It was whilst watching Kill Bill and in particular the Blue Leaves House fight scene, that I had the funniest feeling that I’d seen all this before. It wasn’t any other Hong Kong or Asian movie or even Itchy and Scratchy and it wasn’t until I did some comic reading this week that I realized. I was watching a Punisher comic. Especially one written by Garth Ennis.
Garth Ennis has made no bones about what his take on The Punisher is, a guy with big guns killing lots of bad guys. Substitute the guns for samurai swords and there you go. Neither The Punisher or The Bride get killed during any of their fights (although they will get badly injured) but their opponents, who usually have the same weapons, meet their deaths by the thousands.
I enjoyed Kill Bill a bit more than Kat, being more used to the Asian cinema scene. But for all the blood-letting and violence one thing I would not call the film is brutal.
That is though, what I would say about the latest Daredevil collection: Hardcore.
Writer Brian Bendis and artist Alec Maleev have for the last couple of years been moving Daredevil away from the standard super-heroics of the Marvel Universe and into the grim hard-boiled world of crime and punishment novels. Daredevil has always had this potential, set as it has been in the Hells Kitchen district of New York and with the dual dichtomy of Matt Murdock being both a defense counciller and vigilante. Miller started the trend with his classic run but Bendis took it even further down to street-level. Firstly by ruling out any other superheroes (the ones that do appear are on the same street- level as Murdock. Luke Cage,
Jessica Jones, Natasha Romanov) and then bringing The Kingpin down to the street thug he always was.
The tale in Hardcore relates The Kingpin trying to regain the kingdom that he lost in earlier stories. A quick recap here. In a story of Shakespearian proportions, The Kingpin (Wilson Fisk) was blinded by one of his assassins who fell in love with Murdock (ala Elektra) but was led by Fisk to believe that it was Daredevil who killed her father (when all along it was Fisk). It was now that some of his subordinates (led by the son of one of his partners), plus his own son decided that he was now weak enough to be bumped off. In a Caesar like style they all take turns until he’s nothing but a bloody mess on the floor.
Even more Shakespearian , Fisk’s wife (Vanessa) takes revenge on those who did the deed by killing all those involved (including, personally, her son) but misses the ring-leader, who bargains with the FBI for protection by revealing Daredevils identity (which was told him by The Kingpins son. This makes for a marvelous scene when discussing what to do with the information with their superior; the agents find out that Murdock has an S.H.E.I.L.D. file a mile long and is off-limits). She then takes the very much alive Kingpin out of the city and sets about destroying his empire and disappearing. Needing money, one of the FBI agents who were told Murdock’s identity sells it to a tabloid, which then outs Murdock as Daredevil. Murdock now has to lie continuously to the press as to the truth of this (as it could do much harm, not the least seriously compromise his position as a defense lawyer), sue the paper and deal with the entire attending media circus that it brings.
The Kingpin now awakes to find himself in a foreign country, with his eyesight restored, his wife, money and empire gone.
Bendis and Maleev now up the ante, with Fisk trying to regain all that he has lost. But he never understands that once it is gone, power is gone for good. At this point we see Fisk for what he always was: a hoodlum with pretensions of grandeur. The brutality starts in the very first scene with Fisk hitting a woman hard enough to draw blood, but for a reason. He needs her psychotic alter-ego Typhoid Mary.
Typhoid Mary is a schizophrenic who was created during Ann Nocenti’s run during the Eighties (and boy do I mean the Eighties. Check out the recent collection with Typhoid’s first appearance. Pineapple Studios and Dash never got a better advertisement. Kids, ask your mom’s.). She is also a pyrokenetic and not above burning people to death. With her insane side now dominant again she is Fisk’s bruiser and bodyguard, but with a more grungy outfit and attitude. Her re-appearance (whilst singing The Mama’s and Papa’s Monday, Monday) is riveting and nasty. Dispatching some of Fisk’s replacements with a pair a samurai swords (singing all along), she skewers one of them, lifts him up and lets him slowly slide to down to meet her in a bloody kiss. Mallev depicts this in a real and non-sensational style a million miles away from Tarentino and his theatrics, the man’s death is small and painful.
Although Fisk now believes that he is on the road to recovering his empire, his esteem is shaken by the fact that he no longer invokes fear just by mentioning his name. All the way through the book he has been called “Fat-ass”, “Cartman ( in a brilliant cameo by one of Millers finest small people creations, Turk)” and now, an honest FBI agent ( who refuses to take a piece of incriminating evidence as a “gift”) calls him a “fat shit”. Fisk needs a grand gesture, one to put himself back on the map, and that means getting Mary to take out Daredevil. The battle is once again a street-level fist fight, no costumes, during the day and out in the open, with Murdock being seriously burned. Only the arrival of Luke Cage saves the day (bulletproof skin and all that), with Murdock told to deal the finishing blow. Again brutal, Bendis is not above showing anybody hitting a woman (even a super-powered psycho) hard and it’s mostly Jessica Jones (“Hate the crazy skanks. Hate crazy!!”) who does it. Murdock now knows that The Kingpin is all out to get him.
In all this Bendis’s and Maleev’s story-telling is superb. Real life street talk, without the swearing, and a real life feel. This is helped greatly by Maleev’s art that involves taking tons of photographs of models and NY streets and locales and painting over them in a grainy, high contrast way with liberal use of a photocopier. A lot of people would say that this for an artist is cheating, but with the pseudo-realism, documentary style that Daredevil has these days it fits perfectly.
One of the most shocking scenes I’ve ever read in comics comes courtesy of Bullseye. Colin Farrell’s portrayal in the movie was a good one, but the comic book Bullseye has always been one of the costumed freaks that Daredevil comes up against (his mask had the bullseye icon on it, not the man). Bendis now takes from the movie and puts the icon directly onto the forehead with a tattoo and with Bullseye now down on his luck and needing a big score to put him back in the big time he offers Fisk the chance to take out Daredevil for good. Bullseye has killed two women in Murdock’s life, Elektra and Karen Paige, and when he threatens Murdock’s latest flame (“Why do all your girlfriends look like European super-models?” Foggy Nelson) Daredevil proceeds to give him the beating of his life all the time mocking him over his pathetic little secret origin (mother a prostitute, unknown father). Its then whilst Daredevil has Bullseye on the ground that Daredevil then proceeds to carve a real bullseye onto Bullseye’s forehead (“This circle is for Elektra! And this one is for Karen!!! And this centre point right here is for when you finally realize that no one cares!!! That I don’t care about you!! That Kingpin used you!! That you serve no purpose in this world!! That you mean nothing!! And when you FINALLY realize how pathetic and disgusting you REALLY are… And you FINALLY have the GUTS to do what you are begging ME to do FOR you…
When you FINALLY have the guts to END your miserable existence..!! HERE (pointing at the final circle)!! AIM TRUE. Aim to kill”).
Don’t tell me that anything from Kill Bill is better than that.
Bendis has one final beat of the drum when Daredevil decides to finally end it between the Kingpin and himself. Murdock knows that Fisk will never stop (and he won’t. Along with the mass execution of gangland bosses, in one final chilling scene Fisk orders the rape and murder of the wife of someone who stood up to him).That it’s always going to be this way unless he does something final about it, and that means beating Fisk into the ground which he promptly proceeds to do (with all the help of all the artists who have drawn Daredevil over the years). At the end, with The Kingpin bloodied and beaten to a pulp, Murdock pronounces himself the new Kingpin to the whole of Hell’s Kitchen.
Bendis and Mallev have, in just a few years, made Daredevil essential reading again. With solid story-telling, strong photo-journalistic art and a good ear for language, it is highly recommended.
Daredevil: Hardcore by Brian Bendis and Alec Maleev, published by Marvel Comics is available from all good comic book stores priced £9.95