Having just talked about the differences I see between Marvel and DC comic books, I started thinking about what comics helped form my fandom. I didn’t just start out as a Marvel fan and go from there. There were certain books and characters that brought me to where I am today. These comics were the ones that won me over!
Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men
These were the first comic books I ever read. In 2000, the X-Men movie was coming to theaters. I had only ever seen a few episodes of the old animated series in the 90s, but I remembered enjoying them. My library had a small, but respectable graphic novel section back then and they had the first three volumes of Essential X-Men, each including about two years worth of issues. I devoured these books. Claremont’s run on the X-Men still stands as my favorite era of the X-Men. I know fans like to point to Days of Future Past and The Dark Phoenix Saga as the best parts of his time on title, but I don’t think the other stories get enough credit. Wolverine and Nightcrawler going against the Wendigo, the Brood Saga, the first few fights between the new X-Men and Magneto, Proteus and Alpha Flight, these tales are what got me into comics. Back when I started, I knew nothing about these characters and I was discovering things as I read these early issues. After a few years, when I had searched across the internet and encyclopedias, I had learned all the stories and secrets and the older stories had less appeal, but I never stopped loving this run. With Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, Kitty Pryde and Rogue as the main cast and my favorite team, these brought me into a whole new world.
I could go on forever about the X-Men, but I’ll hold myself back. To get back to my main point, this series and run got me into comic books and that was the first step to becoming a Marvel fan.
Stan Lee’s Amazing Spider-Man
The same library that had the first three volumes of Essential X-Men also had six volumes of Essential Spider-Man. While I was really only interested in the X-Men, I figured I’d give Spider-Man a try. Where as Chris Claremont’s X-Men was during the late seventies, Stan Lee’s Spider-Man was at the dawn of the Silver Age in the early sixties. It didn’t have the large, ensemble cast of the X-Men, but it had superheroics at it’s early best. Spider-Man was a constant drama that kept me interested in Peter Parker’s social life as much as his hero career. It was fun seeing all his villains come into their identities and seeing the best of superhero cliches form on the page.
The X-Men tend to hang out on the fringe of the Marvel universe, but Stan Lee’s Spider-Man introduced me to it properly. This was the series that not only introduced me to the title character and his supporting cast, but also to the Human Torch and the Avengers. This showed me there was a world beyond the X-Men, and one even beyond Spider-Man.
Frank Miller’s Daredevil
I started reading Frank Miller’s legendary run on Daredevil a few weeks after I saw the movie. At the time, I really enjoyed the film. It was only the fourth Marvel film I had seen back in February 2003, so standards were still being formed. But it did get me reading the character and Daredevil became a quick favorite of mine. Miller introduced me to a a darker side of the Marvel universe; one that was grittier and street level. This wasn’t the world of super powered mutants or the skyscraper battles of Spider-Man; this was the life of a blind superhero who’s villains were above the law and hid in the shadows. Daredevil’s problems weren’t social, they were psychological and the women in his life were out to kill him. At times, he felt like Marvel’s answer to Batman, but he was different on many levels that he stood strong on his own. I read every thing Frank Miller wrote with the character and loved the worst of them.
Daredevil was the beginning of my alliance. He was another character that I enjoyed, in the Marvel universe, and the world was getting bigger all the time.
Joe Kelly’s Deadpool
I almost decided not to mention Deadpool because, when I started reading him, he was still considered a character that belonged to the X-Men line. He’s since ventured out to have his own place in the Marvel universe and he brought me along with him. I bought the entire run of Joe Kelly’s work on the character in one purchase and I read the whole thing in a week’s time. Spider-Man was funny, but Deadpool was hilarious. This was the first comic that made laugh so hard that I cried. But it was also dark and treated Deadpool like a real character who was trying his best to be a hero, even though he would never reach that rank. The character has since become more of a joke machine than a real person, but Joe Kelly made Deadpool a layered, flawed and laugh out loud character.
Deadpool showed me that the Marvel universe was goofy at times and not afraid to make fun of itself. I still haven’t read a DC comic that can make laugh as much as Joe Kelly’s Deadpool did.
Dan Slott’s She-Hulk
I started reading this run on the character because of the rave reviews and I kept reading it because they were right. This book had the humor of Deadpool with the Silver Age flavor of Stan Lee’s Spider-Man. Taking place in a superhuman law firm, Dan Slott made me a fan of She-Hulk, who was fun, strong and and smart enough to win her cases in court. With guest stars from every reach of Marvel, I also discovered some Z-list characters I had never heard of before.
This was another series that expanded my view of the Marvel universe, showing me the scope of characters as well as tone, and helping me understand the difference between camp and fun.
Fabian Nicieza’s Thunderbolts
This was the first time I read a comic book based off of characters I had no connection to; Deadpool was from X-Men, Spider-Man is known by all, and She-Hulk is the cousin of my favorite Jade Giant. But the Thunderbolts were made up of a bunch of villains I hadn’t heard of before! Blizzard? Atlas? Songbird? A non-Simpson’s Radioactive Man? But the first year of Nicieza’s rebooted run on the Thunderbolts was classic in tone, with the heroes finding themselves with their backs against the wall. What I loved back then was that they were villains trying to make good and the concept was new to me (since I had yet to read Suicide Squad).
Thunderbolts proved that I could enjoy a variety of Marvel comic books. Not only about superheroes, but the bad guys that inhabited the universe. Thunderbolts (with the help of She-Hulk) gave me a foothold for the weirder concepts of Marvel, for less than popular characters and for the tone and atmosphere of the modern Marvel landscape.
Mark Millar’s Civil War
Up until this comic, I was still very selective about which comic books I was reading. But after the Marvel Civil War, I was trying to read everything. This was the first major comic book crossover that I read, outside of the X-Men line. It introduced me to the modern versions of Iron Man and Iron Man, got me reading series like the Punisher and Moon Knight, made me interested in Black Panther and Thor, and got me picking up titles I had dropped like Spider-Man and the New Avengers. The concept of Marvel heroes going against each other over identity rights changed everything and set the universe up for a very focused story arch. When the smoke cleared, I was ready to expand my horizons to characters I had never heard of and try new things. I was in the trenches of Marvel.
Unfortunately, I can’t get into every comic that helped make me a Marvel fan. I didn’t mention The Ultimates, which got me into the Avengers cast, or Ultimate Spider-Man, which grew with me, or any of the Hulk, Exiles, Runaway, Doctor Strange or Young Avengers comics I was getting into, or the mini-series like Infinite Gauntlet, Annihilation, Age of Apocalypse or Marvel 1602. The point I tried to make is there are certain, landmark titles that helped create the Marvel fan inside of me, and many more that kept me that way.
Make Mine Marvel!
spoilers to follow
When it comes to comic books, there are some characters I feel like an authority on. When talking to others about the X-Men or Batman, I simply assume I’m the bigger fan and work from there. There’s only one other character I feel like I know as well as those two.
He’s one of my favorite superheroes. He’s street-level, stubborn and self-destructive. He has one the coolest costumes out there and can scare the pants of criminals. He’s a lawyer and a ninja. He’s not as heartless as Batman is often played up to be and he’s big into changing people’s lives, not just locking them away. He’s deals with Bullseye, the Kingpin, the Owl, Elektra, Typhoid Mary, the Hand and general crime on a nightly basis. He’s blind. He’s awesome. I discovered Matt Murdock when I was a teenager, just getting into comics. I started with the movie, pointed my interest towards Frank Miller’s run and went from there. I found the character relatable and inspiring. He was more interesting than all the other heroes out there.
So, when I don’t like a Daredevil comic, I tend to think my opinion is in the right.
Daredevil: End of Days is a bad comic book. But, on Goodreads, it has a four star average. People seem to like it. I read a five star review for the last issue. Either I’m wrong or the world is wrong. Well, like Murdock, I’m a bit stubborn. The world has no idea what it’s talking about.
I was excited to pick the trade up from the library. Brian Micheal Bendis was back and his run on Daredevil is incredible. Just thinking about the concept of this story, the last Daredevil story, caused my imagination to run wild. The art is gorgeous. It had things going for it before I even opened it up.
Then I opened it up. The warning signs were right there. The story begins with the last fight between Daredevil and Bullseye. Bullseye kills Daredevil, but not before Matt says his final word, Mapone. From this simple beginning, I already had two problems. The first being how Daredevil died. Bullseye jams a rod through his head. It’s bloody, it’s gruesome and it’s an example of the problems I’m having with modern comics. Superheroes used to die in heroic, operatic ways. They wouldn’t be simply stabbed or shot. They would be consumed by an alien energy, while holding it back to keep Earth safe. They used to close portals and sacrifice themselves doing it, they used to mean something. But today, when we know a hero will always come back from the dead, if a writer really wants to convince us the character is dead, he has to kill the hero in a realistic and unquestionable way. A hero can come back through a portal, but the can’t come back from a rod in their brain. And that’s how Bendis kills Daredevil; unheroically and saving no one in his sacrifice. And with that, Daredevil is written out of the next seven and half issues about his final days.
Which brings me to the second problem I have. Ben Urich discovers Daredevil’s final word, Mapone, and begins his search to what it might mean. With that, the Citizen Kane comparison is made and Bendis pats himself on the back for being so clever to borrow from such a famous movie. The problem is, is that there are no hints or answers given. The next seven issues are other characters from Daredevil’s life talking about life and themselves, not Matt or his death. They all think they know the meaning of ‘Mapone’ but wont tell us. It dawned on me that when the Punisher is the brightest and optimistic guest star in your story, you’re doing something wrong. Throughout the story, Bullseye kills himself because of the meaning of Mapone. In the seventh issue, Ben is kill by the Hand.
So, with one issue left, Bendis tries to seal the deal on how awesome his book is. The new Daredevil is Ben Urich’s son, who means very little to the rest of Daredevil’s lore. Then, we learn the true meaning of Mapone, the secret being it’s the name of Daredevil’s blind and skillful daughter. And the book ends.
Why would Bullseye kill himself? If, lets say, he knew the meaning of Mapone, we would be led to believe that he killed himself because he could never fully beat Daredevil, because of his legacy. Which wouldn’t make sense for Bullseye, because he would just go off and try to kill Mapone and the new Daredevil. Bullseye isn’t the Joker, he doesn’t require Daredevil to exist. If anything, he would see a new Daredevil as a new toy to kill. Bullseye’s suicide is an out of character misdirection with no fulfillment. So, now, not only is Daredevil’s death meaningless, but so is Bullseye’s.
A big problem with this story is that Bendis, who should know the character better than this, treats Daredevil like Batman. Batman would train new kids, he would cement his legacy, he would take pride in Batman never dying because he’s a symbol. That’s Batman. Daredevil is not a legacy hero and he’s never been much a symbol. He’s a much more personal character than that. His last story should be all about his last fight. It should be his last match, like his father, who played a bigger role in his life than this comic would have you believe. And I don’t care what future you’re in, people would go to his funeral.
Instead of something that would make for a good, final Daredevil story, Bendis gives us a mystery that has no real clues and a useless ending. He gives us a gritty vision of the character’s future that seems outdated. His lawyer career and his conflicting faith are never touched upon. End of Days tries to show us that Daredevil didn’t really matter, that Matt only made life worse for others and left a lot of bastard children around. It’s a shame.
But at least this means there’s room for a better end for Daredevil. Maybe Bendis will leave the character alone now, Maybe, after we were shown a darker, but pointless future, there’s room for a brighter present.