Monday, August 7, 2017

Colors Of The Past

At the turn of the century, when Jeph Loeb was kicking around the idea of a new six-issue series that offered another look at the character of Daredevil in his original yellow garb, perhaps the question to ask about it all was: Why? Aside from its nostalgic appeal, why would a writer want to return to a time when Daredevil was less interesting? The quick answer would probably be, "to make it more interesting"--a conclusion easily reached after reading the series, as well as hearing Loeb's own thoughts on the subject.

"... there was a time when DD was about the JOY of being a hero. This is a period, in particular, which [artist Tim Sale] and I associate with him wearing the Yellow costume. He was not only able to do things that no blind person could do; he was doing things that NO person could do. That is what is so exciting to me as a writer. When I came to Batman, those stories about the detective working things out, being better at what he was doing as a man. In Superman For All Seasons, it is about a hero learning what the world was about and in turn what HE was about.

"Stan Lee's Daredevil took to his role like a duck to water. And I think it very much had to do with being blind. He saw being Daredevil as liberating. But, unlike Spider-Man where Peter's home life and school life was incredibly oppressive and depressing (for Peter, not the reader) and in turn, being Spider-Man was a party, Matt had it pretty good. He was with his best friend, starting a business where he was a terrific lawyer. They hired this wonderful, bright ray of sunshine named Karen Page. And together, they won in the court room and Daredevil won as a hero. New York loved him. He had none of the problems that Spider-Man had; none of the internal struggles that the F.F. had. He was an adventurer -- I see a great deal of Indiana Jones in him."

Yet the method that Loeb takes to look back to the past for this new perspective anchors Daredevil to a time in his life in the present when he experienced a profound and near-devastating loss--the death of Karen Page at the hands of Bullseye, a story that took place two years before this new series saw print. We find Daredevil having reached a point where he's prepared to put the incident behind him, and he does so by taking an approach that many therapists recommend--saying goodbye to a loved one by writing a letter to them, though in his case he shares those feelings with us through narration. It's that narrative from Daredevil throughout that Loeb uses to take us back to the time when Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson, Karen, and, yes, Daredevil, were just starting out and finding a whole new world opening up for all of them--and by so doing, helps Daredevil come to terms with his loss, and his future.

Loeb and Sale make an excellent team for this project, and it's obvious they're on the same page as far as the overall look of the series and not wishing to shift it to a more contemporary setting--and that only makes sense, since the yellow-costumed Daredevil was one of the first costumed heroes to roll off Marvel's new super-hero assembly line of the 1960s.

Since Daredevil played a crucial role in the death of Karen, Murdock's look back at his life includes the circumstances of how he became that character--flashback scenes that have occurred here and there throughout the run of Daredevil and which serve the first issue of this new series well. Thanks to Stan Lee and Bill Everett, Daredevil has always had one of the most compelling origin stories in comics, with two compelling characters as its foundation: boxer Jack Murdock and his son, Matt, who was blinded at an early age and whom Jack raised with an emphasis on higher education and having a more meaningful future than his father. But in literally fighting for that future for Matt, Jack became involved with "The Fixer," whose name in boxing circles is self-explanatory--and when the Fixer tells Jack to take a dive in a fight, Jack only has eyes for his son, cheering for him in the crowd, and he becomes torn between following his instructions and living up to his son's pride in him.

What decides the issue for Jack is when the Fixer makes the mistake of telling him that his other bouts were "fixed" to let him get this far--and at that moment, all bets are off, as we see in a beautiful sequence of panels by Sale.

The tragedy to this story comes when Matt is orphaned by the retribution of the Fixer; but the parting gift he received from Jack that signaled the end of his father's career (and his life) would contribute to a new direction for Matt, as well as serving as one of the colors that would be worn by the one who avenges Jack's death.

With the Fixer dead and his hired gun, Slade, on death row, Matt pushes on with his law partner, Foggy, to begin fulfilling Loeb's wish of illustrating just how much this period in time meant to Matt--both in terms of his budding law practice and his introduction to Karen, whom Loeb gives a generous amount of attention and exposure to in this series. (She is, after all, its inspiration from Daredevil's perspective.) Karen, as portrayed by Loeb, is much more of an ingenue than she was in the original stories, a wide-eyed girl in the big city who's taken under the wing of "Nelson and Murdock" and whose naïveté brings an element of charm to their office environment. In his narration, it's clear that Matt was enamored with her from the start, as was Foggy, though it's Daredevil who truly catches her eye (and who returns her interest).

Along the way, there are some interesting nods to the classic first few issues from 1964, the details of which Loeb and Sale take certain liberties with but which are inconsequential and hardly worth mentioning; rather, they contribute to fun variations which are weaved into the original version seamlessly. For instance, a visit to the office of Nelson and Murdock from the Fantastic Four, who not only turn out to be the firm's charter clients but also crash through a different opening this time around.

DD also begins to wonder about his place among the other heroes who are emerging around town, and just what he has to offer on such a stage. In the process, Sale takes us back to that awkward shoulder pouch that ended up making a quick exit...

...and battles with the growing crop of super-villains in the city, which Daredevil found offered a way for him to make a name for himself and begin building a favorable reputation among the police force as well as the man on the street.

The villains known as the Owl and the Purple Man were also early foes of Daredevil, both of whom put Karen in danger and thereby inadvertently brought the two closer together.

As we see in this final sequence, Daredevil is bringing to an end his "letter" to Karen, finally ready to turn the corner and put the guilt he feels to rest. Coming full circle, he realizes that his life as DD has borne fruit in ways that would have made his father proud--for instance, buying and renaming Fogwell's Gym, Jack's home away from home, to "Battling Jack's Gym," a place that offered "everyone who walked through that door a chance to make something of themselves." There is much more to this series than what you've seen and read here--glimpses back to not only a character's beginnings of over fifty years past, but also to a time when New York City, with its jalopies and hats and gee-whiz fascination with the new and different, was becoming the world around which Marvel's growing stable of super-heroes would orbit. And in the thick of it was Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson, Karen Page--and Daredevil, whose growing pains were born of a father's legacy, and a yellow leotard worn by the newest hero on the block.

Daredevil: Yellow (6-issue series)

Script: Jeph Loeb
Pencils and Inks: Tim Sale
Letterers: Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott


Jared said...

Daredevil is one of my favorite characters, and I enjoy reading 60s Marvel. Yet I cannot get through most of the silver age DD. It is pretty lazy and derivative of better Marvel titles. The only story I really have ever enjoyed is his fight with Sub Mariner.

The Yellow miniseries is a good read. If you read it right after Guardian Devil for the full context, it is enjoyable. It isn't the most essential DD reading. It doesn't add much to DD as a character. However, Loeb does what Loeb does. He has rarely written anything that is a true classic, but he has rarely written anything that is not enjoyable to read.

Comicsfan said...

I agree, Jared, and I thought Loeb struck a pleasant balance here, in that respect.

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