Frank Miller's Daredevil pt. 2

Part of the reason that Daredevils #168 through #191 work as well as they do is Miller's deft use of supporting characters. With the exception of Lt. Manolis (the police lieutenant whom Daredevil unknowingly delivers a briefcase full of newspapers from that screencap I posted last time) all of them get the chance to take center stage at some point. Space precludes me from thoroughly examining each of them, so I fear the Black Widow and Heather Glenn (both fairly important to the narrative) will join Turk, Grotto, and Ben Urich in the "I wish I had time to fully represent how well these characters are handled, but I don't" drawer.

The only thing I'll stop to emphasize is that there is no dead weight here; the absence of any character that appears in these issues (even the random ones, like taxi drivers et al.) would make the story poorer. That's a remarkable achievement in serialized entertainment. Miller takes the time to individualize just about everyone that appears in these pages, from the Kingpin's lieutenants to taxi drivers to barroom riff-raff.

Of the supporting cast that remains, some are so vital to how events unfold that they might as well be considered co-stars of the book. I'll save Foggy and a few others for next time, but let's start with:

Although created by Marv Wolfman (first appearing in DD #131) the character didn't fully materialize until Miller's run. When we first meet him, he's having violent hallucinations as the result of a newly-diagnosed brain tumor. Once the tumor is operated on, he's released from prison, only to get immediately swept up in the mob war between the Kingpin and his former crime bosses.


The sense of danger and violent mayhem that Bullseye exudes was unlike anyone else in comics at the time. 
Also noteworthy: he gets to narrate most of the sections he appears in. (Remember what I said about thought balloons being phased out over the course of Miller's run?)
As with kung-fu, Miller wasn't the first to employ this technique, but he did it so well that it's been copied widely ever since.
To save time, imagine I say something like "Good lord, look at this, folks - absolutely perfect" every time an action appearance appears from here on out.
It's difficult to say whether Bullseye or the Kingpin is the more pivotal "big bad" of Miller's run. Both complicate and impact Daredevil's life in equally profound ways.

Although not the character's creator, like Bullseye, Miller's reboot of the Kingpin was so comprehensive that it's been used as the template ever since.
He was primarily a (rather uninteresting) Spider-Man villain before Miller re-branded him as Marvel's criminal-empire version of Darkseid.

A dangerous and ruthless foe (as evidenced above) but sympathetic, too: he gave up his life of crime out of devotion to his wife, but said devotion is the weakness his enemies exploit to maneuver him back into it. (SPOILER ALERT: Bad move on their parts.) Here he delivers the kind of speech Miller would put in the mouth of many a character much less succinctly in later works:

Truth. Unfortunately.
But of course the most important supporting character / co-star of Miller's run is Elektra.

As discussed in Adam Besenyodi's excellent article in Back Issue #48, Elektra was designed around her Daddy issue, i.e. the Electra complex.


As Miller himself put it in later interviews: "A young woman who had her sexual interest centered on her father, and just as she was transferring those feelings to another man, her father was killed."

Reinventing herself as an assassin and wearing the scarf Matt brought to her the day her father was killed.
The Freudian reading is by no means essential to understanding and enjoying her character arc, but it is certainly interesting, particularly as subtext to the following:

Obviously, as a kid, none of this Electra Complex stuff registered with me. And while it may have been the starting point for the character, she transcends it fairly quickly. More than just the "woman from Matt's past," more than just the bad-ass female assassin (though she is sketched out brilliantly for both of those things) Elektra and Bullseye (and the Kingpin, too) are all such effective counterpoint to Daredevil's own convictions. Tangible reminders that regardless of the path he has chosen, he cannot save those who refuse to be saved. In traditional superhero comics, of the time at least, this would result in the hero's confirming his commitment to heroics in a "With great power comes great responsibility" monologue. In Miller's hand, all of this character-mirroring and inner conflict serves to drive Matt Murdock a little insane. 

That's what really confused me when other writers took over after Miller left. I'll get into this more next time, but Matt more or less snaps after all he goes through in these stories. Miller's last issue on the title (#191) has Daredevil breaking into the prison hospital and playing Russian Roulette with a comatose Bullseye, for f**k's sake, yet he's back at work and normal in #192. (Miller makes up - perhaps even over-compensates - for this when he returns to the title for the "Born Again" saga, as we'll see in pt. 4 of this series.)

Beyond the high drama of the Elektra/ Daredevil dynamic, there's the proverbial crapton of brilliant action sequences:

Finally, to paraphrase the movie title, We Need To Talk About Kirigi, the unspeaking, virtually-immortal ninja assassin the Hand hires to kill Elektra. Here's how he was introduced.


I am unable to put into words how completely this character impressed me at the time. I was unfamiliar with the "unstoppable killer" trope, so something like the following totally freaked me out.

It pains me not to include this entire fight sequence, spread as it is over a couple of issues.

F**king metal. When I was older and finally got to see things like Friday the 13th, I was completely unimpressed. Sure, Jason Vorhees was an unspeaking and unstoppable killing machine. But neither he as a character nor any of the Friday the 13th films as a context approached the levels of awesomeness that was Kirigi in Miller's Daredevil.

It's not just Jason Vorhees, though. I could never understand why my fellow comics fans were so taken with the revamped Ghost Rider, Carnage, Venom, or Lobo, in later years; they failed to clear the high bar Miller set in my imagination with Bullseye, Kingpin, Elektra, and Kirigi. Rightly or wrongly, these characters are my standards of comparison for all who came after. (And this is a huge part of why the Daredevil and Elektra movies piss me off as much as they do. They were given Van Gogh and turned it into Van Wilder.)

The midpoint of Miller's run (as writer/ artist) is Daredevil 181. It was at the time the most shocking comic I've ever read. Which wasn't saying much in 1982 / 1983, as I'd read only a few dozen comics. Regardless, this continues to define "event comic" for me (as do the Death of Phoenix and Days of Future Passed stories in X-Men.)

These few screencaps don't do it anywhere near justice.

I mean, good lord, that's brutal as hell. Forget about "Luke, I am your father," though that, too, of course, sent shockwaves through my brain. This slaying of Elektra exploded my world at the time and still makes me gasp. As much as this next sequence puts a lump in my throat.

Plenty of writers and artists have played the "girlfriend brutally murdered" card. (In comics, this trope would even develop a name: the women in refrigerators syndrome.) But this goes so far beyond tropes for me. I could no more look at this as "just another example of violence against women" as I could look at JFK as "just another victim of gun violence." This was all the bloody, shocking impact of death and violence (and what Daredevil and by extension all heroes fight agains) in a handful of panels. I've heard older comics fans talk about the death of Ferro Lad in Adventure Comics in a similar way, but this was the death of Ferro Lad on an exponential level. We see the brutality of murder and share the trauma, rage, and anguish that comes in its wake. 

And Bullseye doesn't even realize he's slain his arch-enemy's greatest love:

He figures out Daredevil's secret identity but convinces himself that he's wrong. This lends Bullseye's parting narration at issue's end even more gut-punching irony.

Before we close this installment, Matt spends the rest of next issue in aggressive denial over her death.

His obsession drives him to exhume the body in the cemetery and he finally surrenders to the overwhelming reality and totality of his grief.

As with that other shocking death from 1982, Elektra would return, but at least for the rest of my time as a Marvel reader, she and Matt never actually reunited. (More on this in pt. 4.) This lent Elektra's death (and Matt's falling apart over it) a weight no other comics death has ever had nor likely ever will.


Frank Miller's Daredevil pt. 1

Of all the comics I read in my formative years, the one that still stands head-and-shoulders above them all is Frank Miller's Daredevil. As aided and abetted by Klaus Janson on inks, of course. Let me step aside for a moment and let Klaus set the stage (from his introduction to Visionaries: Frank Miller, vol. 3:)

"Frank and I started with a whimper, not a bang. I look at DD #158, and I see two artists trying to fit into a mold neither was very comfortable doing. Frank was doing what Marvel wanted: middle-of-the-road storytelling that would not scare the older readers away. The work was good but not inspired."

Miller's first DD cover (from a breakdown by Dave Cockrum)
"It was 12 months later that the first sign of greatness poked her head out: Elektra." 

"When Frank introduced Elektra in DD #168, it was the culmination of Frank's intent to rebuild Daredevil and his supporting cast. Admit it, wasn't the series as fun to read for the adventures of the hapless Turk as it was to catch up on DD?"

"Where was Ben Ulrich before Frank?"

Both Ben and Turk/Grotto deserve far more attention than these meager screencaps, but I'll try (and likely fail) to keep things as brief as possible.
"Didn't you just love it when someone went flying through Josie's window?"

A running gag throughout Miller's run.
"Frank's writing turned the series into a comic book that did not talk down to the readers. It was smart. That approach was unique at that period of time. We take it for granted, I think, that so many writers working today can trace their origins in style and tenor right back to Frank Miller."

Before I get into some examples of that style / tenor and why it was such a game-changer, I should mention that at times (less lately, given Miller's bizarre gradual transformation into David Mamet) he's given a little too much credit for some things. I would never suggest he's overrated nor am I here to "set the record straight;" I am here only to geek out over these stories that have been illuminating my psyche like signal flares for decades. I forget where I read it so I can't give you the exact quote, but I recall reading a review of Archie Goodwin's and Walt Simonson's Manhunter series (itself an absolute classic) where the reviewer praised the book for "brilliantly foreshadowing Miller's use of ninjas." I mean, really! Kung-fu / ninjas was already as integral to the mythology of the 70s as Kiss and Charlie's Angels before Miller came along. What Miller did was crystallize several already in-process trends of the decade and bring them into the 80s.

Similarly, he's given credit for changing the art of the title page. Miller's titles pages (as evidenced below) were fantastic, loads of fun, and looked so unlike anything else I'd seen at the time. But - as Miller himself has said repeatedly - he made them as tributes to Wil Eisner and Alex Toth, whose pioneering efforts showed him the way.

I recommend enlarging all of these for a proper view.

Again, this isn't to take anything away from the guy. What certainly is true is that Daredevil serves as a microcosm of how comic books as a genre changed over the 80s and beyond.

This, for example, from DD #168 - a fairly typical couple of panels from the period. Caption-heavy. Miller is often (rightly) credited for popularizing getting rid of descriptive captions and instead using them to replace thought balloons. A trend which became ubiquitous in later years (and still today.)
And while it may be a shock to those who only know his later work, he wasn't above the melodrama of the medium, as evidenced here.
Nor was he above using humor alongside all the action and twists and turns and real-world horror of his run.

You just don't see Miller having fun like this in his later work.
I love this. (DD thought the briefcase was full of incriminating papers.) I can't prove it, but I've always thought the scene in Batman Begins (heavily influenced by Frank Miller, as was Robocop - incidentally, two of the best films ever made) where the Chinese cop responds to Bruce Wayne's saying "I'm not a thief!" with "Tell that to the guy who owns these" is a tip of the cap to this panel.

I agree with Janson that it took awhile for the book to hit its stride. Like I say, you can see the "old" style of comic book storytelling in the beginning of their run together (when the stories were still being scripted by Roger McKenzie) and the "new" or style-to-come by the end of it. 

But beyond all that, it's just beautiful to look at.

I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up The Hand, i.e. the band of ninja assassins who begin to pop up around issue #174 and stick around for almost 20 issues. 

This side of Daredevil did not exist before Miller's run. After it, one couldn't imagine Daredevil without it. (Well, at least I couldn't - probably a big reason I never connected with any non-Miller material on the book.)

In addition to revamping the Kingpin and Bullseye (both of whom I'll cover next time,) Miller considerably expanded and deepened Daredevil's origin story. He re-defined the character and turned him from a second-tier rather generic Marvel hero into a passionate, complex and fully-fleshed-out superstar. No writer before or since (including Miller himself) has captured the character in quite the same way.

I'll leave off with these few bits from DD #177, which is one of those comics that if you start screencapping, you won't stop. (I'll return to it a few posts down the line when I discuss Miller/ Romita, Jr.'s "reboot" of it in Man Without Fear.) Daredevil - temporarily suffering from a loss of his radar sense - reconnects with his old master, Stick (a Miller creation) to get his groove back.

Daredevil eventually hits the target, to which Stick responds "Anyone can do it once. You're going to get your radar back -"