Grotesque Anatomy
Tuesday, June 08, 2004
Thanks to Jerome Gaynor for shipping out Bogus Dead and Flying Saucer Attack so fast:  ordered on Friday, delivered on Monday.  With a bonus poster to boot!

Thanks to Larry Young, the sweetest sugar daddy the comics blogosphere ever had, for feeling my pain and sending me a copy of Demo #6 so I could join in all the discussion fun.  With a bonus DEMO patch to boot!

Thanks to Johanna Draper Carlson for pointing out a line-by-line criticism of Bendis' Daredevil.  There have been many times when I've felt alone in my non-love of Bendis superhero comics, so it was heartening to learn there are others like me.

Thanks to Marc Singer for taking the non-Bendis-love and running with it.

And thanks to you, dear reader, for allowing me to re-run an old review of Daredevil #41 in lieu of writing up anything new.
By Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev, Matt Hollingsworth, and Richard Starkings & Wes Abbott

At times I feel like the only comic book fan who doesn't worship at the altar of Bendis. Based on my admittedly questionable memory, I can't recall any negative opinions or reviews regarding Bendis' current comic book output. (And here I'm discounting any cranks from the John Byrne Message Board.) Most critics, pros, and fans seem to hold Bendis' work in high regard. And his work isn't only critically-acclaimed - it's also staggeringly popular: His ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN is a perennial best-seller, and his other books (ALIAS, DAREDEVIL, and POWERS) all seem to do fairly well. In the face of such seemingly universal acclaim, my own disinterest in his work sometimes causes me to doubt my own taste: I worry that I'm missing something that everyone else is seeing, kind of like those Magic Eye puzzles that I could never "get" but that everyone else around me could see immediately.

My exposure to Bendis' work is by no means complete. Finding the first eight issues of USM in a half-price book store, I picked them up to see how the Spidey mythos had been updated for the 21st century. Not bad, but it also didn't compel me to add the series to my pull-list. Next I found the entire run of ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP in a dollar bin shortly after the series had been canceled. I picked it up mainly due to the great cast of artists assembled for the series, but I found most of the stories unsatisfying. I also read the first issue of ALIAS, the Warren Ellis issue of POWERS, and scattered DotComic versions of USM and DD back when Marvel still ran full issues on their site. Nada. The only thing I've read by Bendis that really appealed to me was FORTUNE AND GLORY, so maybe his sensibilities just don't work for me when it comes to superheroes.

I lay all of this out simply to let readers know my background (or bias, if you prefer) with respect to Bendis' work.

Which brings us to DAREDEVIL #41, the 25-cent comic designed to draw in new readers. Having read various online interviews with Bendis, I was curious about what he was doing with Daredevil, especially the whole secret identity thing. So what better opportunity to sample the series? sampled, but I'm still not interested. In fact, I found the book more annoying than amusing or enjoyable. It started when, once again, I noticed that Bendis was apparently raised in a community that frowned on the use of contractions:
  • "There's this book I am listening to..."
  • "All he is saying is--"
  • "That's all I am saying--"
  • "I am sorry about this terrible landing..."
  • "What I am going to do is--"
  • "I am going to pull out the glass..."
That was all within the first five pages, and one page had no dialogue whatsoever. I was beginning to think that Bendis didn't know you could contract "I am" into "I'm" but then he had Daredevil say "Again, I'm sorry for the jarring break in your day," so I'm not sure what was going on in those early bits of dialogue. I know this might seem overly nitpicky, and perhaps the Data-speak doesn't bother others quite as much as it bugs me, but I find it incredibly irritating.

After the opening sequence of DD saving a blind woman from being hit by a runaway truck (which was a nice homage to DD's origin), Bendis treats us to an extended comedy bit involving Wilbur Day, the Stilt-Man. Reading this scene, my first thought was that Tarantinoesque riffs seem a bit tired (but then again, maybe it's so old that it now qualifies for 80's nostalgia, which is itself either hip or outdated; I've lost track). And while Stilt-Man is certainly a character that lends himself to ridicule, the humor here didn't ring true for me. I have trouble believing that even Stilt-Man is that dense. Plus, in this scene, Stilt-Man utters the following line: "I am giving it to you! I am leaving town and I am never coming back!" Three glaring non-contractions in a row! It must be some kind of record!! (Which, strangely enough, is followed up by: "You've won. You've all won!" Why is Bendis comfortable with certain contractions, but so averse to others?)

Next we move into a two-page sequence of Daredevil shaking down various lowlife for info on the Owl's whereabouts. This sequence depicts DD pulling a woman's hair (huh?) and DD dangling a man (apparently still in his pajamas) out a window and shouting "Where's the $#%#@ing Owl?" (double huh??) Hey, DD - keep it down. Some of us have to work in the morning. (Is there an online translation manual for comic book curse symbols, kind of like how people posted conversions for Doop-speak or the alien alphabet in ASTRO CITY? I can't figure out what $#%#@ would translate into in the real world. Is it a character-for-character replacement scheme? I can't think of a five-letter swear word.)

Cut to the Owl, who is hearing from one of his operatives that they were attacked by Daredevil. At this point I was expecting the operative to begin his tale by stroking his chin and saying something along the lines of: "I remember it as though it happened earlier this evening..." He doesn't, but we do get a flashback to three thugs walking down an alley, with two of them discussing their favorite kung fu DVDs. Suddenly, in swoops Daredevil, who apparently was as annoyed with their mock-Tarantino conversation as I was. After demonstrating some of his favorite kung fu moves on the thugs, he burns their duffel bag of money and tells the miscreants to deliver a chilling message to the Owl. That message? "Gotcha last." Seriously. The Owl, angry that Daredevil has once again bested him in their long-standing game of tag, strikes out at his goon, apparently disemboweling him. Unfortunately, the hapless bad guy was on his team, so the Owl gets no points for the tag.

Finally, we end with a one-page visit to the blind woman Daredevil saved in the beginning. What, is she going to be a recurring character? I'm not sure why Bendis chose to end the issue by returning to this character (Milla). In an interview at CBR, Bendis said: "When you get to the end of the issue, you have to be dying to see what happens next and that's my job." I'm not sure how this ending acts as a suspenseful cliffhanger, unless the reader is supposed to be wondering, "Will Daredevil be able to de-gay the blind lesbian, now that she appears to be smitten with him?"

As you can probably tell, I wasn't very impressed with this issue of DAREDEVIL. I just didn't feel as though the story flowed well. In fact, the issue was more a series of distractions than a continuous narrative: From the strange aversion to contractions to the abrupt jumps in setting (I had to look back to make sure I hadn't missed some pages in between the scene in Murdock's office and the sequence with Daredevil on the prowl - the transition did not seem natural), everything seemed a bit awkward to me. Even the artwork by Maleev proved distracting: After noticing that background after background was in fact a photograph, I began to play "Spot The Photo-Reference." I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with the fumetti approach to comic book art, but it can detract from the storytelling when the hand-drawn characters stand out so dramatically from the photocopied backgrounds.

I'll be curious to see if this low-cost promotional issue of DAREDEVIL leads to increased sales on the series. I'm certainly glad that Marvel provided me the opportunity to sample this series with essentially no risk, but I won't be coming back for future installments. Given Bendis' general popularity, however, I would imagine that most existing comic fans who sample this book will continue to read the series. It'll also be interesting to see if comic shop retailers will be able to use this issue to 'convert' the casual shopper who stops in after seeing the Daredevil movie. Will the average person who just saw the big-screen version of Ol' Hornhead be interested in reading a story where the villain is not Elektra, or Bullseye, or the Kingpin, but...the Owl? Or will the average person on the street look at the comic and wonder why Wolverine got so fat?

Rating: 4/10 (but Your Mileage May Very Well Vary if you are generally a fan of Bendis' work)
(I can't figure out what I meant by the "blind lesbian" remark either.  Additional thanks to anyone who knows what I might have been getting at.)
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