Editor's Note: Daredevil: Noir #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, April 8.
Releasing a comic called Daredevil: Noir is a little like releasing a comic called Hulk: Angry or Spider-Man: Webs. The way that Daredevil has been handled over the last few years (perhaps ever since Frank Miller's defining run on the character in the 1980s) is so rooted in elements of noir fiction that you could be forgiven for thinking that a separate Noir miniseries might end up being superfluous and unnecessary. However, to their credit, Alexander Irvine and Tom Coker have managed to come up with a "noir" take on the character that's distinct from the tone of the character's core title without sacrificing the elements that make the regular Marvel Universe version of Matt Murdock so compelling to read about.
As with Marvel's other Noir titles, the issue transplants our hero to another time (prohibition-era New York), making modifications to his character and recreating recognisable elements of his world in the new setting. For Matt Murdock, however, these changes are less fundamental than they were in the Spider-Man: Noir and X-Men: Noir minis, with the result that the book feels more like a one-step-removed "Elseworlds" style story than a complete overhaul.
Just like the regular MU version, this Matt Murdock works in Hell's Kitchen with his partner, Foggy Nelson (although not as a lawyer). His father, a boxer, was murdered as punishment for not throwing an important fight, and he was left fatherless and blind at a young age. He finds himself in a conflict with a local businessman/crimelord called Fisk. Even his powers of ultra-sensitivity appear to have survived the transition intact (although Irvine doesn't provide an explanation for them yet). However, extra elements are added to the mix which play up the "noir" angle even more heavily: the femme fatale who meets with Murdock and Nelson in their office is a walking cliché, but one who serves the story well; there's a new explanation given for the "Daredevil" identity, along with a slightly modified costume; and Matt Murdock's attitude to his crime-fighting is noticeably darker, saying of the people he didn't manage to prevent from being killed, "I'd rather save them, always. But vengeance will do."
Tom Coker provides artwork for the issue, and although I wasn't familiar with him as an artist before this issue, I'm already a fan. There's a Zip-a-tone effect applied to many panels which makes it difficult to work out whether elements of photo composition have been used or whether Coker has drawn these sections freehand, but either way the effect is a strong one. The tone is not too dissimilar to that established by Alex Maleev during his run on the main Daredevil title, with character models that seem to be closely based on those used during that run. Coker evokes the bygone era of 1930s New York effectively, with Daniel Freedman's colours adding a suitably depressed grey-brown hue to many scenes. There are also a couple of Easter Eggs in the story that fans will appreciate, whether it's the reference to the Bull's-Eye killer or the nods to the Batman mythos (both in the scene in which Matt and his father are confronted in the alley, and in the title of the movie shown in the background of one panel).
Unsurprisingly, Daredevil lends himself to the "noir" line of comics better than most of Marvel's superhero characters. The result is a book that feels closer to the regular Marvel Universe concept than the Spider-Man and X-Men titles did, but which also benefits from feeling less forced and shoehorned into place. Irvine's confident, assured storytelling makes this a compelling read, and his framing device gives us a welcome glimpse into the story's future, allowing him to tease us with developments yet to come and also allowing him to end on a neat cliffhanger that encourages readers to have faith in him to deliver an equally compelling continuation of the series next issue. I'll certainly be interested enough to check it out.
I came into this review a bit biased; as a fan of noir, I've made it a point to read both X-Men: Noir and Spider-Man: Noir (my current favorite release of the year, but nonetheless…), so I wasn't too sure what to expect from a franchise that's never really been able to keep my attention. But I must say, I was pleasantly surprised -- Daredevil: Noir is a great read.
So this story begins with Daredevil confronting the Kingpin. True to character, the Kingpin is quick to come back at Daredevil, telling him that if there is something he wanted to understand, he must first know how it began. The reader is then quickly thrown into the past as we watch the story be set -- this includes everything from Daredevil's origin to the events that lead to where our characters are in this moment.
Although the dialogue begins a little sparse, and there were a couple wasted pages in the beginning that could have been compressed, the writing quickly picks up the pace and pulls the reader into the story. The dialogue work was great, allowing for great pacing while also building tension and uneasiness throughout the story. The writing was smooth and perfectly melodramatic. Mild melodrama is classic to old style crime film, and this piece captures it perfectly. This is a hard feat as melodrama is a slippery-slope, as they say, and it's easy to go too far with it if you're not careful.
To be honest, the first thing that drew me to this comic was the art. The pulp-esque style and the dark tones and coloring completely captured the dark, evil, empty, painful place that is Hell's Kitchen. The images are dark and shadowed, never giving you a comfortable look at what you have on the page. This use of color forces the reader to look more intently at each and every panel -- forcing the reader more viciously into the story. The violence is unapologetic and the resentment and care is clearly expressed within the dialogue of each character. The adaptations to the costume also add a certain dark quality to the story. Although Daredevil has always had a devil themed uniform, in this rendition, the mask almost looks like a Comedia mask. This adds a dark theatricality which I don't feel the old uniform ever really captured. In the shadow and darkness, Daredevil now looks like someone to be feared -- almost like a demon in the night. The new look of this costume has me excited to see what the art team's plans are for Bullseye.
All-in-all, it's a perfect fit for the Daredevil franchise and looks to be the beginning of another series I won't be able to get enough of. Here's hoping that this follows in the same line as Spider-Man: Noir.
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