Our first pick is The Matt Murdock Chronicles. Running since late 2008, it’s a fantastic blog devoted to reviewing Daredevil on an issue by issue basis from the very beginning. I was lucky enough to catch the site’s curator Robert and pick his brains on a few topics and give you an idea of what to expect when you visit his site.
Robert, can you give us a bit of background to yourself? Where did your association with Daredevil begin?
I’ve been reading comics for over thirty years, and you’ll be able to appreciate coming from the UK yourself that it was British comics I was interested in first – I started with things like the Beano and the Dandy, then things like Buster, 2000AD, then it was probably the late 70s before Spider-Man and Marvel titles.
Do you remember what your first Daredevil comic was?
I think it was Daredevil #159, which was Frank Miller’s second issue as artist. Obviously I had no idea who Frank Miller was at the time, or indeed how important that would go on to be. I can’t quite remember, and I don’t know if this was a UK thing, but I got it in a multi-pack, where you got two or three comics together. I wasn’t particularly interested in Daredevil at the time – the cover of that particular issue is Daredevil, underwater being grabbed by the throat by just a thug, and probably to someone of my age at the time when I picked that up it probably didn’t seem that dramatic or dynamic, because at that age you’re just interested in the very garish looking supervillains and outlandish looking characters – that’s the thing that would pull you in, so to see Daredevil fighting some guy in a T-shirt and jeans, it didn’t look terribly exciting.
It was probably a while later when I actually got into Daredevil, I do remember buying Daredevil 183, I was really sucked in by the cover of the Punisher shooting Daredevil. What really interested me was the fact that there was little bits of Daredevil’s costume coming from his back, giving the impression that the Punisher had shot him in the gut and the bullet had went right through. Which of course does not happen in the comic.
So were you reading at the time of the Elektra saga?
I wasn’t reading DD regularly at that stage, because in the UK it was still the stage where Forbidden Planet may have been running in London, but they certainly hadn’t reached Belfast, so you were picking up comics at your average newsagent, although they wouldn’t have them in on a monthly basis, and it wasn’t a consistent selection. So at the time I would pick up Daredevil, I would read X-Men, Power Man and Iron Fist was a really popular title with me in the eighties, and Spidey. You would pick them up just whenever you could find them. It’s funny looking back because you weren’t always able to follow the storyline because you were just picking up comics now and again and just gradually getting into them.
And these were the days before catch-up pages welcomed you at the start of every book…
So what prompted you to start the Matt Murdock Chronicles?
I was starting to read all the back issues, and it felt like something I wanted to share whilst I was doing that. So I just thought ‘I’ll start to blog‘, from each issue, and it was just as simple as that. I wasn’t aware of anyone else doing something similar, so I just decided to go for it, and just have a lot of fun doing it. And I’ve been really pleased and surprised by some of the responses I’ve been getting.
Early on people were pointing out ‘you don’t talk about the story a lot of the time‘, but my thing was to focus on the characters. On the site’s FAQ I state that I’m more interested in the characters than some garish supervillain suddenly turning up – it’s called The Matt Murdock Chronicles rather than The Daredevil Chronicles – it’s Matt’s character ultimately that I want to really understand.
From my experience, the people that follow Daredevil are fairly passionate fans when it comes to him. What do you think it is specifically about him that strikes such a chord with his readers?
I think it all goes back to Frank Miller’s run because before that the comic wasn’t particularly popular. It was on the ropes and close to cancellation a couple of times, so really Frank Miller’s work put it on the map – in some ways it’s the comic’s finest moment and also the noose around its neck, because I think people generally regard that Daredevil has never came back to the same status of that run. People have fond memories of that run, and I think it was groundbreaking at the time. I guess that a young kid maybe reading comics now might pick it up and not think it was that amazing, and maybe they would find it a bit longwinded as the amount of story that was in an issue compared to a comic book today, would probably take you double the length of time to read. At the time I guess Miller was doing things that were quite different, certainly darker and grittier – for me one of the things that really appeals to me at my time of life now is the attempt to be quite realistic and the social realism within the comic, I find that really interesting. I also think because there’s a lot of tragedy within that run and maybe some the runs that followed – he appeals to people who like things to be a bit darker and their heroes flawed, and I think that that’s a lot of people.
You mentioned the social aspects that permeated Miller’s run, does that mean you were a fan of Ann Nocenti’s run when she came on board, given the amount of topical issues she worked into the title?
I was certainly, I haven’t read Ann’s run in many years. I’m coming up to it the next few months so I’ll refresh myself then, but I can’t speak authoritivly about it at the moment, though I certainly did enjoy her run on the book. I do have fond memories of Frank’s run, of Denny’s (Denny O’Neil) run, and Ann’s run – those where the runs that I read. I have to say that after Ann’s run, I stopped reading comic books for nearly fifteen years, so I’m kind of coming back to it. I came back in the middle of Bendis’ run and now I’m sort of playing catch-up. All the ones that are pre-Frank Miller, the majority of the issues that are on the blog, that was the first time I was reading them – whenever I was writing about them.
Out of the issues that you have read but not yet covered on the blog, are there any that you’re particularly looking forward to coming round to review?
Born Again’s coming up quite soon, which I’m obviously really looking forward to. One of the things that interests me, I remember before I started to review Frank Miller’s I thought ‘is this going to be good as everyone says it as and as good as I remember?‘ I just wondered if I really, really liked it. And then I started to read it and I thought ‘oh, no I do!‘ It does still hold up in my opinion, and it really was a step-up from what had gone before. I’ve got the same anxiety about reading Born Again again, to see if it does hold up to what I remember.
I’m also looking forward to very soon looking at the second issue that features the Gael (Vol 1 #216), because being Irish, what Denny was doing - and I remarked on it at some length on the Matt Murdock Chronicles when he first appeared – that was shocking to me as a teenager to read about a guy who was involved in the I.R.A. (in Daredevil 205, Matt protects Glorianna O’Breen, whose father was a member of the I.R.A.) Denny had a very sympathetic view of the I.R.A. – for where I was from that was a very shocking thing to read.
I was going to ask what your favourite run on the title was, but is it fair to say that it would be Born Again?
Again from memory, I think so, but I’m a bit anxious about rereading in case it doesn’t hold up to what I remember. I’m very fond of the very first story that Frank Miller wrote, which was Elektra’s introduction (Vol 1 #168). I think it works really well as a one-off story, Miller could have just ended there and never brought the character back. It’s a little bit Mills & Boon-y (Mills & Boon is a British publisher of romance novels), but I like it, I like the emotion in it. Some of the newer run, like Bendis’ The Murdock Papers (Vol 2 #76 – 81) I really liked, Decalogue (Vol 2 #71 – 75) I thought was quite a brave and different thing to do, and some of Ed Brubaker’s run (Vol 2,# 82 to 119 and 500)was quite good.
So you are still in touch with the modern Daredevil, you’re not holding off until you reach it in the blog?
I am, I’m keeping up.
How did you find Shadowland?
I thought it was a brave thing for Andy Diggle to do, and I think that he decided to do something very different with Daredevil. One of the things I suppose I struggled with – if you read my blog you’ll see one of the things I’m very interested in is character – and I think Andy is more plot driven, trying to get a good story across. I missed the interaction with the supporting characters, which is something I look forward to when I’m reading Daredevil, or any other comic. I was dreading the end because I thought I knew what was going to happen, in that I expected that Matt was going to be killed and then resurrected by The Hand, maybe Diggle was conscious that the readers thought he was going to do that, but I was very glad that he didn’t. I liked that we ended with Matt in a very broken place, which is kind of the way Born Again is to some extent from what I remember, and is not a bad place for a character to be.
Have you had the chance to read the first issue of Reborn?
Not yet, but I will!
Have you ever had any reaction to your site from Marvel, or heard from any of the creators that worked on Daredevil?
No, I think there was one comic book writer that commented on one occasion, but it wasn’t a Daredevil writer. If I had the opportunity I suppose I would like to talk to Denny O’Neill about where he was coming with the Irish stuff – it’s more a personal thing, you could to Frank Miller about how he came up with his ideas, but I’d like to talk to Denny about ‘where were you coming from when you were writing that?’.
At the time of this interview you’re 210 issues into your journey. Do you feel that you’re on your way to getting a sense of Matt’s character like you hoped?
There’s been some surprises. Whenever your reading Gerry Conway and Steve Gerber’s Matt, you get the sense that they’re writing him as a quite conservative guy, but the times that they were writing – mid 60s, early 70s – were the age of revolution and social change and they really wanted to pull Daredevil into that, you could tell that both those writers were children of the revolution to an extent. They were into the hippy movement and wanted things to change, and I think they wanted to pull Matt into that, but you can see the tension of Matt as a quite conservative, square, lawyer – especially the way Stan Lee presented him in the early 60s – being pulled into the liberal light.
One of the things I find really intruiging and I don’t know if it’s deliberate or not is Matt’s attitude to women. He comes across to me in a way that any time he forms a relationship with a strong, independent woman he kind of gets scared and the relationship ends, or he runs away from it, whereas the relationships he seems more comfortable with are with women that are a bit more vulnerable and needy and he feels he can control. Not a terribly appealing characteristic, but it seems to be consistent from what I’ve read!
Are there any other Daredevil sites that you frequent during your time away from creating your own?
I do look at Kuljit’s site (Kuljit Mithra is webmaster for the enormous manwithoutfear.com), and I do look at Christine’s site (Christine blogs and reviews DD’s modern day comics at The Other Murdock Papers). I regard those people very highly – Kuljit’s site is so comprehensive, he’s just brilliant at what he’s done. One thing that I don’t do when I’m reviewing an issue is go and read somebody else’s review beforehand- but I sometimes do it after. Kuljit’s site is good for that, and it’s also good for checking names of characters when I’ve forgotten. But both sites are great. I’m more than happy not to be competing with them!
What are your plans for The Matt Murdock Chronicles once you inevitably catch up with the title?
To an extent, I did wonder if Daredevil #512 would be the end. I estimate by the time I actually catch up will be 2014, so I don’t have to think about that for a while yet!
And that was that! It was an both absolute pleasure and hugely fascinating to be able to talk to Robert, who graciously gave up his time to talk to Comic Booked. Why don’t you show your gratitude by paying his excellent site a visit? Check back over the next few days for part two of Fans Without Fear, where we’ll be talking to Christine – the brains behind The Other Murdock Papers!