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 -"


  1. I don't have a lot of experience with Daredevil and the sad thing is my only experience was the movie. What a joke. In fact... this got myself and some friends talking recently if Ben Afflick can be Batman. Bullseye was what I thought maybe the only decent thing to come from the Daredevil movie.

    1. I'm iffy on Affleck's chances to pull off the Caped Crusader, but... we'll see!

    2. The whole cast in the Man of Steel 2 is something I just don't know about. The studio has thrown caution to the wind!

  2. I didn't know Miller created Stick! I figured he was a Stan Lee special.

    Of everything in this post -- which, by the way, makes me want to immediately reread all of these (I've read Miller's Daredevil, albeit close to twenty years ago) -- the thing that strikes me the most are those title pages. What an elegant way to open a comic!

    Comics criticism seems to be just as prone to being victimized by the "auteur theory" as the movie biz is. I'm sure Miller has been given entirely too much credit over the years as you suggest, but I guess it's unavoidable; so many people know SO little about how these things are made that they have a hard time dealing with the fact of "collaboration" (whatever THAT is).

    Man. LOVE that panel where the ninjas are closing in on Matt inside his apartment. Classic.

    1. I couldn't agree more about the title pages and the ninjas closing in caption. That is so damn cool.

      Miller's DD was the first run on the character I read, so when I got to the point where I started reading the older version of the character - from Stan Lee right through Wolfman and McKenzie - it was shocking. Where was Stick? Where were Bullseye and the Kingpin? And when they appeared, why did they look and act so... well, un-badass-edly? And the origin story that Miller expanded so perfectly. Basically, Miller's first run on the title redefined and improved the character and set-up so exponentially that it might as well be considered the actual starting point of the character, as heretical as that may be to some. (And understandably so, I guess, but I have strong feelings about this run!)

      So yeah, Stick, all the stuff with Matt's Dad (sadly left out of these posts, like so many other aspects of the storyline and presentation that I absolutely love,) the Hand, Elektra - I just think DD is so unexciting without these things. My personal opinion, obviously. I did come to appreciate previous (and a handful of later) runs on the character, eventually. But none of it genuinely excites me like DD 168-191.

    2. Understandably!

      And now that you mention it, I'm pretty sure I've never read any pre-Miller "Daredevil." MAYBE the very first issue at some point, but I wouldn't swear to it.