Book One: The Championship Season by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
One Sentence Overview: Depressed at losing Karen, Matt writes her a letter to express his feelings about losing his dad and how he became Daredevil
Okay, trying to keep things vaguely in line with what was being published back in 2001, as 'Wake Up' moved towards it conclusion, the first part of this unusual little reinterpretation of Daredevil's origins hit the stands. I wonder if the crisis over the previous couple of years with getting one DD book out had perhaps prompted editorial to come up with a mini-series almost as a 'just in case' scenario? Perhaps more likely that Joe Q, a big DD fan, was more than happy to green light a retelling of Daredevil's earliest days, especially one that was coming from a creative team who had had great success in the 90s when revisiting the early days of Batman and Superman*. In other words, early on, Marvel knew they were probably backing a winner. And it's certainly true to say that proof of how well regarded it was is indicated by Marvel coming back for more the following year with Spider-man: Blue and then a couple of years hence with Hulk: Grey.
Over a decade on, how does it stand up? And, following the Man Without Fear mini-series in the 90s, did Daredevil's beginnings really need another reimagining?
Well, perhaps the first and most obvious thing to say is that Jeph Loeb is more than happy to let the pictures do the talking. This really is about Tim Sale's striking visuals bouncing off the page onto the eyes of an eager readership. With Tim here and David Mack on 'Wake Up', idiosyncratic comic book art fans never had it any better in terms of what was on the pages of Daredevil than at this point in time, that's for sure.
One more unusual aspect of this story is that it starts in the present day with Matt reflecting on the things he wished he'd told Karen. Prompted by Foggy, he then puts together a letter, which pretty much forms the backbone of the writing here, that he wished he could have given to his deceased lover. As with his writing elsewhere, Jeph is happy enough to keep his text to a minimum but, that said, he is pretty successful at giving voice to Matt pouring out his memories and emotions, which are often kept bottled up. His memories of Battling Jack are vivid recalls of intense smells and how his heart pounded when he spent time with him.
Jack is really well captured here. One detour from existing continuity (I think) is that he's been (mockingly) called 'Kid Murdock' here, a reference to his advanced years (in boxing terms). I like, though, the little nod given to DD's first costume in the colours on Jack's tie when the two converse (alongside Foggy) over dinner.
As one might imagine, there are many terrific panels here. A double page spread has Jack triumphant, whilst in the foreground Foggy and Matt celebrate alongside a bunch of suspiciously disgruntled hoods. Though, even better than this, is a stalking frame of Jack, rising from the ashes, deciding that he's going to make a fist of the fight - even if it kills him - that is a little reminiscent of a famous publicity shot of Robert deNiro's Jack La Motta from Raging Bull.
Again, Jeph is unashamed in letting the emotions flow when the Fixer's dirty deed is done, thus setting Matt on the path to becoming a costumed vigilante. His decision to put a uniform together is very nicely done by showing Jack's boy sitting in his father's chair - once again recalling a famous scene both from the first issue of Daredevil as well as Frank Miller's own interpretation from DD164 (click on the link to see both frames).
All this is held together very nicely and the nostalgia is signalled right from the outset when the old 'Here comes Daredevil' is reproduced on the first page in that quirky 60s font.
A lovely touch, I think, to a very engaging retake.
Battling Jack Murdock
The Fixer/Roscoe Sweeney
Rating: 8 out of 10
* I'd like to reference Kuljit Mithra's interview with Jeph Loeb which you can find here from the Man Without Fear website for help in putting together some of the background detail.