Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Marvel Unbound - Daredevil Omnibus, Volume 2 (Bendis)

I think Daredevil might be my favorite character of all-time. But if that is true, it’s because of the creators who have guided him – Frank Miller and Klaus Janson in the ’80s, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev in the first half of the 2000s, and Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark in the latter half of that same decade.

Until the Immortal Iron Fist Omnibus challenged its status, the Bendis/Mack/Maleev Daredevil Omnibus, Volume 1 was the previously untouchable high-watermark among current era Marvel omnibuses. Now I would be hard-pressed to make a choice between the two, and Bendis’ second volume complicates things further by not missing a beat.

I love Marvel’s omnibus line. I like the idea of collecting 25 or so issues of a particular creative team or specific era under a single cover with beautiful art reproduced in an oversized format. Daredevil Omnibus, Volume 1 by Brian Michael Bendis, David Mack and Alex Maleev is no exception. Holy crap is that a stunning body of work! I loved every emotionally wrenching page. The “Wake Up” arc alone is a visual treat (issue #16 through #19). David Mack’s painted pages demand you linger on each panel, soaking in every detail. It took me days to just get through those first four issues that open that beautiful, gargantuan tome.

Volume 2, however, is every bit as good as the first. The arcs are bit more obvious in the storytelling this time around, but it all flows beautifully, threaded together by the underlying threat of Matt Murdock being “outed” once and for all, definitively as Daredevil.

There are four arcs and a one-shot collected here. The first one, “The Widow” is a great story of Murdock struggling with the end of his marriage to Milla Donovan, and highlights the friendship and respect between Murdock and Natalia Romanova – the Black Widow. This sets up an all-star “40th Anniversary Super Special” with issue #65. Nine different creative teams handle the art on this single oversized issue, including everyone from Michael Golden to Greg Horn, Phil Hester and Ande Parks to David Finch, Frank Quitely to Maleev. It was probably my least favorite issue of the run. It felt very much out of place, disrupting the flow of the overall narrative despite its in-continuity place in canon.

The next arc, “Golden Age,” introduces Alexander Bont into Daredevil mythos, wrapping his history up with the Gladiator along the way. Stylistically, Maleev really shines here with varying the pages between straight black-and-white, faux yellowed pages with retro touches, and his more common dark and brooding “everyday” style.

“Decalogue” is a five-issue story listening in on the support group that meets in the basement of St. Mary’s Church in Hell’s Kitchen to discuss the impact of Daredevil and Matt Murdock (who has declared himself the Kingpin) on their lives. There is a recovered drug addict, the son of a bomber, the wife of a serial killer, the serial killer’s last intended victim, and one of Milla Donovan’s former co-workers, among others. Murdock himself is revealed to be there and attempts to give closure to the group.

Things wrap up with “The Murdock Papers,” a great arc (maybe Bendis’ strongest on the title) that finds Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime, using both the feds and the press to bring Murdock’s world down around him. It’s a bold way to go out as a writer, and Bendis couldn’t have done it without the cooperation of his successor on the book, Ed Brubaker. There is even a letter from Bendis that follows the last page of the last issue of his run collected here that is basically his explanation of walking away from the title when he did. It reads like it was published in the original single issue, which is kinda cool and also speaks to the clout Bendis had established at Marvel by that time (2006, and continues to enjoy today).

Rounding out this collection of everything Bendis has done on Daredevil is his What If... Karen Page Had Lived?, which finds Michael Lark drawing Bendis himself as a sort of blue-collar Uatu the Watcher chronicling the tale, and the three-issue Spider-Man/Punisher/Daredevil story in Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #6, #7, and #8.

I have no shame in my enjoyment of Bendis’ work. You like what you like, and I like his writing. Having said that, there is one area of the Marvel U. that I am not a fan of Bendis’ work: Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. But what makes the three issues of Ultimate Marvel Team-Up collected here palatable is a combination of a story that doesn’t feel trapped in a “trying too hard to be hip” space and Bill Sienkiewicz’s art. The first time I remember being consciously aware of Sienkiewicz was when he took over the art duties on New Mutants as “The Demon Bear Saga” began, and his work on Elektra with Frank Miller is revolutionary. And it’s clear from the three issues collected here he hasn’t missed a step in the 15 or 20 years since I first recognized him.

Speaking of art, Maleev’s dark and brooding tones are perfect for the main stories collected here. Issue interiors are gritty, shadowed, and the covers within individual arcs have specific graphic personalities that serve as clear signposts. We also get unused and alternate cover designs, cover inks, and a handful of stunning watercolors of Black Widow and Daredevil.

A part from every thing else previously mentioned, the only other extra is Bendis’ script for issue #81, “The Murdock Papers, Part 6.” While maybe not as robust as Volume 1 when standing alone, Daredevil Omnibus, Volume 2 is still a near-perfect collection, and when taken as a whole with the first volume, Bendis and Maleev’s complete body of work on Daredevil is cohesive, nuanced, entertaining, and worthy of the mantle Frank Miller and Klaus Janson established in the ’80s.


Unknown said...

Any idea if this is ever going to be back in print? I'd love to sell off my issues and replace them with this beautiful collection, but it goes for twice cover price on eBay...

Unknown said...

My bad, I meant to ask that about Volume 1, not Volume 2...

AB said...

I wouldn't expect it to be reprinted any time soon. Books in the omnibus line generally seem to be produced in limited print runs. I was able to find the Frank Miller DD Omnibus and Companion Omnibus on eBay for a reasonable price. It just took a lot of patience and discipline. Good luck!