Daredevil is perhaps best known from the 2003 movie of the same name, starring a pre-Batfleck Ben Affleck. While I think that flick has its charms—particularly the Director’s Cut, which underplays the romance (but not the Evanescence) in favour of a legal subplot featuring Coolio—it’s definitely not the best representation of the character. With the Daredevil Netflix series right around the corner, now is a great time to check out the groundbreaking comic book roots of this iconic, albeit somewhat under appreciated by the mainstream, character.
If you’re completely uninitiated to the world of Daredevil, here’s the gist: Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen, who uses his incredible martial arts skills and a sixth “radar” sense to fight crime. There are plenty of places on the Internet to get a good, general survey of Matt’s history. My personal favourites are the official Marvel website and the fan-run The Other Murdock Papers, which is an incredible resource featuring reviews, articles, and think-pieces on ol’ Hornhead.
If you want to dive right in to the comics, however, you have a few options.
The Mark Waid (and Chris Samnee) Era
Are you in the mood for high-action, swashbuckling storytelling with a charming lead character, stunning art, and a well-rounded supporting cast? Look no further than Waid’s (and later, Waid and Samnee’s) current run on the character. Comprising of two volumes, the second of which is still ongoing, this take on Daredevil is fresh, fun, and full of pathos.
That said, be warned: starting with Waid’s run first is a lot like starting with Better Call Saul without ever having seen Breaking Bad. Sure, you’ll get a great story in and of itself, but part of what has made Waid’s run so welcoming is the escape from the doom and gloom that had come to define the character. Moreover, judging from the trailers, the Netflix show doesn’t appear to be drawing all too much from this run.
The Bendis and Maleev Era
While I can’t make the argument that Bendis’ Daredevil run is the best of his work, I can state with certainty it is my favourite of his work. Bendis and Maleev’s long-lasting run updates Miller’s grim and realistic take for a modern audience. A fascinating exploration of what keeping a secret identity would take in today’s society, Bendis’ Daredevil brings fan-favourite characters like Ben Urich back to the forefront, while also delivering the definitive Kingpin story.
Ed Brubaker’s subsequent run would later expand and build upon Bendis’ storylines, but if you only have room in your wallet for one, go with Bendis and Maleev.
That being said, the trailers for the show seem pretty light on elements from Bendis’ run, too. Which leaves us with…
The Frank Miller Era
Daredevil was one of Miller’s first gigs in comics, and certainly the most important of his early work. Before there was the Goddamn Batman—heck, even before there was his medium-defining The Dark Knight Returns—there was Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Stan Lee and Bill Everett might have created Matt Murdock, but it wasn’t until Frank Miller came along that Daredevil had an identity and raison d’être to call his own. Rather than just being another Spider-Man rip-off, Miller infused Matt’s world with a noir sensibility and street-level grittiness that has remained ever since.
Miller’s fingerprints are all over the previews for the Netflix series, so if you’re looking for the run that will best prepare you for the show, you can’t beat Miller.
Nevertheless, while all the above runs are great reads that speak to a wide variety of tastes, “Born Again” and “The Man Without Fear” are probably your best bets to read before the series drops. There are bound to be differences—there always are in any adaptation—but from what I can tell, those story lines are embedded in the DNA of the show.
Marvel’s Daredevil, starring Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Rosario Dawson, and Vincent D’Onofrio will be available on Netflix April 10th.