Wednesday, September 30, 2015

'Daredevil: Yellow' review (flashback)

Inspired by review of the latest in writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale’s “color” stories — the first issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHITE, check out this review of the DAREDEVIL: YELLOW trade paperback that I posted April 27, 2013 on the original online home of CCC. For no reason other than a lack of inspiration, I've been putting off writing a review of HULK: GRAY, so that's next on my need-inspiration-to-write-something list. …

For years, I had heard about writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale’s “color” stories in Marvel Comics. SPIDER-MAN: BLUE is one of my favorite Loeb stories — if not one of the best written Spidey stories of all time.

Knowing that, and since Loeb and Sale are one of the greatest creative duos in comic book history and I’m a big fan of the Man Without Fear, I finally decided to track down DAREDEVIL: YELLOW in trade paperback at my local library.

Even with my high expectations, I couldn’t be more satisfied with the results. In short, I was blown away. YELLOW is one of the greatest and most fulfilling stories I’ve read in a while.

The DD story has it all: Drama, action, clever dialogue, fantastic character interaction, humor and insight — and it’s all balanced effectively.

When I heard about YELLOW and HULK: GRAY (next on my list to read), I assumed both stories had to do with a short, focused span of time in each character’s early years when both of them had a different look before their now familiar and iconic looks, respectively all red and green.

YELLOW is much more than that. Like the other “color” stories, it focuses on a certain time in DD’s early days as a superhero, but the focus is on Matt Murdock’s relationship with his first love, secretary Karen Page.

Murdock is the narrator (like Peter Parker is in BLUE) and tells the story through letters he writes to the now deceased Page, as if he were talking to her — a suggestion by law partner “Foggy” Nelson for his lifelong friend to deal with Page’s death.

This leads to Murdock thinking back to many years ago when he was a young adult — back to just before his father, the boxer Jack “Battlin’” Murdock is murdered.

At first, it seems YELLOW will be a standard origin story, with young Murdock deciding to become Daredevil to bring his father’s murderers to justice.

(Surprisingly, Loeb’s rendition of the events strays slightly away from accepted continuity by having Jack’s murder take place when Murdock is a young adult, as opposed to when he’s a boy. Loeb must have figured his father’s death would carry more punch this way, but the creative liberty doesn’t take away anything from his story.)

And then enters the absolutely adorable Page, who snags the job as Nelson and Murdock’s secretary. Both law partners fall for the vivacious woman, who refuses to call her bosses by their first name (which really gets to Nelson. And ironically both men call her “Karen.”).

The “Mister Nelson” and “Mister Murdock” schtick is one that has an adorable pay-off at the end of the story after Page has been saved by DD a second time.

Like BLUE, YELLOW could be a sloppy, sentimental mess, but Loeb has such a strong handle on each of the three main characters, all the emotions ring true. (Although Page borders on being the damsel-in-distress stereotype in The Owl sequence.)

DD’s story is much like Parker’s/Spidey’s in BLUE and his deep feelings about Gwen Stacy, whose life also ends tragically; both stories focus as much on the alter-ego as they do the superhero. That’s where the focus should be because YELLOW is as much as much about Page as it is about Murdock’s feelings toward her. 

With the focus on Page, Loeb waits to deliver the two biggest pay-offs until the last two issues: How DD became known as “The Man Without Fear” and why Murdock changes his DD costume from yellow and red to entirely red.

It’s Sale’s pencils and inks that makes YELLOW truly work. Sale is as much of a master storyteller as Loeb; in fact, it’s no wonder the pair have collaborated so much over the years since I can’t imagine any of Loeb’s Marvel “color” stories or his Batman stories being told without Sale’s art. The artist knows how to compose each panel and position each character within those panels to complement Loeb’s words.

I’m not giving the penciling/inking/coloring explanation given in the sketchbook nearly enough justice; it’s worth reading.

So many sketchbooks in trades offered as supposed “bonus” material in trades are really just filler material and only includes little more than unused or preliminary sketches or drawings. Here, there’s an extremely interesting series of insightful texts about the creative process.) Seeing how Sale handles the Fantastic Four, it’s unfortunate the Loeb-Sale “color” stories didn’t cover comics’ first family.

Sale’s artwork is one of the most fascinating aspects of YELLOW. I first thought the finished work was watercolor until I learned that in fact, it’s the combination of Sale’s inking decisions combined with Matt Hollingsworth’s delicate coloring that sets the perfect atmosphere and provides the story with such, well, color.
Grade: A- 

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