Written by: Kevin Smith
Art by: Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti
Individual issues: 1 November 1998 – 1 June 1999
Collection: 7 April 2010
Marvel/180 pages/digital copy/$14.99
Guardian Devil is a leap forward from Daredevil’s origin. The character has already grown from Frank Miller’s (Sin City) stories in the 80’s becoming a darker, more mature hero.
The story depicts Daredevil as one of Marvel’s most vulnerable heroes whose flaws are visible throughout. He is placed in unexplainable situations and no longer knows what to believe. He questions his faith and his friends, and does a balancing act of good and evil.
Part one sets the tone for one of the more serious and grittier Daredevil tales. Our first sight of Matt is demonic. His face is pale-white and close to twisted. This is after his breakup with Karen Page which leads the hero into a downward spiral. He gets beaten up badly and at times appears helpless. When troubles become too big to handle, it’s only human to turn to a figure larger then life. The plot thickens when Daredevil is left to care for a baby who is said to be the messiah bringing either salvation or doom.
Daredevil being a devout Catholic, the story draws from the Book of Revelations about the return of the messiah. Although the overarching theme is metaphysical and leaves the characters to wonder about believing a prophecy, the story also brings existential threats such as Foggy’s arrest, infanticide, and AIDS.
Supporting characters such as Karen Page, Sister Maggie, and a hired villain all leave a strong mark. While a couple of notable Marvel figures make cameos, the villainous mastermind is left in the story’s mystery.
The story’s revelation, however, falls flat. The transition of themes feels unwelcome after issues of escalation. Even if it tied up loose ends, it didn’t seem to match the build up of one of Marvel’s most compelling story arcs.
This is a wordy book, yet Kevin Smith (Green Arrow: Sounds of Violence) does a fine job carrying the writing with shining moments in monologues from Karen and Matt and successfully evokes themes of theology and morality. Karen’s opening letter to Matt was a beautiful lure and read like dialogue from a real relationship. On the technical side, there are a couple of sentences that lack a letter or a word.
The art tries to be realistic following the story’s tension. Although it can look a bit outdated, it holds up to today’s standards occasionally managing to affect such as Daredevil’s towering shadow in the end of part one.
Panels come in a range of sizes while splashes and spreads are used sparingly but potently. The most memorable of which is the splash of emotion at the end of part five. Daredevil’s readings of heartbeats are nicely visualised across panels. Gutters are artful and add another layer to the scene from touches of 16th century theological imagery to stars and interwoven patterns of the Sanctum Sanctorum.
Daredevil cannot find a moment of relief in either of his lives. He becomes the guardian devil of a baby whose role is a complete mystery. But can he be trusted? It doesn’t take long for the book to become a page turner as we watch The Man Without Fear slowly unravel.
Review Score: 9/10
Reviewed by Stephen Suminguit