Yet what many people don't know is who the follow up writer to Frank Miller was and what happened to the character next. Surely not an envious position, following Millers epoch making run, where not only were the intricacies of the character redefined, but also the look and feel of his world. A grossly unappreciated and overlooked arc, Ann Nocentis' run on Daredevil was the one that followed in the shadow of Millers and is one well worth delving into.
Truth be told, what actually followed were a couple of fill in stories with issues 234 and 235, but it was with issue 236 that Nocenti wrote her first Daredevil story proper (drawn by the legendary Barry Windsor-Smith) and only two issues later with issue 238 that she became the regular writer (featuring a VERY early cover from Arthur Adams).
Her begins were interesting, suffering from the usual verbosity that writers first tackling a new character suffer, but presenting a Daredevil who drew more from Frank Millers’ last Daredevil arc, involving the character Nuke and the hidden machinations of the government on its people, than from the previous dread machinations of the Stilt Man, which had stifled the character for years.
There is an air of paranoia and insecurity in these early stories, illustrated by the likes of Sal Buscema, Todd McFarlane (yes, THAT Todd McFarlane), Louis Williams, Keith Giffen and Rick Leonardi. Some of these issues are good, but for the most part they tended to steer towards more traditional superhero fare, albeit with a decidedly more mature bent. It was with issue 250 though that Nocenti really hit her stride, perhaps inspired by her pairing with artist John Romita Jr., a pairing that would last the majority of her run. John Romita Jr., of course, is the son of the legendary John Romita, and having followed in his fathers’ footsteps had worked on everything from Spider-Man to Iron Man and the X-Men. With the decidedly darker tone of Daredevil though and coupled with the beautifully expressive and atmospheric inks of Al Williamson, Romitas' art took on a different, more accomplished tone than previous and with Nocenti, began to craft a Daredevil that was more original than what might have otherwise been.
Even when burdened with the compulsory ‘event crossover’ issues, such as Fall Of The Mutants or Inferno, the team found a way to use the event to elaborate more on the current tale. It was through this run that Matt Murdock went back to the streets, operating a free legal aid clinic in Hell’s Kitchen. It was this run that introduced Bullet, Ammo, Bushwacker and, of course, Typhoid Mary who would go on to not only be a fan favourite, but also to break the hearts of not only Daredevil, but the Kingpin.
One of the highlights, though, was one of the truly great confrontations between the Man Without Fear and the Punisher.
A Man Without Fear
Ultimately, the main crux of the arc is almost a mirror of Frank Millers’ BORN AGAIN, which sees Nocenti and Romita Jr. strip Daredevil of everything he loves, including his standing, his sanity and his true love, a seemingly recurring theme in Daredevils life to this day. This leads Matt Murdock on an exodus, a walkabout of lost purpose and empty revenge, which turns, in a somewhat surreal fashion, into a super powered road trip. The later stories trip over themselves frequently, with the introduction of such characters as the Inhumans, Silver Surfer, Ultron and even Doctor Doom threatening to topple the normally grounded tales of Daredevil into the realms of the ridiculous. These touches are redeemed somewhat by the main threat of a truly evil Mephisto and the introduction of his son, Blackheart, yet the story seems to become increasingly disjointed as John Romita Jr. wrapped his run on the book.
Ann Nocentis’ Daredevil run worked best when dealing with the existentialism of life on the edge in the devils clothes and the minutiae of life in Hell’s Kitchen. It sparked with a great support cast, my favourite being Butch, the crash helmet wearing street kid who is the one, truly unbreakable character in the whole book. Talk about a kid with no fear!
Daredevil, though surrounded by demons and fighting through hell itself at times, has rarely been portrayed more realistically as a character, nor more flawed. Here is a truly fascinating protagonist and in Nocentis’ writing, we see a forbearer of the style of writing that was later to become mainstream fodder; involved, mature, gritty and humane stories of real consequence to the character and the readers themselves.
It was recently announced that Ann Nocenti wouold be returning to comics after a long hiatus as the new writer of Green Arrow. If it even only touches on the highs of her Daredevil run, it will be a welcome return.