BIG spoilers throughout, if that matters to you. Just so you’re aware.
After re-reading “Born Again” and reminding myself just how good a Daredevil story could really be, I’ve decided – with some misgivings – to seek out some more of the character from non-Miller writers. Specifically, I decided to take a look at Brian Michael Bendis’s run, which is almost as critically acclaimed as Miller’s. I started off with a story of his titled “Daredevil: Underboss”.
I’ll start it off bluntly: I’m just not a fan. “Daredevil: Underboss” was an odd read. First off, I’m REALLY not a fan of Alex Maleev’s art. Part of this is that I was recently spoiled by the near perfection of Mazzuchelli, but even so. I like dark and gritty as much as the next guy, but we’re a step beyond that here. I was sitting in a perfectly well lit place and still felt as if I had to squint to work out what was happening. And when it comes to expressing body language and facial expressions…well, Mazzuchelli was a master at it, so I may be being unfair here, but it’s not even close.
The comic produced a rather weird effect for me. By the time it ended, when I looked back over it I realized a good deal had actually occurred…but when I read it, I was just bored and impatient. The plot: The Kingpin is betrayed by a group of conspirators, among them his own son, who attempt to assassinate him. He survives, but goes into hiding. Meanwhile, a mysterious man has put out a hit on Matt Murdoch – not Daredevil, Murdoch. Matt believes it’s the Kingpin at first, but when he discovers otherwise it sets up a mystery: Who else knows Daredevil’s secret identity?
The story has a lot of potential. Were I writing it, it would be structured as a mystery, with Daredevil working through the criminal underworld, trying to piece together who could have figured out who he was. Perhaps he would enlist the help of reporter Ben Urich, whose investigative skills could be a highly useful asset.
But that’s not what we get. From Daredevil’s end we get several boring scenes of Daredevil going around, grabbing people by the collar, and shaking them. It doesn’t work, probably because it’s stupid. The more interesting story – told via flashbacks, which was a mistake and which interrupted the flow of the story several times – is about how the Kingpin is betrayed, and how his wife takes revenge. I say “more interesting”, but it’s only marginally so. There’s nothing clever going on here. A guy shows up. He offers something better than the Kingpin. He convinces them to try to kill him. Ta-da. It’s the same old story. The only moderately interesting twist is that Fisk’s son is the architect of the plot, but even that’s old news; even Fisk’s backstory in the Netflix series involves him murdering his father.
The story ends with Daredevil’s identity outed to the police. It’s not as if there wasn’t potential here, but it needed to be a mystery, and Daredevil needed to be smarter. It probably should have taken several issues, perhaps as traps and assassins close in on Matt Murdoch’s life and friends. It’s all right there! But instead we get a boring story that doesn’t break new ground and is told in an annoying fashion.
It’s not exactly “bad”, however I make it sound. The dialogue is fine, occasionally great. The art is overdone but well executed. The ending reveal is juicy and looks to set up for some exciting plotlines. It’s just…I’ve seen some people claim that they like Brian Michael Bendis’s run even more than Miller’s, but from where I sit there’s no comparison. I think people forget how highly regarded Miller used to be. Some were declaring him perhaps the greatest comic book writer of all time (he’s still high up on that list). And “Born Again” was written when Miller was at the height of his creative genius; it’s a tour de force, a masterpiece. So the impression I get is that Miller and Mazzucchelli were playing chess while Bendis and Maleev were stuck at tic-tac-toe. It’s a well-played game of tic-tac-toe, but what Miller and Mazucchelli accomplished was more ambitious, more exciting, and just generally better executed than what Bendis and Maleev did. And frankly, I really don’t find myself particularly excited to read the rest of their run, however well received it is critically.
So it goes.