When Marvel revealed that Daredevil would be getting a sidekick in his new comic-book series, it seemed like that would be the biggest change in the Man Without Fear’s life. Turns out a whole lot more than that has changed.
Today’s new Daredevil comic might be the most blatant attempt yet by Marvel to bring a long-running superhero character closer to the version appearing in a screen adaptation. Thankfully, it’s also a very good comic book.
The last time we saw The Man Without Fear, he was happy. Daredevil had confirmed the longtime open secret that he was really Matt Murdock and moved to San Francisco with best friend Foggy Nelson and girlfriend Kristen McDuffie. He had made peace with many of his inner demons, was writing an autobiography and scored a decisive victory over the Kingpin.
The first page of Daredevil #1 feels like it might be meant to fool you.
On it, the blind superhero’s interior monologue reads, “I am Matt Murdock. I am Daredevil.” Sure, everybody knows that, right? The fact that he’s wearing a mask again must be a case of old habits dying hard, no? It’s not.
In Daredevil #1 — written by Charles Soule, with art by Ron Garney, Matt Milla and Clayton Cowles — Matt Murdock has a secret identity again. He’s back in New York, too, working as an assistant district attorney who tries to convict criminals instead of defending them like he used to. And his relationship with Foggy? It’s tense to the point of barely existing.
Matt Murdock’s period of well-adjusted emotional balance came under the four-year stewardship of writer Mark Waid. With the partnership of artists Marcos Martin, Paolo Rivera and Chris Samnee, the most recent iteration of Daredevil who did a lot more smiling than scowling. He faced up to his own depression and was in a healthy romantic relationship for the first time ever. Waid’s version of Daredevil made for a brisk reversal of the bleaker tones that characterised the hero in the decades after Frank Miller injected his pulpy noir sensibilities into the series.
Daredevil #1 is a return to darkness for the character. Garney’s linework still has the artists’s recognisable dynamism and composition but is thicker and rougher than his past stylings. His version of Daredevil even resembles actor Charlie Cox a little bit and the hero’s new costume has a darker, quasi-real-world look. The palette used by Milla here is dominated by inky blacks and washed-out greytones, with pops of bright colours used to accentuate drama or Matt’s hypersenses. In terms of aesthetics, the overall approach is the polar opposite of the swashbuckling brightness of the Daredevil run that ended this summer.
These changes are almost certainly informed by the recent Daredevil TV series produced in partnership with Netflix. Slowly but surely, Marvel’s transformation into a multimedia powerhouse that pumps out movies, TV shows and cartoons has shifted the way that they execute storylines in the comics that are the company’s foundation. Speculation has been swirling that the mutant gene is being replaced by Inhuman DNA as the wellspring of evolutionary superpowers because Marvel doesn’t control the fate of the X-Men on TV and movie screens. And the histories of characters like Squirrel Girl are apparently being re-written in light of such considerations, too.
It’s a different case with Daredevil, since Marvel owns the media rights to the character. The new comics series appears to be a hard left turn back into the noir-ish approach embraced by the TV show. When Daredevil debuted on Netflix, the tone of the comics Marvel was putting out with the title character were totally different than his psychologically tortured, graphically violent on-screen adventures. With this new series’ aesthetic shift, that will likely not be the case whenever the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil series comes out.
However, the comics aren’t going to be delivering an exact duplicate of the DD who’s on the show. As his interactions with Foggy show, his past is still there. And the introduction of invisible kung-fu sidekick Blindspot doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that the still-nascent Netflix corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe could support. It’s a great development for the comic-book Daredevil, though, as it humanizes him in a different sort of way. His mentorship of Blindspot harkens back his own training under gruff ninja master Stick, but Matt isn’t anywhere as harsh as the old blind man who taught him. He’s a better father figure than ones he had, which makes it feel like the emotional wellness introduced by Waid isn’t all lost.
Daredevil hasn’t only ever been a borderline self-destructive character. He was a quippy adventurer in the vein of Spider-Man when first introduced. Since then, Matt Murdock has swung back and forth from being a grimly driven crimefighter to someone who smiles in the face of danger. The changes that are happening now are just part of cycle that’s been going on for Daredevil’s whole life.