Let's get this out of the way early: Daredevil is one of my favourite comic book characters and easily my favourite Marvel hero. Spidey used to lay claim to that crown but as I got older Daredevil took over. So we're dealing with one of "my guys" here in this review. He wasn't always at the top though. In fact there was a time, not so long ago actually, that I barely had Daredevil on my radar. I knew of the character but had never read any of his books and honestly, I thought what could possibly be so interesting about a blind superhero? But I had heard such good things, especially from my friend Simon, so I decided to give DD a try one day. My love affair with ol' Hornhead started with the incredible Daredevil Yellow by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, which is still one of my favourite graphic novels I own. Yellow got me hooked; I needed more and thankfully there was plenty of good Daredevil stories out there to discover. After Yellow I hit the classics, starting with Frank Miller's Born Again and The Man Without Fear before getting on to Miller's first work on the character with his defining run on DD from the early eighties. That was it, Daredevil had me for good, but I knew there were more stories waiting for me. It turns out I hadn't even scratched the surface because I hadn't gotten to Brian Michael Bendis's mammoth works yet. So I took the plunge and ordered Bendis and Alex Maleev's Ultimate Collection Volume 1, containing issues #16-19 and #26-40. After reading and savouring every glorious page, I can safely say I've left the best until last. This book, for me, is Daredevil at his darkest and grittiest peak.
The book's first few issues are pencilled, or rather painted, by artist David Mack and look stunning, really taking advantage of the comic book medium. Mack's brush strokes succeed in putting the reader right into the head of Ben Urich, the reporter the first arc is based around. Its a wonderful way for the book to begin but its not long until we get into the meat of the book when Bendis combines with Maleev in issue 26. Maleev's pencils are absolutely perfect for the world Bendis has built for Daredevil. I was a little worried that Maleev's style wouldn't do it for me; I was concerned his art might be a bit messy, a style I'm usually not a fan of. Naturally Maleev put any of my concerns to rest because despite his pencils being a bit rough, they are perfectly suited for the nature of the story and any other style would be wrong. The tone set by Bendis's script demands a certain roughness so Maleev's scratchy pencils work perfectly. More refined, cleaner pencils wouldn't complement Bendis's script half as well as Maleev's do. This book is the total opposite to the Daredevil I read every month by Mark Waid; this volume is from a time when it wasn't much fun to be Matt Murdock. However that's not a bad thing, not in the slightest, because this book is still incredibly enjoyable. There's a lot to love here.
Why do I love this book so much? Well it starts and finishes with Bendis's writing. I'll be honest and admit I haven't really read much of the man's work. I enjoyed some of his stuff in Ultimate Spider-Man in the past but I recently read some of his work in New Avengers Volume 1 and I hated it. So despite hearing so many good things about this book, I was a little hesitant that Bendis wouldn't hit the high notes set by Miller in the previous DD books I'd read. Luckily I had absolutely no need to worry because Bendis didn't disappoint; he excelled and exceeded my expectations. I now understand why Bendis is held in such high regard when it comes to Daredevil because its obvious he gets this character completely. More importantly Bendis succeeds in placing Matt, as well as the reader, in the nightmarish environment of Hell's Kitchen, New York City. And its never felt more menacing thanks to Bendis, as Maleev is given full freedom to create pages where you can practically smell the stench of crime wafting off the page. Daredevil's world reeks of evil and darkness and thanks to Bendis and Maleev you really feel like you're right there in Matt's world, like a fly on a filthy wall. Another area Bendis excels in is filling in the back-story. Superhero comics can suffer when the attention isn't focused on the primary character but that's not the case here. Some of the best scenes occur when Daredevil isn't around. From gangsters scheming in their underworld hideouts to the FBI's NYC offices, Bendis keeps the story interesting even when Daredevil isn't directly involved, something rarely pulled off so well.
Overall I'm so relieved that this book succeeded in living up to my expectations. I was really looking forward to reading this volume and desperately hoped it would be as good as I'd heard. Thank God it was. Bendis and Maleev have struck comic book gold here and I'm so lucky because I have two more volumes of their work still to read (once I buy them). My only problem with this volume is I wish I hadn't waited so long to get it! This had been on my Amazon wishlist ever since I first got interested in the character but it took me a while before I snapped and bought it. Thankfully it was worth the wait. If you like Daredevil and crime/noir stories, then this is the book for you. Bendis and Maleev are recognised as being right up there with Frank Miller as Daredevil's top creators and its easy to see why after reading this. A must-read for all fans of Matt Murdock. I cannot wait to get hold of the next volume.
Amongst The Panels rating: 5/5
Thanks for reading.