Comics Then: Daredevil: Yellow
Origin stories can be a tricky proposition in superhero fiction. It’s important to know who a character is and why they are the way they are, of course, and even updating an origin to make it more relevant to a modern time and place can be beneficial. It’s a well that can be returned to any time a story is needed, which is both a blessing and a curse: with an origin, there’s always a story to tell, but that same story can be told too often.
Daredevil: Yellow, from writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale, is an origin story. Instead of simply revamping or updating Daredevil’s beginnings, it recontextualizes his early crimefighting career. This is not “the definitive Daredevil origin,” nor does it set out to be. Instead, it tells another side of an already familiar legend, working well as a companion piece to The Man Without Fear without superseding it.
That is one of this story’s greatest strengths, as those ambitions help make it feel more focused and intimate. In The Man Without Fear, an equally great telling of Daredevil’s beginnings from Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr., Matt Murdock is living a penance. The focus is much more on tragedy, both in Murdock’s loss of sight and the death of his father, as well as having to live with the consequences of one’s actions. It’s a hard read, and a rewarding one at that, as we see Murdock rise through the mire to seek redemption. Yellow, on the other hand, takes some similar story beats and spins a yarn that is more about adventure and romance than character deconstruction.
And truly, this is a swashbuckling adventure. You never get the feeling that Murdock isn’t enjoying fighting crime, even if there is still a melancholy undercurrent to his crusade, and appearances from fellow superheroes and dyed in the wool villains makes it feel part of the larger Marvel universe. Like any good swashbuckler, though, there’s a love story at the center, and it’s that aspect that sets this series apart. Underneath the bright yellow and red costume, apart from the early days of Nelson & Murdock, past the encounters with the Fantastic Four and the Owl, this is all about the romance between Matt and Karen Page.
The narration is in the form of a letter Matt has penned for the recently deceased Karen, placing the modern day framing scenes after the Guardian Devil arc. Murdock is heartbroken and lovesick, and while it’s sad knowing where their relationship will go over the years, the relative innocence of their early days together are incredibly endearing. Theirs is a chaste romance, at least at the beginning, something that you could liken to a crush or puppy love. Karen is clearly smitten, and Matt becomes a bit of a showoff when he runs into her in his Daredevil guise. This could have easily dipped into the cloying and saccharine, but Loeb and Sale keep everything balanced so that their story is never anything but engaging.
At this point in their working relationship, Loeb and Sale had been collaborating for over a decade. From their first work together on Challengers of the Unknown Must Die! to the seminal Batman: The Long Halloween, the duo developed an almost tangible chemistry that is evident on every single page.
Truly, there’s not a panel where Loeb and Sale’s collaboration isn’t evident: Loeb writes with his heart on his sleeve, and Sale alternates between quiet conversations and thrilling action with ease. The “shot choices” are inspired, from double-splash pages to the way a bowling ball or engagement ring are rendered in the frame. This is clearly a collaborative effort between two individuals who know how to work with each other, playing off each others’ strengths to tell the best story they can.
Like any popular character, there are a handful of stories that come to mind when you’re asked to give examples of “essential reading.” For Daredevil, you have “Born Again” and “The Man Without Fear” at the top of the list, along with the rest of Frank Miller’s run and, yeah, let’s throw in Mark Waid’s for good measure. While Daredevil: Yellow may have a different tone and mission statement than some of those other stories, it’s still distinctly Daredevil. If it isn’t already, this story needs to be in the conversation of all-time Hornhead classics.