Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Daredevil Noir #1

Matt Murdock is just the latest in a string of Marvel characters to find himself transplanted into the 1930s with a decidedly darker, grittier atmosphere as a backdrop. That’s right, following in the footsteps of Spider-Man, the X-Men and Wolverine, this month Daredevil is the latest mighty Marvel mainstay to undergo the noir treatment. In this instance specifically, I know, the premise sounds like an exercise in redundancy. The regular Daredevil series has been an excellent example of modern noir for years now, why bother giving it an out-of-continuity, genre-specific mini-series? (Man, that's a lot of hyphens)

Strangely enough, it's actually worth a closer look. Daredevil Noir knows better than to directly match the direction of Murdock’s regular ongoing series, choosing instead to turn back the clocks to a slightly more innocent time in the crime fighter’s life. Alexander Irvine’s story deals with a more ingenuous, perhaps na├»ve, protagonist. He fights crime the old fashioned way, by knocking down the pawns until one of them screams loudly enough to identify their king. Freed of years’ worth of hardship, suffering and first-hand experience with the failings of the judicial system, Matt seems quite literally to be a completely different man. It’s a rare chance to start over for the maligned character, and seeing his enthusiasm and blind ambition (no pun intended) to right what he sees as the wrongs within his city is a reminder of what I’ve found so appealing with the core of his personality for years.

That’s really why this story succeeds. Irvine changes a few things up to fit the situation, but he keeps enough essential pieces in place to ensure the character remains identifiable. Matt still has the same powers, but he's a private eye instead of a lawyer. He still wears red, but the costume looks more homemade. His mutual respect with the Kingpin is still in place, but the specifics of their first encounter are completely different. Call me crazy, but this just works.

Tomm Coker's accompanying artwork is simply breathtaking, and could easily carry the show by itself. Sharp, vivid linework, beautiful decaying cityscapes in the background, efficient use of pointillism and constant throwbacks to the early days of comics abound, and I couldn't get enough. His work is an amalgam of the photography and illustrations you’d find in an era-appropriate newspaper. It’s gorgeous both in its restraint and in its vivid realism. Whether his aim is heartstring-tugging emotion, cold, brutal violence or simple, everyday reality, Coker delivers. With luck, he’s impressed enough of the right people with this issue to merit a run with the ongoing Daredevil series, because I’m already dreading his departure with the fourth issue of this mini.

I came into Daredevil Noir expecting the worst and stepped away mightily impressed. Does the story recycle a few ideas, borrowed both from the Daredevil mythos and from the films it aspires to mimic? Yes. Does that take away from the big picture? In my opinion, it does not. This is a great series, matching well-timed storytelling with masterful artwork. As someone who's getting really sick of all the retellings going on these days, it's nice to see one story that can manage to do so without making me yawn. Buy it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8.5

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