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.


  1. "They were given Van Gogh and turned it into Van Wilder."

    That's the line of the year to date, right there.

    Yeah, that Elektra-death issue is strong, strong stuff. I'd read it, and had a vague memory of how it went down, but looking at it again here really drives home just HOW good it is. Masterful.

    1. Nice - I'm really happy to hear I screencapped it effectively! Paring these issues down was very difficult for me, and I left out so much good stuff.

    2. Having done similar things, I know how difficult - and time-consuming -- a process that is. It'll take you hours to do a single issue, if you let it, and if it's as good as that one!