Daredevil Annual #1 Review

by Charles Martin on August 26, 2020

Daredevil Annual #1 Review
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Penciller: Manuel Garcia
Inker: Le Beau Underwood
Flashback Artist: Chris Mooneyham
Colourist: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Marvel annuals come in two distinct flavours: Either we get tangential stories that are linked to the current series, or we get stories so far out in left field that they might not even be in continuity.

Who writes it is usually a strong indicator of which flavour we get. This annual is penned by Chip Zdarsky, the writer of the Daredevil ongoing, which suggests a tangential story. 

But in fact, Mr. Zdarsky splits the difference between the two flavours by plucking one of the wilder concepts out of the previous volume and addressing it with the exquisitely gritty tone of the current volume.

(And yes, this is the third straight Daredevil annual issued as a #1. It's like Marvel's trying to make indexing their comics as hard as possible.)

Anyways, the concept! One of Charles Soule's wilder ideas for Daredevil was using Inhuman magic to turn Matt Murdock's ridiculous Silver Age alias -- roguish twin brother Mike Murdock -- into a separate, living character.

This annual is a "what happened next" story charting Mike's adventures since bowing out of his "brother's" life. He's been criminalizing up a storm with the Hood, but he has an ulterior motive: Using the money and connections he's making to steal a little magic and fill out his sketchy, half-real memories.

One Norn stone and magic grimoire later and boom, Mike flashes back to an entirely real childhood with Matt and their father, Battlin' Jack Murdock. 

The ginormous question this annual leaves unanswered is, did Mike just fill out his own memories? Or has his magic altered everyone's past, including Matt's?

The expanded art roster is divided up logically, with Manuel Garcia and Le Beau Underwood handling the contemporary frame story and Chris Mooneyham taking the flashbacks. The contemporary panels look fine and make a good match for the realistic visual tone that the ongoing Daredevil series (mostly) achieves.

Mr. Mooneyham's flashback art is something special, though. He deploys scratchy linework that's strongly reminiscent of Frank Miller. It's a welcome look for a Daredevil story, and the retro visuals bolster the idea of Mike creating "new-old" memories. The dialogue withdraws at key points to let Mr. Mooneyham tell the story on his own, and his faces do formidable work conveying Mike's feelings.

Rachelle Rosenberg ties the two sections together with a consistent palette that goes heavy (of course) on the reds. But the art team as a whole puts an interesting twist on the Miller feel of the flashbacks when it comes to shadow-work. It's actually the frame story that features the heavier blacks and chiaroscuro shadows.

Chip Zdarsky's script is packed full of the naturalistic dialogue that's helped make his volume of Daredevil one of contemporary Marvel's under-appreciated treasures. There are very interesting ideas at play, too, both inside and outside the comic's setting.

On a meta stage, Mike's Pinocchio-style quest to make himself more real functions as a great analogue to the perilous process of altering established comics continuity.

And within the Marvel universe, Mike and the Hood share a remarkable little scene that comments on the absurd diversity of villainy in Marvel New York. There they are, punching the criminal clock with armoured car heists and drug rings. And at the same time, the city's getting menaced on the regular by cosmic threats like Galactus, Skrulls, and Dark Elf armies. Those two worlds seem almost incompatible -- but there they sit, with a magic Norn stone alongside their pile of stolen cash.

This is an admirably serious serious look at a silly idea -- the consequences and the reality of de-fictionalizing Mike Murdock. Does Mike have a role to play in future issues of the Daredevil ongoing? Personally, I doubt it; this book feels like an improvisational sideshow that spins a little gold out of the available straw. (Mr. Zdarsky says otherwise on Twitter, though, and he's certainly the authority on the subject.) I wasn't particularly looking forward to revisiting Mike, but this annual's thoughtful take on him was a pleasant and thoroughly enjoyable surprise.

Our Score:


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Charles Martin's picture
A key point this issue just barely touches on: One of the most absurd things about de-fictionalizing Mike is that he doesn't know Matt is Daredevil.