Thursday, October 23, 2008

Daredevil's Centrific Feats #4 - Deflecting Bullets

The above image is taken from the last part of "Daredevil: The Man Without Fear", a book that every true Daredevil fan should have in his/her collection. This book, in my opinion, truly proves that Frank Miller has been the best Daredevil writer of all time. I will surely return to this miniseries in another entry with a more complete analysis. For now I'll just content with a comment on a breathtaking scene of this book, which incidentally features a fantastic feat by our sightless crusader.
This one feat will probably make some realism-purists turn their nose up, but it's still a good one. And by the way, who said that everything in a comic book should be realistic?
Oh, also, since this is arguably the climatic scene of the whole miniseries, and I'd really hate to spoil it for those who haven't read it, if you still haven't read Miller's "The Man Without Fear" (which you should) and don't want to be spoilered, don't read below the line.


Along with dozens of other children, a little girl friend of Matt, Mickey, is being held captive by a group of children enslavers employed and controlled by the Kingpin. Leading them is Larks, Kingpin's right-hand man.
Larks is a fearsome killer. A ruthless assassin to whom killing is - as described by the writer's voice-over - "as natural as breathing".
Matt breaks into the enslavers' hideout, decided to put an end to their business once and for all. He causes a massive explosion and takes out hordes of thugs armed to the teeth. Sensing that the situation has gotten irreversibly f***ed up, Larks decides to exit the stage, but he takes Mickey with him. His first mistake.

- He's going to stop you! He's going to get you!

- Shut up.

- Matt's got magic powers! I saw!

Oh, we know, little girl. Trust me, we know he does.

Regaining his bearings after the assault, Matt focuses his senses to track Mickey and her captor, but he inadvertantly runs into the police, drawn in there in numbers by all the ruckus he has created. In the space of a few rushing panels, he's ganged up by a dozen cops, handcuffed and thrown in the back of a squad car to be hauled away.

He loses track of Mickey, but still, Mickey doesn't lose faith in him:

Uh, well, not exactly what I was thinking about with this post but sure, why not. After all, the car not starting is Matt's job (he had cut the wires before).
This anyway, delays Larks' escape only for a little bit, just for the time needed to stop a cab and put a bullet in between the unlucky driver's eyes.

Be it the incessantly pouring rain, the agitation of the moment or the creeping fear that, yes, he might well be hounded by a relentless devil with magic powers, Larks finds himself crashing his cab against a police car.
Quickly, he takes Mickey and goes hiding in a nearby abandoned warehouse.

As if in answer to Mickey's invocations, Matt has come. Standing by the door, he orders Larks to let the girl go.

Larks, it has been said, is one of the worst criminals around. Kingpin's trustee. A man for whom killing is like breathing. And, as he reminds aloud, he's the one with the gun. His opponent is simply a blindfolded fellow in a jumpsuit, armed with only a truncheon.

Yet, why it looks like it is he, the one who is afraid?
What's so scary about this man? Who is he? Why is he so adamant in stating that he doesn't want to kill him? Could he actually be capable of doing that?

Too many questions. And whenever confronted with that, people like Larks always go by the shortest answer: pulling the trigger.

He has just gotten a gunshot wound and is not even flinching (I love the sound effect of the silenced gun, in this particular sequence, btw). He calmly repeats his terms of negotiation.
Larks is probably not even listening to him, fear grows within him as he shoots again at that enigmatic nightmare ...

...who swings the baton and deflects the bullet meant for his chest, sending it back to Larks' feet. Beads of cold sweat form on Larks' face. Just who the hell is he facing?

- Call me Daredevil.

"Daredevil". For the first time, in the origin story told here by Miller, Matt refers to himself as Daredevil. A great part of the entire miniseries revolves around what this nickname means to him. It is a memory from the past, of the time when he was teased and beaten by schoolyard bullies, a memory of humiliations, of repressed anger towards injustice.
Bullies teasing the bookworm, bullies blackmailing a has-been boxer, bullies taking advantage of a poor family of father and son. Bullies believing they can take everything they want because they have the muscles, because they have the money, because they have power, because they are "the guy who's got the gun". Larks shoots once more:


And it's one time too much. Matt deflects the bullet again, the already damaged baton shatters, and the bullet is deviated again. This time it finds its mark right the middle of Larks' forehead. He drops to the ground, in a pool of blood. Mickey and the other children are saved, and an important branch of Kingpin's organization has been destroyed. The legend of Daredevil has just begun.

A final word on this centrific feat. I know it's really hard to justify by going with just the strict definition of Daredevil's powers and abilities. His radar substitutes his vision, but how can it - even combined with his other abilities, and possibly with the special training given to him by Stick - be so accurate to define the trajectory of a bullet, and isolate in his mind the right instant to swing for it not only to be hit, but also to be sent back and hit a precise spot? Impossible.
It's already difficult to believe that he can sense the gunner's finger moving to pull the trigger, or even his muscles tensing before doing it, but to say that knowing the instant the shot is fired is enough to do that is a whole bigger stretch.
We could nitpick it, sure. As much as we want.

Or we could simply be like Mickey in this story. Like a little girl believing that Matt, her hero, has magic powers. As someone said, magic doesn't need to be explained. And I believe that maybe there's some magic involved, whenever a page from a comic book can move and inspire us, the way these ones did to me.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Preposterous Plot Points #8 - "Dinner and a movie is overrated..."

Here we are again. This time, this installment won't take place on the regular series, but on a miniseries. Specifically Daredevil: Yellow, issue #3, by the creative team of writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale.
For those who don't know, this mini is a rewriting of the early days, narrated from Matt's point of view as he tries to cope with the recent death of Karen by recalling those days: his father's death, the beginning of his quest as a yellow-costumed Daredevil, the two of them meeting for the first time, the forming of the Nelson & Murdock law firm.
One of the themes of this miniseries is the love triangle forming between Matt, Karen and Foggy. Both the young lawyers were in fact profoundly attracted by the pretty, gentle, blonde-haired secretary. Those DD fans who've read the early issues surely remember how Stan Lee made a mawkish, tiring soap-opera of this love triangle. I suggest those who didn't to read the funny commentaries made by Chris in her blog.
Jeph Loeb ensured to make the budding love story between the protagonists as much as mawkish as that of the silver age, with some extra forced melancholic introspection on Matt's side thrown in for good measure. Before we go to the plot point object of this entry, here's an example of it:

The context: the Fantastic Four have come to the N&M law firm to recruit our protagonists' legal assistance and have just left. Foggy is overjoyed, because they're their first clients. Karen then says:

"Please, don't make fun of Mr Murdock, I think we should be very proud of what he did today"

To which Matt's V.O. comments:

"I forgot as about the FF and what they thought. On that day, I mattered to you"

Oh, geez. Last time I got gooey gooey like that to such a slight praise coming from a woman, I was in secondary school. This is even more exaggerate if we consider that what Matt did of so heroic was just saying something like "uhm, okay" to Mr Fantastic's request of assistance. What's coming next? They'll make him a statue for pushing the right button in the elevator?

Be as it may, Foggy invites Matt and Karen to celebrate in his and Matt's "old college watering hole".

So, Foggy invites the girl he wants to impress in a hole of a place that stinks of cigarette smoke and has society rejects like an old woman who growls and a hobo referred to as "the mad poet" as regular customers. Matt mentioning the urinal in his description doesn't help improving the general image we get of the place, either.
"Well, come on" you'd say "the place doesn't really matter - after all it's a place from their past - what's important is to enjoy oneself, be at ease with friendly people and in good company, right?".
Of course. In fact, what does Foggy do to put his female friend at ease while they're waiting for Matt?

He brings her to the back of the place, to enjoy the company of shady individuals gathered there to play billiards, and instead of dedicating his attentions to her, he relegates her to sit isolated and out of place on a stool, and bets with the rascals on a game of 8-ball. Look at how happy he looks there, stubby in one hand, cue in the other while he's putting his friends in a rather embarassing situation.
"there's nothing bad in a having game of pool at a bar" you may say "it might be a way of passing time".
I bet it is, especially with gentlemen like these:

Foggy's behaviour, lines and facial expressions here remind me of how Loeb didn't get his character at all. Here, and in the whole story, he comes out as an unreliable simpleton, the stereotyped slow and naive friend who serves as a foil to the handsome, wise, cool protagonist. I'm sorry for Loeb, but although his appearence may lead to label him as such a character, Foggy has never been like that. Not even in the early years of DD, in which, if memory serves, the only really foolish thing he ever did was posing as Daredevil in order to impress Karen. But apart from that single episode, in the regular series the Fogster has always been shown to be a serious, reliable person, not the "Donald Duck-esque" caricature we're fed here.
Oh, and you'd think that, presented with a situation like this - with the simple young girl uneasy and out of place, things looking to get ugly, your friend taking unreasonable decisions (maybe already a little drunk) - the one friend who's supposed to be wiser would take the situation into his hands, convince everyone to go in a decent place and, later on, give the other friend a good scolding for the poor showing he made.
Think again:

Is there any need I tell you how the game of pool goes? Matt-the-blind breaks, pockets a couple of balls with the breakshot and then proceeds sinking the remaining balls one by one, ending with the black. How obvious.
And how far-fetched. Not exactly the kind of thing you'd expect from a person who seeks to appear like an ordinary blind man to help conceal his secret identity. And, besides that, Matt has never been the type to either show off or to respond to taunts coming from a bunch of scoundrels.

Strangely enough - but at the same time conveniently enough for this coup-de-theatre to fit into the plot - Foggy doesn't ask himself too many questions on how his blind friend can be a pool wizard. As many fanfiction writers surely know, one of the difficulties of writing stories set in Matt's past consists in the fact that his identity and powers were still a secret to his closest friends, and so there's this always present discrepancy between how his friends see him (as a friend with a disability) and how he really is (a blind man with superpowers that allow him to do things entirely out of the ordinary).
In here, Loeb takes this complexity and throws it all out of the window with great nonchalance. After all, in this miniseries, Foggy is a simpleton who invites a timid girl and his blind friend in a stinkhole of bar to gamble with lowlifes, and Karen is a pretty airhead whose only function in the scene is to hold the main character's jacket while he deals with the baddies and to stare in amazement at his display of coolness.

It is not clear if they leave right after the game or if they actually spend sometime in the bar and have something as they were supposed to do initially. It would be weird if they didn't, but no hint in this sense is given. The scene cuts to them outside, preparing to leave for their homes. Foggy (coherently with the dickery he's showed beforehand, if nothing else) privately asks Matt if he minds if he takes Karen home in a taxi. Matt agrees, telling them that he feels like going home on his own.
As the taxi is about to leave, Karen worries about Matt being on his own:

But it doesn't matter. Matt is the tough guy of the situation here. What really matters is that the poor sweet thingy has hiccups. One more chance to impress her! And what better way of boring the crap out of a ladyimpressing a lady than telling her a good old granny's remedy to make hiccups go away? On a side note, I don't know if doing all that crap he suggests actually works, but I bet that in the time needed to grab a knife, take a lemon, cut a wedge of lemon and go to your neighbor's to ask him if he has some Worcestershire sauce to lend you, it is very likely that the hiccups has gone away on its own.

Well, after that, Matt is left alone in the deserted street in front of the café. I still think it was quite stinky (and out of character) of Foggy to leave his blind friend alone in a street of New York, by night, just so that he could stay alone with the pretty girl.

"Well, maybe they've already done so in the past" you might think "and Foggy is confident that really, Matt is a rather independent person despite his blindness, and that he won't have any trouble to get home on his own".
Think again:

Yeah. The lowlifes Foggy has had them meet before have waited outside to ambush them and get their revenge. Who could've thought of that?
Obviously Matt, not being your ordinary blind man, has no problems in defending himself. This leads to another scene with a number of absurdities, but it's better to stop here and leave it for a future entry because the flux of preposterous in this mini is practically continuous.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

'Nuff Said Month Aftermath

And so it is finished. End of the " 'Nuff Said" month.

Well, uh... what else to say?
(wow, I'm just realizing that one of the effects of this month has been that my blog writing skills have got a little rusty)

(Hmm. A lot rusty, actually)

It has been a fun and interesting diversion. A different way of blogging about Daredevil. I didn't exactly have an idea of what to do with it when I decided to start it. It would've been something on the line of Marvel's 'nuff said month event of february 2002, in which I would've regrouped together some blog entry ideas for which scarce if no text at all was needed, and most of the intended message was told through the pictures and their succession.

Trying to fit the usual monthly updates to series of posts like Preposterous Plot Points and Centrific Feats would've been a bit of a challange, but luckily I already had in mind the right idea for a "silent" Preposterous Plot Point (after all, when you have a splash page of a fattened DD in a tiny motorbike wearing a clownesque Kendo outfit, there's not really much to say to point out it is preposterous), and a centrific feat that needed no comments was not hard to find at all.
In the end, not all of the entries have been merely of the "pics sans text" type, but all of them, in a way or another, were related to silence or to situations where words were not needed.

I must admit that one of the reasons why I decided to start this 30 days spanning event was my desire to emulate a blogger much appreciated by me: Dave Campbell of the now defunct Dave's Longbox comic book blog (fans of that blog have maybe noticed how I try to imitate his style of blogging, sometimes). In that blog, Dave used to have themed events quite often, even if his used to be themed weeks (the relevant content week, the Kobra week, the Star Trek week, the nostalgia week...), not months. Knowing that I'm barely able to post something once per week, however, I was almost forced to make it a month-long event, so that I could fit enough entries in it without altering the usual pace too much.
In this sense, the results have been much satisfactory, seeing as how this has been my most prolific month in terms of number of posts.

I know I'm getting tediously cocky, so I'll cut the self-referring and get on to some reflections.

First off, it's not by chance that all of the contents have been extracted from the DD of the 2ks. And, certainly, it would've been impossible to make a 'nuff said month of the silver/bronze age DD, seeing as how there was never a moment of quietness in those days! Really, even when there was nothing to say, the writer just couldn't help putting a caption saying "you'll all agree that this panel doesn't need comments!" or "look at the masterful work of "gentleman" Gene in this sequence, true believer!".
It doesn't surprise me that most of the inspiration for entries came especially from the Bendis-Maleev run. That duo knew all too well how to tell a story through visuals rather than words. Bendis, particularly, was very good at scripting textless scenes, always making sure that all the ingredients were there to craft a scene that could astonish and impress the reader (as can be seen in the script sample put in appendix to issue #23 of vol.II, which is the issue the panels accompanying this entry are from).
While Bendis certainly had limits that I would never dream of denying, in his tenure as writer of Daredevil he has been a very good scenographer, capable like few other writers to pull awesome scenes out of the top hat, such as the one described here.

Another thing I noticed is how powerful images are to deliver a message. It is particularly true in a book like the modern day Daredevil, where introspection plays a very relevant role. And certainly, it must be said that sometimes adding words to a scene that doesn't need them simply "ruins the magic". Sometimes, a writer can really give more to the reader, in terms of emotions, if he refrains to explicitate what the character is thinking with a succession of invasive caption boxes, and just let the artist's skill and the reader's imagination do the job.

By adding an unnecessary caption, the reader is confined to the role of mere spectator, whereas, with just the right sequence of images you can instead capture him and involve him directly, and on a deeper level, in the story. About this, Brubaker and Rucka and the last entry of the month come to mind. How fantastic was it to see DD disable the crooked FBIs with no captions interrupting the flow of the action, and that would've made it all look like a sort of recap of what was actually happening? Also, how wonderful it was, in that last panel, ending silently, but with a protagonist finally smiling after so much sufferings?

There's a little downside to all of this, however. It, lies in the fact that, when there isn't enough text, the risk that the images fail to deliver the right message is always present. Sometimes there are concepts that just need to be made explicit. More than one person, for example, was perplexed that I said "I miss Bendis" in one of these entries. If it weren't for the fact that the plan was to reduce textual commentary to minimum, I would've specified that a certain kind of moments, a certain way of surprising the reader with an awesome scene coming out of the blue was the reason why I thought Bendis was to be missed. I thought that the sequence posted could've explained that completely, but apparently it didn't, and my comment was interpreted by many as an apology of Bendis' faults. Too bad. I guess you can't win them all.
Anyway, also because of that, in some of the future entries I'm going to expand on several of the themes that have been only slightly touched during this month.

And with this rather prolix reflection, the otherwise silent "'Nuff said month" concludes.

Aw, it's just not like me to end like that, is it?

There. That's more like it. ;)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Little Things

From DD(II) #110



- ... thanks for making me stand and fight.
- ...

- ...

- ... you're welcome.


Note: For more details on this issue, check out this review at The Other Murdock Papers.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008