Boiling Over:
In Which Fiore Sort of Defends Bendis’ Daredevil for a Second Time, Whilst Becoming More and More Convinced that he will never read the book in Question!

(Soundtrack: The Bobbyteens — Cruisin’ For A Bruisin’)

This little rant has nothing to do with comics (some would argue that nothing I write has much of anything to do with the medium–and they may well be right–but I know my American lit goddamnit!) and everything to do with a critique of a specific TPB… Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Adam Stephanides back to the program!

Two things bothered me about this post.

Here’s number one:

Well, I finally read Daredevil: King of Hell’s Kitchen, the trade paperback collecting the arc of which Daredevil #56 was the first issue. And I’m sorry to disappoint anybody looking for blood, but I didn’t hate it. Which is not to say that I liked it, or would be willing to spend money for it; but I have to confess that I found it mildly interesting. In any case, whether because this time I knew not to expect anything like real literature, or because right now I don’t feel compelled to be an aesthetic missionary, I have no urge to dissect King of Hell’s Kitchen the way I did its first few pages.

“Real Literature”, Adam? With apologies to Foreigner (and Kathleen Hanna, who, as “Julie Ruin”, did an awesome cover of the bloated track I’m about to allude to)–I wanna know what that is… Please, O reluctant missonary, don’t leave savages like myself to burn in our ignorance!

What distinguishes “real literature” from its opposite?

But here’s what really bugged me:

In issue #59, one of the yakuza says “Killing an American hero? This has never been done.” Bendis’s overall aim seems to be to combine superheroes with the hardboiled city-as-cesspool school of crime writing (viz. Milla’s speech about how “the city” has taken everything away from Matt); and this latter presupposes an amoral cosmos. On the other hand, to state that heroes never die implies a cosmos that’s fundamentally moral. You can’t have a hardboiled crime story in which it’s guaranteed that heroes never die: like the proverbial irresistible force and immovable object, these two can’t both exist in the same universe. (Please note that I’m not objecting on the grounds that it’s unrealistic; I have no desire to revisit that argument.)

“You can’t have a hardboiled crime story in which it’s guaranteed that heroes never die.”

What are you talking about man? Can you possibly be unaware that just about all of the important items in the hardboiled canon come to us via indestructible first-person narrators? (who’ve obviously survived whatever ordeal they are describing!) Are you confusing hard-boiled literature with films like Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard? Sure, James M. Cain wrote the way you describe–but Cain is a pretty minor figure when compared to the true masters of the genre–Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler (with Ernest Hemingway lurking on the more “respectable” fringe of the movement). By your definition none of these writers is “hardboiled”! As a person who has read each of their novels several times, and obsessed upon the hard-boiled aesthetic for years, I just could not let this pass! From what Adam himself has revealed about the series, it sounds to me as if Bendis has got the genre’s cosmology down cold. These stories dramatize the moral stalemate–it’s protagonist vs. corruption, and neither the hero nor the “darkness” ever wins out…(sometimes–fairly often in Hammett, actually–the hero becomes implicated in the corruption, but it never crushes him, or his capacity to pass judgment on the world!) Chandler conceived of his protagonist–Philip Marlowe–as a modern-day knight, incapable of successfully completing his quest of purifying the world, but absolutely dedicated to his knightly praxis…almost out of spite! Sounds a lot like the superhero genre no? (Especially at its most Ditkoesque) I’ve been saying that for years!

Good Evening Friends!



  1. Thanks for the heads-up. As to your objections:

    1) Yes, “real literature” was an unfortunate phrase to use. I should have said something like “anything of aesthetic value.”

    2) True, Hammett’s narrators don’t die. But they could have died: no moral principle in Hammett’s universe guaranteed that Sam Spade wouldn’t die, just as his partner did, whereas there is such a moral principle in Bendis’s universe. (Supporting characters die, but they’re on a lower plane of existence.) That’s the way I remember it, at least. Chandler I don’t remember too well, and you may be right about Marlowe (iirc, in creating Marlowe Chandler was deliberately departing from Hammett and other contemporary tough-guy writers). But my gut feeling is still that what Bendis does with Daredevil is different from what Chandler did with Marlowe.

    Come to think of it, in the Spenser books (by Robert Parker) that I’ve read, Spenser floats above the mundane world in the same way that Daredevil does in Bendis. Which may have been one reason why I disliked them.

    Note also that I said “heroes,” not “hero.” It’s not just one person whose survival is guaranteed in Bendis, it’s a whole class of people.

    “These stories dramatize the moral stalemate–it’s protagonist vs. corruption, and neither the hero nor the “darkness” ever wins out…” Not Bendis, at least not the Bendis that I’ve read. Those are all about the hero whupping the darkness’s ass.

    By the way, you never explained what it was about my post that convinced you that you will never read the book in question. It sounds like my post made you think more favorably of it, if anything.

    –Adam Stephanides

  2. “Not Bendis, at least not the Bendis that I’ve read. Those are all about the hero whupping the darkness’s ass.”

    But Adam–how could this possibly be, when we know there’s always next issue? Squadron Supreme deals with the consequences of a <>real superheroic attempt to “whup the darkness’s ass”…and the results are not good!

    I disagree with you about Hammett–his protagonists never seem to me to be in danger, even when, as the Continental Op often does!–they wade into melees composed of several hundred thugs! Sure, Archer dies in Maltese Falcon, but Archer is the ultimate bit player… He certainly cannot be confused with a “protagonist”!

    I think we can agree, however, on Spenser novels–and this (+ the fact that I read Who Killed Retro Girl? and thought it was lame) may be why I’m inclined to take your assessment of the actual merits of Bendis’ work at face-value, even if I disagree with the ways in which you’ve expressed your disaproval! As a devotee of Hammett (especially!) and Chandler, I just expect a lot from this genre, and “mastering the cosmology” doesn’t getcha anywhere with me if you don’t build stylishly enough upon those foundations!

  3. I don’t know how Bendis’s DD played out, or will play out, in the long term. But, as I said in my original post, the climaxes to both the “King of Hell’s Kitchen” arc and the arc which preceded it emphasize the ease with which Daredevil (and pals, in the former case), not only crushes but humiliates the villains. That doesn’t seem to me like “dramatiz[ing] the moral stalemate … [where] neither the hero nor the ‘darkness’ ever wins out.”

    And just because “there’s always next issue,” it doesn’t follow that the comic portrays a moral stalemate. In 1960s Weisinger-era Superman comics, Lex Luthor would always be back, no matter how many times he was defeated; but that didn’t mean that Superman was incapable of defeating evil. On the contrary, Luthor came back just so he could be defeated again: in order to reaffirm the triumph of good over evil, one might say (if you wished to apply such high-faluting concepts to Weisinger’s Superman).

    –Adam Stephanides

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