reading superheroes

Two the hard way

I got paid last week, and as is my wont I went to see the good fellows at All-Star Comics to drop some dinero on a few trades. Most of them are things to discuss another time – once the series is finished I will do a mega-post about how freaking great Locke & Key is – but two of them are tales of men in tights fighting bad guys, as per this month’s theme, and I’d like to quickly talk about them and why you should read them.

Exhibit A is the first collection of Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil (which is just called Daredevil Vol 1, rather confusingly). Waid took home three Eisners this year, two for this series, and it’s easy to see why because this book is awesome. After years – hell, decades – of being a tormented, tortured character, Waid brings Daredevil back to his swashbuckling superhero roots, portraying Daredevil with a smile on his lips as he pits himself against four-colour villains and some of Marvel’s old-school villainous groups. It’s a major swerve, but it works because it’s grounded in the story, with Matt Murdock deliberately pushing away his sad past before it breaks him – a move that foreshadows consequences and problems ahead.

For all that the writing is strong – and it is, it’s some of Waid’s best – the artwork from Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin steals your attention away on every page. But again, this plays into the narrative, putting a major focus on Daredevil’s enhanced senses to communicate how he perceives the world, a world of soundscapes and textures and villains/adventures that draw upon Daredevil’s senses as well as his ninja skills. Both artists work wonders with open, energetic whites, snapshot frames and multiple panel, evoking artists like Mazzuchelli and Ditko while having their own unique take on things. It’s glorious, beautiful stuff with a deliberate lightness that never feels trivial.

Over at DC, we have Batman: The Court of Owls, the first volume of Scott Snyder’s side of the post-reboot Bat-verse. This collection (I got the HC, but the trade is due soonish) puts Bruce Wayne back into the title role as Gotham’s guardian, a role he’s comfortable and confident in, especially as he’s backed up by new gadgets and techniques. But his confidence begins to erode in hints that an old urban legend – the Court of Owls, Gotham’s secret rulers – are real and coming for him. Snyder has a horror writer’s temperament and imagination, which bleeds through in the tense, terrifying second half of this book, as all of Batman’s strength and courage mean nothing in the face of a more mysterious, more ruthless enemy that puts him through mental and physical hell, leading up to a ball-tearer cliffhanger.

Snyder is backed up by artist Greg Capullo, who’s come a long way since mimicking Todd McFarlane on Spawn. There’s a exaggerated cartoonishness to a lot of Capullo’s work, but it’s powerfully juxtaposed against brooding shadows, bloody action and moments of terrifying grotesquerie. There are multiple flashbacks, perceptual shifts and hallucinatory episodes in this story, and Capullo seamlessly shifts his style and storytelling to fit each time. If he has a flaw, it’s that his characters’ faces are a little too similar – it’s sometimes hard to tell Bruce Wayne from Dick Grayson when they’re talking – but his body shapes and language make up for it to provide a strong differentiation. Plus, his work in the second half is scary as hell.

These are two excellent superhero books that kick off ongoing directions and stories for two terrific characters. If I had to pick one over the other… well, damn me for a traitor and take away my Bat-card, but it would have to be Daredevil. The sheer energy and liveliness of this book, along with its intelligence and kinetic artwork, make it an absolute delight. Court of Owls is good, but at times the focus on atmosphere and suspense take away from the forward motion of the narrative; Snyder spends a bit too much time building up Gotham as a character in the first half and not enough on having Batman, well, do stuff. On top of that, Daredevil has something I’m really missing in modern superhero comics – a hero who spends his time actively looking for people in trouble and then helping them. Batman does a lot less of that, instead reacting to threats directed at him rather than protecting innocents. I like heroes who are heroic; the DC Universe is kind of lacking that at the moment.

But that said, I enjoyed the hell out of both books, and if you’re any kind of fan of either character, or of superheroes in general, you should definitely give them a read.

7 replies on “Two the hard way”

I had the same complaint about Capullo’s faces, and still agree that Bruce looks too similar to Dick – but I also thought that Bruce and another character looked too similar, and that turned out to be okay with me.

The mayoral candidate whose name escapes me? Yeah, I thought so too. It’s only when they’re together in a panel that the differences in height and hair distinguish them.

On the whole I really like Capullo’s art and storytelling, so I’m not too bothered by it.

These are both on my obtain-at-all-costs list, as are the Locke & Key series. Glad to hear they’re probably going to be stuff I enjoy.

Since I don’t think I’ve seen you mention it, I’ll throw in a recommendation for a book called Chew ( Very weird, very funny, and featuring frequent high-level forensic cannabalism.

As for Locke & Key… I woke up at 4am today and lay awake for 45 minutes, just going over and over the events of Vol 5 in my head, trying not to cry.

There are no words for how incredible that series is.

I read the first issue or two of Daredevil and it left me a little cold. Great art, but the DD I prefer is the more noir-influenced Miller and Bendis run (one of the first comics I ever read as a kid was part of Miller’s early run on DD, back before he took over plotting, and I think that incarnation has left a deep imprint on me). I flicked through single of Waid’s DD as the issues progressed and continued to love the art (even as the roster changed), but couldn’t seem to engage with it in the way I expected and wanted to.

After ‘The Black Mirror’ I think Snyder can do no wrong with Batman, but Capullo seemed like an odd pairing after Francavilla and Jock. Capullo has a great sense of kineticism to his illustrations though, and I’ll undoubtedly pick up the collection when it hits the softcover format.

I get what you’re saying with Daredevil; I too enjoyed Bendis’ run a lot, although it did go about two trades too long. Waid’s run is a very deliberate reversal of that, but not a negation of it (if that makes sense), and I think it’s really interesting to see how he can overtly work against prior continuity while continuing to respect it.

As for Capullo on Batman, I was surprised too, but he really does take up the challenge. The artwork in the second half of the trade, in particular, is inspired.

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