It was in this 1998 Daredevil series where Brian Michael Bendis began to kick off Marvel's revival as one of the powerhouses of mainstream sequential storytelling. He also revamped the character of Daredevil after a slump in the '90s, by pulling a Bob Stoops and completely turning the Daredevil series around into a richly compelling narrative once again.
I've made it no secret of my love for The Man Without Fear, to the point where I modeled my profile picture after the poster from the first season of the phenomenal Daredevil Netflix show. Like many, I was drawn in from the old stories from Frank Miller, alongside the later work of great writers like Brubaker, and the aforementioned television show. Bendis showcases his knowledge of the character's history and gives respect to the people who came before him, while not being afraid to pave his own direction for the story of Daredevil.
Bendis rather brilliantly takes the concept of Frank Miller's Born Again and runs with it to its logical conclusion. Particularly with "Out" —which is one that I would consider to be one of the best Daredevil stories that I've ever read— when Matt Murdock's identity as Daredevil is exposed to the entire world and he is forced to deal with the consequences of this action, as well as the pushback that he gives in order to cover his tracks. Bendis explores the nooks and crannies of having his identity being out in the public, and all of the troubles that would come from such a situation.
Bendis showcases a keen understanding of the crime/noir genre: the hard-boiled dialogue and inner monologues, and crime bosses scheming to take power and squash anyone who gets in their way... all are intact throughout the entirety of this first Ultimate Collection. While Michael's "Bendis-speak" can be awkward at times, he keeps tight control over the narrative and brilliantly uses non-linear storytelling in order to slowly build a crescendo to Matt Murdock's biggest struggle in his life thus far. It is this, alongside Alex Maleev's gorgeous artwork that really makes this story shine.
Bendis also takes the right notes from writers like Moore and Miller in the way that he makes the world of superheroics and theatrics feel real and lifelike. Yet he never copies them, he takes the notes from what makes their comics work and adds his own spin to it. Bendis manages to find a neat balance between realism and the comic book superhero action style that we're accustomed to when we read superhero comics. But Bendis isn't afraid to push buttons or to take characters to new levels of intensity if needs be, and it makes me all the more excited to read the rest of this run.
Also not to be forgotten is the artwork, and I think I'd be remiss not to mention that Alex Maleev is one of the best artists that I've seen take on Daredevil aside from Bermejo, Mazzucchelli, Samnee, and Lark. His style is rich, and oozes the gritty noir with the gruff chiaroscuro that he evokes with his artwork. Maleev's art, alongside Bendis's writing, makes for a pair in comic book heaven. David Mack's art also proves to be unique, in a style that I would say looks like Alex Ross's art... if he took acid. It's a unique style and is certainly polished, but it's not for me personally. The only art that I didn't really like was from Gutierrez and The Dodsons, who had that bland, early 2000s Quesada-esque artwork, which doesn't compare to the more evocative illustrations of Maleev and Mack.
There are so many great moments compounded into this first Ultimate Collection that it's hard to talk about every single moment that I loved. But some particularly strong moments include when the FBI agents are debating amongst themselves on if Matt Murdock is really Daredevil; the part where Silke, Richard Fisk, and the other guys turn on the Kingpin and stab him to near death; also when Vanessa Fisk proves how twisted she is by killing her own son, Richard; Daredevil hugging Leap Frog's kid after the possibility comes out; the issue where someone attempts to assassinate Matt Murdock and Daredevil stops the assassin (there's no dialogue throughout and it's just visual storytelling); and the moment where Hector Ayala is tragically gunned down after he is declared guilty for a crime that he didn't commit.
People still debate if Bendis ever again captured lightning in a bottle in the way that he did with his run with The Man Without Fear. But one thing is for certain: it is one of the best Daredevil runs that I've read in a long while.
Happy Darecember, ladies and gentlemen!
You can find Daredevil Ultimate Collection Book 1 (collecting Daredevil (1998) #16-19, 26-40) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev on Amazon, Comixology, or your Local Comic Shop.
Britton Summers spent much of his childhood collecting action figures and toys, and through that hobby discovered a love for comic books that's continued to this day. His love of storytelling led him to want to become a writer, so he is currently in college pursuing a degree in Journalism and Broadcasting. Britton lives in Oklahoma with his parents, dog Alexis, and cat Jerry.