Writer(s): Ed Brubaker, Ande Park
Artist(s): Leandro Fernandez, Scott Koblish
Publisher: Marvel Comics
This is one of those misleading annuals. The name on the marquee says Daredevil, but that ain’t what you get.
Oh, yeah, the ol’ Hornhead is in there, but he is a supporting player in his own title. The spotlight gets turned on Black Tarantula, and Matt is a bit player in his own book.
Now give the creative team some credit: Brubaker and Park try to maintain the illusion that this story is about Matt doing his usual thing and playing angel to the downtrodden. We see a whole lot of him wringing his hands over how to best help Tarantula overcome his wicked leanings, and he gets a lifeless little subplot about a murder-ruled-suicide. But in the end? It’s just window dressing. Tarantula is the star, eventually becoming the narrator and replacing Matt’s noir-esque “voiceovers.”
And you know what? It’s pretty good.
This is essentially and obviously a pilot for Tarantula – trying a new direction in which the character can go with an eye towards a possible solo series. We’ve all seen annuals like this, and in order to be successful they hinge upon 1) the talent of the creators, 2) the likeability of the try-out character and 3) the quality of his or her “gimmick” - the hook for a possible spin-off.
So let’s go one-two-three. First, there is the talent of the creators. Brubaker gets the nod for the plot on this one, and it’s up to his usual standards. Yes, it is a bit “by-the-book” – bad guy trying to go good has to face the person from his evil-doing past as well as his own demons – but it is perfectly adequate and Brubaker hits all the beats. The titular hero gets a logical motivation for helping out the newcomer as well as a plot of his own to play with, and the reformed criminal’s motivation for coming over to join the angels makes sense. On the other hand, when Tarantula’s past conveniently and coincidentally coincides with Matt’s present, it stretches credulity to the breaking point. On the other, other hand, that sort of merging of subplots is a hallmark of the noir genre – be it in literature or film – and so it is perfectly at home in what is, at its best, a kick-ass, old-school noir comic.
Next on the march of creators we have Park, who supplied the script. And it is perfectly adequate. Some of his street-thug dialogue seems a little forced, but it’s all… adequate.
The adequate train continues with the art team of Fernandez and Koblish. The characters lack the kind of “presence” I like to see in comics – they often seem to float in space somewhere, not to look as though they really exist in a real place – and the action sequences seems posed and stiff. Koblish’s blacks are also a little heavy but in a shapeless, “blobby” sort of a way – not in a cool, noir-ish, stylish sort of way. But, hey, it’s adequate.
So that’s one for three – onto the character. This one is a solid hit. Tarantula is, from the moment we see him, simultaneously sympathetic and dangerous. He is a serious ass-kicker, but we pull for him right from the start and want to see him realize his goal of being a good person.
We’re almost batting a thousand here, so what about Tarantula’s “hook?” He’s the reformed criminal trying real hard, Ringo, to be the shepherd. Nothing new there – he’s Nomad from the ‘90s, Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, Han Solo flying into the battle of the Death Star at the end of New Hope and showing that even a crazy old religion is no match for some blasters. In other words, it’s a classic old standby. Who doesn’t love a redemption story when it centers on a mega-cool tough guy?
So did I get my $3.99 worth?
No, not really. Look, this was a cool character and a decent story, and if this had been the first two issues of his own book I would have been satisfied – even happy – with my buy. But I wanted a Daredevil story, and I didn’t get it. For that reason, I felt a little ripped off.
So know what you’re getting into. If you just want a good superhero read that might end up being the springboard to a new book, or might just disappear altogether, give this one a read. Looking for a little Hornhead? Pass it on by, and give Tarantula a try if he ever lands his own title.
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