Friday, October 17, 2008

Review: Daredevil: Cruel and Unusual

The creative team from the critically-acclaimed series Gotham Central recently reunited for a four-issue story arc in Daredevil: Cruel and Unusual, and I'm glad the band got back together. Artist Michael Lark and writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka have turned out an enjoyable mystery that highlights many of the best aspects of Daredevil comics -- the sleuthing, the lawyering, the acrobatic kicking and punching -- but feels like it needed one more issue to really land a knockout blow.

The story follows Daredevil and his private investigator, Dakota North, as they work to uncover why bad guy "Big" Ben Donovan falsely confessed to murdering three children. Their investigation soon reveals a dastardly plot involving federal agents, gangsters, and ... dockworkers(!).

Brubaker and Rucka both are regarded as two of the best mainstream comics writers, and for good reason. Their dialogue snaps, their characters are believable individuals, they are able to mine the drama out of the relationships involved, and they know how to construct a sturdy plot.

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One of the best things to come out of Brubaker's run on Daredevil (normally, he's the solo writer on the series) is the way he has brought Matt Murdock's supporting cast to the foreground. He has fleshed out these characters and given them real, distinct personalities. And he's shown us how they all work together and how Murdock's law office operates. It makes everything feel more real and gives us a reason to care about these people.

Michael Lark, joined by artist Stefano Gaudiano, also does excellent work here. One reason I like Lark is that his art helps the "real" feeling of the book -- his people look like people, as opposed to too-pretty pin-ups dashing around in spandex. Even Dakota North, a former model, just looks like a person. I guess this is another way of saying that the art is appropriate for the book. Lark also is very good at choreographing fight scenes (which is pretty much required for a Daredevil artist).

The final issue in the arc has a very effective sequence that repeatedly jump-cuts between one scene involving Daredevil's battle at the docks and another scene showing paramedics attempting to save someone's life. Both scenes are easy to follow and the jumping back and forth helps to build the suspense and excitement. It shows how well the creative team worked together to achieve something that is fairly difficult to pull off.


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As I said at the beginning of this review, however, the comic isn't perfect because it seemed like the story ended a little too abruptly. (I'll try to write this without giving it away, so forgive me if I'm a little vague.) After the writers did an excellent job setting up the mystery -- "Big" Ben Donovan's secret, the coverup involving federal agents -- they made it too easy for Daredevil to solve. One guy gets knocked around and offers up the whole story, and that's it? I was expecting a really big-time grand finale, but instead the fireworks show ended in a single poof.

That criticism aside, the comic was a good read and a well-made piece of entertainment. I'd recommend it to anybody interested in solid superhero storytelling.

Daredevil: Cruel and Unusual originally was published in Daredevil issues 107 through 110, but Marvel already has put out a collected volume. You can buy it here: Daredevil: Cruel and Unusual


  1. Great review, and I agree with you almost 100%. The wrap-up was too quick, but the main focus was on character-building, and as such, it worked well.


  2. If I had to pick just one book of all the ones you have reviewed though Wed Nov. 12, this is the one I would choose.