52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
So I could probably write a whole other article when talking just about Mark Waid. The man has worked on a plethora of books for both DC and Marvel Comics, ranging from Kingdom Come to Flash to Fantastic Four and so many others that it’ll fill up the rest of the article if I go on. Waid hasn’t found success just in writing superhero comics for the Big Two, having found a great deal of success with the publisher BOOM! as well, becoming Chief Creative Officer over there for a while. But we’ll talk about that stuff in the next post. Today let’s talk about his time with the character Daredevil. Waid took over writing duties and relaunched the character in the summer of 2011. In the following year Waid won multiple Eisner awards for his work on the Daredevil title including Best Continuing Series, Best Single Issue (thanks to the phenomenal issue #7), and Best Writer (coupled with his work on Irredeemable and Incorruptible). Waid is such a fantastic talent for the comic industry and time after time shows that he has no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Daredevil Volume 1
Matt Murdock is the Man Without Fear! Returning to New York City after an unfortunate possession by a demon (we won’t talk about it) that dismantled the remainders of his already terrible existence, Matt Murdock has a whole new lease on life. As the costumed vigilante, Daredevil, Murdock patrols the streets against crimes occurring throughout New York City all while trying to reassemble his dismantled law practice. With his best friend Foggy Nelson by his side, the two men try to bring Nelson and Murdock back to life but quickly run into a few stumbling blocks that show them they won’t be able to practice law the same way that they used to. With everyone still accusing Matt Murdock of being Daredevil, his battles in the courtroom have become increasingly difficult as his alleged superhero exploits begin to affect the chances of his clients winning cases. All of this shakes down while Matt also needs to work quickly in discovering why a blind man was unceremoniously released from his terms of employment. As Matt digs deeper into the case it gives way to a shocking discovery that promises to turn crime in New York City on its head.
Mark Waid is tasked with filling the momentous shoes of writers like Frank Miller, Denny O’Neil, Brian Michael Bendis, and Ed Brubaker with his relaunch of the character Daredevil. A character who has had legendary runs with the writers previously mentioned on top of many others left unnamed, Daredevil is taken in a whole new direction by the well-loved comic writer in Waid. Wherein many previous takes on Daredevil have had gritty crime elements to them, Waid’s take is a refreshing breath to not only Matt Murdock and his most unfortunate life, but to the entire genre of superhero comics as well. Waid does something that hasn’t happened in Daredevil comics for a very long time, he makes Matt Murdock happy. After decades of gut punching sorrow, Matt Murdock returns after his most recent mental unraveling, of which involved being possessed by a demon, to try to put his life back together one step at a time. Murdock smiles, laughs and cracks a few jokes for the first time in what feels like years, leaving his close friends to sit there and wonder “Where did the old Matt Murdock go?”.
Like I pointed out in the previous paragraph, this is perhaps the most “joyful” take on Daredevil we’ll ever see in comics. Although Daredevil is a character who operates best in the grips of misery and despair, Mark Waid just taps into something special, giving a whole new direction to the character and his supporting cast that feels invigorating because it doesn’t beat the same drum of decades passed. Waid characterizes this “new” Matt Murdock perfectly, acknowledging that while this man is deeply troubled from his past, he’s willing to try to take a new direction in life. As such we get a character who seems to truly take joy in both his professional life, as a lawyer and a superhero, as well as his personal life. With Waid behind the wheel, we’ve never had a more confident (and slightly cocky) Matt Murdock as we do right now. What I find so rewarding about Waid’s run isn’t just in how different it is from other Daredevil interpretations, but how well he actually uses Matt and his “radar sense”. It’s a great thing to see Matt enjoying the use of his gifts, reveling over the smell of an intoxicating perfume or using his sense to take in the full scope of the scenery around him. It’s a true treat to see Murdock thwart a kidnapping attempt at a wedding to then only turn and plant one on the bride because her perfume coupled with his heightened sense of smell makes her completely irresistible to him.
For the other characters in the story, Waid keeps a small, collected cast on hand. There is really only three main characters but even then, one of those characters isn’t necessarily a primary member of the cast until later on during Waid’s time on this book. Your two main characters, Murdock and Foggy Nelson, are characters who have years of history together and, as such, have a great relationship. These characters truly are best friends after everything they’ve been through over the years and that doesn’t change here with this volume. If anything the two men feel closer than they’ve ever been in light of Matt’s recent woes. Mark Waid nails the characterization of the overweight Nelson, having Matt actually push to try to improve his health. With Foggy, what you see is what you get, as he’s a bit of a dorky character but still one of the best supporting characters inside of the entire Marvel Universe. He’s blindly loyal to Matt (pun intended) and work ferociously to help his clients win their cases no matter what. There isn’t much else to be said about Nelson beyond that he’s just a great character and goes through some truly dramatic character changes throughout Waid’s run. His story is rather heartbreaking but only strengthens the bond between himself and Matt. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here, we’re only supposed to talk about the first volume…but just wait until you get to volumes 3 and 4 as it’s not only some of Waid’s best work with Foggy, but his best work overall with this series.
The story for this volume is broken down into two arcs, with the first arc dealing closely with a police brutality case while the second arc is centered around a wrongful dismissal case. That’s right, these story arcs largely hinge on Matt Murdock’s legal career which is just absolutely great stuff by Waid. He seamlessly integrates a pivotal part of who Matt Murdock is a person into who he is as a superhero and it works marvelously here. With that said, Murdock doesn’t actually spend that much time in a courtroom in this volume but there’s a great story related reason for that, which Waid uses to catapult this series of stories forward and give Matt Murdock a new purpose as a lawyer. Both stories run three issues long and are nothing but satisfaction all the way through. Waid sprinkles in a few different villains, none of which are really big time baddies, to keep the book light and playful the entire time. By the end of the first arc the story is spun out to take Murdock’s life and career in a direction never done by any Daredevil writer before. Everywhere you look during this volume of Daredevil there is nothing but swashbuckling fun! This is how superhero comics should be like, entertaining but still heartfelt. Waid shows that superhero stories can still tell serious stories without being dark and brooding. Move over Batman, Daredevil is the new cool kid on the block.
Collects: Daredevil #1-6.
Best Character: Matt Murdock/Daredevil.
Best Scene/Moment: Matt Murdock vs. Night Vision Goggles – Issue 5.
Best Issue: Issue 1 or Issue 3. I picked issue 1 simply based off of the fact that I am the world’s biggest fan of the villain “The Spot”. He never gets used properly and as such is a perennial Z-List villain. But hey, Mark Waid at least makes him some semblance of a problem for all of four pages so that’s a win in my book! My true pick for the best issue in this collection has to be issue 3 though because it’s just satisfying and tees up the remainder of Waid’s run for what he’s trying to accomplish. This is the issue where we see Matt’s career take a whole new direction and it serves as a prelude to how Waid is going to play out a lot of his stories for the series. Waid gives us a perfect taste of what’s to come and trust me, it’s awesome and awe-inspiring. I’d also love to give a special shout out to issue 7 that pops up in the second volume of Waid’s Daredevil run as it is simply not only one of the best single issue of his run, but potentially one of the best Daredevil issues ever AND one of the best single issues to have been published in the last five years. If you aren’t hooked on this Daredevil run after this volume, go read that volume and you’ll be in it for the long run.
Why You Should Read It: Witty, charming, and just the right amount of humourous, Waid’s run on Daredevil is a perfect new direction for the character after all the years of doom and gloom Matt Murdock has faced. Waid sets Murdock on a whole new path in life, as a hero and a lawyer, with the results being nothing short of fantastic. That’s not to say that Waid’s time with good ol’hornhead is just jokes on top of cheesy one-liners because it’s far from that. The further you get into this time period with the character the more you realize there is something dark bubbling under his skin as Matt does his best to keep his literal and figurative demons at bay. These collections hit a fevered pitch of quality around the third or fourth volumes where every issue seems to be an instant classic. Don’t take my word for it, go read it yourself and see why the hype is well placed. If you want a gritty dark protector of Hell’s Kitchen like you see in the Netflix series you may want to start with the Brian Michael Bendis or late Frank Miller stuff for Daredevil. But if you’ve read those stories and want something different, or you just want to read the best damn superhero book from the last five years (trust me when I say that because I’ve read most of ’em) than Mark Waid and his time with Daredevil are definitely for you!
Irredeemable Vol 1
Mark Waid is often regarded as something of a “Silver Age Saviour”, being a man who instills traditions from the Silver Age of comics into the stories he tells. This is something that Grant Morrison addresses in the afterword found in Irredeemable Volume 1, highlighting how hard it is to shuck labels that are attached to you. With Irredeemable, Waid brought forth a glimpse at the difficulties that come with being a superhero, using it as a platform to highlight what happens to a hero when they are too far gone for redemption. Taking those Silver Age traditions and throwing them right through the wood chipper, Waid proved without a shadow of a doubt that he is far more than a fan turned writer who tries to maintain the upkeep of Silver Age ideals.
The Plutonian, the world’s greatest superhero, becomes unhinged and snaps, causing wide-spread ruin across Earth. After years of saving the planet, The Plutonian finally becomes fed up, killing countless innocent people and physically dismantling the planet. Many of his former teammates band together in an attempt to stop him but to no avail, as the mighty hero proves too much even for his long time allies. As these “friends” work diligently to find some way to stop their disheveled ally, The Plutonian basks in his glory, effectively holding the entire planet in a strange hold as he does his own bidding.
Mark Waid inverts your standard superhero story with “Irredeemable”, showing what happens when the greatest hero to have ever live turns on all those he loves and cares for. With free reign of his mighty power, The Plutonian levels entire cities with general ease, showing a sickening side to the writer Mark Waid. As Waid states in the foreword of this graphic novel, Irredeemable is about the cost of being a superhero. The descent into villainy isn’t instantaneous, being more of a slow burn than an Olympic sprint. That’s exactly what Waid starts to put together here, the obscure pieces of the puzzle that reveals what made The Plutonian transition from the world’s greatest superhero to the world’s most vicious super villain.
With only four issues to work with in this first volume, there are a few ups and downs that set Irredeemable off on an interesting course. The small issue count makes it difficult for things to really develop, as Waid uses these fourissues to really cement the brutality and disgusting nature of a man changed from hero to villain. Across these four issues there are teases of what pushed him to the edge, with Waid acting as a great magician who is saving his best tricks for the grand finale far down the road. Irredeemable is largely enjoyable due to its dark subject matter but not being overly dark, an odd paradox that seems impossible to muster yet Waid still manages to do it. The mood of the volume makes you fearful and engrossed by The Plutonian’s awful actions but never are you taken aback by gratuitous or unnecessary violence. Waid does an excellent job of making sure the worst thing you see happen to a character is them getting vaporized. No blood or dismemberment, just a skeletal figure left behind following an intense blast of radial heat. It’s impressive to have a series that deals with something so wicked succeed without being too bloody or vulgar, something artist Peter Krause deserves credit for as well, as it’s one thing for Waid to picture the series in a certain way but it’s a whole other ball game for an artist to actually illustrate it properly.
Even though I mentioned how the small page count affects the story and it’s developments, Waid still makes the most of the real estate he’s allotted, adding in several personal layers to the character of The Plutonian. As his former teammates work diligently to uncover anything to help them defeat their new foe, we learn plenty of interesting things about The Plutonian just as these characters learn them as well. It works to great effect to have these former allies discovering these new things about the Plutonian as you do, partially because it hammers home how woefully unprepared they all were for his sudden turn and to a greater effect it immerses you because of how surprising the information is to not only these fictional characters but to you as a reader as well. Waid takes time to chip away at a few of the mysteries surrounding the Plutonian, with the largest amount of focus falling on his girlfriend and the personal life they shared together. As these former allies dig deeper they discover his alias but also learn about the latent darkness that has always laid within him. What’s so chilling about The Plutonian’s character is how calm he is whilst being evil. A man who has supposedly spent years being the world’s greatest superhero and saving countless lives is disturbingly cold when it comes to having any sort of empathy. The Plutonian enacts terrible crimes and sickening deeds with this bluntness to his voice that is sure to chill you to your bone. Off the top of my head I can think of at least one moment per issue where he doesn’t scream or yell or declare his evil plans. He just does them and any words he states have this emptiness to them, this lack of compassion that you’d expect to see from a serial killer instead of a superhero. The devious mind of The Plutonian is seemingly always at work as you delve further into the story, being calculated and deliberate with every word he chooses to speak.
Collects: Irredeemable #1-4.
Best Character: The Plutonian.
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “Choose ten.”- The Plutonian.
Best Scene/Moment: The Plutonian provides a test for his greatest villains – Issue 3.
Best Issue: Issue 4. It’s hard to pick the best issue out of the four present in the first volume. Each issue is packed with awful moments (and I mean that in a positive way as that’s largely what Waid is trying to achieve, awful moments from an amazing hero) but issue 4 takes the brutal piece of the cake, chucks it against the ground, runs over it with a lawnmower, and then laughs while it watches as you try to you pick it up. If Superman ever did anything like what the Plutonian does in this issue the world would surely riot. But with this issue of Irredeemable you just watch in horror, believing that no hero should ever do what The Plutonian does. It’s a sick, shocking issue that is only heightened by the cold demeanor of our hero turned villain
Why You Should Read It: Irredeemable manages to subvert the superhero genre in ways that have been done before but never to this compelling of a degree. Waid takes a character that should be a Superman knock off and quickly makes you forget that he’s fulfilling that character archetype because of how villainous he makes him. You see “heroes gone bad” stories all the time. Spidey got a brain swap, Hal Jordan went insane, even Tony Stark is inverted nowadays but you know all those heroes go back at one point or another and they will be redeemed somehow. With Irredeemable there is no going back because at the core of the story is the question “How far must a hero go to become Irredeemable?”. Mark Waid gets off to a great start in answering that question here in this first volume.