Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Original Release Date: 1993
Of all my Daredevil reviews leading up to Friday’s eagerly anticipated debut of the Netflix-exclusive show, this one is perhaps the most interesting. When asked about the nature and tone of the show, Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight was quoted as saying, “without giving too much away, this show is Matt learning to be a hero. He starts in that first iteration of the Daredevil outfit which is taken very much from Frank Miller and The Man Without Fear”, a statement which gives this particular review a far greater relevance ahead of this Friday’s release.
While Daredevil: Yellow may be my personal favourite ‘origin’ story (even if it really doesn’t deal with the actual origin so much as the early years and blossoming, tragic love story between Matt and Karen Page), Miller and Romita Jr’s The Man Without Fear runs it a very close second, providing a far more in-depth look at the genesis of this utterly intriguing character. As mentioned above, the lack of familiar red (or yellow) costume seems in keeping with the style of the upcoming Netflix series, with this story focusing far more on Matt’s gradual evolution into Daredevil rather than – as with so many other DD stories – joining us after the fact.
Miller is quintessentially Miller here, providing the familiar narration that typified his run with the character, and effortlessly treading the line between bleak and inspiring as he weaves his crime noir tale. He tweaks the previously established origin story subtly here to help accommodate his own ethos – and to allow him to include some of the key characters who played such a significant role during his iconic run with the character. Both Elektra and Stick feature heavily here, a nod to Miller’s clear affection for the characters, and their inclusion gives Matt’s origin far more of a gradual emotional transformation than the bright, Marvel-style approach of the original.
In some places however, his tweaking may actually get in the way of the story as he tries to tie too many things together – the addition of Matt and Elektra’s ‘mystical’ origin, for example, feels clunky and unnecessary. While the vast majority of his run was pretty much note-perfect, it almost feels at times here that he’s going too far in trying to create a ‘straight’ crime thriller, neglecting a few of the facets of the Daredevil character that make him so damn appealing. That said, this is still a truly impressive piece of work, and the Netflix show would do well to capture any aspect of the deep-rooted psychological drama of this series.
Now, to the artwork – Romita Jr. is most certainly at the very top of his game here, providing the same dynamic sense of energy in his panels that he has become famous for, but also providing a more detailed, atmospheric approach – the Miller effect, I guess – particularly in his rendering of the grimy streets and back alleys of Hell’s Kitchen. The subtle shift in his style when it comes to illustrating Elektra gives her an added attraction, mirroring the way Matt views her as an almost ethereal figure at times. You’d be hard pushed to find a more technically accomplished example of JrJr’s work anywhere else, and his grasp of visual storytelling spurs Miller’s tight narrative forwards. The final splash page of this issue is Romita Jr at his finest, and serves as a perfect sign-off that – fingers crossed – the Netflix show will hopefully choose to emulate.
Overall, while it may not necessarily be Miller’s best work on the character (check back tomorrow for that particular gem, folks), The Man Without Fear is a subtle twist on the established origin and provides a deeper insight into the mindset, ideology, doubts and – yes – fears of Matt Murdock. Two creators at the top of their game, weaving an utterly compelling tale of pain, loss and determination, this is pretty much essential reading for anyone who wants to prep themselves for the Netflix show this Friday.
The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson (aka Ceej)
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