Friday, March 07, 2008

The Man Without Fear (Marvel)
Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #2
When: November 1993 Why: Frank Miller How: John Romita Jr

The Story so far...
When the boxer 'Battlin' Jack Murdock is murdered by the criminal underworld for refusing to throw a fight, he leaves behind a son, Matt, who has the grim task of identifying his father. Complicating matters further is an act of selflessness that renders Matthew Murdock blind, the result of saving a blind man from a truck carrying radioactive material. Though blind, Matt finds the accident has enhanced his other senses, resulting in a radar-sight.

Whilst undergoing training from the mysterious martial arts master, Stick; Murdock finds himself overcome by the emotion of his father's death. Despite his so-called handicaps, Murdock leaves the morgue for the streets, where he begins a one-man war on the men responsible for his father's murder.

Murdock begins at the bottom of the chain; two hitmen called McHale and Gillian. They don't stand much of a chance. When the cops find them in a pool of their own blood in an alley, all they can babble is something about a dead boxer back for revenge. They worked for The Fixer, but he'll have to wait for his turn. Slade and Little Marcello are next on Matthew Murdock's checklist.

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Lee BermejoARTWORK: John Romita JrStrength: Daredevil 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Daredevil 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Daredevil 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Daredevil 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Daredevil 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Daredevil 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Powers: Daredevil 2 (Projectile)

- As a young man, Matthew Murdock was the innocent victim in an accident involving the illegal trafficking of chemicals through New York City. Being doused in the hazardous materials cost young Murdock his sight, but enhanced his remaining senses so intensely he could now "see" through the reverberation of sound -- a bat-like radar sense! The angry youth would find himself orphaned, and consequently dedicates himself to training his body in the martial arts under the tutelage of the mysterious master, Stick.

Murdock's speed, strength and agility would reach human optimum, his enhanced senses complimenting his physicality in battle. By day, Murdock studied to become a hotshot lawyer, but by night he sought a method of justice without rules as the guardian of Hell's Kitchen: Daredevil!

- Slade and Marcello were among the gangsters featured in Frank Miller's alternate Daredevil origin; Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. They are among the five hitmen working for The Fixer, responsible for the death of Battlin' Jack Murdock; who refused to throw a fight for the mob.

The Math: Daredevil Ranking: Daredevil (#12)

What Went Down...
Coming straight from the morgue; Matthew Murdock turns his gifts of a Bat-like radar sense and martial arts training to stealthily seeking a path of revenge. With two of The Fixer's goons already taken care of, Matt's next destination is the gym, where the treacherous fighter Slade, and his suited accomplice, Marcello, are blissfully unaware of their shared fate.

The lights go out. Slades mocks Marcello for being so easily spooked, but when he staggers across the floor and reaches down to feel something wet, he knows that maybe his friend had something to fear afterall. When the lights come back on, a masked man is standing in the ring. A man without fear.

The masked Murdock tosses his ballbat aside and invites the burly boxer to meet him on his own terms, in the ring. The crooked fighter climbs into the ring and casts an intimidating figure. He knowingly looms over Murdock like a colossus, and lets out a chuckle. Matt thinks about the endless taunts of his childhood and in a single motion channels them all from mind, to hip, to leg, to boot.

Slade's knee takes the impact and bends in ways never intended.
The force of the kick explodes out the otherside of it's target. A pathetic spurt bursts from the wound that will cost the fighter quite some time in recovery.

It's a feast for heightened senses. Murdock sucks in the metallic taste of blood in the air and smells the panic and stink of the bulky man's sweat. Riding his own high, Murdock is unaffected, as he slips a roll of pennies into his right fist.
The stack of coins provides a brace that makes his already firm fist even harder. He mercileslly returns every blow that broke his father, slamming his vengeful fist into the boxer's face in a rapid succession, until the coins all spray from his hand.

Matt continues the assault, even when he senses the presence of another man, whose wafting scent of cheap aftershave and cigar smoke lingers at the door.

Murdock keeps close track of the man he knows to be the Fixer as he makes his panicked escape. Even while Slade's ribs crack and splinter beneath Matt's unrelenting boot, he keeps close track. Angelo and the Fixer: the last two needed to satisfy Matt's revenge. The last two who killed Jack Murdock.

The Hammer...
Y'know, in hindsight, it probably would've been more efficient to wrap the whole gang together as one big opponent, but we'll have to settle for Daredevil's victory over Slade and Marcello.

This was to have been an entry earlier in the week, but it sounds like I'm not the only one feeling some fatigue! For the first time in several weeks the Friday post is running on time, but Bahlactus and the gang are taking the week off! Friday's obviously the holy day on the Infinite Wars [as seen in C2C: Round 1], so it's no rest for the wicked, it seems...

Astute readers will note the emerging pattern amongst our most recent entries [DC: New Frontier #2, Phantom #972]. That's probably about all the boxing action we'll have from the squared circle, but rest assured the meeting of martial arts and boxing in Man Without Fear makes for more than age-old debate! There'll be more fighting of a competition sort in some exciting upcoming entries!

Against all odds, Frank Miller won some brownie points with contemporary readers of his Batman work with the most recent issue of All-Star Batman & Robin: The Boy Wonder.
The book, maligned by many as pseudo-psychotic mush, made good use of the latest issue to recast earlier militaristic and emotionless displays from "the goddamn" Batman as examples for impressionable youngsters, ie; Dick Grayson's Robin. Working against Miller, one might argue, has been his penchant for writing stories better suited to the single volume, which is typical of many of his best known works, but becomes an exclusive approach from the nineties onward.

Unlike his sprawling romances with the Daredevil title; Man Without Fear hones in on the subject matter of Daredevil's origins and growth before becoming a costumed hero. For the most part the origin was a non-issue during Miller's run on the on-going title, easily circumvented by what was essentially the deconstruction and rebuilding of the character, post-Born Again. Allegedly an ill-fated movie script, one can see how Man Without Fear differentiates itself not only from established Daredevil history under creator Stan Lee's pen, but also much of Miller's own characterization, particularly in the case of Elektra.

MWF no doubt benefits from knowing what becomes of the confused Matt Murdock, assuring us of a strong character borne of this tumultuous past. In this respect, the story connects well with the Daredevil mythos in the most basic of ways, but still, factors like Elektra as a slightly older woman, flirtatious and dangerous, really repel Miller's own simplicity in the original stories. Then again, much of Miller's writing, especially that on Elektra, is notorious for it's removal from conventional "continuity."

Fanboys have come to have an embarassed, self-loathing relationship with continuity. If the zeaously polite aren't insisting that cohesion and consistency are irrelevant, as they clash with their continuity obsessed peers, they're sheepishly hiding their interest in a sense of reality.

As both a writer and fan, I tend to believe the rules of reality on fiction, no matter how subliminal, are crucial to the artform. I think of unravelling, fantastical histories as the romantic strength of the comic book format, and am consistently disappointed by the flimsy attention to linear realities of life and death. Of course, with characters that bare the demands of contemporary interpretation without the luxury of age or legacy, one comes to accept the necessity of the rewrite, particularly where origin stories are concerned.

In isolation, Miller puts forward an incredibly strong superhero story.
Don't let the lack of costumes fool you, because for all the buzz of 'noir' sensibilities in Miller's writing, he revels in the superhero form. The theme of Miller's writing, which has always gone lengths to prove Daredevil is more than the horned costume, continues with strength in this new origin.

With so many comparisons already evident between Daredevil and Batman, it's refreshing when Miller pushes Matt Murdock further than anyone would expect of the Dark Knight. When this character goes on his rampage of revenge it stops being another superhero inspired by a familial death, and takes a turn toward something more akin to a seventies or eighties action movie. Which I like.

The excess of street level violence and corruption, though common to both DD and the Batman work, is taken so much farther here. If one were so inclined, you could probably read Man Without Fear, Born Again, and the last forty or so issues of Bendis and Maleev's Daredevil to get the abridged 'mental breakdown' version of the Daredevil epic. It fits. This is what makes Daredevil who he is, and in so many ways, I appreciate the over-the-top honesty of this fiction.

Though not Miller's best known work, Man Without Fear isn't without it's importance. Given the sheer prominence of Miller's influence on Brian Bendis' work, it's not hard to imagine this series might have inspired the drawn out take on Peter Parker's birth into Spider-man, as it was depicted in the redevised origin shown in Ultimate Spider-man. Likewise, given the context, the influence of Miller's art style is almost seen in JRjr's pencils, as they take on a strange hybrid of many styles, absorbing some of the harshness of Miller's depiction.

Ironically, Miller now appears to be spending his time on All-Star Batman and Robin, seemingly commentating on the very violence perpetuated in this very story. A violence (and style) perpetuated not just by Bendis, but an entire decade of influenced parties who may or may not have done this style justice.
Many have come to accuse Miller, even in the time of Man Without Fear, for writing in the style of Sin City. I mention the fact that [Man Without Fear] is a superhero story despite any "noir" predilictions, because in Miller's defense, what he's really done over his career with stories like this, and Sin City, is purvey a convention of storytelling by no means his own invention.

It's almost a contradiction because it's that gritty Miller style that makes Miller's writing so enjoyable. As a convention, it really shouldn't need to be excused, even though it's the very themes and violence explored in Man Without Fear that have curdled and turned against him. I suppose what I suggest is that, like Man Without Fear, the serialized formatting of his graphic novel work has come to undermine him, and in essence, Miller becomes a victim of his own success.

Another irony, given Miller's uncharacteristic commentaries on violence and the superhero iconography in All-Star Batman and Robin, which almost inadvertently cast a light of self-parody on works like Man Without Fear. That, however, is really a subject for another time!...

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 5.5

Frank Miller remains a polarizing influence on comics by any definition. You can find many of his influential works in the recommended section of the Infinite Wars Amazon Shop, or use the links provided here to checkout the Daredevil Frank Miller Omnibi! "Man Without Fear" is joined by "Love & War" as well as Miller's other later revisitations to the character in the Omnibus Companion. For the complete story, you can check out the book to which MWF is the companion piece! And remember, when you use Amazon purchase links provided, you help support future entries in the Infinite Wars! Yay future!

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