can tell from the length of this review, there’s a lot of reacting going on here. Paul Young’s assessment is based on what he felt as a youngster and what he interprets now, although I’m not too sure at his overall conclusion.

I do have to wonder if the likes of Frank Miller would make it into the Marvel Comics of today where they are so editor driven. I expect he would have life in the smaller comicbook companies instead.

If you want some analysis of Miller’s time on ‘The Man With No Fear’, then this book should certainly be added to your reading list. Young doesn’t pull any punches and at least knows what he is talking about.

GF Willmetts

September 2017

(pub: Rutgers University Press. 275 page sparse illustrated indexed paperback. Price: £25.95 (UK), $27.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-8135-6381-7)

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