{Medusa’s Gaze} “Daredevil” by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera (2012)

Dallas Fender: So many of my favourite books have been graced by your contributions and doomed by your departure. Why so footloose?

Paolo Rivera: There’s only been one title that I actually left, and that was to pursue other goals (and it did just fine without me).

Dallas Fender: Perhaps “doomed” was too strong a word. Daredevil prospered with & without your pencils, but issues 1-3 were exemplary.

Paolo Rivera: I hope to come back some day, but there’s a big personal project that I’ll finally start drawing next year.

Dallas Fender: Is the commitment to one title too arduous a task or is that just the mode in contemporary comics?

Paolo Rivera: I could do it if I were faster. I’d have to simplify my style or spend less time researching… but that’s also what I enjoy.

Leonardo Da Vinci spent 12 years finessing the lips of the Mona Lisa. The Beatles released an album for every year of their existence, sometimes two. It took James Joyce 17 years to follow up Ulysses with another novel. John Ford is said to have directed 140 films from 1917 to 1966.

Whose to say how artists work and how they should work? Some artists work too much, like Woody Allen or Brian Michael Bendis, stretching themselves way too thin, perhaps for the sake of staying in practice, or because they enjoy cashing out handsome royalty checks. Who knows? While others slumber in endless day waiting for the seeds they have sown to sprout (I’m looking at you, Terrence Malick; 20 years between films!).

Paolo Rivera is not an extreme case. He’s an up-and-coming penciler, who has done work for Marvel Comics, mostly covers, but also some interior art, most notably in the pages of the recent Daredevil relaunch written by Mark Waid. He’s neither prolific or lazy. But he is talented. The new era of Daredevil wouldn’t have been half as successful without his contributions. To these eyes, Rivera’s early issue renderings of “The Man Without Fear” are nearly as iconic as David Mazzucchelli’s stylish illustrations from the immortal Born Again arc, who coincidentally counselled Rivera at the Rhode Island School of Design.

It seems a modicum of the master’s genius has passed to the student. Rivera has taken up the gauntlet of bringing Daredevil into a new decade with a new, devil-may-care attitude. As a successor to the great tradition of Daredevil artists, his pencils are faithful and reminiscent of the canonical past; there are alliterative sparks of Miller and Mazzucchelli in his lively renderings, particles of Colan and Wood; yet, they’re also rife with decorous contempo invention, altering the mythos in slight, but significant relief.

Now, I wasn’t going to get into it, because it’s easy, and easy is sometimes synonymous with lazy, still it must be said that Rivera has taken quite an imaginative liberty with Daredevil’s radar sense, which is a good thing, because he has re-invigorated the concept in a thoughtful way, making it his own, making it interesting again for the first time in a long time.

Over the years, Daredevil’s radar sense has fallen prey to Medusa’s gaze. It has become a crutch for writers and artists to express something of the familiar. Where once it was descriptive of Daredevil’s POV, a visual flourish that briefly lead us into a thrilling first-person perspective, it has now become cliche, a shorthand optic reminder of Daredevil’s blindness, of his singular way of viewing the world; in the hands of unimaginative artists, the radar shift is an ornament as dull and unmoving as sooty Christmas lights from the previous year. Wiping the bulbs clean will not do. We have to get back to basics: why were the lights strung-up in the first place? why go into a blind man’s POV at all?

The answer is to provide depth and context. Depth to Daredevil’s extraordinary ability to “visualize” the world in the dark and context to the peculiarities of that vision. Matt Murdock summarizes the architecture of his interior world succinctly in a back story to Daredevil#1. He says “my brain is constantly pinging my surroundings in a 360 degree environment.” In other words it is like a bat’s sense of sonar (Wikipedia has a wonderful article on animal echolocation that seems legitimately researched). He describes it in down-to-Earth terms for the layman,”Radar sense feels like walking through a room and touching everything at once,” and that his brain “has developed a language of it’s own to interpret physical things.”

This is Waid’s philosophy of Rivera’s “wire-frame” model we see in action during issue one of the relaunch. Wire-frame is a geometric representation of 3-D space. A wireframe model represents the shape of solid object by its characteristics lines and points. This seems an advancement of the traditional “silhouetted” perspective put forward by other Daredevil artists. It may sound like splitting hairs to an outsider, but for baptized adepts it can get quite scholarly (the website “The Other Murdock Papers” is a great resource for all sorts of Daredevil material, tall and short, and I’ve tried not to crib to heavily from my brief readings, which I suppose is why I credit the authors of the site here. Not to mention Wikipedia: an invaluable treasure to casual know-it-all’s the world over).

Fundamentally, the “wire-frame” is a tactile metaphor for Waid’s and Rivera’s rejuvenation of Daredevil. It represents everything that is best about their approach: it is spry, exhilarating, dashing, substantial, state-of-the-art without sacrificing what is vital and time-honoured in the mythos.

It took Stanley Kubrick 15 months to get Eyes Wide Shut in the can. It took Brian Wilson 40 years to ease out Smile. There was a 23 year span between Goethe’s Faust I and II. And Paolo Rivera spent 70 hours working on the cover for Daredevil #10.