Tuesday, September 22, 2009

1988 - Daredevil

Daredevil #250-261
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artists(s): John Romita Jr./Al Williamson

Ann Nocenti’s run on Daredevil, in my humble opinion, was as memorable as Frank Miller’s Born Again story line. Nocenti was well known at the time since she was the editor of The Uncanny X-Men, Marvel’s most popular title, and she had decent writing credentials having done a few fill-ins and limited series, including Longshot. Her first issue was Daredevil #236, but the title didn’t get a stable art team until issue #250 which is where her memorable run on Daredevil really began.

John Romita Jr. signed on as the regular penciller and was joined by legendary EC Comics artist Al Williamson, who provided the inks. This new creative team would go on to chronicle Daredevil’s adventures for over two years.

While Frank Miller can be viewed as the definitive Daredevil writer, Nocenti had quite a task ahead of her. Nocenti brought her own unique feel to the book with strong, emotional characters and her poetic prose:

“Invisible poisons. They walk among us. Poison lives, all it touches ... dies. Poison doesn’t know it’s poison. It simply does what it has to do to survive. It does what id does best. That’s why they call it poison. The carriers. The poisoned. They walk among us. Typhoid! Touch her. She’s the best.” (Daredevil #254, page 1).

She also used the book as a means to convey social commentaries about pressing issues of the 1980s: the threat of a nuclear holocaust and the abuse of our environment. Her approach was trailblazing in the mid 1980s as opposed to now when it’s in fashion to be environmentally aware. I can’t think of another comic book at that time that made me think this much. At times though, these commentaries could come across a bit too heavy-handed. In one respect, she might want to make sure that the point got across, but on the other I feel that she should have erred on the side of subtly. She boldly ventured into a moral gray area and had Matt and Karen living together without being married which I think was a Marvel first.

She explored Daredevil’s dual role with the law as a lawyer and a vigilante, dancing back in forth along the fine line as a hero and a moral bully. Daredevil’s unrelenting instincts for justice and the accompanying frustration with upholding the law are what defined Matt Murdock. Nocenti proved rather versatile as she allowed Murdock to both flex his muscle as Daredevil and to put his legal talents to use in a court of law.

Her Daredevil symbolized a man just doing his best to rise above, to remain pure. She leveraged Stan Lee’s famous angst formula and put Murdock through some intense internal conflict. In issue #257, Daredevil faced off against the Punisher and Nocenti used this conflict to contrast the two extremes of vigilantism.

Nocenti peeled away the psychological layers of Daredevil’s enemies: Kingpin’s obsessive compulsion to have Murdock destroyed; Typhoid Mary’s conflicted dual personality; and Bushwacker’s amorality as he hunts down his fellow mutants. Nocenti did a wonderful job humanizing her villains. Her own creation, Bullet, doesn’t see himself as a villain, but just a man doing what he needs for his son.

John Romita Jr.’s art was outstanding. I enjoyed his early art on The Amazing Spider-Man and then followed him onto The Uncanny X-Men, but his art here shows a lot of maturity and style. However, let’s not underplay the detailed line work of veteran artist Al Williamson whose inks added texture and coarseness to the finished product.

Nocenti tended to use a human approach to story rather than action oriented and focus on Matt Murdock rather than Daredevil. Her experience as an editor clearly taught her that a good story involves a lot of conflict, and Daredevil had his hands full dealing with all the conflicts she threw at him.

She also succeeded at pulling off unpredictable and original stories that took Daredevil out of his familiar urban milleu. For a while, he became a wandering hero like Kung Fu or the TV version of the Incredible Hulk, traveling from town to town, lending a hand where he could.


  1. These are the most fondly remembered stories of my youth. Daredevil was my favorite comic of the eighties and Nocenti's run is why. These are great. Typhoid Mary and the Rotgut stories really stand out. It is a shame that Marvel has never collected these as a hardback.

  2. Dare I say... better than Miller?

    Well, at least art-wise

  3. I don't remember John Romita Jr being as well-regarded back then as he is now, and with hindsight that's surprising- his art on this run was great. As for Ann Nocenti... I appreciated what she was trying to do, but for me the social commentary tended to overwhelm everything else, and the title seemed to become too episodic.

  4. Nocenti & JRJR on DD = the best Marvel comics I've ever read...


  5. just read her 60 issue run this past spring, what a cool writer. jrjr was great and i liked the rick leonardi issues with wolverine too. suing the kingpin for polution, bullet's son, typhoid, the roadtrip. really good.

  6. Brilliant stuff. One of the best comics of the 80's and my favourite comics.I much prefer this Daredevil to Miller's. Most of her stories are a complete head trip, and very few writers can provoke the emotions of a reader like Nocenti Much overlooked run. The social commentary and feminism/animal rights themes were laid on a little to thick and Nocenti's dogmatic style often detracted slightly from the stories. But what stories. JR JR's artwork complemented the dark tone perfectly..



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