In this next installment of Ye Olde Longe-Boxe (see the first one here), we’ll learn about endless narration, good art, over-excitement, and streeeeeeetching. Unsurprisingly, it’s another 90s comic! (I do own comics from other periods, I promise). Specifically, let’s talk about Frank Miller’s “The Man Without Fear” #1.
So according to the introduction, this was originally meant to be a 64-page one shot, and the editor asked for it to be expanded. I am not sure why. It drags even as it moves quickly. The entire issue is the first portion of Daredevil’s origin story: he’s a kid, he trains in a gym, he gets blinded, the mob blackmails his dad to work for them, his dad refuses to throw a fight, they kill him. Oh, and remember Stick? I’m sure you remember this character I had never heard of before re-reading this comic. Stick is a regular blind guy who inexplicably can do what Daredevil can do, even though presumably Stick wasn’t hit with radioactive goo in the face. It’s one of those moments where I roll my eyes and say, “Oh, Frank Miller,” because of course Miller had to expand the role of the Batman character. Specifically, the dogged anti-hero asshole. Daredevil used to be a pretty nice guy, until Miller got his hands on the character in the 80s. And Stick is Miller’s mouthpiece in Matt’s childhood – he’s not Daredevil yet, and it’s as though Miller can’t wait to get to adult, asshole Murdock, so he balloons up the role of this other asshole so fill the space.
The art’s by John Romita, Jr., so that’s the high point of the piece, really.
The cover’s pretty bland, so here’s the first page. It’s got nice details, like all the other people hanging out in their balconies, and great coloring (That’s Christie Steele’s work, someone I hadn’t heard of before but would be interested in looking up now). However, the first page reveals the first basic weakness in the story: all the damned narrative boxes. Who the hell is talking here? There’s a third person omniscient narrator! It talks in the same way about both Matt and his dad, so there’s some figure up in the air talking about everything. And this narration’s on nearly every page. Actually, it’s on all but three pages, and those are a pointless two-page spread of Matt and Stick running and then the one page fight scene where Matt’s dad refuses to throw the fight and wins. That’s it. Everywhere else, the dialogue is clearly secondary to the narration. There’s a rule of thumb I remember from all those creative writing classes I took: relying on narration is usually a sign that the author is afraid to give the reins over to the reader. The writer’s trying to control things. This comic is a pretty good test case proving that. The narration is dull and annoying, repetitive and excited about the wrong things (oh, and by the way, Stick sounds just like the narrator, and he’s the only character who really gets to talk in this issue). The little bit of dialogue everyone gets is much better. Seriously, just read the damn issue without the narration. It’s so much better. I’ve done it. The only problem points are when Matt goes to the hospital: the art doesn’t really convey the overwhelming Matt’s other senses get when he wakes up. And earlier, there’s a little spot where it’s not clear without the narration that Matt becomes obsessed with studying (and specifically, studying the law) because of the logical process of “people break rules – even dad broke the rules – anyone can break the rules – I’ll help enforce the rules.” However, those two things could have been done differently. The first could absolutely be done in the art, and the second could use dialogue.
I’ve been bitching a lot, except about the art (and even there, Matt’s hair color changes every page or so). So the story definitely packs some drama in. It doesn’t really address how hopeless the lives of the Hell’s Kitchen kids are, but it does address Matt’s life specifically. His mom’s dead and he doesn’t even know who she is (when his dad cries for Maggie the narration points out that Matt doesn’t know who that is). Matt is a bit of a Gary Stu (smart, sneaky, athletic, brave – he steals a police officer’s baton just for something to do, and gets away with it because he glides by on a skateboard with a mask on). But those things aren’t too strange to the character, just – as with everything else – over-emphasized in the narration.
So this series was an expansion of the older re-imagining of the character. I am not sure why it took five issues, or why an editor would look at a completed 64-page manuscript and say “I want more.” The transitions in half the issue are slick as hell – like early on, when Matt practices under an old poster of his dad, and the next panel is his dad depressed (and maybe drunk?), slumped in an armchair. Obviously I haven’t seen the original scripts, but it feels very much like that stuff is from the first, shorter draft, and the eight pages of Sticks training Matt are from the longer second draft. That’s more than a third of the issue, by the way, devoted to what most good origin stories hand-wave.
Oh, and Stick looks exactly like Bruce Wayne.
For some strange reason I don’t own the other issues of this. It will remain as a strange anomaly in my old long box – I didn’t read Daredevil much as a kid. It’s much better than the comics we talked about last time, that’s for sure. Actually, overall it’s decent, but A: it’s usually funnier to complain about stuff and B: (the important one) these particular faults are the ones that drive me crazy. Oh, and there’s a single woman in this comic, and she appears for one panel: she’s a nun who visits Matt after he goes blind. There’s a schoolgirl, too, who makes fun of Matt on one page before also disappearing. So Miller manages to get his usual dichotomy of female characters in even before Elektra appears. Yay~