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David Mazzucchelli's Daredevil: Born Again: Artist's Edition
posted June 27, 2012
David Mazzucchelli, Frank Miller
IDW, hardcover, 200 pages, June 2012, $125
One of the things that's slightly heartbreaking about editor Scott Dunbier's line of color-scanned original-art-page books is that the results tend to be so pretty that they make you despair a bit for the routine way that comics art gets assembled and presented. Don't get me wrong. It's not really a fair fight. I think the primary way these books are enjoyed is how they both encompass the original presentation and
allow for a kind of understood commentary on how the book was made. You can both read Born Again
one more time and stare at Mazzucchelli's artistic achievements here, sometimes within seconds of one another, maybe (if it's possible) at the same time. And yet there's something about just
reading the comics here and with the Simonson
book and with the Dave Stevens edition that makes me think we might be doing it a bit wrong with the more standard presentations. There's no reason one shouldn't be distracted by noticing how Mazzucchelli, say, used white highlights to seize the eye and hold it steady for a moment in the midst of an otherwise steady narrative progression, and yet somehow it feels like a choice rather than a requirement. Maybe comics could use more, not less, of the invisible part of the medium.
The story in Daredevil: Born Again
is better than I remember it -- maybe "more effective" is the way to phrase that. Divesting a superhero of the protections afforded him by having a secret identity means this comic breaks with Silver Age traditions more thoroughly than other books of its time. Miller and Mazzucchelli effectively the physical implications of the threat carried out against Daredevil with the psychological ones that rip at his self-conception. It's broad strokes, sure, but the idea of running around beating people up via the permission of wearing a costume may not demand an intricate exploration of masculinity issues in the first place. That doesn't mean it can't be effective or clever. Or affecting. There's a reason why this particular plot line has repeated itself maybe a dozen times in the various Marvel books a quarter century after this best use: it's potent.
Spending a paragraph on anything other than appreciation for Mazzucchelli's virtuoso display of craftsman's pride, a performance that practically wears a badge on every page, may seem like time wasted. My problem is I'm not sure where to go with that other than a kind of deference to the thoughtfulness of the major sequences and the meticulous application of craft solutions here. Can you slow clap a comic book? I'm not sure there's much to say about the art that just looking at the damn book won't communicate in more extravagant ways. Mazzucchelli uses black to stop the eye, light and shadow to indicate moral compromise, big panels to stop the action, blacks to slow it down, bigger margins to mark scene changes. I'm sure he does a lot of stuff on the other 198 pages I didn't just look at right now. Kudos to IDW for answering in its own way some of the great funnybook-reading questions of our time. Are we better off focusing attention and money on the few great examples of pulp comics out there or on the best of whatever is appearing this week? Can great art and smart execution elevate straightforward explorations of genre? Are the better examples of superhero comics worth revisiting? This is a book that will ruin you for a lot of other comics, but don't hold that against it.