No important superhero graphic novels list would be complete without the inclusion of Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Murdoch, a blind lawyer whose senses were enhanced when a lorry carrying radioactive material crashed into him as a child, is Daredevil, who guards the streets of New York. The creator took a second-tier Marvel hero and turned him into one of the must-read books of the 70s and 80s. But the finest moments in his run occur in that run of issues from 168 to 182, where we are introduced to Matt Murdoch’s doomed love affair with Elektra. Miller made the city as much a character in the comic as Murdoch, his partner Foggy Nelson and crimelord The Kingpin and this was the first time this had been done this effectively in a superhero comic.
Daredevil under Miller is very much the spirit and the conscience of New York. The creator also uses The Kingpin, formerly a Spider-man villain, to unparalleled effect, recasting him as probably the scariest and most sinister adversary in modern comics. The enmity between Daredevil and him, real name Wilson Fisk, is built up in a sophisticated yet classical manner. Murdoch’s former squeeze Elektra also casts a huge shadow here: it is to Miller’s credit that a character that is only introduced in #168 becomes a major credible player here. Elektra Natchios is a wealthy Greek girl who Murdoch meets while at law school and their romance is cut short by the brutal murder of her father. Filled with revenge, she becomes a world-class assassin. Miller does a fine job of foreshadowing the fact that Elektra will play a major role in Daredevil’s current life.
And like the best superhero comics, the line between Murdoch and Daredevil is constantly blurred with Daredevil jeopardising his legal career at every turn. And it’s not just the triangle between Daredevil, Elektra and The Kingpin where Miller excels: the supporting cast of his law firm partner Foggy Nelson, unstoppable murderer Bullseye and crusading reporter Ben Urich all lend colour and flavour to the proceedings. Visually I would be remiss to write this without mentioning the finishes of Klaus Janson, who takes Miller’s layouts and brings them to stark life on the page. There is a rare kineticism and power to the fights here and a graphic simplicity that is in service to the story, never overwhelming it. Everything comes to a head dramatically with the extra-sized #181, where Bullseye gets his revenge on Daredevil by ending Elektra’s life in a lowkey but very effective manner. Bullseye is the perfect antagonist for Daredevil: murdering with a louche ease. Miller again has taken a throwaway creation (first premiered in this title in the mid-70s) and invested him with dramatic weight.
Pointing the way to Miller’s later work, Daredevil is a magnificent slice of superhero noir, bringing into play all that is best about the best comics has to offer. With the broadcast of Netflix’s brilliant Daredevil TV series, which owes a great deal to Miller and Klaus Janson, hopefully people will be driven to track down this collection