I hated it.
There, I said it, and like an alcoholic (“My name is Chris and I have a problem”), it feels good to get it off my chest.
When I opened up the pages of that first issue of Mark Waid’s Daredevil back on that Wednesday in July of 2011, I admit that I was impressed with its beauty. The art of Paolo Rivera, Joe Rivera, and Javier Rodriguez was something to behold, particularly the fashion in which Matt Murdock’s “radar sense” was handled…
The sound effects work, whether that is from the art team or from letter VC’s Joe Caramagna, was a treat in the way it enhanced the visuals because, for a character like Daredevil, sound is one of THE most important aspects of his daily life. Visually, everything about this relaunch helmed by Mark Waid (a man who has become one of my favorite writers in recent years) was top shelf, yet I still hated it.
Let me rewind just a little bit, without going into extreme detail, to Shadowland story arc (for the lengthy rant you can check out my personal blog that was written at the time). Suffice it to say that I despised that story on multiple levels, the most prominent being that the demonic possession aspect gave Matt Murdock an easy out for what, in my opinion, SHOULD have been a logical conclusion to a mental breakdown that began at least as far back as the pages of Kevin Smith’s Guardian Devil story arc if not farther. It made sense to me before the demonic possession reveal that DD would finally crack under the pressure of everything he had been subjected to in the last several years of stories penned by Smith, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, and even the short run Andy Diggle had prior to starting Shadowland put Matt in a terrible position as the head of The Hand.
Thus once we got through the Reborn story arc, a story I can barely recall, but a recollection tinged with disappointment nonetheless, and it was announced Waid would be taking Murdock into the next phase of his life, I was an extremely excited lil’ Hornhead. So it was with great sadness that, despite the visual presentation, I felt so disappointed by the content of the story and it is only now…two years and twenty-some issues later…that I can put my finger on the exact reasons why I felt that way. It can largely be summed up with two ideas: expectations and preconceived notions.
I opened up that first issue with a very specific idea of what I wanted from Mark Waid: resolution. I wanted him to tackle the fallout of Shadowland head-on! I wanted to see Murdock fight with the guilt and angst that came from his actions whilst under the thrall of the Hand’s demons! I wanted other heroes to demand DD answer for his crimes! Instead what I read was a happy-go-luck Matt Murdock who was brushing off what had happened? A Captain America who essentially shrugged his shoulders and let Matt go free? The idea that our 24-hour news cycle had rendered the secret ID issue somewhat moot? I was furious!
This isn’t what I want!
I want angst!
I want a Matt Murdock who is tearing his hair out because he can’t live with the fact he murdered Bullseye!
I wanted…I wanted Bendis’ Daredevil! Brubaker’s Daredevil! And because Waid “failed” to deliver on what I thought should have been the next phase in the life of Murdock, I gave up on spending my money on the book by issue three or four. Yet I did not give up on the book entirely…
Through one fashion or another, I continued to follow this take on Daredevil and slowly but surely I was beginning to see all of the wonderful things about Mark Waid’s vision, beyond just the beautiful art from the aforementioned creators as well as that from the likes of Marcos Martin, Chris Samnee, and the others who have contributed to Daredevil in the last two years.
I began to see the beauty in this interpretation of Murdock; of turning a character that had spent the last real-time decade wallowing in his misery and having him make an active choice to LIVE his life. This was not a man (or writer) ignoring all that had happened, which was how I first took it, rather it was a story of a man who had decided to move on past his demons (both literal and psychological) to embrace life. He became, as Waid put it in the interview contained in the deluxe hardcover collection, “…a swashbuckling adventurer [who] …is constantly leading with his face”, and once I understood that, I was able to embrace all of the little nuances that have made this book one of my favorites.
(As an aside, upon reading my rough version of this piece, a friend directed my toward Warren Ellis’ comments regarding Waid taking over Daredevil prior to the release of the book. You can find them here, they are quite amusing, at least to me, reading them for the first time now.)
The Claremontian fashion in which Waid reminds us of just who Matt Murdock is every issue and finds ways to incorporate his origin/power description without having it interfere with the story is perfect; he makes it organic in quite an amazing fashion. Equally amazing have been the methods that Waid has used to explain the world according to Murdock; by that I mean how his senses, or lack thereof, interpret the world around him and how little things such as rain drops or Foggy’s terrible choices in food affect Matt’s life. A great showcase of the power of the senses in DD’s world occurred in the most recent issues I reread, the Latverian adventures in #14 and 15, before starting to write this piece. In that story, Matt had his senses technologically stripped away and with the combination of art and story, the reader is able to truly feel Matt’s pain, his sense of loss, his vulnerability at having these most basic of necessities stolen.
Now that I look at it closely…
…even the cover for Daredevil by Mark Waid: The Deluxe Edition Vol. 1 depicts the world of Murdock in a very amazing fashion. His Billy club covers his eyes while the landscape around him is constructed solely of onomatopoeia (flap, honk, whoosh, etc). My complete turnaround on this book from issue one, how hard I have fallen in love with this take on Matt Murdock and his supporting cast, it has actually prompted me to make up for my…indiscretions…by purchasing every Daredevil hardcover currently available to me and every one that will be released in the future.
So, in long-winded fashion, that brings me back to the idea of expectations, preconceived notions, and how they can ruin an experience if you don’t allow yourself to be open to the possibility that something different can be just as good, if not better, than the vision in your head. This thought is one that sticks with me whenever I read a poorly done review of a comic, a movie, a book, or any creative endeavor really. More often than not, those lesser reviews delve into “that’s not what I would have done” instead of reviewing the content for what it IS rather than what they WISH it to be.
That is exactly what I did when I began Mark Waid and company’s journey with Daredevil, but I am glad, ecstatic even, that I was able to free my mind from that trap and appreciate the book for what it is: the freshest take on the world of Matt Murdock in over a decade.
Initially, I intended to focus this look at expectations and preconceived notions exclusively on Mark Waid’s Daredevil, but as I wrote my mind began to wander to other instances where either I, or a friend, or even the larger comic book community, fell victim to the same trap.
The first series that sprang to mind was that of Final Crisis by Grant Morrison and company, particularly one friend’s reaction to it in when it was first released. My memory recalls a somewhat negative reaction to the book from him, in large part because it was “not a crisis”, followed by a discussion of how Morrison should have written something more accessible to a general audience given that it was a Crisis event as opposed to something so…Morrison.
Now, several years later, I inquired via text message to the same friend to give me his immediate thoughts when he hears Final Crisis and his 2013 response was: “Dense, creative, badass Batman. Weird Superman singing Darkseid to death. Not a ‘typical event’, not typical comic storytelling”. Far less damning of the project and more understanding that it was Morrison’s take on a Crisis event…somewhat removed from the expectations of what a Crisis event SHOULD be allowed this friend a greater appreciation for the story.
Skip ahead to a present-day series that has only just begun with Brian Wood and Oliver Copiel’s X-Men book and I start to wonder if the preconceived notions/expectations pendulum swings both ways. Is it possible to go into a book expecting (needing?) it to be good and thus a reader, or readers in this case, will OVERrate it? My personal opinion is that it is a high quality book, in particular from a visual standpoint seeing as that I have a strong fondness for Copiel’s work, but I have come across some opinions on the book that are less favorable. Most recently I read Timothy Callahan’s thoughts on CBR in which he referred to it as “typical X-Men comics 101” and it was that exact statement that got me thinking…maybe that IS the reason it is being praised so highly. It’s a return to X-books somewhat free of the politics inherent in Bendis’ overriding “Cyclops vs. Wolverine” and “Cyclops vs. The World” arcs or Remender’s recent “M-Word” addition to the dynamic (remember Strong Guy’s “GeeCee” addition to the PC vernacular?). Politics are an essential part of the mutant world BUT the current Bendis- and Remender-written mutant titles swim in it, as does Wood’s Ultimate X-Men book, but this book has in its all-too-brief-to-be-considered-a-best-of-2013 run not been so laden in those issues.
If you are someone who considers this book overrated I would love to hear why you think so; is it because it’s a female-led book? Is it because of the creative team?
And ultimately the pendulum swings back to Daredevil because it is also a book that has been dubbed overrated by some but in this case I think the rationale is different than that of X-Men. In the case of a book such as Waid’s DD, a book that has been in print for over two years as opposed to two months, it may be a case of expectations running TOO high for someone joining the book in progress. Have you ever been to a movie in which the bar was set so high through reviews and word-of-mouth that it was virtually impossible for the film to live up to your expectations? I know it isn’t the most obvious example, but for me the original Hangover was hyped so far beyond belief that I waited until it was a home release to actually watch it because I knew there was no possible way for it to live up to the multitude of hype from numerous friends as the greatest comedy ever in the history of ever.
I think that possibility exists in comic books just as in movies and I think a book such as Daredevil, with its multiple Eisner awards in the last two years (including 2012 Best Writer/Best Continuing and a 2013 tie for Chris Samnee in Best Artist), may fall victim to hype for any newer reader jumping on board. Enter into ANY book with the expectations of reading the greatest series since…let’s just say Watchmen since it’s widely considered the Citizen Kane of comics…and you will likely be sorely disappointed whether it be Waid’s Daredevil, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Garth Ennis’ Preacher, or any other title that has been lauded with praise.
Yet given that comics are a form of art, there is certainly a fine line between what could be considered a “preconceived notion” and what is simply just the specific tastes of an individual. I suppose that all comes down to the mindset in which you began your journey into a book; if you dislike the writing style of Chris Claremont as experienced with X-Men Forever but go into his classic X-Men run with an open mind, there’s a good chance you will fall in love BUT if you go into it thinking “I hate Claremont and nothing can change that”, then nothing WILL make a difference to your opinion no matter how masterfully he penned the exploits of the “All-New, All-Different” crew in the opinion of lil’ old me.
No matter what the subject; be it art, comics, movies, books, or just life in general, an open mind is the only way to truly experience everything there is and whether you love it, hate it, or just find indifference when you turn the final page, at least your opinion will be formed from experience rather than ignorance…