Despite being a big fan of Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, it’s been some time since I was last up to speed with his adventures.
With recent developments in the title piquing my curiosity I’ve decided to start at the beginning of writer Chip Zdarsky’s run. However, that is a direct follow on from previous writer Charles Soule’s outgoing story “The Death of Daredevil”, which ends when Daredevil gets hit by a truck while saving a boy’s life.
That’s a status quo that’s going to take some unpacking. Luckily, that’s exactly what the 2019 miniseries Man Without Fear: The Death of Daredevil provides…
What is Man Without Fear: The Death of Daredevil?
Man Without Fear: The Death of Daredevil is a five issue miniseries chronicling Matt Murdock’s recovery from his traumatic accident.
This miniseries was written by Jed McKay, with Danilo S. Beyruth drawing the first and fifth chapter and Stefano Landini, Iban Colello, Paulo Villanelli and Andres Mossa illustrating an issue each in between.
Each chapter follows one aspect of Daredevil’s supporting cast as they grapple with Matt’s incapacitation. Some of these are stronger than others, in either concept, execution, or both – but the sum total is a fascinating character study.
As the series explores an important facet of Matt Murdock’s life, it allows us to see the value he places on each.
The first issue sets the scene of Matt’s inner struggle against his demons of Fear and Pain, recurring concepts through the series. The next issues show us Matt Murdock’s loved ones, his superhero community, and his enemies respectively, before finally concluding with a life lesson from his father.
Issue after issue it becomes apparent that it’s not Matt Murdock’s support network that will give him the resolve to recover. Nor is it Daredevil’s superhero community in the Defenders.
The first sign of Matt’s return to character comes in issue four with the appearance of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin.
Matt pretends to sleep, fearing for his life as the crime lord gloats over him. Yet eventually his anger outweighs his fear. Fisk says enough to incriminate himself and Matt speaks out, daring Fisk to kill him.
The fear Fisk feels is a trigger to Matt. As soon as he realises that he can create fear, not just feel it, it marks the turning point of his psychological recovery.
The final issue goes one step further and cuts right to Matt’s essence by focusing on his relationship with his father – the boxer Jack Murdock.
This story gets to the fundamental building blocks of Matt’s psyche. Everything that built him to become Daredevil in the first place – his relationship with pain – comes into sharp focus.
And once he embraces the clarity that his pain gives him? At that point Daredevil is reborn.
It’s not the “back-to-basics” approach so often rolled out for soft reboots and new creative teams; it goes much deeper than that. By unravelling the life that Matt has built up over the years, piece by piece, McKay takes him down to the elemental basics. We get to see who Matt Murdock is.
All that said, the execution doesn’t always hit the mark.
At times this was down to my own unfamiliarity with the character’s entire history, which felt most crucial for the Karen Page story.
At other points it was the likelihood of the concept. Mayor Fisk visiting Murdock to gloat feels like a stretch, for example. Even then it’s somewhat addressed in the story when Fisk says he sometimes likes to do things himself, but it’s still a high concept to swallow.
Still. These moments of storytelling slack or “comic book logic” are slight enough to be permissible. The book tells a strong story.
One final point – the blurb on the back of the book asks “who is the mysterious guardian devil sighted on the rooftops of Hell’s Kitchen?” I had thought this might set the scene for Elektra’s stint as Daredevil, but it doesn’t feature in the book at all. In fact, there’s no allusion to it whatsoever.
With a different artist taking the reins for each issue you’d be forgiven for expecting a variation of styles. Yet the book holds together well, with a surprisingly consistent aesthetic of cartoon grittiness.
Still, some styles work better than others.
Beyruth takes the first and last chapter, setting the tone for the gritty style. He comes into his own as the book goes on, with the final story being one of the strongest entries of the book.
By my reckoning the fourth chapter, by Paolo Villanelli, is the strongest. Villanelli’s style feels best suited to the book, as he brings strong compositions and chiaroscuro to Fisk’s nighttime visit. He also plays well with the Daredevil scenes of the chapter, making the most of the compressed flashback.
Villanelli’s ease with the style of storytelling is in contrast to Stefano Landini and Iban Coello’s chapters. Each comes across as a little too cartoony for the substance of the story, with Coello in particular seeming unsuited to a story in which Daredevil puts his head to a murderer’s gun and taunts him to pull the trigger.
This isn’t a negative comment on either artist’s ability. It’s just a recognition that some stories demand a style that some artists don’t mesh with.
There are some nice visual touches. Murdock’s twin demons of Fear and Pain are exceptionally well realised. Fear in particular possesses a great design.
It’s interesting that this demon wears Matt’s first proper Daredevil costume. It might be that it’s yellow, the colour of cowardice, or it could relate to another aspect of the character that I’m unfamiliar with. Either way, the design looks great.
Rather than a prelude to Zdarsky’s run, “Man Without Fear” is more of an incidental story, a character-focused interlude that diverges from the typical tropes of superhero storytelling.
For fans of Daredevil it’s undoubtedly worth reading. However, it’s not the best jumping on point for anyone interested in reading the adventures of Daredevil: The Man Without Fear for the very first time.
Like the look of Man Without Fear: The Death of Daredevil? Buy it via the link below and it’ll cost you the same great price while Amazon sends a small cut my way to help me to keep the site up and running.
Sounds like a win-win to me.