Frank Miller took Daredevil to New Heights/Depths

Daredevil: Gangwar! – Frank Miller (1981)

            These times of pandemic sequestration and isolation give a great opportunity to re-discover old favorites unread for too many years.  While digging through my older comic books I came across Daredevil: Gangwar!, a trade paperback from the mid-1980’s that collected a Frank Miller-penned and illustrated run of Daredevil issues which have since become iconic, and from which much of the current Daredevil lore is drawn, including the interesting but flawed television series of a few years back.

            These issues were published between 1981 and 1982.  Until the mid-80’s it was very uncommon for Marvel to reprint comics as trade paperbacks.  I am glad they did, because it makes for great reading when an entire story arc is bound in one volume.  I found this in a bookstore sometime around 1986, and I remember vividly how brutal and raw the story was compared to the other comic books I read at the time which consisted of large, operatic stories involving whole galaxies or the destruction of the Universe.

Daredevil’s world was much smaller, dirtier, and scary.  It was a gritty dose of realism in a world of archetypal superheroes. I was maybe 13-14 years old, and Frank Miller’s take on Daredevil and the world he inhabits made a big impression.  At the time I did not know who Frank Miller was.  I had yet to read his seminal Dark Knight Returns comics.  All I knew was that the artwork in these Daredevil issues was something visually new, and that the writing was hard-boiled in the extreme.

Daredevil is a local crime-fighter.  He patrols a dilapidated area of New York called Hell’s Kitchen, seeking to protect the vulnerable and innocent from the ravages and horrors to be found in poor and neglected areas of wealthy cities.  He defended them by day in his alter-ego of Matt Murdock, attorney at law.  At night he would use his abilities to do what he could, with the constant knowledge that it was likely a futile effort.

In these comics, Frank Miller expands Daredevil’s scope, and his world, by introducing him to one of the most iconic enemies in the Marvel comics universe, The Kingpin.  Daredevil’s work was largely under the radar of the powerful and amoral Kingpin of Crime, Wilson Fisk.  He was normally concerned with much larger issues and situations than Daredevil.  However, once you come into the sights of someone like Wilson Fisk, there is no turning back. 

Daredevil has always been one of the more morally conflicted superhero titles at Marvel Comics.  He does not have the luxury of flying in, saving the day, and then leaving just as quickly.  He lives where he works.  He interacts with those he protects, and with those he fights, regularly.  He knows Hell’s Kitchen, having grown up there, better than anyone else.  If he cannot help people in his costumed form, he does so as a lawyer.  It is an exhausting life full of morally grey choices.  Gangwar! contains several such dilemmas, and it is to Frank Miller’s credit that his dark take on Daredevil is the one that has stuck in the public consciousness and guided the book for the past decades.  I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoyed the Daredevil TV show but wants to get to the real deal, or for anyone who loves a good hard-boiled, gritty story.

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