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Tales From the Longbox: Two Classic Daredevil Collections!

March 29th, 2011

After having so much fun, recently, reading some great Marvel prestige hardcover and trade paperback collections of classic story-lines (click here and here!), I decided to finally read two other Marvel reprint collections that had been sitting for a while on my to-read bookshelf: Daredevil: Typhoid Mary and Daredevil: Lone Stranger.

Daredevil: Typhoid Mary reprints Daredevil #254-257 and 259-263, written by Ann Nocenti and illustrated by John Romita Jr.  This story-line is a famous one, as it introduced the schizophrenic villainess Typhoid Mary to the Daredevil mythos.  Being a long-time Marvel Zombie, I knew all about this character and this story-line, but I’d never actually read these issues, so it was a great deal of fun to finally read this story.

I don’t think Ann Nocenti is often thought of as one of the GREAT Daredevil writers, which is unfortunate because she had a long, terrifically entertaining run on the series.  Her stories were a lot crazier than the more gritty, street-level crime sagas of Frank Miller or, more recently, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker.  But it’s a lot of fun to see Daredevil interacting with characters from the wider Marvel Universe in these stories, and Ms. Nocenti does manage to keep her stories connected to the real, human dramas and struggles of Matt Murdock and his supporting cast.

Right away in the first scene of this collection, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be your average ho-hum super-hero comic.  In our introduction to the story, and to the character of Typhoid Mary, we see her murder a bunch of drug dealers and torch the place, all so she can have sex with her thug partner among the fire and the dead bodies (which gives her the thrill she needs to reach orgasm).  Yowza!  This ain’t your father’s comic magazine!

But it is a classic Daredevil story, in which the villain (in this case, both the Kingpin & Typhoid) plays both sides of Matt Murdock’s persona (the lawyer and the super-hero) off against one another, and we see Matt Murdock succumb to temptation (cheating on Karen Page with Mary) and then try to claw his way back to redemption.  It’s a really terrific tale that reads as very edgy and modern — not dated at all as one might expect a story-line from the ’80s to be.

John Romita Jr. was really coming into his own during his run on Daredevil.  These days I think he’s one of the very best comic book illustrators out there, and there’s a lot of blossoming greatness on display in these pages.  The man draws a heck of a fight scene (DD’s tussles with Typhoid are visceral and violent), but he also does a terrific job on the quieter scenes, such as the lengthy courtroom sequence early in the story.  Unfortunately, although this collection (published in 2003) is printed on lovely glossy paper (a vast improvement over the newsprint on which these original issues were printed!), something went a bit awry in the printing process.  While the colors look dynamite, Mr. Romita Jr.’s line-work is printed much too lightly, giving some pages a very sketchy look.  A shame.

Other than that, my only complaint with this story-line and this collection is it’s lack of resolution.  I love the crossover, in the last few issues reprinted here, with the X-Men “Inferno” story-line (one of my favorite X-Men crossovers ever).  Those issues are a blast — and I fondly remember reading a few of those Daredevil “Inferno” issues back in the day.  But many of the story-lines begun in this collection are left without reaching resolution, and there’s all sorts of other not-explained-at-all weirdness in those last few issues.  Daredevil gets brought back to life by some sort of mechanical insect from hell?  Typhoid Mary is revealed to have been in league with Mephisto?  Huh??  Also, some of the story-lines that seemed important in the early issues — such as Matt Murdock’s efforts to help a blinded young boy — drop completely out of the story by the end.  But most importantly, we never really get to see Daredevil triumph over Typhoid Mary.  He gets beaten to a pulp by her group of thugs, and then the “Inferno” craziness starts, and that’s the end of the collection.  If these narratives were given resolution in future issues of the Daredevil, they’re not contained in this volume.

Nor are they contained in the next volume — Daredevil: Lone Stranger — which reprints Daredevil #265-273.  Rather than following up the narrative threads of the Typhoid Mary story-line, the issues contained in this volume are mostly stand-alone tales of a broken Matt Murdock wandering the country seeking to find himself again.  (Hmmm, this sounds exactly like the CURRENT Daredevil story-line, playing out in 2011’s Daredevil: Reborn mini-series!!)

This is a weird choice for a collection.  The series begins with the last part of the “Inferno” story-line, throwing the reader right into Daredevil’s adventures in Hell with Mephisto (Why on Earth does this collection begin with the LAST part of a multi-part story-line???), and then the stories that follow are mostly stand-alone adventures.  Now, I’m not complaining, mind you!  It’s GREAT to see more of Nocenti & Romita Jr.’s Daredevil run collected!  But I have no idea what the powers-that-be at Marvel were thinking when they put this together — it’s not like any stories of great significance are collected in this run.  (And if one thinks they were just trying to continue the story begun in the Daredevil: Typhoid Mary collection, why did they annoyingly decide to skip an issue — #264 — between the end of that volume and the beginning of this one?  I think #264 might have been a fill-in issue, but still, it’s a weird choice.)

Though I stand by my statement that none of the stories in this volume are of any great significance, they are certainly entertaining.  The opening issue — in which a broken Daredevil drinks at a bar with Mephisto-disguised-as-a-lady while the “Inferno” craziness rages around him — is so supremely weird that it really delighted me.  There’s an issue where DD fights Blob and Pyro in an attempt to protect a young mutant child that’s a real hoot.  (Boy, those references to Freedom Force really push my nostalgia buttons.)  The three-part story-line that ends the series starts really promisingly — addressing the issue of factory farms that is still extremely relevant today — although it devolves into silliness with a gun-toting military thug battling DD and some women.

Whereas the Typhoid Mary collection printed John Romita Jr.’s detailed line-work too lightly, here I felt everything was printed too dark, so the art got a bit of a muddy look to it.  Sigh.  In the middle would be just right!  Still, Mr. Romita Jr.’s artwork looks as detailed and beautiful as ever.  He does great work drawing Daredevil, and this collection seems to prove that the man can just about draw anything.

Reading these two collections was a lot of fun, even though both have an unfinished feel to them — as if the stories begun were still in-progress.  Of course that is because they were — Ms. Nocenti would go on to write many more issues of Daredevil.  I do hope that Marvel decides to reprint the rest of her run someday!

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