I’m not a superhero comics expert. Heck, for most of my life I wasn’t even a superhero comics reader actually.
I grew up reading manga and Italian comics, then graphic novels of any kind.
Very rarely, a handful of issues of Batman and Spider-Man, from some random collections.
It was in one of these collections that years ago I stumbled upon a Daredevil story.
I didn’t know who Bullseye was, I didn’t even really know much about Daredevil at all, but it was love at first sight.
The whole muscular idea I had about superhero comics (almost like I thought all of them were drawn by Rob Liefeld at his worst) wasn’t there.
Instead there was a very dark story, where the hero was the most fragile character on stage. It was something I could have actually liked.
Years later, thanks to the hype of the first Netflix’s Daredevil season, I finally asked for some suggestions on what to read to have a better understanding of that character and his nuances.
This is what I’ve read so far, and what I heartily recommend to anybody to read.
It’s quite a lot of stuff, but it’s really, really worth the effort.
The Miller and Janson run (1979-1985)
This is pretty much where everything begins for real, and it’s rather useful for the TV series fans looking to have a deeper and clearer background for their beloved characters.
There’s Stick, Elektra, the Hand, Kingpin, and Bullseye of course (and the Roulette story of the image above). In a word, all the staples of Daredevil are here.
But this run hasn’t aged all that well, and I honestly wouldn’t recommend this if it weren’t for all the recurring characters that I started to know and love here. Gladiator, Turk, Stilt-Man: all seemingly crappy characters that though have a way to get into your heart.
Born Again (1986, by Miller and Mazzucchelli)
This is kind of a big deal for me actually.
I’m not that into Miller, but at the same time Mazzucchelli might very well be my favourite non-Japanese comics author.
Asterios Polyp is my favourite graphic novel ever, and Batman: Year One is great, period.
But the thing is, Born Again is probably the first time we get to fully explore the unstable mind of Matt Murdock.
This entire story is about Matt’s fall into depression, his whole life destroyed, and how he manages to climb out of it, often by relying on almost sadistic violence.
The need for broken bones, senseless beatings, and puddles of blood, becomes a recurring theme in the history of Daredevil.
As Matt Murdock gradually becomes a broken person, Daredevil’s answer to anything quickly narrows down to beating harder and harder his victims. To the point where he starts to actually enjoy it, leaving his friends worried and upset.
Guardian Devil (1998, by Smith and Quesada)
Oh, how much I hate this.
I don’t like its story, I don’t like its art, I really don’t think there’s anything worth reading here, except….
Oh for fuck’s sake. It contains the ending of something which puts some of the future choices of Matt into some proper context.
Granted, characters will talk about this something again and again and again, but here is where it happens. In the middle of a wildly bad story.
In the end this one is completely up to you.
The Bendis and Maleev run (2001-2006)
All the (few) highs and (way too many) lows in Matt Murdock’s life eventually lead to this run.
This is the story of how, for basically petty reasons, Matt’s life is over.
Contrary to the previous aptly titled Born Again story, though, this time there is no actual recover: Matt spirals down in an endless pit of despair, and his only reaction is denial.
It’s also a quite interesting reflection on superheroes, and what would happen if—spoilers!
This is the Daredevil run I loved the most. It’s dark, heavy, and scary, and it offers no redemption.
The Brubaker and Lark run (2006-2009)
Starting right after the Bendis-Maleev run’s ending, this could have easily been Daredevil’s last story.
Brubaker and Lark keep pushing Matt down his pit of despair, and with him his friends and family as well.
Gradually Matt pushes away all his loved ones and is left alone by himself, struggling to save everyone and everything, against everyone and everything.
This awesome run should probably have been the end of Daredevil for good. The following run, the infamous Shadowland, is utterly dreadful. It serves no real purpose and it’ll be thankfully replaced by the Waid run, which turned everything around, bringing Daredevil back to the extraordinary heights he deserves.
The Waid and Samnee run (2011-2015)
Daredevil rightfully ended with the Brubaker-Lark run, then continued with the atrocious Shadowland which pushed Matt over any limits but without the nuances and subtlety of pretty much all the previously mentioned runs.
Lucky for us though, Daredevil eventually landed in the hands of a masterful storyteller and several astounding artists.
The new run, written by Waid alone first and by Waid and Samnee later, and drawn by Paolo Rivera first and by Samnee himself later, is, in a word, amazing.
It resumes with Matt in denial, but adds hope to the mix.
After so many years of darkness, finally Daredevil begins to see some light again.
There is plenty of funny banter between Matt and Foggy, or with the new character, Kirsten McDuffie (which is unbelievably awesome), all serving the purpose of covering Matt’s damaged psyche
Cherry on top: Daredevil will fight some of the most vicious and dangerous villains he’s ever faced, while also having to juggle his deteriorating relationship with Foggy.
This is also the first time (that I know of) where we get a taste of Matt’s blindness and his improved senses.
Rivera introduced the new radar/echolocation view, which is impressively beautiful, but there’s more: Daredevil always explicitly takes advantage of all his 4+ senses.
For once, we are reminded that he’s blind by his actual behaviours, and not by the traditional first page notes.
Last but not least, let’s be honest: Chris Samnee’s art is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen printed on paper, or displayed on a screen, or anywhere really.
I loved it from the first to the last page and it’s one of the rare occasions where I’ve found the drawings to be more enticing than the story.