Welcome to the third Tagging the Walls post! I will have to stop saying that soon as the novelty has undoubtedly worn off and most people are familiar with this project, but in any case, I am excited for it! We welcome and honour Paul Bowler to the walls who has been an ardent supporter of mine since the very first few weeks when the House was merely a couple of bricks. His constant promotion was invaluable and in the latter days his personal correspondence has been of great comfort as we see our blogging days mature. I say thank you sincerely to him and it is my pleasure to review a beloved Daredevil book for him…
Daredevil – Guardian Devil
This was one of the first comics I read as an adult and I was drawn towards it because of Kevin Smith. As the cool new film maker turned comic writer, it was the zeitgeist to be all over him. At this time the relaunch of Daredevil volume 2 featured a new and refreshing take to bring Daredevil back to the heady glory days. Interestingly it was Bendis, Maleev and Mack that actually turned those heads but nevertheless Guardian Devil was a strong opener. And looking back there is so much more to be said than just, Kevin Smith is a little wordy.
Admittedly there are times where you wonder if Smith actually wrote some prose which Quesada and Palmiotti then converted skilfully into a comic. It has become more common these days to pack out a page as certain mainstream artists do rack up significant word counts. I wonder if that is why I am more forgiving upon rereading this book. What is obvious is that even as a piece of prose, Smith is incredibly compelling in the manner in which he sets the scene and provides his characters purpose. There is a line in which he describes the plight of Gwyneth, “She can still feel the damp against her cheek from the tear soaked pillow she’s cry herself to sleep on nightly”. It is almost real and rouses emotion, surprisingly not from the actual artwork, to which it is probably a little distracting. That is not a comment I have made in comics of recent times. Where he sets the themes of tragedy, desperation and pain he offsets them with religion, family and friends. There is a deep understanding of the nature of Matt Murdock and Kevin Smith is clearly a long time fan. As he sets out his vision for Daredevil, it is almost as if he wants to live out all of his fantasies in one adventure. Not only do we see Widow but there are scenes featuring Spider-Man, his mother, Karen Page and even Bullseye. You could easily argue that they are part of the Daredevil stable but if you consider the villain is actually someone altogether distant to the Daredevil rogues then each one of these players are simply indulgent plot devices. This is by no means a novel concept as often guest stars are there to sell comics, but it does make for a convoluted story. Smith even subtly references Batman and Superman, showing dedication to DC which is incredible given it is a Marvel story.
Smith brings some truly passionate and well expressed exposition and he is befitting of that contemplative Murdock introspection. The reliving of his intimate times with Karen as they discuss having children and the questioning of his mother’s values are well handled and quite nuanced in their believability. This is without a doubt his strong suit in this comic game because the actual events of the story are left to Quesada to play with. I have always found him quite a busy artist and his repetition of panels jars motion as opposed to allowing it to flow. A good example of this is where Matt mourns the loss of Karen by punching the glass in his room, and the scene moves outward to show the incredible amount of detail of his bedsheets. It is an amazing feat of art but there is a loss of focus because Matt’s anguish is key, or even the damage he has inflicted. Where Quesada may hesitate in fluidity he soars confidently when it comes to splash pages and composition. There are multiple whole page Daredevil shots that are glorious snapshots of motions, as well as atmospheric emotions especially with Mysterio. It is worth emphasising how his portrayal of the last breaths of Karen are shot from the ground because it forces you to look up at her being cradled by Matt and then to the cross. It is an amazing page and probably the most iconic of the book. There are some definite film noire tropes most notably Matt’s introspection whilst mystery solving, and you can just imagine a black and white colour palette. However the pages are brightly coloured and negate those feelings of despair and futility, making you wonder if they missed an opportunity.
The penultimate issue features an incredibly long and well thought out information dump reveal, odd considering that with Mysterio there are certain expectations that explain what has occurred. I’m sure we all know that illusion and subterfuge are part of his power set. Smith intriguingly plays with the idea of death and as Quentin Beck induced such sadness in Matt that it almost drives him to suicide. Even more tragically it is the reality of Mysterio’s own life that prompts him to end his own life. It is a strangely potent moment as Daredevil clutches a baby and seems to feel no emotion in those final seconds. The idea of being a hero and dealing with death is well thought out by Smith in the final issue. The contemplation of Murdock’s place in the world is given perspective by the appearance of Peter Parker. As they compare the deaths of their loved ones, Quesada produces one of the most poignant panels of the book. Note the silhouette of the goblin in the sky.
The book has three definite acts, all quite distinct in their themes. Initially the set up sees the fall of Matt into his mother’s arms, followed up a revival of sorts that prompts investigation leading to the death of his lover. And then the final that ties the goodwill of the hero and the consequences to those close to them. This is the place that Kevin Smith wants you to get to. All roads lead to this point because everyone around him has been affected, especially those he loves the most. Perhaps this is the reason for so many supporting cast. The truth to Smith’s Daredevil is that he wishes to explore the desire to do good juxtaposed to allowing those you love be at risk of harm. It delves deep into the ethos of the hero and guides us out with a degree of perspective that keeps the heroes fighting, the villains losing and us reading. This may be his first comic but through all the shenanigans and supplementary cast, Guardian Devil is a treatise on the superhero comic. For now, let us just enjoy Daredevil being happy for a little while at least.