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Bend It Like Bendis

Longbox Graveyard #96

I’ve made few pains to hide my biases here at Longbox Graveyard. Readers who have stuck with me for the last hundred-odd weeks won’t be surprised when I say I favor the Silver and Bronze Age of comics to contemporary books, or that I prefer four-color superheroes to the grim vigilantes of the current age. I am stuck in the past, and happily so.

Let's Level With Daredevil!

There are exceptions. One of my earliest reviews at Longbox Graveyard — and one of my highest grades — went to Ed Brubaker’s 2004-12 run on Captain America. I gave high marks to The Walking Dead and have favorably reviewed digital initiatives like Condito Comics’ Operation Ajax, or DC’s Legends of the Dark Knight. I named Saga my best book of the year for 2012. In my “Few 52” Podcast last I even admitted affection for DC’s controversial reboot of their superhero line. My reading isn’t entirely confined to comics of the past.

Spend any time reading contemporary comics and you’re going to encounter Brian Michael Bendis. After starting his career at Caliber and Image Comics, Bendis has become one of Marvel’s most prolific writers, cutting his teeth on Marvel’s Ultimate line, and becoming a mainstay on Marvel event books and Avengers titles. But it was Bendis’ lengthy run on Daredevil that first got my attention, and really got me to thinking about comics as a storytelling form.

Daredevil, Alex Maleev

Alex Maleev’s Daredevil does a mean Buscema Slouch!

Starting in 2001, and working primarily with artist Alex Maleev, Bendis crafted a spectacular fifty-odd issue Daredevil run that ranks among the best for a character that has seen signature work from some of the field’s top talents. Bendis’ take is grim, realistic, and street-level. With his identity revealed, Matt Murdoch is pressed to the breaking point and beyond, crossing the line from vigilante to criminal in his fight for the soul of Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a sophisticated and emotionally-mature work that offers an in-depth look at identity and ethics through the lens of a comic book. It is less about costumes than it is a gritty crime drama that would be perfectly at home on film or as an HBO drama.

I thought it was a great story.

I also thought it was a very poor comic book story.

It’s going to seem like I’m picking on Bendis here but that is not my intent. I quite like his stories — I read and enjoyed this entire Daredevil run, and I like what I’ve seen of his other Marvel titles. He’s committed to his craft; seems like a genuinely nice guy; and runs a great Tumblr blog that I shamelessly plunder for my Instagram feed. Bendis is hugely successful in his field — he certainly doesn’t need my endorsement, and criticism at Longbox Graveyard isn’t going to bring him to his knees.

I’ve selected Bendis only because his style bends the comics form until it breaks.

Consider the image below, which is typical of Bendis’ work. To my mind, this is not a comic book. This is an explosion in the word balloon factory.

Of course, it is a comic book. It is a story told with words and pictures and the only limitations imposed on the form are those created by artists and writers (and bloviating bloggers). What I’m getting at is that this is far from an ideal use of the form. It is not a story that takes advantage of the things that comics do well (and in some cases, do better an any other form of storytelling). This story feels like a teleplay or a radio drama force-fitted into comic book form where the characters are reduced to visual anchors for Bendis’ (generally quite good) dialogue and characterization.

This style of storytelling reminds me more of a fumetti or photonovel than anything else.

photonovel form

(And fotonovels can be artistic in their own right, but this seems rarely the case).

Many fans and critics will not see a problem here. Bendis has a shelf-full of Eisner Awards, so what do I know? But I still see this run as a missed opportunity. It told a great story of a very dark period of Matt Murdoch’s life but it did so in spite of being a comic, not because of it. Very little about the comic book form was used to good effect. Save for the (occasional) appearance of men in costume beating the crap out of each other, you might not recognize it as a superhero comic book at all.

If I’ve called out this Daredevil run as being especially ill-suited to comics, it’s only fair that I provide a counterexample that more fully explores the dimensions of the form.

Comparing apples to oranges, here’s a two-page spread from the recent vintage of Daredevil #1 by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera.

Paolo Rivera & Mark Waid

Not every page of every comic is going to be like this (just like not every page of Bendis’ work swarms with word balloons), but this does serve to make a point. There’s so much to unpack in this panel — and much of what happens here can happen only in comics. Unique to the form is a single master shot that in still form depicts both time and motion with multiple portrayals of our principle characters — Matt Murdoch and Foggy Nelson. In this single image we see two worlds at the same time — the mundane world that Foggy perceives (watch out for that doggy doo, Councillor!) and the world revealed by Matt’s enhanced senses. Matt’s world is a mosaic of smells, vibrations, and overheard conversations brilliantly displayed with inset panels emphasizing tiny details inside this same master shot. Add to this a balance between words and art — which lets us admire Rivera’s scene-setting draftsmanship, while at the same time wonderfully framing Waid’s dialogue that advances the story and illuminates character — and we lose ourselves in a story that fully embraces (rather than fights) everything that comics do well.

While any kind of story can be told in comics, I am most interested in those that can only or best be told in comics form — where words AND pictures are used to best effect. To be fair, many of the comics I laud here at Longbox Graveyard do not fit this description — for all that I cherish Silver and Bronze Age superhero stories, they don’t always take best advantage of the form. At the same time, these classic stories weren’t trying to be anything other than comic books. They might not always have been great comics, but they weren’t trying to be film or television (for the most part), and when Steranko or Paul Gulacy adopted cinematic techniques in their comics art, it was as a means of revolutionizing or revitalizing the comic book form, rather than imitating another type of media.

But there is very little competition for the heart of an old-time comic book reader such as myself. If you want those kinds of stories, there’s really only one place to get them — old comics.

Master of Kung Fu, Paul Gulacy & Doug MoenchMaster of Kung Fu, Paul Gulacy & Doug Moench

My problem with the Bendis approach is that by electing not to play to the particular strength of comics, Bendis can’t help but compete with other forms of media which do these kinds of tales as well or better. With all this character-driven dialogue (which Bendis does very well), I can’t help but feel I’m reading a television script. Rather than read Bendis’ Daredevil, a part of me would rather re-watch The Wire or The Sopranos. Of course, there’s nothing stopping me from doing both, but I come to comics with a set of expectations, and one of those expectations is that they are going to give me a story that I can’t get anywhere else, whether it is a cosmic Jack Kirby space epic, or the unique exploration of the printed page demonstrated by Will Eisner. When a comic tale puts aside so many of its tools and techniques in favor of dialogue, dialogue, and dialogue (however clever), I can’t help but feel some fundamental aspect of the form has gone missing.

Bendis wears me out with his dialogue-heavy style, but I do like his stories, so I thought I’d search for his work in other forms.

I thought I’d struck paydirt with the motion comics version of SpiderWoman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. After all, I kept thinking of Bendis’ work as a television script. What could be better than a comic book animatic?

Unfortunately, this form wasn’t much better than a Bendis comic. Without all those word balloons it looked cleaner, but the story was still too talky and static. Practically the entire first episode was two characters talking on a bus. Even Sandra Bullock and a satchel full of TNT would have a hard time livening up this scene. Maybe it gets better in later episodes, but I couldn’t be bothered.

More recently, though, I have found that the man and the hour have met at last in Bendis’ relaunch of the Guardians of the Galaxy. No, not the best-selling comic. I’m talking about the “Infinite Comics” prequel stories that have been made available for free in the run-up to the new series.

This format is still clearly a comic. There’s no distracting audio, and the reader controls the pace of the presentation. Transitions and scenes are presented in conventional comic book style. But the ability to re-use space finally gives Bendis’ dialogue has the physical word-space it needs to breathe, and the minimal change of art from panel-to-panel doesn’t feel as much the cheat here that it does on the printed page.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Infinite Comic #2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Ming Doyle

Guardians of the Galaxy: Infinite Comic #2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Ming Doyle

Guardians of the Galaxy: Infinite Comic #2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Ming Doyle

Guardians of the Galaxy: Infinite Comic #2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Ming Doyle

Guardians of the Galaxy: Infinite Comic #2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Ming Doyle

It may not look like a lot here in still images, but through the “Infinite” format, with balloons transitioning in and out … it works! These are essentially the same kind of minimally-changing images that annoyed me in Bendis’ Daredevil, but only seeing one panel a time makes Bendis’ wall-of-words less intimidating, and the transitions help denote passage of time and make it easier to notice and enjoy story and dialogue beats. These are lightweight little stories — especially when compared with Bendis’ heavy Daredevil run — but they’re fun and they do show a promising evolution of the comic book form. The effect is much easier to judge by experiencing it for yourself, and the books are free at Comixology, so check them out.

In the end it comes down to personal preference, and I’m willing to admit my tastes are idiosyncratic. What do you think? Am I being too narrow with the way I define the best use of the comics form? Share your thoughts in the comments section, below.

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #97 Top Ten Captain America Foes

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About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published once a month or so at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on April 17, 2013, in Conspectus and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 39 Comments.

  1. Count me as not a fan of Bendis. When I started collecting comics again back in 2008 (something that only lasted for 10 months due to financial reasons) his Avengers titles were the first ones I dropped, and I had been pulling quite a few titles. They were flat-out boring. I think Bendis is in love with the sound of his voice, or the look of his dialogue, or howver you’d say it when it’s in print. In addition, it seems to me that he either doesn’t respect or isn’t aware of the past of the characters he’s writing.

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    • I’ve only read Bendis in collected form. I don’t expect he’d make for a great monthly read, but when gorging on fifty issues of Daredevil in a row, it’s a good ride. That’s part of what makes him interesting to me … a fine writer that I think is not terribly well-served by a conventional, monthly comic book format, but in long format with a little technological help, he’s an all-time great.

      Bendis knows comics and I expect he knows the backstory as well or better than anyone, but given how complicated comics continuity has become, I can’t blame him for applying selective memory to these characters and stories. I’ve come to feel that continuity detracts more than it adds to comics (at least after that first heady rush of the Marvel Silver Age), and I’m content to allow Bendis his “take” on Daredevil without having to explain Matt’s wacky “twin,” Mike. It does do violence to the illusion of continuous comic book history but at this point I’m not convinced that is a fight that can be won (or is even worth fighting).

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      • I’ve only read his Avengers stuff, so the Daredevil run might be better, especially in a colleced form. Plus, I’d probably be more accepting of a glacial pace in a street-level solo title title like Daredevil than in a team book like the Avengers. I’m sure he has his strengths, but writing the Avengers definitely isn’t one of them as far as I’m concerned.

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        • One of the advantages of my Marvel Unlimited sub is that you can dip in and out of these series. I knocked off the Bendis run (and the Brubaker run that followed) over the course of several lunch hours. It was a fine series in a digital, all-you-can-eat format but I doubt I’d like it as much in a fifty dollar Omnibus. Curious how the format of a story can so impact opinion of the story itself.

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  2. Is there a more polarizing figure in Marvel comics than Bendis? Well, besides maybe Joe Q? I’ve actually never read the Bendis Daredevil run (it’s on my to-do list), but what has always gotten me more than the density of his text is the erratic pacing of his stories. I’m witnessing it again in Age of Ultron where the story is (suitably) introduced with a slow burn, but we’re now getting to the point where things should be picking up and he’s still unable to advance the story at an appropriate pace. That and despite writing Ultimate Spider-Man, I feel he’s always struggled to write 616 Spidey within the Avengers and his minis (I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the one AvX issue last year that focused on Spidey was actually penned by Jason Aaron, not Bendis or Hickman who seemed to do most of the other heavy lifting on the series.

    With all that said, if I could stir the pot a bit with you LBG, isn’t BMB’s use of word balloons a little reminiscent to what Starlin was doing in the 70s?

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    • Yes, but Starlin has a lifetime hall pass from LBG because I’m a fanboy. (Sniffles) You take that back!

      Starlin did indeed go to a wall of words (or captions) more than once in books like Warlock. It bothers me less than Bendis’ work because (first) in the 1970s, you weren’t getting that kind of space opera anywhere else, so I didn’t feel like the comics were a poor substitute for television or some other form, and (second) Starlin usually counterbalanced his stargazing with a good old fashioned punch in the mouth. Also, mythic undertones from Thanos et. al. forgive much, and you kind of expect soliloquies when we’re talking death gods and cosmic destinies. But you are right, this is another case of great stories (space sharks and Star Thieves notwithstanding) but not-always-great comic book storytelling.

      At least Starlin stuck with balloons and boxes. More than once, Steve Gerber gave his letterer the day off and just went with a page of typewritten text!

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      • Having read Bendis in a number of formats all of these points are on the mark. Very wordy and takes a long time to develop things. You could cut him slack for running a mega story like Age of Ultron but he did this in his own series too. “Powers” tended to have two types of issues, 1) Dueling word balloons of the POV characters talking in dark rooms and 2) Super Powered beings getting ripped apart by cosmic forces while our POV characters watch in horror. On and on until he figured it was time to put us out of our misery, end the current story and start the same basic arc over again with different characters. Good times!

        But all that said if life gives you Alex Maleev as an artist you’d be silly not to write to his strengths and I think Bendis tried to do that in the DD run. If you want to write Noir, Maleev is your guy and to a lot of authors Noir is French for “lot’s of word balloons”. It’s not, actually, many Noir films are pretty lean on dialogue but a cliche is a cliche as much because of perception, as anything else.

        I’m enjoying the Mark Waid run more than the Bendis one. Waid’s proving you can be very dark but still keep a light heart to the character. A nice balancing act.

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        • I need to read more of Waid’s Daredevil — I haven’t gone past the first collection yet. I do like Waid as he seems to have embraced the idea of writing superhero comics stories. He appears entirely satisfied with that task and with making a thorough exploration of the form while still honoring basic idioms and tropes. Even his Insufferable for Thrillbent (digital) — for all it’s revisionist trappings, and technological flourishes — is a pretty by-the-book superhero tale, at least in terms of style.

          I grabbed that page from Waid/Rivera’s Daredevil because of the character, of course; if I was going to compare noir to noir, I’d get a page from Brubaker’s Criminal, or the work Brubaker did with Darwyn Cooke on Catwoman.

          I don’t think there’s any letting Bendis off the hook. He writes stories this way because this is the way he likes to tell stories. He’s good at it and enjoyed great success. My problems with his approach are entirely my own.

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          • Yeah, stop what you’re doing and read onward with Waid’s Daredevil run!! It’s the only non-Spidey title I’ve consistently read each month for probably about two years now.

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          • By the responses I’d say you’re anything but alone in how you feel about Bendis. I’m not a fan either, I found the New Avengers to be tedious, agree entirely with Mark G about Age of Ultron and I am still trying to figure out why I read all those Powers issues.

            I’d have to look at some of the other Maleev and Bendis collaborations to see if this was his slant on Noir or a product of a writer and artist maybe not being better than the sum of the parts.

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  3. In addition to the wordiness I will offer up my thoughts on Bendis.

    My biggest problem with him is that his storys often feel like old ground. DD being pushed to the edge has been done to death by the time he did it. Avengers Disassembled had been done a few times with lesser characters (I think the last was with Dr. Druid being the traitor, nevermind how many times Scarlet Witch went nuts before he did it, even though she was long over her problems in the “reason” for her to do so). House of M seemed like a poor man’s age of Apocalypse (which was itself a ripoff of Days of Future Past), I feel the same exact way about Age of Ultron (Granted he does the switch it up stuff that I will discuss below), Avengers vs. X-Men is another done before with smaller teams (but much more effective IMO).

    The other thing Bendis does that irritates me is he “Hyper characterizes” characters. This is where I think much of the word balloon stuff you mentioned comes in. He tends to take certain aspects of characters and bolds and bulletpoints those parts when a crisis or situation comes up. It’s a bit disconcerting as it’s almost like he is reminding himself who the character is as much as he reminds the reader. It’s not organic and they don’t feel like real people (Saw a lot of this with Iron Man after Civil War, even though he was going so far against Stark’s character to begin with, which some blame can be placed on Mark Miller for that as well).

    Lastly, and what irritates me the most, is when he takes a situation and ends up with the same outcome and changes up a few details and points and says “LOOK HOW ORIGINAL!” Ok maybe he doesn’t point and yell. The most glaring example of this was his time on Ultimate Spider-Man (I believe it was him anyway) and Qwenn Stacy’s death. It seemed sort of inevitable when she showed up in the series but this time it was Carnage. Now granted last thing the series needed was a repeat of Green Goblin and that situation, but at that point I kind of felt like this was playing with action figures, taking parts of the story and moving them around and changing up the details for your own benefit. Now that’s fine and all but not when you are reading a comic book IMO.

    Lastly, HEY quit knocking the photonovel ;-). Keep it up and I’ll put you in it LOL. OK just kidding.

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    • Thanks for the thoughts, and if you want to provide a guest post defending the virtues of the photonovel, I’m happy to run it here at Longbox Graveyard! (And by the way, searching for photonovel references using Google Image Search mostly yields pages of Italian softcore porn … not that there’s anything wrong with Italian softcore porn … in fact excuse me as I conduct additional research!)

      Ahem.

      I confined my blog to Bendis’ Daredevil run because … that’s pretty much all the Bendis I’ve read. It does not surprise me that he’s employed a similar approach in other books, because why change, really, if what you are doing is working? (At least working in terms of sales and getting more assignments). Having not read those other books (save for AvX, which I thought was pretty dire, but I give these mandatory cross-overs a pass anyways), I can’t offer criticism, but I will raise my hand in support of Bendis’ Daredevil run.

      Yes, some of these paths are well-trod — has any superhero comics character suffered more than poor Matt Murdoch these past few decades? — but I think what set this particular run apart was its depth of exploration of the “revealed identity” plotline, which to me was the major theme and touchpoint of the series. To an extent, after half a century of these stories, there are few original storylines left, and what’s come to matter most of all is execution. For all that Bendis’ style gave me pause, I do admire the story he told with Daredevil, which was unblinking and daring in places, and I hope that came across in the blog.

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      • Heh, since I tend to do such things in the more parody and spoof nature I doubt I could lend anything to the artistic merits of such an artform. Beisdes it’s a hobby not something I try to take seriously.

        In fairness I have only read parts of Bendi’s run on DD, but at the same time it never grabbed me as other runs have in the past. I couldn’t give you details though as it was never something that I felt strongly about at the time even though many were telling me it was great. I was just thinking “Eh, ok has some good points but also drags” is really all I remember from a conversation about the run at the time he was on it.

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        • The more I read comments here and on Twitter the more I think it’s essential to read this run in collected form, over a span of days rather than months. Waiting thirty days to spend three bucks on twenty pages of tit-for-tat conversation doesn’t sound so great; reading six hundred pages of a complete story without having to remember what happened last month is a lot more appealing.

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  4. Been waiting all day to read this (thanks a lot, overtime at work). You know i’ve always lauded the merits of the DD run, and I dig Moon Knight as well. i’ll admit a bit of a conceit though – DD is one of my Top Ten favorite characters and Moon Knight just barely missed the cut.
    You definitely make a lot of solid points here, and of course fandom is always in the eye of the fan so it’s totally cool we all have wildly different perspectives. Personally…i’ll admit that for the most part i’m not a very big Bendis fan. That being said, i’ve noticed my enjoyment of his work is very much largely dependent on the artist he is paired with. Which is precisely why DD and Moon Knight are far and away his best work if you ask me.
    i definitely think BMB has a boner for Hollywood though, and it certainly does show in his work which, you are dead on the mark about, reads like a screenplay (and i should know – i’ve penned a couple of those in my time). It doesn’t help that Alex Maleev has a background in storyboards either. And if i’m honest, i’d say that’s probably the reason i enjoyed those two arcs so much. i love screenwriting and film, and these were essentially, as you hinted at, screenplays with very well done storyboards. And i really love Maleev’s style. It’s realistic but not too realistic, and impressionistic but not too impressionistic.
    All that aside though, i really thought the DD run was phenomenal, but like you i read them as a collection and i’ll agree – they would be lackluster as a monthly. i can’t imagine tearing through a single book then waiting another month for more because, in a singular way like that, not much happens. But reading the whole thing over a weekend left me exhilrated like i’d just say through an LOTR marathon or something.
    FInally, in regards to his wordiness, after reading what you had to say it hit me why i respect the guy: i am no stranger to a lack of brevity in my writing. i know i go on at great length most of the time, i’m aware of it, and i understand when professors, readers, editors, and so forth tell me “it’s too long!” Right now i’m sitting here thinking “i bet people told BMB that more than a few times, too – and look at him now! He did’t compromise what he thought was the best way to tell his story with words, and now he’s like the guru of Marvel Comics. So for me, who believes 1000 words can paint a picture, it doesn’t take as much away.
    Anyway, great insights as usual and i enjoyed reading what you had to say!

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  5. Hey, Doug, nice to hear from you. Thanks for reading and posting, and I hope the article was worth the wait. Not everyone would welcome a wall-of-words denser than a Bendis script after a day of overtime at work!

    I see that I didn’t comment on Maleev at all in this post — I should note that I like his work, as well. His photoreal style is a good match for Bendis and I thought Maleev showed skill in depicting emotion, a critical skill given this subject matter. He did a decent job cutting loose with action, too (in scenes generally devoid of written narrative, it is feast or famine with our friend Bendis). I did not know about the storyboard connection, but that makes sense.

    One of the purposes of storyboarding is to determine if a scene will work on film — if this is the case, I’d hope Maleev would send up a flare to let his partner know that many of his scenes just don’t work very well, visually. It could be that Bendis is just bored with the usual superheroic fist operas, or that he considered the usual costume stuff too unrealistic for the tone he was trying to hit with Daredevil, but it seems to me the storytellers missed too many opportunities to inject motion and visuals into this run. For example, there’s an issue where Elektra shows up to give Matt a verbal dressing down (I forget the number); the two of them stand around on a rooftop for several pages, and just talk and talk. I’m fine if Bendis wants to reject the hoary old comic book cliche of heroes fighting like alley cats whenever they first meet, but would it have killed them to frame this dialogue against our characters chasing over the rooftops, or bouncing off flagpoles? Comics are unique among dramatic forms in being so well suited to showing exposition through action, it seems a shame to leave those tools in the box.

    Bendis may suffer a foible common to many smart and talented people — possibly he’s most interested in solving only those problems that are interesting to him, in this case his interest being in dialogue and developing a “voice” for each character. If so, he’s not alone in being disinterested in action — Steve Gerber’s Defenders, more often than not, would be twenty pages of social commentary and two big Sal Buscema fight pages — but again, this does not make best use of the form and contributes to my sense that I am reading a work translated from some other format.

    I do agree with you that there is room for Bendis’ idiosyncratic style, and that comics are better for having him around. There are plenty of guys out there doing by-the-book superhero comics. For better or worse, Bendis is trying something different. I just can’t shake the sense that he’d evolve from “very good” to “great” if he better employed the visual possibilities of his medium (which is one of the reasons I’m pleased to see him working in the “Infinite” format, which I think better suits him than the printed page).

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  6. Great writers inevitably have a particular masterpiece for which they will be remembered, and I believe this run on Daredevil will be Bendis’. You offer an interesting critique: not that the run is good or bad, but on how it uses the comic book form.

    Maleev’s art work is part of what makes this series so incredible. Bendis’ dialogues have never befoe or since had such fine art to share the page. The Ben Urich panels you posted can be viewed as a march of word ballons, sure. See them through my eyes, however, and you will see Maleev’s masterful approach to the human face as it experiences powerful emotions. Every line breathes with the frightening intensity of Daredevil’s world. Look at these panels again and think in terms of color choices, too. How rich and vibrant his monochromatic schemes appear. The panels come alive through the use of art techniques normally reserved for fine art and not comic book pages.

    I have read this run in TPB form perhaps three or four times in the last 6 years, and it remains fresh and electric every time. While much of Bendis recent work in Avengers focuses of snappy, snarky, fast-paced dialogue, his conversations in Daredevil really rang true for me. I don’t understand how anyone could characterize this run as glacial, as the emotional content of the run maintains a sharp, tense edge the whole way through. It is rare that I enjoy a superhero run that is not deconstructionist in nature as much as this one.

    Bendis paid tribute to all that came before and added his own perspective to this character. I like to see the traditional form stretched, experimented with, and transformed in this run. It remains one of my all-time favorites. If we were going to run a top ten list of all-time great comic book runs, this would make my list for sure.

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  7. I found myself nodding in agreement with a lot of the comments here in relation to Bendis, mostly the negative ones, especially the one mentioning “glacial pace.” Age of Ultron #6 was finally worth the paper it was printed on, but to take 5 issues to get there? AWFUL.

    Anyway, I couldn’t possibly disagree any more with your take on Bendis/Maleev’s Daredevil. This is the book that brought me back to comics after a six-year separation. (It all started with that amazing scheme, the 25¢ issue, which was either #40 or #41.)

    The wordiness suited the tone of the book. I could play this out in my mind, a gritty noir/procedural TV show. This wasn’t a standard superhero story, and that’s what roped me in for the long haul.

    On a related note, I have to mention the story that took place around #71-75, the end of Bendis/Maleev. It jumps through Hell’s Kitchen’s history, with the original Kingpin and one of Marvel’s (Timely’s?) earliest characters… I don’t remember the guy’s name offhand. Angel? Eagle? I don’t know, and its not important. The point is that the arc was presented in the visual style of the eras portrayed, something I had never seen before (I know now it was previously done), except maybe in Paul Jenkins’ Sentry. So when we flashed back to the 20s, it was all grainy black-and-white art. The 60s and 70s had the yellowish newspaper hue, and some intentional misses on the “color plates.” It looked so cool, and was a great homage to the history of the medium.

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    • Do you mean the “Golden Age” storyline from #66-70 with those flashbacks that involve the Gladiator? Some of the pages are done in black and white, and some in that 4-color benday dot look, and so on. DD in the yellow suit. Great story.

      Another fun tribute to days gone by – The “Archie” pages from Brubaker/Phillips last Criminal story “Last of the Innocent.” The characters younger lives are flashbacks in an Archie style that make an unsettling contrast with the main storyline in the ‘present.’

      Ok, now we should make a top ten list of comics that paid tribute to retro styles like this!

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      • Yes! I completely forgot that amazing DD story was also Galdiator-centric.

        I’m also a big Criminal fan, and that juxtaposition of an Archie strip against the grittier art in the rest of the book was one of the best things I’ve ever seen in comics. The subject matter of the Archie pages was probably the most “mature audiences only” material I’ve ever seen in a comic, and that made the send-up pretty hilarious.

        I think the “Coward” storyline mixes some old Dick Tracy-style panels in there, but that was a strip within the comic (and there was no pay-off), not a part of the actual story.

        Love the idea of a top 10. LIke I mentioned earlier, The Sentry did it, going from the 60s all the way through the Liefeld 90s. I know I’ve seen it a bunch of other places since the DD run, but I guess they weren’t all that memorable to me like that one.

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        • It took me awhile to warm to Criminal but I came away from the first collection a fan. I had many of the same problems with Criminal that I had with this Bendis run, in that it did not feel a story especially well-suited to comics, but over time I became more comfortable with its rhythms (and it never really goes into the Bendis word balloon jungle in any case). I have the second collection sitting on my nightstand in shrinkwrap, but want to re-read the first before plunging back into that particular world.

          It is only tangentially-related, but it came to mind when you mentioned how Brubaker co-opted the Archies (!) for his sordid tale … my own favorite bit of pastiche/homage/not-sure-what-to-call-it is “In Pictopia” by Alan Moore and Don Simpson (and you can read it online here). It’s more of a meta story in that it directly references the clash of comics eras, but it also says something about our expectations of funnybooks. This story is almost thirty years old, but then (as now) one of the greatest sins was not to look like everything else — not to “fit the continuity.” Yet it is these stories that stick out like sore thumbs we are most likely to remember. This Bendis run fits that same profile — we’re talking about it a half-dozen years after publication and I expect we will still be talking about it years after AvX, Age of Ultron, et. al. have finished their march into oblivion.

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      • I thought the characterization of Gladiator has a thug trying to reform (and being pulled back into his old way of life) was one of the strongest parts of this run. Was that Bendis? I’d have sworn it was Brubaker but I’m fuzzy on where that series transitioned between writers. I read them all as one and think of them that way; the only part I remember as being distinctly Brubaker was the Punisher appearance in the penitentiary storyline (which remains my favorite Punisher appearance of all time).

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        • Yes Bendis ends with the Murdock Papers and sending DD to prison. Brubaker came on and ran with that ball nicely before sending DD around the globe and then back into his usual endless hellish torment, borrowing some old DD tropes from the 70s and 80s just as Bendis did but still keeping them fresh and edgy. The whole run up through Diggle’s shadowland stuff was pretty amazing.

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  8. I agree Bendis’s DD run (and Brubaker’s afterward) was great. In general, Bendis is kind of hit and miss for me: I liked DD and Alias, but his Spidey stuff didn’t do much for me and his Avengers/New Avengers was sometimes good, sometimes not so good. It’s cool he brought guys like Spidey, Wolvie, Luke Cage onto the team, but sometimes it seems like they all have the same sense of humour or even the same voice, which I suspect is actually Bendis’s voice. And don’t get me started on Spider Woman Origins, which was supposed to clear up all of her disparate backstories, but just ended up muddling them even more.

    I agree that a lot of his stuff reads like a movie/TV script…Alias especially. The dialogue IS authentic to how people talk, but it’s hard to process while you’re reading it. If you want a good look at Bendis’s actual experiences in Hollywood, check out Fortune and Glory…it’s pretty funny sometimes (he even makes fun of his own wordiness).

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    • I’ve enjoyed Bendis in long runs on Marvel’s digital service. There’s no commitment and I can stick around for the whole run, or bail in the middle of an issue without guilt. If I had to follow these stories month-to-month, with their sometimes minimal progress, at three bucks an issue … I’d be apoplectic. But I think Bendis has a strong voice and he’s carved out a profitable and unique niche for himself. I admire his work, even if I don’t always like it.

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