Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller Volumes 1, 2 & 3
Written By:
Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller
Artists/Colorists:
Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Glynis Wein
Included in series:
Vol. 1: #158-167 except 162, Vol. 2: #168-182, Vol. 3: #183-191+

History: Before 'Beniffer' was in anyone's vocab, before men (and women) lusted for Jennifer Garner, before every Marvel comic book was turned into a cartoon, series, or movie…there was Daredevil. Nominal star of the recent movie, Daredevil was created by Stan Lee in the '60s to help bolster Marvel Comics' growing ranks of new superheroes. Comic books in the past had dealt with many genres from romance and horror to westerns and science-fiction, but only recently had Marvel (spearheaded by Stan and Jack Kirby) rescued the idea of the superhero from older war and diverse comics and turned it into an intriguing new genre of its own. Oh, it was all the rage back then, and Stan needed new heroes to feed the fans' appetites. He'd been turning them out quick as he could, theme-ing them after animals and other simple ideas. Daredevil was created with one idea in mind; that a man everyone thought of as handicapped could actually be more competent than any regular man, and act as their savior! Thus, the blind superhero was born, and he was popular for a time, but comparisons to Spider-Man (such as the area he lived in, or swinging from rooftops, being acrobatic, or having an extra 'sense') led to him being labeled a B-rate Spider-Man. That the series borrowed many of Spider-Man's super-villains to pit against Daredevil didn't help change anyone's minds, and when the art team on the book changed, it lost a lot of readers. Daredevil spent years taking Spider-Man's leftover readers, with occasional high-points, but failed to live up to his potential until a young upstart by the name of Frank Miller came along.

Story: In 1979, Miller landed the job as the new penciller on DD. [The penciller is the guy who draws the initial pictures based off the ideas in the writer's script.] His art was dynamic, but he had lots of ideas for the character, and this would be the start of a long and revolutionary run on the title, the bulk of which is collected in these trade paperbacks.

In Volume 1, DD is still being written by Roger McKenzie, and truthfully a lot of it is kind of typical for the comics at that time. DD fights some clownish supervillains, women are portrayed fairly stereotypically, and there's some pretty corny dialogue. But this book is also darker than a lot of the other comics that were out there, and Miller's art lent a definite crime noir feel to it. DD's supporting cast is strengthened as time is spent revealing his relationships with his law partner Foggy, their secretary Becky, and Matt's (DD's) girlfriend Heather, as well as reporter Ben Urich, and local thug Turk. His relationship with the Black Widow is explored a bit, and we see his origin and early years fleshed out. Most importantly, we're introduced to DD's own first respectable villain, Bullseye! The Hulk and Spider-Man do put in appearances (presumably to bolster sales); these intrusions are handled well but DD soon blossoms into its own title.

In Volume 2, we see Miller fully take over writing chores for DD, as well as penciling. Here is where the true meat of the story is, and this is where most of the material from the DD movie was borrowed from. This is primarily what some refer to as the Elektra Saga, as Miller introduces the character here and most of these issues deal with DD's history with her and its ramifications in the present. Bullseye makes his return and his battles with DD just get more and more vicious as a bitter enmity is formed. And Miller steals the previously laughable Spider-Man villain, the Kingpin of Crime, and turns him into DD's most diabolical nemesis. We also follow DD's relationship with Heather, and with one of his former halfway decent villains, Gladiator. DD's on-again off-again mentor Stick is introduced, to mixed feelings by readers. Extending on that, Miller roots DD in Oriental martial arts and mysticism, giving him more of a separate identity from Spider-Man, but leading to the unfortunate trend of using ninjas (who train their whole lives to be assassins) as cannon fodder for any comic hero. Miller's writing became a big draw for readers at the time. No more lame villains. No more quick fix stories. No more corny dialogue. Miller bucked many trends of the day and wrote dark, serious stories featuring DD as a tortured protagonist pit against dangerous villains in epic storylines. This was the future of comics.

Volume 3 starts off with a great conflict between DD and future Marvel movie star The Punisher, then leads into some less cohesive storylines involving Stick (now partnered with 'Stone', ugh) and ninjas, resurrections, and DD's powers going wonky. Honestly, this waters down what was already so great in Volume 2, but it's a decent follow-up to some ends that were loose after those storylines. Miller's writing style itself reaches a high point. He virtually does away with 'thought balloons' which had long been used to explain elements of the story. Now, Miller laid out the art so it told the story, and the character's emotions were primarily revealed through narration. You didn't get to know what everyone was thinking all the time, and this heightened the mystery of the series. The final fate of Matt and Heather is revealed, and some pretty cool resolutions to the conflicts between DD and the Kingpin, Bullseye, and Elektra come about. As a bonus, a couple short stories of what could have happened to DD at a couple key moments are included in the book, as well as a short story about Elektra. All in all, a fitting wrap-up to a great run.

Art: Art is what initially sold this series, and art is what kept it going. When Miller came on to the series, he added a lot of energy through action-packed layouts and moody lighting. Combined with his story ideas, Daredevil becomes a much darker and grittier book. DD started as an action-packed red acrobat, he now became a lean muscular demon terrorizing the underworld. Later, as Miller turns over more of the art chores to DD's inker Klaus Janson, we see an even darker use of inks and a more hard-edged and angular style to the art that perfectly compliments the story. [The inker re-draws what the penciller has laid down, and adds detail and depth to the art. They are not 'tracers', per se.] Finally, as Janson takes over coloring chores as well, the color palette of the book gets further restricted. [The colorist takes the art after the inker and paints in the colors. Duh.] This leads to a bleaker look than most of Marvel's bright spandex clad heroes had at the time. By Volume 3, we see the beginnings of the stark, bulky style Miller and Janson came to be known for later in works like Sin City. Without a basis for comparison, the art looks decent when viewed now, but at the time, it was revolutionary.

The Total Package: These trades represent one of the finest and (I'll say it again) most revolutionary runs on a comic, for any character. Aside from that, they are big, meaty trades, complete with introductions and new art. Actual collectibillity of graphic novels varies depending on their popularity and print run…it's a safe bet their monetary value won't increase significantly beyond their $20-$25 price tag, at least not any time soon. However, in a time when most collections are the last six issues of a new book, these are a great find. Check them out and see the great comic that lead to last year's decent movie before the Director's Cut DVD hits shelves.

- - Jeff Light

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