Whereas Batman: Year One focuses mainly on an adult Bruce Wayne's transformation from amateur to experienced crime fighter, Daredevil: The Man Without Fear traces Matt Murdock from boyhood to his eventual rise as a costumed super hero. Murdock doesn't appear in costume until the final two pages of the graphic novel, which would lead one to suspect that Frank Miller has written a character based story rather one that relies heavily on two-fisted action and cliched dialogue. But then we've come to expect that from Frank Miller, right?
Miller's Matthew Murdock has two great drives in his character. One is to be the free spirited young troublemaker that steals a police officer's baton at the beginning of the story. The other is to be the serious, studious, play-by-the-rules young man that his father wants him to be. Raised in a single parent home in Hell's kitchen, it's not easy for Matt to fulfill his father's wishes, and he often finds himself at odds with his father. Matt's troublemaker characteristics are constantly in conflict with his serious side.
Matt's father, "Battling" Jack Murdock instills seriousness into his son because he doesn't want Matt to end up to be a has-been boxer like he has become; collecting moneys owed to the local crime boss, aka "The Fixer." Jack's relationship with the Fixer will lead to his eventual demise. This will be the second great defining point in Matt's life.
The first is when he saves a pedestrian from getting hit by a truck carrying potent chemical load. Matt loses his sight, but finds his other senses heightened. He soon comes under the tutelage of "Stick" who is himself blind, and Matt learns to make better use of his new abilities. After Jack Murdock's death at the hands of The Fixer and his goon's, Matt exacts revenge. In the course of his revenge, an innocent bystander is killed. Stick, disappointed by Matt's reckless need for revenge, abandons Murdock. Matt, grief-stricken by the death he's caused, vows never to let his reckless side out again.
All that changes, of course, when Matt meets Elecktra in college years later. Elektra is Matt's reckless side personified, and represents total uninhibited energy. The two become lovers, but upon the death of her father Elecktra leaves Matt. Heartbroken, Matt again curses himself for letting his "daredevil" out.
Events will eventually lead Matt to take on the Kingpin, or at least the kiddie pornography ring of his evil empire. Although not in costume, this represents the first true appearance of "Daredevil"; reckless passion combined with seriously doing something for the greater good. It is a melding of the two conflicting impulses that have tortured Matt for his entire life.
The only place where Miller errs is introducing certain aspects of Matt's life that have greater repercussions "later" in Matt's life. A good understanding of Frank Miller's previous Daredevil work helps fill in many of the gaps in the story (such as the significance of Stick and Elecktra). I wonder if those unfamiliar with the Daredevil mythology will be confused by certain parts of the story. Otherwise, Daredevil: The Man Without Fear is a great introduction to the world of Daredevil. John Romita Jr., who illustrated the regular Daredevil comic for many year, does an excellent job of visually telling Miller's story. One hopes the two may team together again.
Text (c) LCB 2000
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