Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bendis' Daredevil teaches us to remember the comic reader

I vacillate between enjoying Comic Book Resources When Worlds Collide column and giving it a pass.  Timothy Callahan’s terrific two-part chat on comic book archetypes with author Steven Withrow really sheds intriguing new light on a much discussed, yet much-misunderstood topic. But I’ll have more on that later.  The whole discussion was a decidedly worthy follow-up to Tim’s article on why characters fail to “stick” in comics and stay forever on the sidelines.

Check out Part One here and Part Two here.

But for every interesting discussion at When Worlds Collide about say, Jacques Tardi, I find there are many more chats about the usual suspects we hear about constantly; your Warren Ellis’, your Geoff Johns’, your Frank Millers, your Alan Moores, et al. I’m overloaded with information about the heavy hitters.

Case in point. This week, Tim begins a multi-part look back at Bendis' Daredevil, Part 1: Back to the boards.

Now, I have no stake in this other than as a pure craft issue. As a writer I strive to make what I write effective and enjoyable. But I have to keep the basic form and structure of its presentation in mind at all times. Tim's article raises an interesting point in that regard.

Tim writes of not enjoying Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil run not so much for the individual stories but “mostly for their contrast to other mainstream comics.” He then summarizes his overall memory of the series thusly.

“In retrospect, it was a series in which nothing happened, except Daredevil hiding out from the paparazzi and then finally getting sent to jail, or so it seemed. And it felt like about 100 issues of that. Dragged out. Not so much bloated, as static. Or incremental.”

With Bendis is now a leading light at the new Marvel Tim has decided to reread the collected run and has found himself re-evaluating it. It’s decompressed brilliance apparently sparkles in collected form. I think it’s terrific that Tim has changed had his mind changed. I delight when I find new things to appreciate in something years after the fact. Bendis is a talented writer.

The interesting thing here is why Tim has changed his mind and now considers Daredevil to be brilliant.

"I was wrong to dismiss Bendis and Maleev's "Daredevil." I was wrong to consider it an interesting failure, or a series that never lived up to its potential. Because reading it on a monthly basis, serialized amidst dozens of other releases, that wasn't really reading "Daredevil." That was experiencing it in tiny doses. That was catching it out of the corner of my eye as the crushing oppressive force of more traditional superhero comics began taking more and more of my attention."

There’s one tiny sticking point where the above statement loses me. I was bothered enough to post the following on the CBR Forum.

Despite how much better Bendis' run may read as a collected work, the fact that it can only be appreciated this way means it was a failure as a serialized release, the way it was originally intended to be read.
if I'm buying a monthly comic that can only be enjoyed once it's collected then it should have been released as a graphic novel because I'm being ripped off.

Please don't label a Bendis hater. I am not dissing Bendis, Alex Maleev or their Daredevil run. I think they are both talented artists.  And as for that particular set of Daredevil stories... I haven’t read it so I’m only going by Tim’s description of the series.

I simply see this as an excellent opportunity to discuss how important it is to give your readers a well-written, well-drawn, well-executed tale at every stage and not use excuses like “Oh, you have to read it all together for it to make sense.”

Now, obviously many people did enjoy Bendis’ run on Daredevil issue by issue. It sold well and is still one of the preeminent runs for the series. For those readers it’s not a failure. But Tim readily admits he wasn’t that into the run as a monthly. It didn’t work for him. The fact that it works as a collected set for Tim is wonderful... even revelatory from a personal standpoint.

But artists... when approaching comics as a craft, the first viewers -- the ones who buy your book month in and month out -- deserve to read something that works right now.

Just something to think to think about when we creators put fingers to keyboard and pen to paper.

Beavers Up! 

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