Writer: Ed Brubaker
Pencils: Clay Mann
Inks: Stefano Gaudiano
Publisher: Marvel Comics
I love me some ninjas. And a good noir tale too. And there aren’t many places in the world that you can get both of those in the same place. Mix that with some superhero action, and you shouldn’t be able to go far wrong. Luckily, these are all parts of the package that help make Daredevil such a compelling read.
I’m still not entirely sure why, but despite all the critical praise for this title and my fondness for this genre mix, I have never made it round to reading the Bendis / Maleev or Brubaker / Lark incarnations of the protector of Hell’s Kitchen, although I have tried to stay in the loop with the character’s progression. But as #111 marks the start of a new story arc, it seemed like an opportune moment to see what The Man Without Fear looks like these days.
Marvel has not been shy in promoting the fact that this new arc features a new villain, Lady Bullseye, and the return of the ninja assassins The Hand. I have to admit to being rather sceptical about a female version of DD’s nemesis Bullseye, and in the wrong hands this could so easily have been a weak stunt, but of course Brubaker is too clever for that. Thinking about it, there is no reason why a female assassin should not take on the mantle of the feared assassin and all the terror that name implies for her enemies, and the back-story revealed so far doesn’t make use of too many of the obvious ‘origin’ tricks.
The book features an always welcome appearance from Iron Fist, who Brubaker is no stranger to writing (and with a great deal of success too), and excitingly Rand looks like he will be involved as the story develops. The model-turned P.I Dakota North rounds out the supporting cast, and much of the story revolves around the developing friendship between Matt and Dakota.
Clay Mann steps in on art for Michael Lark on this issue. Now usually, the thought of a ‘fill-in’ artist is enough to kill any interest in a particular book – I do understand why they are necessary from time to time, but the artist is part of the package, alongside writer and character, that fuels the reader’s investment in a particular title, and any short term stylistic changes usually have a marked negative impact on the serialised reading experience.
There is nothing to worry about in this case though. Mann’s work is close enough to Lark that that the regular reader isn’t pulled from the tone of the book that Bendis and Brubaker have worked so hard to foster, but make no mistake, Mann is no simple imitator; he has real talent of his own to easily merit a high profile full-time gig. Some of the panels are simply beautiful, and he also has a graceful storytelling approach while holding true to Daredevil’s noir traditions.
As the introduction of a new arc and a new character, don’t expect dollops of action; but in the hands of the right creators this shouldn’t be necessary, and Brubaker and Mann develop the story at a perfect pace, presented in just the right tone. This issue is simply superb, harnessing much of the power of Frank Miller’s legendary run over 20 years ago, with a contemporary edge. If the rest of Brubaker’s run is like this, I’ve got a serious amount of back issues I need to catch up on.