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Daredevil has always been one of my favorite (if not favorite) superheroes. I can’t exactly explain why, but I think it’s because he’s had a lot of really strong writers on his title, especially considering he was usually thought of as a B-level (or even C, at times) hero. Consequently, there have been many strong runs on Daredevil. While I can’t claim to have read every single issue of Daredevil since it debuted in 1964, I have read a lot of them, whether in the monthly issue format, trades or Marvel Essential formats. Even since I began at Entertainment Fuse, I have reviewed sixteen issues of Daredevil.
So I thought that in anticipation of what looks to be an excellent first live-action version of the character (no, I choose to believe this is the FIRST), debuting on Netflix on April 10th, let’s look at the top 5 (or so) Daredevil writers.
Many believe there wasn’t anything good in Daredevil between Frank Miller and the Kevin Smith/Marvel Knights restart. However, Dan “D.G.” Chichester wrote the title for most of the early 90s and had some strong parts during a somewhat-mixed run. His “Last Rites” storyline is a sort of companion to Miller’s “Born Again” and is a really underrated DD arc.
Many of Stan’s early Daredevil issues are all over the place and don’t age particularly well. Daredevil is presented more as a quippy Spider-Man clone than how the character later was later characterized. However, “The Man” deserves credit for co-creating Daredevil and Foggy Nelson, coming up with the origin, and also giving Daredevil enduring villains like The Owl, Zebidiah Kilgrave, and Gladiator (and, well, Stilt-Man).
Ann Nocenti is perhaps the most divisive writer in the history of Daredevil. Some people think she’s one of the best Daredevil writers while others can’t stand her issues and claim she’s the worst writer in comics history (seriously, I’ve seen this sentiment many times). Personally, I am for the most part a fan of Nocenti’s Daredevil. While she certainly isn’t without faults, such as having characters talk about political issues at the expense of characterization, she does have a really unique perspective on Daredevil and took him to unusual places (fighting Ultron and to Hell, literally). Her political/topical storylines, while not always subtle, are something that comics really doesn’t do enough, and especially didn’t in the 1980’s.
Conway’s issues are also of varying quality, but he deserves credit for making some bold and major changes to a (at the time) middling character who still hadn’t really established a definitive identity. Conway took Matt Murdock out of his habitat of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City and had him move to San Francisco. He started dating Black Widow and they had adventures together. Although Daredevil eventually moved back east, Conway gave the character a shot in the arm and his changes have been mirrored to a degree in Mark Waid’s current run with the character.
Coming right after Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker often gets short shrift when it comes to top Daredevil writers, but he did an excellent job of keeping in step with his predecessor’s tone on the title while also giving his stories their own feel. Brubaker put Matt Murdock in jail with criminals he’d captured. A strong noir writer, Brubaker made Daredevil a prison drama for a time while also miraculously putting the genie back in the bottle in a believable way while dealing with Bendis’ move to publicly reveal Murdock as Daredevil’s identity. Brubaker’s run certainly makes him one of the best Daredevil writers.
So many writers who’ve come after Frank Miller have stuck to his formula of Daredevil stories: morally-grey, street-level noir. And that works, but it can feel a little familiar after a while. So Waid’s run on Daredevil, which began in 2011 and is still ongoing, is such a breath of fresh air. He took the “why so serious” aesthetic to Matt Murdock, having him fight characters like Silver Surfer, Klaw, and the Mole Man. However, these are not goofy, Golden Age throwbacks. Waid’s stories have real emotional depth and often deal with complex emotional issues like depression, self-image, aging and mortality. Waid (along with artist Chris Samnee) have added their own distinctive take on Daredevil into the lore of the character, one that will likely be influential to future Daredevil writers.
Brian Michael Bendis has gone on to become one of the biggest writers in comic books, reinventing Spider-Man on multiple occasions and dramatically making over the Avengers and X-Men. However, he wasn’t that guy when he began on Daredevil. He was an indie writer/artist who had had some self-created successes. He proceeded to have a mostly-incredible run on Daredevil that lasted five years (and 55 straight issues). He brought realism and verisimilitude back to the character. While Bendis again brought a dark tone to the character, he also added a lot of strong cinematic storylines, such as revealing the hero’s identity, having him take over as Kingpin of the crime world, and getting Daredevil married. Bendis’ run is ranked by some as the best and it is certainly one of the most essential works that has been done by a Daredevil writer.
The best, however, is Frank Miller. Initially, just the artist for writer Roger McKenzie, Miller soon took over both the writing and art duties on Daredevil. He transformed the character from a mid-list superhero whose main memorable trait was that he was blind into the tormented protagonist of a gritty, street-level crime drama. Everything tonally that Daredevil has come to be known for (and what the Daredevil Netflix drama looks to be) comes from Miller. Imagine a 70’s Scorsese movie about a masked vigilante and that’s what Miler was doing. Even after his initial great run, which introduced Elektra and the Hand and established The Kingpin (Wilson Fisk) as Daredevil’s archenemy, Miller returned for two more great storylines. He wrote the origin revisit “The Man Without Fear” and then “Born Again,” a epic storyline that took Daredevil apart on many levels and is often cited as not only the best Daredevil story, but one of the best Marvel storylines of all time.
What do you think? Who else deserves consideration as one of the best Daredevil writers? Add your thoughts in the comments.