March 17, 2017 by DJ Murphree
For my first post, I have decided to focus on the first issue of a mini-series about my favorite character from Marvel Comics, Daredevil. I am referring to the early 1990’s origin tale by writer Frank Miller and artist John Romita, Jr. entitled, Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. There is a good portion of fandom out there that points to this series as being the definitive origin story of Daredevil. Personally, I find myself leaning into that direction more often than not, but there are some elements of the Daredevil #1 from 1964 and the Daredevil: Yellow mini-series that I like as well. With all that being said, let’s take a look at a boy who will eventually grow up to be the unlikely hero of Hell’s Kitchen.
We open our story during the summertime in an area of New York City known as Hell’s Kitchen. A young boy named Matt Murdock spends his days alone on the balcony overlook of his apartment home. Those long idle hours during the summer can make a young man go stir crazy. Matt’s plan to remedy this is to head off with a police officer’s billy club through the streets of Hell’s Kitchen on a skateboard. The cop gives chase but Matt is able to elude his pursuer by losing him in one of the many alleyways. By the way, he does all of this while wearing a hooded mask to conceal his identity. The thrill of the chase ends with Matt stashing his prize away in a locker at the local gym and heading home.
We then meet Matt’s father, Jack Murdock. Things have been rough to say the least on the Murdock household since Matt’s mother disappeared. It is here where we find Jack nursing a bottle and musing over an old photograph of a woman he calls Maggie. Matt wakes to find his dad near the point of passing out and gets him off to bed. The next day at the gym, Jack’s on the receiving end of a beating perpetrated by Slade and orchestrated by the Fixer. The reason for this is because the Fixer’s running the fight game and is involved in some shady business dealings.with local organized criminal factions. He needs Jack to provide a little muscle and incentive to all of those who are reluctant to pay up. At first Jack refuses to cooperate but after the Fixer threatens the life of Matt, he agrees to their terms. Little does Jack know that he’s being watched from the shadows by Matt.
Writer Frank Miller does a great job explaining the conflict Jack Murdock deals with on a daily basis. On the one hand, he’s doing well in the boxing ring and is passionate about the sport that he loves. The other side is that when he’s not in the ring, he nothing more than a bully to others for the mob. We get a great re-imagining here of the scene where Jack and Matt are talking. Jack makes Matt promise to him to study hard and become either a doctor or a lawyer. He tells Matt to use his head for academics and to not use his fists for fighting.
One day, Matt comes home after getting into a physical altercation with a bully. He brags to his father about what he’s done. Matt thinks his father will be proud of him, but Jack responds by giving his son a left hook. Jack realizes what he’s done and tries to apologize, but Matt runs out into the street to get away and think things over. It’s at this moment that Matt makes up his mind to study and become a lawyer. At first it’s hard for Matt to discipline himself in his studies but he eventually finds his academic groove. The kids give him the nickname of “Daredevil” on the playground and he gets into some altercations but he does not physically fight back. This has to put some added strain on a kid’s mind and young Matt copes with this by hitting the punching bag in the gym. Unbeknownst to him, a stranger watches him from afar silently.
We’re then taken to probably the most important single event thus far in Matt’s life. Writer Frank Miller does a fantastic job of describing the tragic events in the next series of panels. Matt pushes an old man out of the way of a truck carrying radioactive chemicals which spill out into Matt’s eyes and into the street. We are shown scenes of Matt in the back of an ambulance. He is rushed to the hospital where at this point he is now blind. I particularly liked the adjectives that Frank Miller used here to describe the scenes of what Matt’s remaining senses are detecting during these traumatic events.
While at the hospital, Matt is visited by a nun who tells him that his newly acquired heightened senses are a blessing. He is told to keep them a secret even from his father. I don’t know about you but I think that would signal all types of red flags. It just seemed to be just a little suspicious to me. I’m sure we’ll learn more about her identity at a later date.
Next we see Matt sitting on his balcony overlook now blinded and bandaged. He overhears the insurance agents tell his father that they can’t cover for Matt’s medical bills. They cite Jack’s involvement with the mob as their reason. Matt begins spending more time in the gym but his blindness starts to get the better of him during his workouts. During this time, the stranger that has been observing his progress has revealed himself to be Stick and begins to take Matt Murdock under his wing to train him in various fighting styles. Stick comes across as a harsh and difficult hard-ass but it’s all to toughen and discipline Matt.
Not only does learn the fighting arts from Stick, he also learns to use his heightened senses to benefit him in life as well as in battle. He does all of this while still maintaining his studies at school. Jack Murdock remains unaware of Stick’s influence in Matt’s life. There’s a great series of panels by artist John Romita, Jr. where Stick and Matt Murdock are conducting some training exercises on the rooftops in Hell’s Kitchen.. The art in this section of the issue really stands out to me. It’s a cool moment and I’ve always enjoyed the way John draws buildings and scenery in a story.
Things seem to be looking up for Jack and Matt Murdock until one morning when the Fixer pays Jack a visit during the boxer’s morning run. The Fixer wants Jack to take a dive in his next fight. Jack Murdock ends up milking his opponent for the first three rounds. At the end of the third round, Jack remembers that Matt’s in the audience watching the fight. He remembers the promise that he made to Matt about never giving up in life. When the bell sounds for round four, Jack ignores the orders of the Fixer and promptly knocks out his opponent in quick fashion. Shortly afterwards, Jack Murdock leaves the arena after the fight and has an altercation with the Fixer and his men. The issue ends with the goons beating Jack senseless and then shooting him dead.
Overall, this is a great start to this mini-series. Frank Miller does a fantastic job of setting the table and sinking his hooks into the reader. This is a story that commands your attention and insists that you see it to its end. If you’re a new fan to Daredevil, this issue is a good place to get started.