DEVIL TALK – Mark Waid

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Here comes Devil Talk, our column dedicated to the Man Without Fear, Daredevil! Since this feature started way back in June, we’ve been winding our way through Matt Murdock’s history, in a completely unprofessional and haphazard manner (sorry about skipping most of the sixties and seventies, everyone). This time we’re going to have a look at Mark Waid’s award-winning run on the title. Since his run is still ongoing (though it will be ending soon) we’ll only examine the early part of his Daredevil tenure. First of all, though, let’s catch up…

In Brian Michael Bendis’s run on the title, Matt Murdock’s life was torn apart. Of course, Murdock’s life is quite often torn apart, but this time it seemed that something had really changed in him. It’s quite possible that he had a full-on nervous breakdown, a delayed reaction to the death of Karen Page and, well, all the other terrible stuff that keeps happening to him. By the end of Bendis’s run, it looks like Murdock could be on the road to recovery. Then, the Kingpin rears his considerable head once again, and Matt Murdock is finally arrested by the FBI.

After Bendis left Daredevil, two writers had a shot at writing the title: Ed Brubaker and Andy Diggle. Both of these writer’s regimes are well worth investigating, and contain some fantastic moments, but I’ve decided not to cover them in detail. While they have much to recommend about them (Diggle’s much-maligned Shadowland storyline is more fun than naysayers remember it to be) they are just a continuation of Bendis’s story. In fact, they take the story to even lower places, and Murdock’s life and mental health deteriorate even further. In other words, it was more of the same. More darkness, more gloom. It was a decade of unrelenting anguish. Even Born Again had a happy ending. For a while, it seemed that Murdock’s doldrums would never end.

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Then, once the dust had settled, in enters Mark Waid. Something Waid does brilliantly is capturing the humanity of his characters, and really understanding what makes them tick. He is the perfect writer for Daredevil, then, as Matt Murdock’s human foibles are plain to all to see, and he is more affected by human frailty than most. After all the despair of the previous runs, Waid sought to bring some light into Daredevil’s world.

Under Waid, Daredevil was given a whole new lease of life. Matt Murdock was cheerful. His life remained incredibly complicated following being outed as a superhero, jailed, and his soul taken over by a demon, but he didn’t seem to mind. He seemed determined to put the past behind him, and face the future with a smile on his face. As far as Matt was concerned, he was accepting his troubles and moving on. As far as Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson was concerned, this new ‘happy’ Matt could well be another phase of madness. After all his troubles, Matt was running around like nothing had happened. Was this healthy?

The great thing about Waid’s run is that it sought to bring something new to Daredevil, while acknowledging how dark Daredevil had become. Daredevil’s adventures had become more like his swashbuckling sixties days, slightly surreal and unpredictable. He seemed to revel in his powers, simply enjoying being a superhero. However, we know that Murdock’s good moods never last for long. As Foggy does, the reader can only wonder when the penny will drop, and Murdock’s mind will snap again. After all, losing his mind is Daredevil’s thing. Waid is well aware of this, and is able to subvert our expectations.

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In the image above, we get to see what Matt Murdock’s dreams look like. In his dreams, he is still able to see. What he sees is a wasteland, surrounded by fire, with tombstones reminding him of all the death in his life. It’s exactly what you’d expect ol’ misery-guts Murdock’s mindscape would be like. Despite the brightness that Waid and his artist collaborators brought into Daredevil, Matt Murdock will never truly escape his own mind, and Waid reminds us of this frequently.

The best thing about Waid’s run is that it balances Matt Murdock’s fractured mind with superhero antics that aren’t afraid to be wild and silly. Waid handles Murdock’s mental health with a realistic sensitivity, while also sending Daredevil to Latveria and having awesome team-ups with Spider-Man and The Silver Surfer. They’re comics that you can take seriously, and still have a lot of fun reading.

So, what’s next for ol’ Hornhead? Next year we’ll finally see the new TV adaptation premiere on Netflix. Early indications show that it’ll be inspired by Frank Miller’s take on the character, rather than the Stan Lee sixties model, or Mark Waid’s superhero antics. Chances are it will default to the grim, dark Daredevil that we always imagine, and perhaps prefer. Having said that, I hope it isn’t all doom and gloom. Marvel Studios has so far managed to find a good balance between humour and seriousness for its properties, and I hope it achieves the same for Daredevil. He deserves it.

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