Comics on a new adventure

The success of superhero comic books after the release of the Spider-Man and X-Men movies, has Marvel Comics hoping that the big-screen Daredevil will draw more film fans to graphic novels.
The success of superhero comic books after the release of the Spider-Man and X-Men movies, has Marvel Comics hoping that the big-screen Daredevil will draw more film fans to graphic novels.

"Last year, the success of the Spider-Man movie really energized sales of Spider-Man comics and trade paperbacks, and comic books in general," says Michael Doran, a Marvel spokesman. Marvel graphic novel sales in bookstores grew 228% from 2001 to 2002, with Spider-Man playing a key role, Doran says. In addition to movie tie-ins, Marvel has issued affordably priced Daredevil volumes that compile hard-to-find adventures.

Brian Cunningham, editor of comic trade journal Wizard, says buying volumes is cheaper: "A growing number of fans wait to buy a collection rather than the individual comics."

In the original 1964 Daredevil comic book by Stan Lee and Bill Everett, mobsters gun down aging prizefighter Jack Murdock after he refuses to throw a bout. His son Matthew, survivor of a childhood accident that left him blind (but with other senses heightened and "radar-sense"), trains in martial arts, graduates from law school, and fights crime in the courtroom or on the streets, as a horn-headed red-clad vigilante.

During the mid-1980s, writer/artist Frank Miller revived interest in the character by adding a Raymond Chandler-like grimness, femme fatale Elektra (a sai-wielding heiress who also lost her father to violence) and a version of minor Spider-Man villain The Kingpin that evokes the noble dons in the Godfather novels.

A sampling of new releases:

Daredevil: The Movie, The Official Comic Book Adaptation (By Bruce Jones and Manuel Garcia, 48 pp., $3.50). Fans who enjoyed Ben Affleck in red tights can relive the adventure with Daredevil: The Movie. This faithful adaptation presents the hero's childhood accident, his father's murder, his early days in long underwear, his romance with knife-wielding Elektra, and his battles with The Kingpin and hired hand, Bullseye the Assassin. Fans who prefer the film to the comic will see Bullseye without his trademark costume, an African-American Kingpin and a grubbier version of inquisitive reporter Ben Urich.
Daredevil: Yellow (By Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, 144 pp., $14.99). Even fans of the original series might enjoy how writer Loeb and artist Sale cast familiar scenes in an enjoyable new light (including startling interpretations of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man foe Electro and the villainous overweight Owl). This volume treats Daredevil's father as more than a throwaway character whose murder is the catalyst for the hero's appearance. As in the film, he hopes his son won't grow up to be a pug like him, but he bristles when sportswriters comment on his age. Instead of brooding darkness, Sale offers bright colors, panoramic views of New York City and spectacular acrobatics. In one standout moment, young Murdock approaches a crime scene and (with his batlike radar) senses that his father is lying dead face down in the street. Instead of a silly clenched-jaw response, Loeb's Murdock expresses his loss. "I love you, dad," he says. "Did you hear? I love you."

Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra (By Greg Rucka and Salvador LaRocca, 128 pp., $11.99). Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra offers a bold new rendering of the law school romance between Murdock and Elektra Natchios (before Murdock started wearing a costume and fighting crime). Despite Elektra creator Miller already covering these events in Man Without Fear, Rucka (author of the Attius Kodiak mystery series) and popular artist LaRocca fill in a few blanks. They present Elektra's point of view and deliver a self-contained story. This is a younger Elektra, dressed in a form-fitting black outfit, a hipper Murdock with trendy haircut and shades, pop culture references and gravity-defying kung-fu fights. Ultimate sometimes reads like a Japanese-cartoon-styled soap opera, but it might appeal to new or young fans.
Daredevil: Out (By Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, 208 pp., $19.99). The best of the batch presents recent stories by brilliant writer Bendis and gifted artist Maleev. Instead of gratuitous scene-stopping angst, they toss a seemingly insurmountable obstacle into Daredevil's path: A down-and-out FBI agent discovers Murdock is Daredevil and sells the information to a tabloid. In addition to eye-opening Impressionistic figures and photo-realistic backgrounds, Out offers clever writing, novelistic structure and haunting moments. In one, Murdock stands in a dark room, holding a newspaper whose headline exposes his secret identity. Law office partner Foggy Nelson mutters, "Well it was bound to happen to one of you guys one day. Right?" Murdock replies, "Just thought it would be Spider-Man."
Scenes like this explain why Wizard editor Cunningham says, "Daredevil, right now, is the best it has been in 20 years."
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