Most people are familiar with the name Frank Miller. A vast majority would recognize his name with the movie/graphic novel “Sin City”, some would see him as the writer of the graphic novel “300” and most recently he has made his less than impressive directorial debut with “The Spirit”. His recent success with the comic book mini-series “All Star Batman and Robin” have once again caused him
to be noticed by comic fandom. Miller’s name is the name of a comic book writer whose creations have mostly been adapted into film. Few of his fans remember him as the author of the critically acclaimed “THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS” and “Ronin”. But fewer even would remember his stint in the pages of DAREDEVIL in the 80’s.
Well, back in 1993, Miller made a return to the character that made him a household name in comic fandom with the epic mini-series “MAN WITHOUT FEAR” and may well be seen as a prequel to his meaner, darker interpretation of Marvel’s scarlet-garbed crime fighter. This collection goes to his origins. Daredevil and Matt Murdock has become darker through the years judging from the recent issues of Daredevil and many would say Miller had a lot to do with it. Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. has placed Daredevil back in the map with this series and this graphic novel collects all five issues of the “Man Without Fear“ series.
Matt Murdock is a nice young boy who is grew up in Hell’s Kitchen. Raised by his father, Matt was driven to study that led to him being bullied in school and tagged “Daredevil“. Matt’s dad, Jack Murdock is a washed out boxer who moonlights as an enforcer for a loan shark. Despite their hardships, father and son appear happy that is until an accident causes Matt to lose his sight. However, even though Matt is now blind, his other senses seem to have achieved superhuman sharpness; something a mysterious drifter called “Stick” takes notice. Stick is also blind but he is able to use his other senses in ways no one can imagine; he trains Matt to hone and focus his skills and to channel his “Chi”. But things are about to get complicated when Matt’s dad is executed by the mob for refusing to lay down on a boxing match…
“Man Without Fear” is one ambitious collection that may well be the one of the most mature pieces of comic book writing since “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns”. The story arc chronicles Matt’s journey in becoming Daredevil, his childhood, his relationship with his father, his loss of sight and his tutelage under “Stick”, his college years and the coming of Elektra”, the subplot with the “Hand” and the rise of the Kingpin. What really got me into this collection was the fact that Miller was bold in portraying the dark realism in the story and how it applies to current real world events. Oh, in this collection, you will NOT see the red costume that has made Daredevil well known in the pages of comic books, you will just see Matt Murdock dressed in sweat pants with a makeshift mask.
The fights in “MAN WITHOUT FEAR” are real violent and bloody. You see bones being broken and crushed, the brutality is just realistic. Romita illustrates the action as if it had that noir-like mood, while maintaining a comic book tone. The drawings are quite good and very stylish. Most of the panels can be made into a poster because they are just so cool. The dialogue is successful in inducing that visceral feel, and it is just full of attitude. When Matt says “..I don’t want to kill you, let her go.”, I just got goose bumps. Pretty straight-forward shit that reflects his no-nonsense personality.
You see Matt as a child, and the reader becomes an audience to his growth into manhood. You see him struggling with his decisions at times, Matt was a little brash and careless at first, until he develops this sense of responsibility when he meets a young child after Law school. You see the main character become torn from his decisions; while avoiding violence, he feels the need to give off violence when necessary. I loved the way the story portrays Matt’s mistakes and how he has no such qualms in taking a human life in defense of an innocent. Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. has crafted a ‘coming of age’ tale that is just impressive as it also brings the duality in the main character. Miller succeeds in expanding the Daredevil mythos.
Elektra is also shown in Matt’s college years as his first love. Their relationship is uneasy one although they love each other, they are both unaware that they are linked to opposing ‘ninja“ clans. I loved the way the stories exposed Matt’s relationship with Stick and his dad. The little girl serves as someone that makes Matt realize his responsibilities much like Uncle Ben in Spider-man did. Yes, Miller doesn't hold back and even portrays child prostitution as the one thing Murdock must stop.
Rather than review something by Frank Miller that is so well known such as “300” or ‘Sin City”, I’d rather go into something that was a little underappreciated. “Man Without Fear” exposes Matt Murdock as the man, the myth and “soon to be” legend. I loved the visceral reality that Miller brought into the character by making him a real human vigilante who later realizes his true destiny. Tough, violent and action-packed, this is the way Daredevil should be done…all the time.
Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Stars]