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DD Book Club - Spiked!

 
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 17, 2019 8:23 am    Post subject: DD Book Club - Spiked! Reply with quote

It's time to finish the Elektra Saga. I'm actually subdividing this into two sets of two stories, so the first part is being posted today and I'll start a new thread in two weeks. We actually covered Paper Chase a while ago. So, while I feel bad that we won't be covering it here, I have to break it up. If you want to review that story, you can do so here. But, as a quick recap:

Much of the issue concerns tracking down the individual with proof of Mayoral candidate Cherryh's involvement with the mob and the hi-jinx that ensue between Daredevil and the Heroes for Hire. In the end, the proof they were looking for was destroyed.

The story does have Elektra moments. I was actually going to post the relevant pages for a blow by blow recap. However, after a quick re-read, I realized there's not much I have to do. When we left Elektra in issue #177, she was offered a job from the Kingpin. At the end of the issue, she's face-to-face with him. Given that, the issue functions more as playing for time than I realized. Given that, we can go ahead to issue #179:

Daredevil Vol. 1 #179 - Spiked!



Quote:
When Daredevil and Urich continue to dig on the Cherryh story, Elektra is dispatched to put a stop to their muckraking.


Due 3/23
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Dimetre
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Joined: 16 Feb 2006
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 17, 2019 2:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

First off, I find it amusing that the bike they were giving away on the cover of #176 is back. I'd like to think that the person who won it was very dissatisfied and returned it, so they tried again.

This is another Miller classic. It's easily one of his best. I'm reading this from Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller Volume 2, but I remember another volume has a forward by Klaus Janson, and he cites this issue as the moment he knew that he and Miller were working completely in sync.

There were always just two things that stuck out as awkward from this issue.

1. The thickness of the backs of the chairs in the movie theatre. I realize that Elektra is an expert assassin trained by both the Hand and the Chaste, but I seem to remember the backs of movie theatre chairs in 1982 to be made of either metal or hard plastic. (It's hard for me to remember that detail of the time I saw E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial in the cinema.) Even with Elektra's expertise, the back of the chair seems a little too easy to puncture. Still, it hardly detracts from the greatness of this story.

2. The ease with which Daredevil lifts four hundred pounds. I know that Daredevil's physique is honed to the peak of athleticism, but the other guys in the gym are bodybuilders. I can buy that Daredevil is stronger than they are, but it took two of them to rest the barbell on top of Ben Urich, and Matt hefted it all by himself. Maybe he had a burst of adrenaline, but this feat borders on super-strength, which he's not supposed to possess. Still, it hardly detracts from the greatness of this story.

This issue is so great because it allowed Miller to do what he always wanted to do, a hard-boiled crime story. Yes, he did "Gangwar" before this, and it was awesome, but #179 proves that "Gangwar" was just Miller and Janson settling into a groove. Here, they're operating at the peak of their powers.

The murder of the informant in the movie theatre occurs with nary a narrative caption. It's the perfect setting for the murder, because it allows the scene to be plunged into darkness with a single source of light. I love the tinge of crimson that outlines Urich's glasses as he realizes the man beside him is dead.

Then Urich starts narrating the issue with his Dashiell Hammett-esque patter. This issue's explanation of Matt's background feels like the most natural so far in Miller's run, because Urich uses his past investigation to tell it, and he does it in a single column of panels.

That's something I will always appreciate about Miller's original run -- his economy of panels and layout which allowed him to fit so much story into an issue so effectively. He was a master -- and it's undoubtedly sad that I'm typing that in the past tense.

Take a look at the page which shows Daredevil running into the hotel which he knows is a trap. The page starts with two horizontal panels of Daredevil running, the second of which shows him entering the hotel. Then there are two rows of smaller panels showing a window of the building. The top row shows a close-up of the window with sound effects like "Thwakk." The next two pull out further, with the third including no sound effects. The next row features a large white space with no panels, followed by a single panel of the window with Urich's caption reading, "Silence." The bottom of the page has four identical drawings of Urich's worried face. Miller has expertly ratcheted up the sense of dread in a way that wouldn't even occur to any other comic artist. Few people understood the medium the way he did.

Turn the page, and the sense of release we all feel as Daredevil explodes out of the window is indescribable.

And the way Urich describes Daredevil and Elektra summarizes perfectly why she will always be his most interesting romantic partner.
Quote:
Lovers turned enemies -- battling for the fate of an entire city. Talk about your great copy. Three flights up I'm wheezing and my chest is a blast furnace. Lousy cigarettes. They'll be the death of me.
You'd never know what they were to each other unless you saw their faces -- and glimpsed pain and anger far more personal than it should be. He doesn't want this, I can tell. He wants to hold her, to kiss her, to caress her -- to make every part of her soft and loving.

I so greatly admire how much this issue accomplishes with visuals alone. There isn't as much of Urich's narration as you'd imagine. When Elektra gets Daredevil's foot caught in the bear trap, there isn't that much dialogue. She says, "Be grateful that I did not set that trap to sever your foot. I would have -- but then you would not be so completely immobilized." Then we move to a close-up of her face as she says "so utterly helpless..." There is no joy in her expression. She does not feel victorious as Matt squirms in pain. Her next facial expression shows a woman returning her focus to the task at hand, and she collapses a wall on top of Matt. No words needed. It's sequential art at its peak.

Then Urich coughs, and she notices him. She brandishes her sai and he tries to run away. He doesn't get far. This issue ends with our narrator going silent and our hero buried under bricks. I think it would be impossible for anyone who purchased this issue to be resist picking up the next. This is The Empire Strikes Back of Daredevil comics.

Anyone who has any interest in comics as a medium needs to study how this issue ratchets up tension and allows action to flow. Every strength the medium possesses has been used to its absolute optimal effect. I can't help but give this issue a perfect grade. Five stars.
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Dimetre
Paradiso


Joined: 16 Feb 2006
Posts: 1083
Location: Toronto

PostPosted: Mon Mar 18, 2019 3:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here's what Klaus Janson had to say about this issue in his forward to Daredevil Visionaries Frank Miller Volume 3.
Quote:
The final phase of what Frank and I became as a team started with Daredevil #179. I knew, even then, that book was the best work we had done together to date. Frank and I had finally found our collective artistic voice. We were two people working as one. We grabbed the opportunity and ran like hell without once looking back. I was impressed then. I am amazed now.

For those of you interested in a scholarly analysis of Frank Miller's original Daredevil run, I highly recommend Paul Young's book Frank Miller's Daredevil and the Ends of Heroism. (Paul Young is an associate professor of film and media studies at Dartmouth College, and is therefore not the English pop singer from the 80s.) According to Young, after this issue was published Marvel was flooded with angry letters protesting Ben Urich's death, and Young wonders if that anger was heightened by readers' resentment at the revelation that Elektra was "beyond redemption." He goes on to pose some more interesting ideas.
Quote:
Matt's faith that Elektra might be redeemed has caused him to set aside his responsibility to her victims, and if we sympathize with her along with him, we abdicate the desire that we, as avid superhero fans, supposedly share. In other words, Murdock's unbreakable duty to justice can still be bent in half when the law runs counter to his personal needs. If Daredevil is justice personified, then justice is more than blind; it's blinded by its own need to deny the reality right in front of it.

Jeez, I still find Miller's original run so fascinating.
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Mike Murdock
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Joined: 08 Sep 2014
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 18, 2019 6:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm glad you posted that excerpt from Paul Young's book. I agree wholeheartedly with it.

This issue starts with one of the more dramatic slow burns as Ben Urich is talking to an informant about the Cherryh thing. I give a lot of credit to this opening scene, but a significant amount to the inks and the colors. Luckily, they're the same person. I always forget that Klaus Janson was a colorist as well. But the shades of blue with the dark inks really add to this sinister feel. The dialogue is sparse, but it sets the tone. Ben Urich has been a minor character, but his decision not to reveal DD's secret identity really cemented him as a good guy. The fact that the one who is inflicting this cold, calculated violence is Elektra (someone who had been seen as at least an ally makes it all the worse). There was a good chance people were strongly rooting for it at this point and this helps re-set all that.

I honestly can't remember if Miller had done any stories with first-person narration before this one. He uses third-person narrator very effectively, but there's no question he cemented the first-person narrator. Having Ben Urich narrate the story cements the noir vibe that is so important for the character. Also, because it's entirely in Urich's head, we get no thought bubbles. It makes it feel like something is left out. When Cherryh is threatening Urich, we don't get his thoughts making his intentions clear, we just get the veiled threats.

It also serves to change things up and build tension. When Matt rushes into a buidling alone, Ben doesn't see the fight that continues. The silence is emphasized by a large amount of white space where we would expect panels to continue as things are just still. Instead, sees the big spectacular climax and Daredevil and Elektra fight. The fight is painful and brutal. It's easy to hope it all works out and instead, she traps Daredevil's foot in a bear trap. The thought of that always makes me squirm. Then she coldly buries him as he shouts out her name. Then she just as coldly skewers Urich in the back as he tries to run.

I remember at the time, Elektra was listed as one of Daredevil's villains. It always feels weird from a modern perspective when we have the full story, but it makes a ton of sense. I know, at the time, people were genuinely angry when they though Miller killed Urich. It's a testament to how great he made the character that they had such an emotional reaction considering he hadn't actually had a long existence. There's also some side development. During Ben's story, he catches sight of a homeless person. We know what that'll lead to, but it's great seeing the plot develop in such a small moment. It's impressive how efficiently he can use space to develop a story.

Five Stars.
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I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2019 8:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Daredevil Vol. 1 #180 - The Damned



Quote:
Using Ben Urich's lead, Daredevil hunts for Kingpin's wife. Plus, Foggy's life may be in danger...


Due 3/30
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I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
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Dimetre
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Joined: 16 Feb 2006
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Location: Toronto

PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2019 11:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is always struck me as an oddity in Miller's original run. This issue's plot feels so separate from the rest of his arc, but it isn't really. In this issue Daredevil manages to find Vanessa Fisk, convincing the Kingpin to insist Randolph Cherryh to pull out of the mayoral race. It was just an odd way to go about finding Vanessa.

Miller opens with a mysterious scene of some pockmarked sewer king version of Kingpin taking a ring off Vanessa's finger. Then Daredevil beats up Turk, Grotto and another one of Kingpin's flunkies. The odd thing about it is that Daredevil doesn't milk them for any intel, so it kind of feels like Miller is coasting on these two pages. At least it shows that Daredevil knows how to fight even if he has a foot in a cast and is using a crutch, although I don't know how he can stand on a ledge like he does.

Daredevil's descent into the sewers is all well done, even if it's incredibly weird that there is a sewer king version of Wilson Fisk. Daredevil himself is great in this issue. I love how he gives the girl who lost her legs his crutch. It emphasizes how he places other people's well-being before his own. I also think this issue is another prime example of how Miller builds tension and uses panel layout to its utmost to raise tension. Take the moment where Vanessa hears Daredevil say her name. Miller pulls a close-up of her eyes which twinkle with recognition, but she is so far gone that she can't even speak. The next panel has Daredevil shouting, "It's her!" but Miller doesn't show his face. He just shows Daredevil's red arm reaching forward from amongst the grubby hands of the sewer dwellers. It's a bold choice, and I think it amps up the horror of the scene.

The following scene with Daredevil and Ben Urich escaping from a crocodile has to have been inspired by Batman #251, in which the Joker pushes both the Caped Crusader and an old wheelchair bound man into a shark tank. That scene was later incorporated into the episode of Batman: The Animated Series that adapted "The Laughing Fish." Batman #251 was written by Denny O'Neil, who edited this issue, and we all know that Miller was a Batman fan, even if I don't think he ever improved on his Daredevil work.

It's possible that the sewer version of Kingpin is less strong than than Wilson Fisk, because Daredevil is able to take this version down in a couple of pages. It's very good action, unspoiled by a single word bubble. Astonishingly there is a run of five consecutive pages without a single dialogue balloon, and the very next one has just one -- Vanessa offering a ring to Daredevil as she says the word "King."

Wilson's reaction to the appearance of Vanessa's ring is genuinely moving, but, sadly, Daredevil turned out to be right -- news of Vanessa's survival did not make the Kingpin go straight. He is too far back into his life of crime. At the beginning of Miller's run, Fisk didn't want anything to do with running the gangs. He was willing to turn states' evidence on them so he could live out the rest of his days with the love of his life. Now, he can't let the removal of Cherryh go unavenged. It's no longer enough that Vanessa is back. Fisk has clearly changed.

This issue's prime purpose was ending the story of Cherryh and assigning Elektra to murder Foggy. As for the sewer Kingpin plot, it's well done because it's Miller, but the idea is pretty silly. I give this issue a four out of five.


Last edited by Dimetre on Wed Mar 27, 2019 2:41 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Mike Murdock
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2019 9:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There's definitely some weird moments in this story. Frank Miller has always seemed to like grotesque mutants (of the non-X-Men variety) in his stories (a la The Dark Knight Returns) and you can definitely see that with his sewer people here. Ben Urich discovers that Vanessa is still alive and Daredevil goes after her. There's two great moments here. First, Daredevil doesn't care whether rescuing Vanessa will cause the Kingpin to go straight. She just needs to be rescued. Second, there's a great moment of Matt's senses when he realizes there are others there and then jumps in, broken foot and all. After that, the story gets even weirder and Daredevil fights a alligator. Vanessa recovering her memory is a bit weak. Still, the end with pages of near silence followed by the two pages confronting the Kingpin are a great ending.

Klaus Janson's colors stand out in this issue. The art as a whole is pretty good. Two pages side by side early on with Urich developing pictures followed by a shot of New York reflecting in the harbor both stand out. This issue, more than others, seems noteworthy for tall vertical panels. I don't know if it's symbolic of anything, but it looks cool.

Four and a Half Stars. Maybe it's a touch too weird, but there are some great moments as well.
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I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
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