Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s Daredevil Volume 5 is chicken soup for the superhero comic book fan. The fifth volume of Waid’s run (and Samnee’s second) is about friendship, something that almost surprisingly the book has never really been about. Like almost any run on this series since the early 1980s, Waid and Samnee have been pushing Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson apart, staining their friendship and personal relationship to the point where Foggy dissolved their professional relationship by basically firing Murdock. This latest volume opens with Murdock at the bottom, with only a $20 in his pocket, shades of Miller and Mazzuchelli’s Born Again. But this book isn’t about how far Daredevil can fall; we’ve been there and done that over and over again. Starting this story that low, Waid and Samnee show us the riches of friendship, beginning with a short tale featuring the recent incarnation of Spider-Man before diving into a story where Matt Murdock has to be the strength that Foggy Nelson does not think he has within himself.
Samnee may be the definitive Matt Murdock artist. Please note that I didn’t say that he may be the “definitive Daredevil artist.” A tricky thing about drawing Murdock that I never noticed before is that you can’t really draw his eyes. Usually he’s wearing glasses, hiding his damaged eyes from the world and from us. With recent artists like Alex Maleev or Michael Lark, they drew Matt as a serious man because they were telling “serious” stories. There was a stoicism to Matt that felt as driven by somber artwork as it was by heavy and often maudlin stories. To match Waid’s attempt to reform Murdock, Samnee draws Matt as we’ve never seen him but as we’ve always understood him to be– a hero who cares deeply, maybe too deeply, for all of the people around him. We see the man that Murdock is in the excellent figure work by Samnee.
Borrowing more from Darwyn Cooke’s Parker work than at first seems apparent, Samnee tells us Matt’s story through tousled hair, slumped shoulders, concerned frowns and even strong, heroic poses. Cooke tells us about Parker by the way he draws him. Often, we know all we need to about Parker because of the way he fills the page or carries himself. There’s not a lot of connection between Parker and Matt Murdock but right now but artistically they are very similar thanks to the work of Samnee and Cooke. Samnee lets us know what’s going on in Matt’s mind through the way he draws the character. While there’s two distinct stories being told here, A Matt Murdock story and a Daredevil story, Samnee makes us feel Matt and Foggy’s story, a story about sickness and the brotherly relationship between these two characters.
Matt and Foggy’s tale explores their friendship in a way that feels more real than any attempt before has. Foggy has always been Matt’s sidekick, an agent that reacts to the chaotic world of Daredevil more than acting as an agent in it. Foggy has always been there to serve, never to be served himself. Waid and Samnee show us how Foggy needs Matt to be the man he is, the man without fear. As Foggy goes through his own trials, he needs some of that fearlessness to rub off on him. In Waid’s story, Foggy is playing the role that’s usually filled by Karen Page, Elektra or Milla Murdock; the significant other who needs Murdock. While it’s a different kind of love, Waid and Samnee create a completely different kind of story using Foggy as the one who needs Matt Murdock in this instance.
Dancing around the Matt/Foggy story, there has to be a Daredevil story here as well– one that wraps up a lot of stuff that’s been happening in this book. Falling into more standard Daredevil fare, this part of the book doesn’t have the same energy or desperation as Foggy’s story does. Here Samnee looks more like jazzy John Romita, with his classic, flowing lines while Waid takes a bit from Miller, Bendis and Brubaker to create a new antagonist Ikara, a patchwork villain in both appearance and motivation. The parts with Matt in costume are the comforting parts of this book, both to us and to Foggy. They fulfill a function and help support Matt and Foggy’s story without ever really getting in the way of the real heart of Waid and Samnee’s story.
Daredevil Volume 5 delivers on the promise of the first, stunning volume of this series by Waid, Rivera and Martin and demonstrates just how strong the Waid/Samnee collaboration has grown. The human optimism of this book is a stark contrast to the dark, emotional abyss that Daredevil has existed in for decades now. Waid and Samnee redefine Daredevil, not by the existential depths of his soul but by the friendships that he has. From partners to teammates, exuberant local chefs to a brother who wants to believe in the best of Matt Murdock, Waid and Samnee finally click with each other and with the characters to create a very simple, clear and dramatic superhero story.