Sunday, May 22, 2016

Daredevil: Two Origins

I suspect it isn't an overly popular idea (though I have no data to prove anything one way or the other) but among the revisionist origins of Daredevil, I prefer "Daredevil: Yellow" by Jeff Loeb and Tim Sale to "Man Without Fear" by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.

The Miller tale is a good one, to be sure, and it has some of the best artwork of Romita's career (which is really saying something). It just doesn't work for me as a DD origin. Shoot me but I'm big into organic character development and I've always liked the idea, played out over a long stretch of DD's history, that his world became progressively darker and more nihilistic and began to take more of a psychological toll on Matt Murdock, the man in the devil suit. He carries on a crusade that has no end. As he gets older, he's toughened by his experiences, gets meaner, harder. The bad guys seem to multiply and get more violent and creeping behind everything he does is the fact that he's getting a little older and a little slower and they just seem to get bigger and younger and more vicious and to keep on coming.

DDY examines Matt's early career a costumed vigilante through that lens. It's the older, more weathered Matt looking back on his younger days in the wake of the death of Karen Page. To an extent, he's romanticizing them. Villains talked a lot back then, he recalls when facing off against Electro, rather than leaving women in puddles of blood in some back alley. If Matt didn't go through those days, if all of that is erased, it fundamentally changes both his story and him.

DDY is a minimally revisionist tale. Loeb and Sale set their story during the time covered by the first few issues of Daredevil's comic and their various alterations to the originals bring those early stories down to earth a bit--literally, in one case--and make them more personal. MWF, on the other hand, is a wholesale rewrite. Here, rather than developing organically, the ugliness and nihilism of later Daredevil is front-and-center right from the beginning. For a lot of his career, Matt wasn't a killer. More than that, he would sometimes preach against the practice with such self-righteous fury that he became rather unlikable (it was usually a ridiculous overreaction). Over time, he becomes a lot less concerned about the health and safety of the scum he battles--again, an organic development--but he's certainly never become the Punisher, who became his adversary primarily because of this very issue. MWF wipes away all of that history and makes him a killer right from the start. Worse, it has him kill an innocent via a bit of utter stupidity. Matt would never be able to live with himself if he'd done something like that (and this was later retconned away). But MWF Matt is a guy who is so mentally unstable that, as an adult, he attacks some thugs looking to rob him and beats them to a pulp because he sees them as tormentors from his childhood.

I've been a DD fan most of my life and I don't recognize that character.

Elektra and Stick, which were both great elements added to Daredevil's world by Miller during his first run on the book, aren't present in DDY but as with DD's original comic origin tale, DDY doesn't do anything to preclude them.

In MWF, Matt's relationship with Elektra is radically changed. Originally, Elektra was a sort of dark mirror of Matt--a bad path down which he could have gone. Because of the murder of her father, she became a cold and vicious woman who killed people for a living. Her relationship with Matt was a peaceful calm before that storm when the two of them were happy. MWF presents her as a vicious murderer right from the start, who seems to have little regard for human life and, worse, kills because she gets a kick out of it, the latter a characterization entirely alien to the canonical Elektra.

As stories, without reference to where they stand in relationship to the rest of Daredevil's history, both DDY and MWF are quite good and they're both problematic at times as well. Looking at them as revisionist origins though, DDY works while MWF doesn't. Elements of MWF have--unwisely, in my view--been written into the regular book at times but it's unworkable as an origin if we're to keep DD's history as it has existed over the decades. No shoehorn can stuff it in--huge portions of that history, including most of DD's character arc, must be swept away to make room for it. DDY mostly leaves things alone, cleans up some silliness from some of the earlier stories and shows how they aren't so much of a departure from what came later. It's a better origin.


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