Daredevil: Reborn

I feel I owe an explanation.

Those of you with the disposable time needed to keep track of my posts no doubt noticed that there wasn’t one last Sunday. There was also no follow up from me as to why you were left devoid of any unfunny comic critiquing for a week.

The simple answer is because I was left a little jaded with new releases after I blasted DC Comics with both barrels the other day. Sure, I’ve got the next volumes of Batwoman and Animal Man ready to go, but really, the whole thing has left me with little drive to read comic books these past two weeks. That is, with one exception, which I’ll get to in a minute. Instead, I’ve dived back into the world of wordy novels. I’m currently between three at the moment – David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and the epic finale to The Wheel of Time – and it’s kinda refreshing to get back into stories that don’t require pictures to tell half the narrative. I tend to go through phases each year where I become stuck in one type of novel or the other, and it seems 2013’s phase for wordiness came early this time around.

So that leaves me with a problem, since I wouldn’t be worth my salt as a writer if I didn’t actually write something. That means this week you’ll be treated to a book I read recently that few of you will have heard of, even less will care about, and only one or two of you will stay with me after you read this review. Hopefully I can get everyone back onboard after the new Justice League hits shelves next week.

Daredevil has been one of Marvel’s big superheroes since 1964, though he’s something of an in-betweeny kind of character; he’s not popular enough to break into the A-list with Iron Man and Spider-Man, but he’s got a large enough presence to be considered greater than the B-list heroes like Iron Fist and Black Panther. As such, he’s nearly something of a niche interest in Marvel’s menagerie of magic men, and it’s a niche I’ve enjoyed exploring.

One thing that particularly sets Daredevil apart is how depressing his stories are. Over the course of the last decade he’s gone through enough psychological crap to make The Walking Dead look balanced by comparison. There’s no such thing as a happy ending when Daredevil’s involved, and that can either really draw you in or make you avoid it faster than a fish-scented coffee cup. As with all things, though, sooner or later something has to give, and there’s only so much mental damage a crimson-clad superhero can endure.

Daredevil: Reborn is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s the reformation of Daredevil and his civilian alter ego, Matt Murdock, following a complete nadir where the eponymous horny devil suffers a major enough breakdown to get possessed by a demon-thing (it makes sense in context). Murdock ends up going walkabout in America’s mid-west, getting involved in a scuffle with some arms-dealing dirty cops and acclimatising to life without the leather fetish outfit he calls a costume.

On paper, that’s really all the story is about. I’m making it sound more droll that it actually is, obviously, because it’s good enough for me to rank it against some of the best superhero scuffles I’ve ever read in spite of the fact that the titular character’s costume only makes a single appearance at the very end of the book. It feels a bit like how The Dark Knight Rises was once described – “a superhero story without a superhero”.

In my pre-enlightened days when Image Comics looked boring and I wouldn’t have touched anything that didn’t contain at least one colourful outfit you could fail at cosplaying in, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near Daredevil: Reborn. A superhero story with no big villain, no other well-known supporting characters, no easily-recognisable emblem and no homoerotic clothing of any kind? Sounds about as good as an Attenborough documentary on paint drying.

But Reborn really does break away from that notion, and presents itself as a really character-driven piece that works really well without the costume. It allows you to become more attached to Matt Murdock as a character before he’s a proper superhero again, and the lack of any of the other regular Daredevil supporting players gives focus almost entirely on him. The dialogue by Andy Diggle also paints a realistic picture of a normal man in a bad situation in amongst the fantastic artwork by Davide Gianfelipe, and together it all meshes into a wonderful story that manages to walk a fine line between navel-gazing and action sequences.

It also works fantastically as an orientation point for new readers. Despite the fact the narrative makes references to past events that brought Murdock to where he is now, they’re not presented in a way that makes reading the previous installments a necessity. Sure it’ll flesh out the world a little, but on the whole Reborn is a really standalone story that masterfully sets up the subsequent run afterwards. It’s almost its own origin story, in a sense, except the murdered parent and psychologically-tormented childhood bits have already occurred – and some might find that to be an improvement. It does let itself down a little with a villain who only really shows up towards the end and is about as two-dimensional as a Scooby-Doo antagonist, but as with books like Born to Kill the villain isn’t the focus. The artwork also gets a little too artsy here and there, and most of the dirty cops all look the same, but these are just little complaints.

On the whole, Daredevil: Reborn is a wonderful attempt at a character relaunch without relying on heavy retcons or a complete reboot to get the job done, and also provides a great bridging chapter between sagas for veteran readers. It’s short, so it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and it gives off the impression that a lot of thought and heart has gone into it. And if you’re interested in checking out Mark Waid’s award-winning Daredevil run that’s currently kicking copious amounts of ass at the moment, Reborn acts as a really great prologue for it.

Now excuse me while I get back to some real high-brow literature.

/jks

STORY: 4.5/5
ARTWORK: 4/5
DIALOGUE: 4/5

OVERALL: 12.5/15

BEST QUOTE: “We’ve got work to do.” – Matt Murdock

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