There are few characters with more great tales than Daredevil, and with the Netflix series drumming up so much buzz, this is the perfect time to take a look back and boil down his epic, 50-year history into a handful of the pure essentials. Whether you’re halfway through your second binge of the series or you can’t get past the 2003 movie’s Evanescence training montage, these are the stories to check out if you want to get up to speed on the Man Without Fear.
Gangwar by Frank Miller and Klaus Johnson (Vol. 1 Issues 170-172)
These issues probably go best with the Netflix show, as they depict the first meeting of Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk, the latter of whom had been a Spider-Man villain until Miller reimagined the Kingpin as Daredevil’s archenemy, a cunning yet human colossus with a vulnerability on which Vincent D’Onofrio capitalized to bring us the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best villain to date. And it all started in these pages.
The Elektra Saga by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson (Vol. 1 Issues 168, 174-182)
The highlight of Miller’s initial run (which inspired the 2003 film…for better or worse) concerns the tragedy of Elektra Nachios, Matt Murdock’s ex lover-turned-ninja assassin. Their largely antagonistic relationship turns deadly as the Kingpin sets them against each other, resulting in a series of some of the best fight scenes ever drawn. The climax in issue 181, told from the perspective of marksman supervillain Bullseye, is one of the most iconic single issues of all time.
Born Again by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli (Vol. 1 Issues 227-233)
And we say farewell to the Miller era of the character with this masterful story, as Kingpin discovers Daredevil’s true identity and sets about dismantling his life piece by piece. Miller explores Matt’s Catholicism and takes narrative plate spinning to new heights with a braided narrative that gets just shy of dizzying but never falters (except in its treatment of former love interest Karen Page) thanks to Mazzucchelli’s incredible use of space. The last two issues are technically a different story, but they tie up some of Born Again’s loose ends and feature the Avengers in a brief but awe-inspiring cameo.
Guardian Devil by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada (Vol. 2 Issues 1-8)
A controversial arc that remains essential to the history of the character, Kevin Smith (yes, that Kevin Smith) kicks off the second volume of Daredevil with a sort of metacommentary on much of what’s come before, as we see Matt brought low from a confluence of tragedy that pushes him to the breaking point. The eventual reveal of the true villain couldn’t be more out of left field, but the consequences of these issues reverberate to this day.
Out by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev (Vol. 2 Issues 32-40)
Bendis and Maleev sought to get Daredevil out of Miller’s shadow by reimagining the inhabitants of Hell’s Kitchen as the players in a noir crime saga. It works entirely because of Maleev’s art; if the Godfather had been a comic, it would probably look like this. Their biggest change to the status quo comes here, with Matt’s identity as Daredevil outed to the public in a way that’s treated with all the weight such a revelation would actually bring.
The Murdock Papers by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev (Vol. 2 Issues 76-81)
The Bendis/Maleev run comes to a head as the Kingpin promises some zealous federal agents the evidence to put Matt away for good, which causes Elektra, the Black Widow, and Bullseye all to converge in the battle for Daredevil’s fate. Not to spoil how well this turns out for everyone, but it’s followed immediately by…
The Devil in Cell Block D by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark (Vol. 2 Issues 82-87)
Bendis dropped the mic by putting Matt Murdock in prison, and Ed Brubaker gets major kudos for picking it right back up with this killer arc that sees Daredevil locked away with his worst enemies. The result is so outright fun that the only shame is Brubaker didn’t keep the devil caged for a few more issues. But he’s forgiven, if only for the insane team-up that rounds out this story.
Daredevil vs. Ikari by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and Javier Rodriguez (Vol. 3 Issues 23-27)
The still-ongoing Waid era of the character is marked by a return to his swashbuckling roots, as Matt Murdock willfully ignores most of his past trauma and commits to living in the moment. It’s fun without ever dismissing the weight of what Matt’s been through, and it’s never more thrilling than this climax to the first couple of years, which sees Daredevil battling his dark reflection as the mastermind behind much of his recent struggles is finally revealed. Samnee’s design for a sort of “evil Daredevil” is perfect, and their battle across issue 25 is incredible work all around.
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