Thursday, December 07, 2006

Reviews: Daredevil and Y: the Last Man

Two of the best stories I’ve read in a long while come out of the comic book industry. While I’ve resigned from collecting comics, these two books shouldn’t be dismissed just because they fall into a stereotyped genre.

After years of hearing how Daredevil was the best comic on the shelf, I became curious enough to check out what the hype was all about.

During the height of my comic collecting years, I never strayed too far out of the X-men circle so Daredevil was a character that I didn’t have much exposure to. I wasn’t the only one either. The blind lawyer with heightened abilities in a red suit was mainly regarded as a B-level character in the Marvel Universe.

But in 1979, Frank Miller created a run on the book is now a hallmark story because it took the medium to places it normally didn’t go. Good guys actually died, heroes actually killed and it wasn’t a happy ending. He did such a good job that no one could follow up his act for another 20 years.

Now, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev take over the title to combine a tense, compelling story and gritty yet sweeping visuals to create a great, cinematic noir style unlike anything I’d seen in comics before.

Bendis sculpts a 3-dimensional character that doesn’t speak or act in a clichéd comic book fashion. I discovered that Daredevil is infinitely more interesting than the likes of Superman. Daredevil is a hero but is also an arrogant asshole. He protects innocent civilians but also jeopardizes his friends and family. His actions are never purely black and white and his thoughts never fall into easily discernible emotions.

In contrast, Kevin Smith (of Clerks fame) wrote the preceding story, which relied on lots of dialogue and cheesy villains standing over our hero and explaining his evil plot like a 007 villain. Smith gets credit for revitalizing the interest in Daredevil, but I think pales in comparison to Bendis’ efforts.

In the storyline, Daredevil’s secret identity is revealed to the world and we observe the aftermath. Each time the character seems to find a way to snake out of his predicament, the writer throws another wrench into the gears and you wonder again how things will turn out. The focus away from costumed antics and deals more on how his “normal” life is affected. The plot is truly intense and engrossing.

Needless to say, I’ve become a fan of this comic. I just hope that Bendis’ contribution, like Miller’s work, doesn’t become such a juggernaut that no one can maintain the level of quality. I’ve read a few issues by the next writer, Ed Brubaker, and it seems like he’s doing just as great a job.

The other title that has me hooked is Y: The Last Man. Written by Brian K. Vaughn and penciled by Pia Guerra, there are no costumed heroes with super powers or evil villains. Like Bendis, Vaughn injects as much realism as possible into the book. The greatest strength of the book is Vaughn’s ability to write modern, realistic, natural dialogue. No cheesy super hero one-liners, except in self-aware sarcasm. The characters act and speak in a manner that can easily be scripted from my own circle of friends.

I don’t find anything spectacular about the art, but no crippling flaws either. Guerra’s visuals seem to merely support the story, which is fine since the story is amazing. But after seeing how Bendis and Maleev created such a perfect union of story and art, it’s hard not to wonder what other level this book could’ve been taken to.

Now, on to the actual plot...

Due to unknown circumstances, all of the world’s males (animals included) die in an instant, throwing the entire world society and infrastructure into chaos and panic. Yet we find out that one man, Yorick (and his pet monkey) somehow survived.

The book follows Yorick, a scientist and an agent of a shadow government operation race to find out the cause and the cure for the catastrophe.

Vaughn expertly handles all of his characters, never relying on the obvious. You’d think that as the last man, Yorick would be in a Male Paradise and go screw as many women as he could. Yet Vaughn creates a man is actually a romantic and goes looking for his girlfriend (conveniently halfway across the world).

Vaughn treats the remaining women with dignity, not falling into a Helpless-Without-Men mentality. Not that a lot of crazy shit doesn’t happen. Think about half the world suddenly dying a horrible death, with planes falling from the sky because both the pilot and copilot were men, or how the government would cope with the Presidential line of succession landing on a low level Congresswoman.

The story is planned to last for 60 issues and while I’m only halfway through, I can sense that the story is dragging out a bit in order to cover the amount of pages. Probably reducing the number of issues to 40 would’ve helped keep a good pace. Still, it allows the book to create and fill out great characters.

Even with the lags, there are some great cliffhangers throughout the story. I don’t want to spoil any of them but will say that the writer has done a masterful job of crafting and executing a unique idea.

The first issue pacing is unparalleled and will have any person hooked into the story. The publishers are so confident of that fact that they have the entire first issue available to download in PDF format (which I’ve also provided a link to at the end of this post). Read it. You won’t be disappointed.

Most people will scoff at the idea of reading comics, but these two books are examples of how far the medium has come. Yeah, originally it was to entertain kids with the visuals, but over the years the story has taken precedence and, like anime, has hooked in an older audience. I find myself not even looking at the art and jumping to the next line of dialogue because I’m completely invested in the story. Definitely worth checking out.

Y: the Last Man #1

No comments: