Daredevil #172, 173, 174 (1981)

My god, Frank Miller had chops. Daredevil #172 was only the fifth issue of Daredevil that Miller both wrote and illustrated, but it’s an unbelievabley creative and exciting achievement. Miller’s writing and art were dense, thoughtful and creative, using classic Marvel icons and also-rans in interesting an unique ways. And his storytelling… wow, that storytelling. You can see the deep Eisner influences in the art, but Miller took Eisner’s lessons and built his own iconography.

Issue 172 is filled with dizzying cityscapes, drawn from different perspectives and in a style that implies rather than conveys a city. They feel like those helicopter shots of New York City that show up in every film set there, while conveying a certain mood and menace. The city is a place of shadows, of struggle, a place where the small people on the street have no idea of the kinds of battles that are happening above their heads. The greatness of Miller on Daredevil lies in creating the impression of a city great and terrifying, of endless possibility and fright, protected by one athletic blind man in red rights who protects the place he loves from the venal Kingpin and his insidius machinations.

When Miller took over on Daredevil, I remember he was like a bolt of electricity hitting a formerly quiet title. He was part of a newly emerging sense of excitement that comics were transcending their more childish roots and growing into an artform that offered something special and unique compared with any other artform. Like Claremont/Byrne on X-Men and Moore on Swamp Thing at the time, Miller showed that the icons and symbols of our childish joys held a deeper resonance. I was in high school at the time these comics came out, thinking of work and cars and girls. In another era, this would be the time that I would have given up on comics, moved on to more adult concerns. Thankfully, as I moved to adult concerns, comics changed with me. For an amazing period from my entering high school in 1981 to my graduating college in 1989, the comics industry seemed to be growing mature at the same time I was. Miller and Moore became Gaiman and Pekar, Eddie Campbell and Art Spiegelman. There was a feeling of endless, growing possibility around the industry. Fantagraphics was putting out comics that ranged from the sublime (Love & Rockets) to the ridiculous (Critters, Eye of Mongombo – the subject of a future blog entry BTW). DC had Blue Devil and Miller’s Dark Knight Returns coming out at the same time. Comics seemed to be filled with endless possibility, with the feeling that the industry was right on the verge of something special.

And one of the places it started was with the masterful work of Frank Miller on Daredevil. This stuff is as fresh and wonderful as the day it was published. None of Miller’s tricks became a cliche, because few artists really copied his stylistic quirks. He’s since moved on to his Sin City work, working with a very diffrerent style and format, leaving behind this work.

The one thing I wasn’t prepared for is the density of these comics. Those long arcs that Brian Bendis writes on the series now might fill half an issue in the Miller era. There are pages that contain 11 and 12 panels each, all arranged in different panel arrangements and each of which contain word balloons. Miller stretched out more as the series progressed, but these earlier issues seem positively crammed full of ideas and content, as if Miller had thought about his ideas for a long time and found he had not nearly enough space to add all of them.

If you haven’t read Frank Miller’s Daredevil for awhile, pull out your old mouldering copies of his early run and check them out. Then please let me know if you agree or disagree with me.

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