Essential Daredevil Reading
Warning! Spoilers may occur!
Now that I’ve finished season one of Daredevil and can openly talk about my sightless hero without ridicule, it’s time to hit you up with some Daredevil goodies. The literary kind.
Past the classics, Daredevil was the first superhero I got into on my own. So nostalgic. So special. I’d been into comics for the art as a kid so I was familiar with everybody in the X-Men, Spider-Man, etc. But Daredevil was the character I got into because I couldn’t pick Spider-Man as my favorite because that was my older brother’s favorite and I was my own special and unique person who was nothing like him even though we were practically twins.
But once I actually started reading Daredevil on my own, I was hooked. The red suit, the fighting skills (Seemed reasonable enough to what he did, I just needed to work out more. I’m still getting there.), the heightened senses…and the ladies. Most of the women Daredevil gets with want to kill him at some point but hey, women, amirite?
Anyway, I’ll probably spout out more of my history with the character as I go along, all I’m really trying to get out is that I love this character and if you’re into the show, you’ll dig the books.
Frank Miller’s Run, #168-191 (1981-1983)
While I’m not one to dump on history, Frank Miller’s stuff really does take precedence over the previous works. I don’t discard Daredevil’s origins beginning in 1964 with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but for the sake of clarity I’m setting new readers up with Daredevil reinventor, Frank Miller and his take on the Man with no Fear.
Frank Miller’s reimagining of Daredevil turned Matt Murdock’s loving dad into a physically abusive drunken loser and this pretty much changes everything people knew about the character, who had formerly been happy-go-lucky and also been called a “swashbuckler;” a term that makes me think of pirates and Robin Hood but I’ve never really knew what it meant.
But no, here Murdock’s world has become grim and as dark as what Matt sees on a day to day basis. He also inserted Greek assassin into Matt’s life to give superheroes a love interest as capable as the protagonist themselves.
In fact, it’s on Miller’s run that most of Daredevil’s mainstay traits were introduced. The undead ninjas known as The Hand, Kingpin as an archvillain (Formerly he’d just been a fat mob boss for Spider-Man to beat up on) and all the stuff I just named. With Elektra introduced, Daredevil enters a sliding scale of morality we hadn’t previously seen.
He’s now forced to fight his ex who murders for money and things are made worse by the introduction of Bullseye, who, if you didn’t know, is the Venom or Carnage to Daredevil’s Spider-Man. In issue #181, we see not only the death of Elektra at the hands of Bullseye, but our hero Daredevil allow Bullseye to fall from a building only to survive in a state of paralysis…only to be met with Daredevil playing Russian Roulette with him and a giant revolver.
Dark times for the hero indeed. If you can believe it, I haven’t spoiled everything there is to love about this run which brought Daredevil from a B-lister to a top seller. I’ve actually got issue #181, which is one of the few issues I’ve ever bought based on value rather than just to read. It’s worth about forty bucks and was worth more up until the release of the Elektra movie. Pbbth.
Frank Miller’s The Man Without Fear miniseries (1993) with John Romita Jr.
I remember seeing the first issue of this miniseries as a kid and practically being scarred by it. The title, “The Man Without Fear” wasn’t a name I associated with Daredevil, I just recognized a guy getting beat up in a back alley and then getting shot in the mouth by the same people. Ah, Frank. Subtlety isn’t his strong suit. The guy getting shot was Matt’s dad and the cover was a young blind kid holding his dead dad in the alley. That was as specific as the kid who introduced me to it got and I thought about it for days after.
It wasn’t until years later I found out I’d been reading Daredevil. It’s this storyline that much of the new Netflix series is based on and if you read this, you’ll pretty get what the character is all about, why he does what he does, and you’ll have read a story that could just as soon make an awesome movie is Hollywood wasn’t about the blang-blang but a good story. This is what the show covers. Chances are, some things that are here will pop up in later seasons so if you’re completely new to Daredevil, this is definitely one to check out.
Penciled by John Romita Jr. , this tells the story of young Murdock from his last days with his dad to his training with stick, meeting Foggy and Elektra, to his first days as a vigilante. Kingpin’s rise to power is seen here and he’s as bad as he’s ever been.
A really great thing about this story is that we get a pretty intimate portrait of Matt and his life without being bogged down by melodrama. Something is always happening. If it’s not key to Matt’s being, it still moves the story along. All this, and you can finally get a clear picture of Elektra and she is not a struggling anti-hero…
Guardian Devil, Vol. 2 #1-8 (1998) by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada
Rebooting Daredevil with flim maker Kevin Smith in the writing helm and Joe Quesada (Now Chief Creator Officer at Marvel) on pencils, the two craft one of the most definitive Daredevil stories of all time without a doubt.
An infant shows up on Daredevil’s doorstep one day and through some investigating, Matt is becoming more and more suspicious that the baby is either the Messiah or the Anti-Christ. It reads about as creepy as you imagine it would be. Joe Quesada’s rendition of Daredevil is pretty much what brought me into a new era of comics; specifically ones that I bought myself rather than just reading someone else’s.
What starts off like the beginning to an Omen sequel turns into a mystery Daredevil’s senses don’t come to grips with easily and it also brought back Karen Page; the one time good girl, now a recovering drug addict and porn star. Yeesh. This, on top of the role she plays in Guardian make for a completely different character than the one most fans were introduced to years before and left some fans feeling disrespected.
Still, between the art and the cat and mouse plot Smith sets up, the mastermind behind Daredevil’s problems was wrapped up as nicely as the story plays out, with Daredevil having to play detective as much as he does lawyer.
More than anything, this story really takes you as far down the rabbit hole as Daredevil goes and can be depressing to read as it is intriguing. While previous stories on this list have spoilers all over the internet and in Daredevil’s history, I’m trying to leave some out of this entry you may not have previously heard. My closing words for this arc- Bullseye is back and there’s an entire convent of nuns that pay the price.
Brian Michael Bendis’ run vol.2 #26-81 (2001-2006)
Personally, some of the greatest writing in comic book history, Bendis’ run with longtime collaborating artist Alex Maleev takes something many fans didn’t see coming and made it one of the most interesting sagas in Daredevil lore- Daredevil’s alter ego is out in the press.
On one hand, this seems like it would blow over. This guy is blind, of course he’s not a superhero. But given today’s modern news world where anything is worth beating into the ground and it’s just a day in the life for someone’s world to be turned upside down and their reputation ruined, Murdock’s life has the same done to him. Under the public eye, how does this otherwise normal guy handle being outed in the press? As a Daredevil fan who previously only wanted to see him get into violent fights with Bullseye, Bendis took something that could have easily been forced and boring and turned it into something you won’t find in any other superhero book.
Being unfamiliar with Bendis other than his Daredevil work at the time, I wondered why and how Bendis was able to give so much personality to characters like FBI Agent Driver, who was investigating Murdock’s case to find out the truth. He was well written, full of personality without being over the top or taking up too much space and you could actually like this “regular guy” in a world full of superheroes.
Come to find out, Bendis made his name by writing Powers, a comic about regular agents dealing with the aftermath of superheroes and their titanic battles. Powers has also just been released on the Playstation network as a TV series with District 9’s Sharlto Copley in the lead. Looks like Bendis’ work is really paying off these days. It’s even directed by David Slade, who was at one point in line to direct another Daredevil movie before it was decided to turn it into a Netflix show. Full circle! Kind of.
I got a little off topic there but the point is really just to say that while this is a healthy run of fifty issues or so, not a single one of them is a waste of time. Really good stuff from a couple of guys who really know their craft. I only want to say so much of all the twists and turns because new and old fans of DD can be surprised by some of the directions Bendis and Maleev take the character.
Honorable Mention so that I can promote these without making this post much longer-
There really is a lot of great stuff I’m leaving out here and it’s of course, no disrespect to the writers and artist who have made Daredevil the legendary character that he is. It’s really more about time and I only want to stretch this out so long before you get tired and skip around. So here are some other great stories to elaborate on DD’s history and the type of character he is.
Daredevil: Yellow, miniseries, #1-6 (2001), Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Friends and frequent collaborators as well, this is a slightly different take on Daredevil’s background yet again. it’s stuff like this and Miller’s work that make it tough to go with what back story is better- the dark and gritty or the bright and clean side of DD’s life.
While the two really don’t even have to contradict each other, Daredevil: Yellow certainly focuses on the more upbeat side of Daredevil’s heroics, even with the entire story being a penned love letter from Murdock to the deceased Karen Page. From their first meeting to their last, this is a good, quick read but full of great moments all the same.
Daredevil: Father, miniseries, #1–6 (2004–07), Joe Quesada
Marvel’s head honcho Quesada returns to one of his favorites in this miniseries written and drawn by Quesada himself. This story does a great job at displaying how Murdock deals with the memories of his thuggish dad, his life as a boxer, the accident that blinded him, and a new group of “edgy” superheroes that plan on making a name for themselves in Hell’s Kitchen by replacing Daredevil as the new king.
Good writing, great art as Quesada’s newer look for DD changes up his traditional streamline gymnast physique for a more gruff and burly brawler type.
Daredevil: Parts of a Whole, vol. 2, #9-11, 13-15 (1999-2000), David Mack and Joe Quesada with David Ross
This story isn’t so much game-changing as much as it is just solid. If you can’t tell, I’m a fan of Quesada’s work on Daredevil. Here we have the introduction of another love of Daredevil in the form of Echo; a deaf Native American woman who is deceived by her godfather into killing Daredevil. Her godfather? The Kingpin of course. When I said Quesada’s Daredevil introduced me to the character, this is the story I was talking about. I was actually given the first issue of this one year by my brother and is the first appearance of Echo.
Aside from an interesting story written by Mack, his artistic layouts give us a style of storytelling that can’t really be explained, just seen. Abstract and unorthodox are a couple ways to describe it sure, but they don’t really do the story justice. Here’s a page from the book and I’ll leave it at that, alright?