The year was 1998. My favorite professional athlete, Shawn Kemp, had parted ways with my city to go play for a lesser team for more money. Bill Clinton denied that he had "sexual relations" with a former White House intern. I was just beginning to learn how disappointing real-life heroes could be. On a lighter note, I was playing a lot of Starcraft.
During that time, Wizard magazine (anyone remember that mag?) had a feature it ran every month where it laid out the "must-reads" every month. Beginning in November and well into the next year, there was a lot of good things being said about this book Daredevil and its writer Kevin Smith. At the time I had a limited budget so I kept primarily to DC, but the Guardian Devil story arc has long since been on my list of things to read. Almost 15 years later, I finally got around to it.
I still consider myself a relative newcomer to the Daredevil. Previous to this, I've read Daredevil: Yellow, Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller #2 - Volume 2, Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller #3 - Volume 3, Born Again, and Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. Guardian Devil is just the start of my goal to read the entire second volume, which includes the Bendis and Brubaker runs.
I'm going to be honest, I didn't fully enjoy Frank Miller's stuff prior to Guardian Devil. Mainly because it came across as pretty dated by the time I read it. I have no doubt that there's some interesting stories that are essential reading to any hardcore DD fan, but I just don't feel like it's aged that well compared to some other stuff put out by the same writer.
The reason I mention Miller, is because Kevin Smith's Guardian Devil is closely tied to a lot of the plot threads already developed by Miller. Much of Guardian Devil's punch loses its impact if the reader is unfamiliar with the characters and some of the back-story involved. In this sense, I didn't feel it was a true reboot even though the issues were renumbered to start with #1 again.
Guardian Devil is similar to Born Again in that Matt Murdock is suffering from a very pointed, personal attack from an external tormentor. The story has some dark, religious overtones which are prevalent throughout the story. To begin with, he's given the charge to take care of a baby who's presented to him as the Savior of the world. Once the action gets going, it rarely slows down and the momentum carries the story all the way to the final issue, which is devoted to the aftermath. Many quintessential DD characters make an appearance in Guardian Devil: Karen Page, Foggy Nelson, Black Widow, Bullseye, Kingpin, and even Sister Maggie Murdock.
Some people feel like Joe Quesada's art is a mixed bag, but I actually quite enjoyed it. It definitely has a cartoony feel to it and at times character expressions are little off-putting, but overall I think his art on this book was solid and at times beautiful to look at. While not quite on the same level as a Greg Capullo, the art reminded me of him because of the "dark meets cartoony" feel.
Some long-time fans of DD have told me that Kevin Smith's writing wasn't always true to the characters. Based on what I've read so far, I can't say that I saw anything here that was jarring. He does use a lot of talking bubbles, but unlike other older books it doesn't feel that the dialogue is out of place here. The beginning of the story is just aces - very compelling stuff. Smith may have been somewhat new to mainstream comics when he wrote this, but I feel that he ought to be commended for what he accomplished with this story - an entertaining tale that establishes the status quo for years to come.
Black Widow plays more of a supporting role in this story, but I have to say that Smith's treatment of Natasha has very much increased my interest in the character. She's given a lot of good speaking lines in this story and I'm interested to see how her character is utilized for the rest of the volume.
Ok, I need to address what happens with Mysterio. I know a lot of people weren't pleased with the way this story was wrapped up, and I have to agree that much of it felt tacked on. Not to mention almost the entirety of issue #7 is listening to Mysterio connect the mile-wide plot threads together. At first when I read this, my thought was "What a copout! He's not even a Daredevil villain! How could all this life-altering stuff that has happened to DD be the result of this simpleton?"
On further reflection however, I've come to realize that Mysterio's motivations are actually pretty realistic. In a world where we've seen multiple social misfits shoot up schools and movie theaters in an effort to be noticed, Mysterio's thinking makes much more sense. It's often the sad and pathetic who bring about the most pain to those around them, and sometimes it's for something as simple as recognition.
I also appreciated that an entire issue was devoted to wrapping up the story. Some major stuff happens here, and it's nice to see how all the different characters are affected. The appearance of Spider-Man at the end was also nice to see.
While entertaining, the story feels kind of out there (even for a comic book). It's going to ask you to suspend your disbelief and it doesn't do a lot to regain it. To some, the ending will feel cheap and tacked-on. Plot-wise, it kind of is.
As I briefly mentioned before, many people have criticized Smith's writing for being too heavy-handed in this story. Frankly, I didn't feel that way. I'm also currently revisiting Kurt Busiek's Avengers run. Now THAT series has some serious text bubbles. Combined with Quesada's art, I think there's still a lot to enjoy here for the modern comic book reader. If you're interested in Daredevil, this isn't a terrible place to start, but I'd highly recommend that you read Frank Miller's stuff first since there's several nods to it throughout this. If you don't want to go back that far however, you'll probably still be ok.
I enjoyed Guardian Devil quite a bit and would award it 4 out of 5 stars. -1 for the handling of the overall plot, but it's still a solid entry in Daredevil lore.