Even in a year as ugly and contentious as 2016, Marvel witnessed infighting in Civil War II. The comic event follows Tony Stark and Carol Danvers as they recruit their friends and cause billions of deaths in collateral damage. But among the few Marvel heroes to avoid the brouhaha in their solo comics is Matt Murdock, Daredevil of Hell’s Kitchen. Though the blind, superpowered attorney was the lead prosecutor in Hawkeye’s trial, his main series, Daredevil from Charles Soule, has largely avoided the Civil War event. That evasion has only helped its story develop.
Charles Soule and artist Ron Garney crafted a noir-infused superhero feast in Daredevil that outdoes even Steve Ditko’s trippiest art with the texture of a kung fu movie poster. The ongoing series is a sprawling crime saga that is a sleek globe-trotting adventure that somehow still finds a home in New York City. Although issue #1 came out December 2015, Soule’s Daredevil kicked ass for all of 2016 in spite of its low profile. For that reason, Daredevil is the best underrated comic of the year.
In the comic, Murdock returns from San Francisco working up the ladder in the public sector after a roller coaster career as a private attorney. In his secret life as Daredevil, Matt has adopted a protege in Samuel Chung, codenamed Blindspot, an undocumented immigrant in Chinatown whose family is embroiled with the local triads.
Murdock sees a lot of himself in Chung, who is also a tech savant who built an invisibility suit powered entirely by batteries, but while Chung is honest in his mission, he’s got a long way to go until he can be a real superhero. (Though props from Captain America in issue #4 ain’t a bad start.)
With 12 issues so far, Soule has already gone through several arcs that have introduced new villains — like the creepy Tenfingers who, you guessed it, has ten fingers on each hand — and the return of Elektra, not to mention a surprisingly funny excursion to Hong Kong with Spider-Man. The current arc, “Dark Art,” which began in issue #10, features a new villain named Muse who has targeted Inhumans and used their bodies to create nightmarish works of art.
One of the most striking things about Soule’s Daredevil is Garney’s art, which is altogether dazzling and confining. Devoid of too much color in any one frame, Daredevil favors a sharp, stylized aesthetic that’s notably different than the usual blockbuster frames in Marvel’s ongoing titles like The Amazing Spider-Man and Civil War II. The world of Daredevil constantly feels tight and constrained, communicated by its frequent use of long panels and dark shadows.
This isn’t so new; dark colors and unconventional paneling have always been a staple in Daredevil. But as comics have increasingly gone uniform, especially at DC, the fact that Daredevil has stuck to a look that could only ever work for the Marvel Knight makes it a gem that deserves appreciation.
But perhaps the one element elevating Daredevil into something almost transcendent is Samuel Chung. An undocumented citizen fighting an honest fight, Chung brings a face — even if fictional — to an overwhelmingly faceless population, which especially in New York has been crucial to society’s livelihood for decades. The hardships undocumented workers endure on a daily basis could break anybody, but here’s Chung, taking up vigilantism while risking more than just his identity. Blindspot brings a very new and very modern dimension to the superhero mythos, and should he ever be in the Netflix series, he’d bring an authenticity to Hell’s Kitchen that the show has spent two seasons trying but never quite getting right.
The current arc, “Dark Art,” has brought Daredevil and Blindspot closer to Civil War II than they’ve ever been, but even then it’s only just within arm’s reach. Inhumans are targeted for a serial killer’s art project, and Daredevil has sought cooperation with Medusa, Queen of the Inhumans, to no avail. It’s the first time since the fight with Tenfingers that ended issue #5 that the generally grounded Daredevil has flirted with the alien or supernatural. But this is standard affairs in the Marvel Universe, where even a trip to an alien fortress can still be procedure for a lawyer.
It was no easy thing for Soule, a relatively new writer to comics compared to his predecessor Mark Waid, to take on Daredevil. Soule proved he can do comics, beginning with his indie title Strongman then at DC for Swamp Thing and Red Lanterns. But Waid was and is an industry vet who collected Eisners for Daredevil that anybody without such accolades would be dwarfed.
But Soule came to Daredevil armed in ways nobody before him had ever been. A practicing attorney with degrees in Asian studies from UPenn and Colombia Law, Soule has brought Daredevil to life in a way no one else has ever been capable of. Daredevil’s comic has often been the proving ground for the industry’s best, including Frank Miller, Ed Brubaker, and Brian Michael Bendis who all lended their talented voices to the character once upon a time. But in 12 issues and counting, Soule has arguably been Daredevil’s most legit.