The Book: Daredevil: Yellow
The Author and The Artist: Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
How I Found It: My love for Spider-Man: Blue (review here) and a nostalgic fondness for Daredevil made me seek this one out; big ups as ever to my local library.
The Review: "Dear Karen, I'm afraid... Just when I think it is all going to get easier, I close my eyes and I see you in my arms. It's as if a hole were torn open in the center of my chest. After a while, it starts to close up and... something has a laugh that sounds like you or wears a perfume that smells like you and... it tears the hole wide open again."
Matt Murdock is a man defined by loss. The loss of his father spurred the creation of his vigilante persona Daredevil, and as this volume posits, Karen Page is the one who inspired Matt to change his costume from yellow to red. These two losses have shaped Matt into a deeply remorseful man, and it is this remorse we get a glimpse of in this chronicle of Daredevil's early outings.
Matt's father, Battling Jack Murdock, was a boxer seeking to regain some of his former glory. It's just unfortunate he went to the wrong man looking for it--a manager whose name is Sweeney but whose nickname is "The Fixer." As Matt says in his voiceover, "A fight manager named 'The Fixer' and my Dad, over the hill when he was forty, kept winning. I can't imagine which one of us was more blind." When Jack is murdered by the Fixer and his associate Slade after he refuses to throw a fixed fight, a crime they get away with, Matt sews his father's old yellow boxing robe into a costume and takes on the nickname childhood bullies used to taunt him with--"Daredevil". He "had seen how the law--which [he] still steadfastly believed in--wasn't always the same as justice." So justice he became.
Even as Matt is busy seeking justice for his father's murder, his professional life is beginning to shape up. His best friend and partner, Franklin "Foggy" Nelson, has established a law office and is looking for a secretary. Just when the search seems fruitless, in walks Karen Page--young, blonde, and beautiful, understanding exactly what the rigors of the job will be. Foggy's smitten. Soon enough, so is Matt. But there's nothing New York's villains love more than a pretty girl, and when Karen is drawn into danger, protecting her becomes Matt's job.
I will admit that I preferred Spider-Man: Blue to this volume, although this one does still have its merits. Blue was more of a romance, the story of Peter, Gwen, and Mary Jane. Yellow, to my surprise, seemed to lean far more on Matt's relationship with his father, despite the framing device of Matt's letters to the now-deceased Karen. It was an interesting change, but given that I went into this expecting what I got in Blue--a better understanding of Matt and Karen, like the one I attained for Peter and Gwen--a tiny bit disappointing.
I did, however, like that this comic focused on Matt's relationship with his father as well. I felt the scenes immediately following Matt's father's death were the best, the most affecting. I teared up as Matt says a belated "I love you" to his father's corpse. You can feel Matt's desperation as he tears down the fire escape and runs through the city blocks all the way to the site of his father's murder--no mean feat, as Matt is blind, and this one act could expose his abilities (every other sense is extremely heightened, to compensate for his blindness). You can practically smell the aftershave and talcum powder as he digs Jack's robe out from his footlocker. You can hear the subway approaching as Matt contemplates how to kill the Fixer. Atmospheric is the word here.
Matt's relationship with Karen, as well as his friendship with Foggy, were perhaps not quite as fleshed out as Peter's relationships with Gwen, Mary Jane, and Harry were in Blue, but there were scenes here I found more memorable. My particular favorite was Matt, Foggy, and Karen's night out at a local bar. Foggy challenges some college kids to a game of pool, and the kids make a few ill-advised cracks about Matt being blind, including one of those ever-popular Helen Keller jokes. Matt tells Foggy to rack the balls--and proceeds to win the entire game with just a shot or two due to his heightened senses, cracking Helen Keller jokes all the while because, as Foggy says, he's "heard them all in Braille before." I was delighted by this scene and even surprised at the fairly subtle condemnation of ableism.
Another striking scene is Matt's rescue of Karen after she's abducted by a client of theirs known as the Owl. Tim Sale gives us a stunning, almost full-page panel wherein Daredevil stands atop a spire on a city skyscraper, looking out over the entire city and listening for Karen's voice. Not even the bright yellow of Daredevil's costume is visible; the choice to have Daredevil in shadow against such a dark night, in front of such a landscape, made the panel breathtaking. The colors really pop off the page here. When Matt tries to drown the Owl, when he attacks the Purple Man who's abducted Karen, the colors are so vivid and gorgeous to look at.
The "voiceover," as it were, here is our main insight into Matt's relationship with Karen. The love triangle between Matt, Karen, and Foggy never felt overdone and was done so subtly; I really do applaud Jeph Loeb's skill at writing things like this (I gushed over his handling of the Gwen/Peter/Mary Jane triangle last time). That one scene where Foggy quietly turns around and throws out the bouquet he had in hand is entirely silent on Foggy's part, but gets the point across so eloquently. And it really is easy to see why both Foggy and Matt fall for Karen. She's hard-working (taking down dictation even while distracted), lively (she's thrilled by Daredevil's antics), and very beautiful. Her banter with Daredevil during one of his rescues of her, while she's unaware he's her boss, was so much fun to read. I'd like to see more of their relationship, for sure--a gripe I had with this volume was that it cuts off so abruptly. In Blue, it was made pretty clear what and who led to Gwen's death. Here, there's an oblique reference or two and that's it. If I hadn't read up about Karen on the Marvel wiki, I would've had no idea what led to her death or how her and Matt's relationship ultimately ended up.
Overall, though the story didn't have the focus I was expecting and the villains seemed to take a sideline to the story of Matt, his father, and Karen (there's only the Fixer, Slade, the Owl, and the Purple Man), I did enjoy the graphic novel and felt it was a good companion piece to Blue, if not quite its equal. It certainly reminded me what I loved about Daredevil, whose film adaptation was the movie that got me loving superheroes. Matt is an unconventional superhero--a blind man, a man with a great deal of faith... but what makes him a superhero is his unyielding search for justice. If you'd like a glimpse into the life and loved ones of the Man Without Fear, I feel this is a good place to start.