Guardian Devil Part 1: ...And a Child Shall Lead Them All by Kevin Smith & Joe Quesada
One Sentence Overview: When Karen leaves him, Matt falls back on his Catholic faith and rescues a young girl and her baby from dark forces chases her
Volume Two! At last!
It's been a while since we finished volume one and, as such, it can be easy to forget that this densely written and often quite funny tale immediately followed 'Flying Blind'. However, Daredevil's re-boot was at least partially due to Marvel comics being at their lowest ebb and close to bankruptcy. At the time, Joe Quesada was invited to take on a range of books under the moniker, 'Marvel Knights', with the remit to create earthier stories for characters like the Punisher and the Black Panther and, in so doing, introducing impressive new creative talents and rebooting Marvel's fortunes. In some ways, perhaps, the biggest coup was being able to reinvest Daredevil with the credibility the hero had had up to issue 300 of the first volume.
And that fondly remembered credibility, particularly the stories of Frank Miller, enabled Joe to engage a well-known film director, who, like his good buddy, Ben Affleck, (who writes the introduction to the trade paperback, Guardian Devil), was a huge Daredevil fan. I'm not sure how much convincing Kevin Smith had to take on the scripting duties but I suspect he was thrilled.
Guardian Devil was published after Chasing Amy hit cinema screens in 1997 and before Dogma in 1999. Despite the former film having comic book creators at its heart, it's that latter film that has a clear bearing on the overall story here. For, famously, Kevin Smith is a Catholic, though perhaps one could say not an arch traditionalist. If Dogma makes clear that he's very capable about being both thoughtful and profane about his own faith, then it shouldn't be surprising that he decides to highlight on an aspect of Matt's personality that's been hinted at in the past but not really explored in any great detail.
Writers such as Denny O'Neill (with Matt quoting Biblical texts at a zealot in DD194) and DG Chichester (whose Daredevil reflects on prayers and lighting candles at the beginning of his run) have identified Matt's Catholic upbringing. Most famously, Frank Miller invoked explicit religious imagery in 'Born Again' - and there was always the nicely ironic juxtaposition of a man of (some) faith calling himself a devil. At the same time, Ann Nocenti, having sent Daredevil to Hell, brings him back to earth convinced he must have been hallucinating because he doesn't believe in such a place (DD284).
These details lead me to believe that Matt is a nominal Catholic. He is not particularly religious but there's something there, something perhaps instilled by Sister Maggie amongst others. As to why this is not made explicit in the earliest issues of Daredevil is because I don't think comics in the early 60s were overly concerned about such details as religious faith - being such a polemical issue it could have driven readers away - and only much later did comics becomes interested in exploring these issues and, more often than not, portraying such faith in a negative light. Kevin Smith obviously brings his own 'baggage' to the story and was perhaps interested in using Matt's own Catholic background to examine some of what he was interested in.
It's also very clear here that Matt struggles with this aspect of his life. When he intervenes in some thuggish behaviour in an alleyway, he waxes philosophically about how God must be disappointed in humanity "if you even exist".
And early on, he attends confession, telling his priest that it's been "far too long" since he last attended.
So it's not exactly as if he's so inspired, he's thinking of studying for the priesthood. In fact, this urge to confess appears to be provoked by the fact that Karen has left him to return to the West Coast for a radio job. This is revealed in a terrific piece of text, told over the first two pages of the comic, where Karen says she's gone because she believes (weirdly considering all the shenanigans over Typhoid Mary and his continual yo-yo-ing between her and Natasha) that he's too good for her. And it's down to that old Catholicism. Not only has Matt (jokingly, the text assures us) been asking Karen to accompany him to Mass but she reveals, "I know you've always been able to forgive, Matt - it's one of the aspects of your faith that I've long admired. But forgetting... well, that's never been your strongest suit." Later Matt remarks that he resents the implication that he would have judged her.
Matt's dormant faith is but one aspect of a story that seems imbued in Christology. The plot being introduced here focuses on a teenage girl, running away with a baby she is convinced is a redeemer, whilst simultaneously ensuring Matt that she's a virgin. Hmmm. I'm sure I've heard that story somewhere else...
A word on Joe Q's art, which is pretty sumptuous. He draws Matt with deliberately dead eyes, moreso than any other artist to date, though his Foggy looks more of a parody of our favourite Mr Nelson.
I do like the way some of the pages have seemingly antiquated quasi religious borders. Early on, one sequence highlighting trouble in a maternity ward is accompanied by what I think is an old painting that depicts Herod's slaughter of the innocent.
That's very highbrow.
Hell's Kitchen Priest
Rating: 8 out of 10