Saturday, 31 March 2012

'Daredevil: Guardian Devil' Review

Regular readers here at Amongst The Panels are already aware of my love for the blind superhero Daredevil. If you didn't know that, well I just went and told you. Regardless, there are plenty of Daredevil books out there I haven't read yet. And, dare I admit this, there are a few I have been a bit hesitant about reading. Guardian Devil used to belong to that group. Why did I hold back? Well it wasn't because of the writer. I've been a fan of Kevin Smith since I was a young and impressionable teenager, when Clerks, Mallrats and Jay and Silent Bob were the funniest films around. I held back because I wasn't so sure I was going to enjoy Joe Quesada's art. First impressions did not impress. Quesada's style is all his own, that's for sure, but I was worried it'd be a bit too cartoony for my tastes.

Thankfully I ignored the pessimistic thoughts in my brain and purchased Guardian Devil based on the good reviews it's received since it's publication. Guardian Devil's inception came about when Marvel Knights relaunched Daredevil in 1998 after the character had been cancelled due to lacklustre sales in the previous years. Indie film sensation and soon-to-be Hollywood director Kevin Smith, a lifelong comics fan himself, was brought in to take ol' Hornhead in a brave new direction and he was partnered with artist Joe Quesada, who became Marvel's editor-in-chief shortly after Guardian Devil's publication. Together they were tasked to take Matt Murdock from obscurity and force him back into the spotlight. Guardian Devil contains issues #1-8 of Daredevil Volume 2 (because this was the relaunch, after the old Volume 1 was cancelled, remember?). I opted for the fancy 10th Anniversary hardcover edition, simply because it was quicker to get hold of than the trade paperback. My workplace had only one these lovely hardbacks left in the warehouse so I only had to wait a day to get it, rather than the 2-3 days it would have taken to get from Amazon (I'm impatient). Plus, if I can get it at a good price I'll always opt for a hardback over a paperback - I love my hardbacks.

Considering the book only contains 8 issues, Guardian Devil feels like its made up of a lot more. These are lonnnnng issues. That's solely down to Smith's script and the amount of words he manages to cram in. I know how this looks, like I'm complaining, right? Overly wordy comics can suffocate the life out of a story but Smith's script does not suffer from this. There may be lots of words but the quality is top notch and the plot benefits from Smith's attention to detail. However, I was concerned that the heavy Catholic angle I'd heard so much about would turn me off a bit. I needn't have worried because Smith works the religious aspects into the story beautifully and the overall feel of the book wouldn't have been as effective without it. All the reviews I'd read before purchasing Guardian Devil made it clear that this book simply had to be read because of the life changing events that occur within. Now unfortunately I knew going in what this "big event" was (click the link to see, but be aware it's a SPOILER - oh yeah, you should probably avoid looking at the photo below too!) but thankfully it still had the desired effect on me: powerful and traumatic. After finishing the book I could see that the events that take place in Guardian Devil really do go on to shape Matt Murdock's character. This is a character defining piece of work in every sense of the word. It is a tribute to Smith's quality that the writers who succeeded him constantly referred back to Guardian Devil as a source as to why Daredevil is who he is, and more importantly does what he does.

Smith's background in film is obvious throughout: he brings a cinematic quality to Guardian Devil and it quickly becomes clear that the 2003 Daredevil movie took a lot of influence from this book (Smith even had a cameo role in the film). Speaking of cinematic qualities, Quesada's impressive panels really brings Smith's script to life. Once I became accustomed to Quesada's unique style I began to appreciate his skills as an artist. Quesada definitely improves with each issue and by issue 8 he has everything nailed down perfectly. But... there's still something about his style I don't like. Maybe I should rephrase that. I do like Quesada's pencils but I don't love them, and to totally go mad about a book I need to love the writer's story and the artist's pencils. Everything needs to click for me to sing a book's praises to all my friends and unfortunately Quesada's artistic style prevents me from doing that for Guardian Devil. What is it I don't like? I think the body proportions look a bit odd at times, like the character's heads are slightly too big. And there's something about the way Quesada draws their eyes too. Its nit picking really, but everyone has their personal preferences and I'm quite picky when it comes to comic book art.

Overall, Quesada's art doesn't impact the quality of the book that much. It just prevents me from calling Guardian Devil perfect. Smith's story belongs up there with the best Miller, Bendis and Brubaker created in their day. The fallout from the book has had a profound impact on Daredevil stories ever since and there's no question that Guardian Devil is essential reading for all fans of Matt Murdock. It sees our hero go through a dark and painful journey only to emerge from the suffering and into a new millennium. Guardian Devil established the character for over a decade and has only recently been altered with Mark Waid's more upbeat tales. This book marked the beginning of a new era in Daredevil's history, one that equalled and arguably surpassed the heights Frank Miller set in the eighties. For that reason, Guardian Devil is a book no die-hard Daredevil fan can pass up.

Rating: 4/5

Thanks for reading.

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