Sunday, June 29, 2008

Big Ben Donovan

The solicitations for DD #107, first issue of the current storyarc of Daredevil, mentions "a Marvel villain now sitting on death row".
A "Marvel villain"! Holy cow. If they're anticipating a villain in a story by saying that he's a Marvel villain, that probably means he's someone big, like, who knows, Dr Octopus? Mr Sinister? Loki?
He -has- to be somebody this important, otherwise - come on - what need was there to say that this guy is a "Marvel villain" in the solicits of a Marvel comic?

Allright, here's a little hint for neophyte comic book readers: Never trust the solicits.

Here's the so much anticipated "Marvel villain":

"Big Ben" Donovan.
What, you don't recognize him?
That's understandable. He can be considered a D-list villain, whose level of irrelevance would put to shame guys like Leap Frog or Stilt-man (who at least have become iconic in their ridiculousness as villains).

As far as I know, this guy was a foe of Luke Cage, appeared for the first time in the pages of "Luke Cage: Hero For Hire" back in the days when the hero with unbreakable skin was fresh of creation, the umpteenth product of the "blaxploitation" trend of the late seventies, complete with a fancy metal tiara under the afro hairstyle and ghetto slang (today things have changed, and Luke is now the reflection of the blaxploitation trend of the 2000s, complete with bald head and gangsta rapper attitude).
Luke Cage is also revealed to be the "old friend" the solicits talk about, the one who brings Matt the last minute appeal of Donovan.

When in DD #107 Matt goes to meet Big Ben Donovan in jail, from the dialogue that they have it appears that the two already know each other. When did that happen?
Their last, and maybe only encounter dates back to Marvel Knights vol. I #12, a totally forgettable series of the year 2001 in which some street level heroes including among the others the Black Widow, Luke Cage and Daredevil decide to form a team to... um... fight bad guys, I guess.

That series, in fact, was literally packed with fight scenes. In one of these fight scenes, the writer, Chuck Dixon, has the team composed by Moon Knight, Black Widow, Luke Cage, Shang Chi, Dagger and Daredevil take on Bengal, Bullet, Big Ben Donovan and the one who gathered them, Tombstone (who is evidently fond of alliterations when it comes to hire muscle). Already from the number of characters involved you can imagine what kind of mess the brawl is. The artist, however, ensured to make it look even more messy.
Our hero, anyway, takes on Big Ben.

Two things are evident (besides the fact that the art in this book is heinous) from this first panel about Big Ben.
First. He is big, strong and mean. His level of strength is probably peak human. It's the kind of villain that in general works well for Daredevil, with above average strength, speed or endurance, enough to be a match for our hero, and one step above from the ordinary street thug.
Second - and a bit disappointing - he refers to himself in third person. Coupled with the fact that he's big, this translates into the fact that he's not supposed to be very bright.

Daredevil responds with a move that will make Chris Sims' fans rejoice:

The enormous Ben counterattacks with a bear hug, but DD just continues pounding on his face.

Notice what Ben is saying here:
"Uh uh uh UH!"

Wha...? Is he somehow replying to what DD is telling him? Feeling that single blow to his face multiple times?!? Imitating a Mandrill's mating call?!? I'm totally lost here.
Daredevil is clearly having the upper hand, until Ben seizes him by the head with his enormous hand.

How do you get free from a hold like this?

Simple, you just kick your enemy in the torso with both your legs (assuming that's what DD is doing in the above panel). That will automatically make him slacken his hold without risk of any other reaction. Especially if the writing of the book you're in sucks.
After that, with an uppercut from a professional superhero and a simultaneous Widow's bite, Donovan is taken out of commission.

But our heroes now face a new threat: Tombstone is shooting at them with a bazooka he happened to have brought with him for that fight!

How will they escape that? I don't know, don't ask me because the suckiness of this book is overwhelming and I can't just take to read it anymore.
I'll just post another panel from it, that fits in a singularly nice way with the situation Daredevil is facing with Big Ben in the current storyarc:

Man, how I wish Matt would re-enact this panel for real (especially after what Ben said to him in jail, remarking on his inability to protect Milla).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bad Guys Brawl

A thing that really never gets old in superhero comics, and that every reader - though some won't openly admit it - deep down enjoys, is a good hero-vs-hero fight. An example of this involving Daredevil can be seen in the very recent crossover issue Magdalena/Daredevil, where the two titular characters start to fight each other the very first moment they appear on panel together.
A logical explanation for the fact that hero-vs-hero situations are so frequent could be the desire of protagonism incidental to deciding to wear a cape and go out to dispense justice, which coupled with a good dose of holier-than-thou attitude, translates into the irresistible impulse to beat the tar out of whoever threatens to steal the hero his/her spotlight.

Villains, on the other hand, don't seem to share this problem. If another villain shows up, it's quite rare to see the two fight each other for no good reason. Rather, they'll gladly neglect any mutual difference and take the more practical course of action of teaming up against the good guys (often also taking advantage of the fact that in the meantime the heroes have spent time and energies fighting each other).
Situations in which bad guys fight each other are less frequent, but they occur nonetheless. One such situation, magistrally scripted by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Michael Lark, happened in DD vol.II #102.

The issue is the second part of the "Without Fear" storyarc. In this arc, Mr Fear is causing trouble in Hell's Kitchen, starting a fearsome crime wave and pushing a new powerful chemical drug in the streets. He is aided in this by the notorious evildoers known as The Enforcers: Montana, Fancy Dan and Ox.
The trio is hanging around in a bar, putting in act an old-style intimidation against the owner. Montana and Fancy Dan are outside, making sure that no one dares to interfere, while their enormous comrade trashes the inside:

The Ox is thoroughly enjoying this activity, but is suddenly interrupted by Montana being thrown inside through the glass pane.

Oh yeah. The guy speaking is the Wrecker, the leader of the Wrecking Crew, packing an enchanted crowbar and imbued with the strength and durability of an Asgardian god. The one in the background is Razorfist, who is just a martial artist with blades in place of his missing hands (and don't ask me to make a joke about his condition, because it would be the equivalent of shooting at the Red Cross). As told by the Wrecker, both of them are in employment of the Hood, a fearsome ex-mobster who has managed to unite under his command a large number of supervillains, and is planning to control the post-Civil War New York underworld.

Not intimidated at all, the Ox responds with defiance. Taking advantage of the distraction, Dan repeatedly shoots Wrecker in the face and gets free.

Enhanced durability or not, a couple of point blank shot to the face gotta hurt. The Ox prepares to attack the opposing party's strong guy, while scoffing them for not coming in numbers.

You should'a brung more guys, Wrecker.

What a line.
It must be noted that in some places, the Ox's strength level is said to be peak human. I don't think it's the case. The Ox has superhuman strength. Since his first appearances in fact, he's been shown to be capable of feats like bending steel bars or breaking pig iron. And as shown here, he can give a Thor villain such as the Wrecker a run for his money.

In the meantime, Fancy Dan is tangling with Razor Fist.

Meanwhile, Dakota is informed of the situation by her NYPD contact. She turns the tip to Matt, who dons his costume, reaches the place as fast as he can, and enters the fray, both to stop the villains who are thrashing his neighborhood and in hopes of obtaining informations on Mr Fear's whereabouts.
So, from that moment onwards, Daredevil takes them all on, or at least, the Hood's party (the Enforcers seemed to be on the losing end of it). And by definition, that pretty much ends the bad guys brawl, I think.





... naah, I can't just end this post now that DD is about to lay the smack upon some villains with odds against him, can I? :P
The scarlet swashbucler takes full advantage of the element of surprise, and pushes the midget gunman Fancy Dan right into the reach of Razorfist's Blades:

At this sudden appearence and unexpected aid, Razorfist gets confused as a cat in a violin making factory, stopping to wonder whether DD has "switched sides". Daredevil is quick to remind him that sides and superheroes have stopped being cool in the same context with issue #2 of Civil War, by landing a boot on his face.

Razorfist slashes savagely through the air, in hopes of catching the paladin of Hell's Kitchen. But, unfortunately for him, hitting an acrobat with a built in radar sense isn't exactly the easiest thing to do. The Wrecker, in the meantime, has gained the upper hand on Ox and is about to turn his attention on the newcomer. Realizing that those blades are adamantium, Daredevil pushes Razorfist towards the Wrecker, making him inadvertently slash his own ally.

The enchanted crowbar fallen off the villain's hand, Daredevil concentrates on Wrecker, starting with a heavy dropkick to his head.

The scene switches for a moment to the Enforcers, who regroup together and decide that, with one of them severly injured and the cops surrounding the zone, it's best to make a strategic retreat. We then return to DD and the Wrecker, and this is what we see:

Yes. Daredevil is pounding the snot out of his superhumanly-strong opponent by hitting him repeatedly with the end of the street lamp Razorfist has cut before.
How cool is that?

However, focused on not letting the Wrecker catch his breath, Daredevil forgets about the Ox and his cronies, whom he was planning to pursuit to be lead to Mr Fear. When he notices that they are no longer there, he gets distracted for a moment, allowing the Wrecker to make a wall collapse on him.

And this ends the battle.
Ah, by the way don't worry about the fate of Daredevil, anyway. As someone else put it, in fact:

"he is a survivor. That's his curse, really... whether he knows it or not."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Coming soon at "The Other Murdock Papers" !

Coming soon at The Other Murdock Papers Daredevil blog, a delicious analysis of a recurring situation in the adventures of ol' hornhead...

...see? Even Daredevil cannot wait, and has hi-jacked a cab in order to "get there first". Don't miss it!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Preposterous Plot Points #4 - "The Matryoshka Identities"

In the beginning, the blind lawyer Matt Murdock decided to use his talents to fight crime as the costumed vigilante Daredevil. Whenever he wore the costume, he was simply Matt Murdock impersonating Daredevil.
Why am I stating this obvious fact? Well, because there was a period in which it all became a little more complicated.

For a series of reasons that deserve a chapter solely dedicated to them, in fact, Matt told his closest friends that Daredevil was actually his twin brother, Mike, who wasn't blind and whose personality was totally different from his. To convince them of the existence of this imaginary twin, Matt began to impersonate him. And obviously, to maintain the charade, he had to keep in mind that whenever he was in costume, he was actually Matt Murdock impersonating Mike Murdock impersonating Daredevil.

With DD#30 the thing was brought to a new level of absurdity.
Matt, in fact, in order to lure Cobra and Mr Hyde, two villains who were traditionally antagonists of Thor, decides to disguise as the thunder god himself.
Better yet, instead of directly disguising as Thor, he decides to wear a Thor costume over the usual Daredevil costume.

What? Skin-colored plastic worn over his Daredevil costume? Wouldn't he feel hot as hell under all those layers of skin-tight stuff? Also, why does he feel he'd need his regular costume? Is he afraid that they can tell his true identity if he leaves his bare arms exposed?
Be as it may, with the transition of a page, there he is: happy as a schoolboy in his thunder god disguise. Now watch the panel below while keeping in mind that all of what appears skin is actually plastic fabric, and that underneath it there is supposed to be a Daredevil costume:

But it isn't over:

In this panel - which I personally find quite scary - not only the main character sort of admits the absurdity of forcing himself to juggle four identities, but we're also told that, because he needs to know the effectiveness of all the crap he's wearing, he decides he must test it on his friends. These friends, by the way, know that Mike Murdock is Daredevil, therefore he must be Mike Murdock under those masks. Which means that he's going to wear the "fancier" type of sunglasses which visually characterize Mike. Although Mike is supposed to be his identical twin, in fact, Matt is evidently afraid that they would believe him to be the one who is Daredevil, if he showed up with the wrong type of sunglasses.
So, in short, Matt decides to be Mike Murdock under the mask, and so wears the loud sunglasses for a moment. I think it's reasonable to say that he removes them immediately after, because despite all the effort I can put into it, I can't believe he would be wearing sunglasses underneath the DD mask underneath the Thor mask.

Despite all of this, his main problem is the "nutty cape" he's wearing, wich muffles his radar sense (I know what you're thinking, but remember we're talking about the days when even a clown like the first Matador, by just waving a cape of cloth around, could be a match for our hero).

It has to be noticed that his friends weren't exactly depicted as very bright in those days (which indirectly suggests that he has set the bar a little low for himself when he decided to test the effect of his costume on them).
Here Matt removes his Thor mask (which was apparently also included with the costume), revealing himself as the cool-sunglasses-wearing Mike Murdock, to the surprise of Foggy and Karen.

To be frank, Foggy, more than surprised looks perplexed, probably wondering how crazy Matt's twin brother really is. The poor fellow couldn't imagine that he was just peeking at the tip of an iceberg, there, and that there wasn't even a twin brother at all to begin with.

We now have Matt Murdock impersonating Mike Murdock impersonating Daredevil impersonating Thor.

Sure enough, as anyone who is familiar with superhero comics knows, impersonating another superhero, could well be a way to lure villains into a trap, but, more realistically, it is a good way to lure the impersonated superhero to you, leading to one of those "battle between two good guys caused by a misunderstanding" situations that have always made the authors go crazy.
Thor learns that someone is fooling around New York wearing his vestiges and decides that, verily, it is an outrage that can't go unpunished.
Before the fight gets serious (still, serious according to the 60's standards), the Norse god invokes the fury of the winds, which strips Daredevil of his disguise (the outermost one, the DD one remains conveniently in place), including the skin-colored plastic.

And so, at long last, after excruciating pages of distorted logic and improbable physics, one of the most insane plot points of the Stan Lee era comes to an end.
I'll conclude this entry of the matryoshka-identities of Matt Murdock with another eloquent panel taken from that issue that really contains it all: the writer's subtle admission of the fact that the plot is insane, the disturbing image of a man with half a costume who is about to wear a cowl of another costume over a pair of large sunglasses and looks happy about it, the obnoxius attitude that Matt had to put up whenever he was playing his twin brother, the blonde girl of the supporting cast who doesn't really care about it all because she's so in love with the main character.

With this issue, the reader is - maybe for the first time - grazed by suspects of Matt Murdock's latent mental instability, which in the successive decades of publications would have degenerated in more explicit forms like dissociative identity disorder, passive-aggressive neurosis and episodes of nervous breakdowns.