February 1, 2011

Daring to Walk Down The Mean Streets of the Marvel Universe

I'll be quite honest...I really had lost a lot of interest in Marvel until their recent Shadowland arc.

Quite frankly, it was the series that DC's Fall of Green Arrow/Rise of Arsenal promised, but failed to deliver: the "corruption" of a hero, a look at the street-level, more "hard boiled" Marvel heroes, and (in my opinion) one of the better arcs of the past year...and has resulted in two rather enjoyable reads, both about men who are "neither tarnished nor afraid" as Raymond Chandler would say. Two men who have lost some of their heroic luster going on quests to rediscover - or even just plain "discover" themselves.

First, there's Daredevil Reborn, which is an Andy Diggle-written series that looks at Matt Murdoch post-Shadowland. Granted, it is using a well-used device (the "wandering hero in exile discovering himself")....but sometimes, it's not the tale - it's how it's told. And Diggle sets the scene marvelously (to use a really bad pun) - a scene involving Murdoch and a young blind boy could have been easily played as overly mawkish or slightly more cliche...and Diggle doesn't. We know the basic premise of the story ("small town with secrets")....but Diggle provides just enough detail - and twists - to make it a really interesting read. The art by Davide Gianfelice and Matt Hollingsworth works well with the script, providing a good level of grit and texture to the proceedings.

However, my personal favorite of these two concerns Murdoch's replacement, Black Panther: The Man Without Fear. David Liss presents T'Challa post "Doomwar" (and quite frankly, I haven't read too much of Marvel to follow all the various goings-on) - quite simply, he's on a voyage of self-discovery: learning who he is without powers, without title, without loved ones.

Although Liss' writing can be a bit dialogue heavy, it actually works as T'Challa establishes himself in Daredevil's home turf. But it's Francesco Francavilla's art which sells it for me - what could have been a simple noir pastiche is really turning out, two issues into the story, to be quite engaging.

It's hard to talk about both books in detail without spoiling further, but both Daredevil Reborn and Black Panther: The Man Without Fear are proving one of my biggest theories - that the Marvel universe books that are worth readings are not the big event books (although, like I said in my podcast, I'm glad there's a Bendis-written Avengers book that I can finally enjoy), but the ones that take place on the sidelines, and in the shadows. Although I'm hoping that the cosmic books like Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy return, I'm also glad for a much more down-to-earth approach and scale.

These are books you should be reading, folks. They're that good.

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