Comic Reviews: October 1993
Welp, it’s a slow month for comics, so your humble reviewer is having to resort to—gulp—superhero material. Actually, the three comics reviewed in the following paragraphs are among the cream of the superhero crop. If the majority of ‘spandex brigade’ comics produced were this good, perhaps the genre would not have achieved the notion of juvenilia widely assumed. Just a suggestion.
Daredevil: The Man Without Fear
Written by Frank Miller
Illustrated by John Romita Jr. and Al Williamson
For those of us who remember the ‘good old days’ of comic books: Marvel Comics’ Daredevil character had a strange allure and there was something about the notion of a blind super-hero sans super powers (who also crusaded for right in his alter-ego, lawyer Matt Murdock).
Daredevil had its prime in the early ‘80s when then-neophyte writer-artist Frank Miller reinvented the character. Miller returned to the title for greener pastures. Happily, though, Miller has seen fit to give Murdock a much-needed kick-in-the ass with the recent Daredevil: The Man Without Fear limited series.
Like his Batman run (subtitled ‘Year One’), Miller has decided to concentrate on the origin and roots of the character’s development. In this case, that means returning to Murdock’s Hell’s Kitchen’ childhood. The reader sees the youthful Matt Murdock, very much a child of the streets: full of exuberance and mischief. Matt’s single father, washed-up boxer Jack Murdock, sees the potential to be something he couldn’t be himself, though, and with stern warning (plus one frightening violent incident) tries to steer Matt toward a nobler destiny.
And Matt tries. Unfortunately, an act of self-sacrifice ends up costing the boy his eyesight, but the radioactive sludge also gives Murdock enhanced sensory powers and the despair of lost vision soon gives way to the joyous exploration of his new abilities.
There’s a lot more to the story than this, and Miller isn’t just rehashing familiar events—he revises and expands the details. For example, Murdock’s mysterious mother is briefly witnessed, as is the posited beating incident by his father. All this gives a novel twist to the character which enlivens it. Further, Murdock’s first encounter with his mentor, Stick, is finally detailed.
But it is the energy with which Miller imbues the story which makes it unique and enjoyable. The point of view switches from character-to-character (always objectively), allowing the reader to see the influences which shaped the future hero.
Happily, Miller also manages to capture emotion and characterization with equal aptitude. From the grim, no-nonsense Stick to the supportive Jack Murdock, to the Slimy Fixer, each person becomes distinctive, a rare achievement for many comic writers.
However, equal due should be paid to artist John Romita Jr. and Al Williamson. Romita’s pencils admirably capture the flavor of ‘60s New York, with grimy tenements and fins on auto fenders. He does a splendid job depicting the key players, too. The anguish in the face of Murdock after radioactive sludge spills on his face cries off the page, evoking sympathy. Likewise, Williamson’s sketchy inks supply a realism to the figures. Together, the two readers the scene is dramatic and powerful.
Luckily, this impressive team has four more issues to weave their magic. Unfortunately, the regular Daredevil title has long since run out of steam, but perhaps an enviable glance at Daredevil: The Man Without Fear will give that writer-artist team an idea of what could be done with the character, given some creativity. With all the furor over heroes “dying” or being replaced at DC, it’s a shame nobody’s giving to a supposedly “washed-up” hero. Grade: A-
Written by Peter David
Illustrated by Rick Leonardi and Al Williamson
The flagship titles of the Marvel Comics empire have been the “mutant” books (the so called “X” titles) and the Spiderman umbrella. Amusingly enough, the best Spiderman of them all is an entirely different character mated for Marvel’s misbegotten 2099 line, Spiderman 2099.
The title hero is one Miguel O’Hara, a genetic scientist working for the malevolent Alchemax corporation. The setting in this case is the America of 2099, a cyberpunk world in which multinational corporations basically run the show. Through an accident (intriguing how most heroes gain their powers through accidents, isn’t it?), O’Hara winds up with the powers his 20th century counterpart supposedly possessed, including enhanced strength and the ability to cling to walls (plus some extras, including the ability to “shoot” webs and venomous fangs). But O’Hara views his powers as a condition to be cured, rather than a blessing.
The tangled storyline so far finds O’Hara still working for Alchemax in order to have the resources necessary to cure himself and to light the corporation from within. Unfortunately, O’Hara is under the thumb of slimy executive Tyler Stone, who manages to get kidnapped by the mysterious Thanatos. Thanatos and Spider-Man have a similar agenda it seems. The destruction of Alchemax. But Thanatos has his own objectives and O’Hara finds himself at odds with the enigmatic being.
Yes, all this sounds cheesy, and it is. Luckily, author Peter David manages to put a novel spin on the melodramatic events using a futuristic setting and some laudable characterization. It seems that David has realized the key to writing good super-hero tales is to make the material original and fun.
Protagonist O’Hara is infinitely more likeable than modern-day Spiderman Peter Parker. O’Hara has his faults, in that he is self-absorbed but is learning to be a hero, while Parker’s angst-ridden teenage antics (now grown up) lost their charm in the early ‘70s. Likewise, the supporting cast is memorable, from the despicable Stone (always looking after his own best interests such as when he suggests that a lackey wash out the urn containing his son’s ashes so it can be put to “good use”) to Spiderman’s resourceful girlfriend, Dana. David’s strength lies in making incredible situations believable by using humor and realistic reactions. When O’Hara is faced with Thanatos, O’Hara apparently has god-like powers, he’s incredulous. Rather than thinking of ways to defeat Thanatos, O’Hara would rather escape.
Sure, some of the situations are contrived and the dialogue expository, but David mites it all with good humor, rather than endlessly copying material from the “golden age” of superheroes. David recaptures the elements that made those fun, namely a sense of wonder, solid storytelling and a good fight.
David is matched in storytelling ability by penciller Rick Leonardi, who draws quiet scenes and raging fisticuffs with equal skill. Leonardi’s characters are distinctive, and their faces and body positioning tell a lot of the story (too bad many of the current crop of super-star artists don’t possess Leonardi’s anatomical knowledge). The panels are laid out in a creative fashion, making the pages flow. If the setting for the book isn’t too convincing, the reader is to believe in the viability of the surroundings and Leonardi renders it credible. And, lest I forget, the ever-professional Al Williamson inks Leonardi’s pencils with fine brushwork, filling in imposing blacks and making the figures concrete.
Yes, Spider-Man 2099 is a superhero. But if you want to turn off your brain and just have fun reading a comic book that evokes that same feeling super heros used to create, this is one book worth reading. Grade: B.
Postscript: I got a little long-winded this time, but I shouldn’t neglect to mention Pirate Corps!: The Blunder Years, two issues reprinting and expanding the hard-to-find first four Issues of Evan Dorkin‘s labor-of-love. Yes, Dorkin’s rather down on the material, but we all know he’s a weenie. This space-opera ska-fest / hockey extravaganza should be on every discriminating reader’s list. Hunt down the issues and take heart; A one-shot featuring everybody’s favorite space psycho, Vroom Socko, is on the way, as is a new issue of PC$! (under the new title: Pirate Corp$! Stories: Hectic Planet). Make sure your retailer orders it. –Scott Vice