I have long loved Daredevil, the blind, Catholic lawyer/superhero. I was excited about the new Netflix series featuring the character and ready to love it for just being better than the Mark Steven Johnson movie. I was not prepared for it to become a commercial and critical hit, but it’s now Netflix’s most popular show and the second most pirated show behind Game of Thrones . Reviews have been very positive, and it’s inspired a lot of great writing about gentrification and urban development. It’s a great time to be a fan of Daredevil.
I’m not one to quibble, but I’m lying I am one to quibble. Quibbling is what I spend most of my free time doing. This whole piece is born of quibbling. There is one type of inevitable blog post that springs up around a successful comic book adaptation and I have found all the ones for Daredevil lacking: the recommended reading list. There isn’t a website around that hasn’t posted a list of Daredevil comics it thinks you should read. These lists are wrong. They are merely a compilation of google searches for well-regarded Daredevil stories. A character with a fifty-plus year history has tons of stories and not all of them will be relevant to fans of the TV show, even if they are critically acclaimed. I love the current Daredevil series written by Mark Waid, but it so tonally different from the show it could be a different character. Why would I put an origin story on the list when Matt Murdoch’s origin has been retold countless times and the show has maybe the best one?
Below I’ve put together a list of stories that embody different aspects of the show’s take on the Daredevil mythos and should appeal to people who watched it without feeling like it’s just drawings of what they just saw. Even this list is imperfect as I can’t find the better stories that highlight Karen Page as a solo character in print anywhere.
You can find most of these stories digitally either on Comixology or through Marvel’s great Unlimited subscription service, but I’m posting amazon affiliate links where available because it’s time we cashed in on how much I care about Daredevil.
So without further ado, the comics you will actually want to read if liked watching Daredevil on Netfilx:
If you liked the look and feel of the show
One of the smartest things Netflix’s Daredevil did was commit to being a neo-noir crime show first and a story about a superhero second. While writer/artist Frank Miller’s work in the late 70’s and early 80’s is generally credited with bringing this sensibility to Matt Murdoch’s world, writer Brian Michael Bendis’ Miller-influenced work on the character two decades later is epitome of this style. Most of Bendis’ Daredevil stories were rendered by Alex Maleev, a Bulgarian illustrator with a fine arts background. Maleev covers his photo-realistic faces and architecture with a sketchiness that simulates the grime of underworld New York. Most of his work was colored by Matt Hollinsworth, a frequent Mike Mignola collaborator with experience as a cgi texture painter for Hollywood films . To open one of these books is to inhabit a fully realized world similar to our own. It’s something you don’t often see in comics. In a nod to the Bendis/Maleev run’s influence on the show, Maleev drew the artist rendering of Daredevil in the newspaper in the last episode.
If you are excited for the next Marvel/Netflix Series, or bummed Daredevil was a sausage fest
Daredevil is only one of four interlocking Marvel shows coming to Netflix. Later this year we get A.K.A. Jessica Jones, based on the comic Alias. Another Bendis joint, Alias was the flagship series of Marvel’s MAX line for mature readers and introduced us to Jessica Jones. A former superhero, Jessica left that life behind and tries to makes ends meet as a private investigator. The mysteries she tries to solve are complex on their own, but the meat of Alias is Jessica’s war with herself. Funny, profane, chain-smoking, binge drinking, and promiscuous, Jessica and her demons create on one of the most fully realized Marvel characters ever. You will love this if you liked the Daredevil show, and not just because Matt Murdoch shows up.
If you are curious about Madame Gau
I’ve only started re-watching Daredevil recently, but the only real Easter egg for a future Marvel project I’ve found so far (beyond a second season of Daredevil) was the presence of the intriguing Madame Gau. While her character is shrouded in mystery, I think it’s safe to say she will show up in Netflix’s Iron Fist show. Her heroin bears the mark of Iron Fist protagonist Steel Serpent and the way she refers to her home as far away suggests one of Seven Capital Cities of Heaven (where Iron Fist got his power). Iron Fist was created in 70’s and mostly neglected until he got a new series called the Immortal Iron Fist that spun out of Ed Brubaker’s post-Bendis Daredevil run. Co-written by Brubaker (who created The Winter Soilder) and Matt Fraction (probably best now known for his indie comic Sex Criminals), The Immortal Iron Fist re-imagines the character and his mythology for this day and age. It’s a fun, sometimes funny, well-drawn action/adventure yarn.
If you think the real hero is Ben Urich
These are both so good I couldn’t pick one (also, I felt bad I couldn’t dig up stories highlighting Karen or other supporting characters, so Ben gets two). Poor Ben Urich, the last honest journalist in town, always fighting for the little guy. Brian Michael Bendis, David Mack, and friends know this and told two stories from Ben’s POV surveying the damage Matt Murdoch leaves in his wake. In Wake Up, Ben is on his own as he tries to piece together what happened to a catatonic boy who was the sole witness to Daredevil face off against a minor villain.
End of Days takes place in the future and is billed as The Last Daredevil story. Gleefully lifting its structure from Citizen Kane, it begins with Matt Murdoch’s murder and follows Ben as he unlocks the mystery of Matt’s final words. A love letter to the character drawn by a host of seminal Daredevil artists, Urich visits both Murdoch’s friends and enemies as he constructs a narrative of Daredevil’s last years on earth.
If you really liked the episode with flashbacks to Fisk’s childhood
Often cast as cartoonishly corrupt and egomanical, the Netflix series’ almost sympathetic take on Wilson Fisk was refreshing. Parts of A Hole is the comic version of that Fisk. In addition to showing an alternate version of his young life, we see a Fisk that cares for his loved ones as fiercely as he tears apart his enemies. We also see the mastermind in motion, showing how he gets over on his enemies as opposed to just telling us how powerful he is.
If you’re not really into comics and only want to read the one Daredevil story
OK, those other lists weren’t all bad. They probably told you Frank Miller is the man when it comes to Daredevil and they were right. His interpretation of the character has more to do with the hornhead we know and love today than the guys that created him. With art by David Mazzucchelli, Born Again is the Daredevil story to read if you’re just going to read one. Wilson Fisk discovers Daredevil’s secret identity and tears his life apart. This story has it all. Matt Murdoch hitting bottom for real this time. Karen Page, isolated and struggling on her own. Foggy doing much of the same. Ben Urich attacking the story as a reporter under constant threat of violence. Even the Avengers show up in the end! It really has something for everyone.
Now I’m off to watch Daredevil again. What a time to be alive!
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