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Daredevil: The Man Without Fear Paperback – April 1, 2003
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Daredevil has seen his own share of revisited origin stories. I've only gotten into the character in the past few years, I've loved his adventures, but reading his early exploits, back in Daredevil #1, you have to wonder what happened to make Daredevil one of Marvel's most enduring characters. It was tough to get too excited about Daredevil taking on the Purple Man, or Stiltman(!), or even Namor. Daredevil: Yellow was my favorite retelling of the Daredevil origin, focusing more on the character than his abilities, mostly sweet but hinting at tragedies to come.
Then I read Frank Miller's take.
I had read and enjoyed other Frank Miller Daredevil stories, but The Man Without Fear is a tour de force, writer and artist collaborating to give a legendary character an iconic beginning. The basic story is familiar: son of Battlin' Jack Murdock, blinded in a tragic accident, loses his father when Jack refuses to take a fall for the gamblers, goes to law school, fights for justice day and night (mostly night).
So what makes this story special? I suppose, since he was working with an established character, Miller could cut out the cheese that dominated the first issues, could draw connections to the characters who would be most important in Matt Murdock's epic. Of course Foggy is there, though they Don meet until college; college also brings Elektra into Matt's life, for better or worse. Stick readies Matt to become Daredevil, but questions his usefulness; Kingpin is pulling all the strings behind the scenes, and is no conflicted bad guy - Kingpin is ruthless, merciless, a character who would make Don Corleone nervous. And it is the confrontation with this pure evil that forces Matt to finally become the protector of Hell's Kitchen.
Like I said, it's a familiar story - but you've never seen it like this. Miller and Romita remake the template - this is the style the current series adopted, the gritty realism that would change everything in comics. Daredevil is the hero for the underdog, the blind man who can do things few superheroes manage. There are no "powers," though, no radiation that gave young Matt a "radar sense" as an informal power; Miller's Daredevil is the result of a boy refusing to accept his blindness as a limitation, who enhances his other senses through intense training until he has a vision of the world that exceeds those who allow their sight to define a more limited world.
So if you've ever wondered, "Why Daredevil?", pick up The Man Without Fear, and answer the question for yourself.
Millar has written some terrific stories, including Daredevil: Born Again. However, his stregnth is in the realistic, gritty, dirt-under-your-fingernails, adult oriented story. Unfortunately, The Man Without Fear, reads more like something for kids. I don't know if Marvel had any influence over this because it seems very at odds with Miller stories. The heavy and serious tone so familiar with Miller's writing is almost nonexistent and so this book comes off very flat.
Usually, great writers, can carry on a book based solely on their writing abilities. For example, Jeph Loeb's Spider-Man: Blue, and J. Michael Straczynski's Silver Surfer: Requiem are so eloquently and beautifully written they are masterpieces. Certainly, Miller falls into the category of Great Writers, which is why I was so surpised by the mediocrity of The Man Without Fear. Again, if you want to read a solid Origin story, pick it up- Just don't expect to be wowed.