Daredevil has been through a lot in the last six months. Longstanding writer Charles Soule “killed” the character, he’s gone on to accidentally kill a common criminal in Chip Zdarsky’s run (or so he thinks), and before that the efforts to walk again after being hit by a truck were incredibly difficult. That struggle was the focus of Jed MacKay’s five-part series Man Without Fear. Collected in trade paperback today, readers can see how Daredevil went from comatose to hero.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Daredevil is gone, but Hell’s Kitchen is still a place of heroes and villains. Foggy Nelson, the Defenders, the many loves of Matt Murdock, the Kingpin and a mysterious Guardian Devil will all learn what it means to live in a world without a Daredevil. And without a Daredevil to protect it, has hell come for his city? Who is The Man Without Fear?!
Why does this matter?
Daredevil is an intriguing character for two major reasons. The first is how creators tie his adventures into his Catholic faith. The other is his devil-themed, Man Without Fear mantra. The character is a superhero because he lacks fear and thus can enter any fight cool as a cucumber. But what if that fear overcomes him and creeps back up? That’s what this trade paperback is all about.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
The core lesson in this collection is a strong one many can relate to and use to help motivate themselves. From beginning to end Daredevil is facing off against a metaphorical demon who whispers in his ear to give up and quit. As we see Matt Murdock rehab, lash out at his friends verbally, and generally go through a psychological hurricane of emotions, the fear is always eating away at him. But why do we have fear at all? MacKay explores that well, getting into Matt’s head and showing us how being complete without fear isn’t necessarily a good thing. No, instead, we must conquer it and keep it at bay, but also use it to push on.
This collection has a great group of artists depicting this fear monster inside Matt’s head very well. Danilo S. Beyruth, Stefano Landini, Iban Coello, and Paolo Villanelli bring this book to a place of horror via a Daredevil fear monster that’s quite creepy. The mask practically drips off this thing and it’s interesting to see how they make it grotesque in different ways. Matt’s struggle is incredibly internal, but they all do a good job establishing his frustration, fear, and anger well.
This book gives a nice snapshot of different aspects of Daredevil’s life. From past flings, Foggy’s ever-loving presence, and Daredevil’s time on the Defenders, there’s always something new to explore and be reminded of. There’s a wide range of Daredevil costumes used here too in his memories and in flashbacks. It gives you the sense that this struggle is something he has been putting off for some time but is only now fighting it due to his inability to fight physically.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The message is strong and true, but it’s also repetitive and redundant. Told in five single issues, this story probably would have read best in one or two tops. Each issue seems to be hammering home the same point and it can grow tiresome. Matt’s struggle doesn’t seem to change until he physically picks himself back up and gets back on his feet, which somewhat reduces the psychological battle in play. You get the sense if Matt never walked again he’d literally die in a depression, which is a somewhat sad turn. You could argue his ability to physically turn things around is a manifestation of his conquering fear to some extent, but it doesn’t read that way. All these reasons exacerbate the fact that the pace is very slow making this book feel like a fever dream of ideas slowly progressing things and almost holding back so as to fill five issues.
Is it good?
I love the message, and the delivery using horror and terror is great, but spreading it out over five issues and 112 pages was a bad idea. This trade would work better in a shorter format. Still, it’s hard not to praise a book for pulling off a difficult psychological battle.