Friday, April 10, 2009

A Ballet of Violence: Frank Miller and Daredevil's Greatest Hits

When you think of Marvel Comics in the 1980s, you more often than not probably think of Frank Miller. You think of Daredevil. Of Elektra, of Kingpin, of Bullseye, of ninjas... Ah, who's kidding who? You think of the new level of bone-crunching violence Miller brought to comicbooks. That brutal, gritty, in-your-face, street level hand-to-hand combat that would never work in real life, but looks totally awesome on a comicbook page (especially when inked by Klaus Janson). Stuff like DD layin' the smackdown on various hoods and thugs...

... or DD beatin' down Bullseye... (DD #172, April 1981)

... or DD trying to whup up on Kingpin...ouch...(DD #171, March 1981)

... or DD and Electra kickin' the holy hoo-ha out of one another...(DD #179, November 1981)

... or Electra layin' the smackdown on various hoods and thugs...(DD #178, October 1981)

... or ninjas taking down ninjas (DD #174, July 1981).

Sometimes the violence was downright disturbing. Miller was adept at showing how brutal and callous mankind could be, as when Kingpin felt the need to use one of his flunkies as an object lesson as to why no one should ever mess with him. Ever (DD #172 again).

But to me, the most terrifying violence is the psychological kind. Miller showed that DD's lady-love, Electra, was its brutal master in this scene with a stoolie and reporter Ben Urich... (DD #179 again)

Oh, and you can blame the Comics Code, not Frank Miller, for the swords, knives, and sai's that could puncture flesh, muscle, bones, and organs but not the front of a shirt or coat. Miller had no intention of hiding the fact that violence was brutal and that it had terrible consequences. You could say that Miller's theme throughout his entire tenure as Daredevil writer/artist was violence and its consequences. Just think about how in Miller's second issue (DD #169, December 1980), DD defeated Bullseye and could have left him for dead. As the helpless villain lay unconscious, about to be run over by an oncoming subway train, our hero waged a war in his heart about how right or wrong such an action would be--and rescued his arch enemy.

The same arch enemy who would later callously murder his beloved Elektra...(DD #181, January 1982)

...causing Daredevil to rethink his stance on justice and mercy...

...and hardening our hero to the point that, in Miller's final issue as writer/artist (DD #191, November 1982), he would sit by Bullseye's bedside and torture him with a game of Russian Roulette.

And that was Miller learning his trade, dudes and dudettes. In upcoming posts, we'll be looking at Miller on top of his game and unleashed on the original Wolverine mini-series, Batman (The Dark Knight Returns and Year One), Ronin, and his writer-only return to Daredevil "Born Again". Stay tuned!

Next week: "What It Is: the Nexus of Capital Comics"!


Edo Bosnar said...

Hey Groovy Agent - the new blog looks like another winner. Kind of like a commenter noted in your first post, the late '70s/early '80s was a personal 'golden age' for me.
Some comments on this post. Miller's original Daredevil run is an excellent choice. Personally, I think this run was Miller at the top of his game. All of the signature elements, i.e. grim 'n' gritty stories, the violence, the film noir elements, were there in just the right doses. I found everything that followed, good as some of it was, seemed to lack that balance.
Anyway, keep up the great work!

cerebus660 said...

Hi Groovester, great post!
Some of my favourite Miller DD scenes here. I've always loved the way hornhead saves Bullseye from the subway train: he makes a conscious, moral decision not to let another human die, even if it is a scumbag like Bullseye.Call me old-fashioned but I think that's the mark of a true hero, not the virtual psycho Daredevil later became.
Hey, sorry if I got too serious on your ass. I love the look of this new blog, here's to more '80s goodness!

Joe Bloke said...

I'm kinda with ya on that score, cerebus, mate. I loved Miller's Daredevil when it came out, and The Dark Knight Returns. but I think his long-term effect on comics wasn't for the best. I miss heroes who were good.

Groove, keep 'em coming, fella. we loves ya, mate!

Al Ewing said...

I'm with the earlier poster in that the subway train moment is one of my favourite Frank Miller moments of all time - the way DD runs through all his justifications for letting Bullseye die, one by one, until he comes to the real reason he doesn't want to save Bullseye - because he hates him. And after that, DD has no choice. A perfect comics moment.

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