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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Valentine Reviews - Daredevil: Yellow

written by Jeph Loeb
pencils and inks by Tim Sale
colours by Matt Hollingsworth
Publisher: Marvel

What's It About?
Daredevil: Yellow is a bitter-sweet romantic comedy. Matt Murdoch, the hero known as Daredevil, is in mourning. Karen Page, the love of his life, is dead. He needs to express his feelings and so his best friend comes up with a solution: he should write her a letter about how he feels. So Matt writes about their past, about two young lawyers who set up their own practice in New York and about the secretary they both loved, about the hero Murdoch was only just becoming and the battles that defined all their relationships.

What's Good About It?
The Daredevil character was created in the 1960s, a superhero with the simple unique selling point of being a blind professional, a lawyer in New York's Hell's Kitchen. He had a business partner, Foggy Nelson, and a love interest, their secretary Karen Page. The stories were fun and engaging but rather basic as was the style of the day. In Daredevil: Yellow Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale approach that original set-up with the emotional complexity of modern creators.

The emphasis here is rather different from the average (read: “stereotypical”) superhero story. Yellow is principally a romantic comedy set in a superhero world. There are all the requisite set-piece fights and colourful costumes but the meat of the story is in the emotions. The story is narrated from Murdoch's point of view years after the event looking back on happier times and so it all has the dreamlike quality (carried immeasurably by Sale and Hollingsworth's art) of rose-tinted memory.

Of the romantic storyline the best word to use to describe it is sweet. “Sweet” isn't a word many would commonly associate with superhero comics but there we are. Because the basic plot is a heavy rewriting of the original 1960s Daredevil comics it reads like an old movie: a love triangle, misunderstandings, unspoken tensions and meaningful glances. I realise I'm invoking a lot “good old days” imagery here but let me assure you Karen herself demonstrates a great deal of agency in these stories rather than being confined to the damsel in distress role you might expect. True, she gets kidnapped and rescued a few times (again, the original source material comes into play) but she doesn't sob or simper through the experience, she's a woman of genuine spirit and humour.

As a re-telling of Daredevil's origins and early years Yellow is also an excellent introduction to the character. For the last few years Daredevil has been one of Marvel's most consistently excellent series, the flagship of the company's street level heroes boasting a succession of top-flight writers such as Brian Michael Bendis, Kevin Smith, Ed Brubaker and Andy Diggle. Whilst I would recommend each of these writer's work (and intend to on this very site in time) this book explores the underlying tragedies and personal background of the character in a deeper way than those writers had time for.

What's Bad About It?
Let's tackle the big one first, the unfortunate bit of outdated urban myth upon which the whole Daredevil character is based. Matt Murdoch lost his sight in a childhood accident involving radioactive material. Radioactivity being the 1960s equivalent of “a wizard did it” this gave him super-powers. The nature of his powers is that his remaining four senses are heightened to a fantastic degree. This was, of course, based on the popular myth that when a person lost the use of one sense (usually sight or hearing because no one ever considers smell to be of any importance) their other senses would develop to compensate.

The net result of this is that Daredevil, whilst being a character with a disability, is rarely written as experiencing the disadvantages and challenges of that disability. Arguably this robs the character of any sense of empowerment or disability pride that being a blind superhero or a blind lawyer might give him. Under several writers the Daredevil character has been used to articulate disability issues but unfortunately little time is given to such issues here beyond the reactions of those around Matt Murdoch.

There is also a certain old-fashioned morality at play here that might be jarring to some readers. Though this series was written in the nineties it was designed both in its writing and art to fit in with the nineteen-sixties stories it reworks. As such the characters are wearing old-fashioned clothes but more importantly they are willing to propose marriage to one another after surprisingly brief and dubiously intimate relationships.

What's the Art Like?
Tim Sale draws big: huge panels, wide faces, panoramic views. Most pages have only about three or four panels and there are a great number of full-page and double-page renderings. On this project he is ably assisted by Matt Hollingsworth, one of the best and most distinctive colourists in the business.

You can see from this example the depth that Hollingsworth's colouring gives to the art, not just in the details that would naturally grab the eye (such as the grading of Karen's face and hair in the bottom left hand panel) but in smaller, less obvious details such as the left-hand wall or the desk in the wide middle panel. The flowing, watery colours also lend a slightly dreamlike air to the art which works well in the context of the story being taken from Murdoch's memories.

On Sale's side of the art this example shows how he draws figures and expressions using the bare minimum of pen-strokes. For the amount of emotion conveyed there really are very few lines involved.

This “less is more” aesthetic also plays into something else that is very important in Sale's art: shadows. The addition of those deep black shadows isolate the figures of Murdoch and the condemned man in his cell lending both menace and intimacy (a clearly unwanted intimacy on Murdoch's part) to the scene.

Action scenes are actually quite a minor part of this book but Sale and Hollingsworth pull them off with the same gusto they give to the comedy scenes. The art here is bright and kinetic, full of energy and again those big, expansive panels full of colour.

Other Information
Published by Marvel Comics, Daredevil Legends: Yellow (also published as Marvel Legends: Daredevil: Yellow) ISBN 0-7851-0969-2 retails at £10.99 and is available from Amazon [here].

1 comment:

  1. I especcialy enjoy the geometrical approch of Tim Sale's work in his compositions. Often a symetry, or an opposition between the top and the bottom, or between the left page, and the right page.

    In the first pic you show, two horizontal panels and two vertical. In the second pic, three black block spaces are vertical and the light is put on a horizontal space. In the third one, two vertical panels and a horizontal once again. What could be interesting would be to look at the page before or the page after these ones, depending if they're right of left pages.... and to look their composition to see if they reply to these ones. I bet they do reply.

    This is tipical of Tim Sale's work, as you can see in the beautiful Long Halloween, in which he gives a lesson of composition.