…Or to give the full title, The Devil is in the Details: Examining Matt Murdock and Daredevil.
Date started: April 3rd
Date finished: April 11th
I won’t lie, I was a little nervous about reading and reviewing The Devil is in the Details. The first reason is that, in doing this whole thing, I’m bound by ethics to tell you exactly what I think of a book. In other words, if a book sucks, I have to tell you it sucks. This would be pretty awful in this case, because I’ve gotten to know Ryan Lindsay via Twitter, and he has been incredibly helpful and supportive in my writing efforts. Thankfully, the Devil is in the Details does not suck.
The second reason is that I’ve never attempted to review a book of essays before. I find it easy to articulate what I liked about a book when it’s plot driven, but factual essays require a slightly different approach. Nevertheless, I will give it my best shot.
My background with the Daredevil character is essentially non-existent. I’ve read exactly two issues. The first was a Frank Miller issue called Roulette, which was good, and the second was an issue around the time of the Shadowland event, which was not good. I also saw the Johnson/Affleck movie at some point and thought it to be mediocre. That said, it’s a character I’ve always had a curiosity about, and I love learning about things I previously had no knowledge of.
I walked into the Devil is in the Details blind, knowing almost nothing about Daredevil. Now I feel like I could listen in on a conversation about him, and possibly contribute without embarrassing myself. I’ve learned about his origin, his love lives, and his ongoing rivalry with the Kingpin. I know that the Miller and Bendis runs are praised as the best, whereas the Chichester run is largely derided. It’s safe to say the book succeeds in covering many aspects of Daredevil’s history, and presents the information in a way that’s accessible to comic book fans unfamiliar with his history.
Indeed, just a glance at the table of contents should tell you of the wide variety on offer here. Everything from essays on some of Matt Murdock’s more worrying tendencies, such as his proclivities towards violence and an odd stint where he pretended to be his secret twin brother Mike, to a pair of shorter, punchier essays comparing Daredevil to his contemporaries Spider-Man and the Punisher, and even a comparison of Ed Brubaker’s run on the book to film noir of the 70’s.
There is a tendency within books such as this for one or two of the essays to fall short of the rest, but that wasn’t the case here. There were however, several highlights for me. Science Fact is
an essay that attempts to examine the science of Daredevil, which does such things as extrapolating from the art his angle and probable rate of descent to determine whether he could grab an overhanging pole without obliterating his wrists. It’s all presented in layman’s terms, and written in a fun, engaging manner. The Only Way is Down outlines the tropes and features of a film noir narrative, and breaks down exactly how the different arcs of Ed Brubaker’s run correspond to different noir directors of the 70s, such as Scorsese. I can’t say for certain whether this was Brubaker’s intent, but the comparisons were fascinating to see.
Perhaps the most bizarre and difficult essay in the book is titled When Things Fall Apart in Hell’s Kitchen. It’s an examination of Brian Michael Bendis’s run on the title, and how it relates to colonialism. It presents Daredevil and Kingpin as equal forces opposed to the citizens, or ‘subalterns’ of Hell’s Kitchen, and the different ways in which they impose their views. It’s well written, and an interesting take on the material, but the terminology got understandably dense at points, with lots of references to hegemonic discourse, subalterns, and urban frontier theory. The book provides definitions, but I did find myself re-reading paragraphs after getting lost in the vocabulary.
At several points throughout the book, key art and covers from issues crop up. It’s used sparingly and well, to illustrate specific examples of what the various authors are talking about. This proved helpful when essays discussed such things as Daredevil’s angle of descent from a plane, or the way Matt Murdock dressed himself to fool his friends into thinking he was his twin brother Mike.
Daredevil is a character with a rich history and background. The Devil is in the Details succeeds at being an entertaining and informative look into some of that history. Before I started, the sheer amount of Daredevil material was daunting, but now I feel ready to wade in and pick up some trades.
Further adventures in comic related Book Reviews: