Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Year With Marvel: Miniseries Of My Youth Revisited

Last week I shared my recollections of two 1993 miniseries that made a big impression on me when I was a teenager: GAMBIT by Howard Mackie, Lee Weeks, and Klaus Janson and DAREDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. I reread both series right after the post went live, and I’m ready to weigh in on ‘em from an adult perspective.

GAMBIT, as previously stated, changed my life. It taught me the joys of contemporary superhero comics, introduced me to the X-Men, gave me another taste of New Orleans (a city I was already well on the way to loving), foreshadowed my adult preoccupation with (fictional) thieves and assassins, and placed some small emphasis on cards.

And does it hold up?

Surprisingly, yes.

Cover of Gambit #1, featuring the title character leaping around his name in enormous gold letters against a black background.
From a contemporary perspective, GAMBIT is rather messy. Mackie’s captions employ third person more often than not, and the narrative is a mix of necessary exposition and unnecessary description of what’s happening in the panel; a pre-2000s comics foible that irks me whenever I encounter it. Weeks and Janson’s art is distinctly early-mid 90s, too. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does date the comic at first glance.

And yet, I can still see exactly why fifteen-year-old me loved GAMBIT so very, very much. Even though it’s rooted in the X-Men’s wider chronology, with the “See COMIC TITLE #whatever” footnotes to prove it, it crafts its own standalone world and lays some excellent hooks as it rolls along. Rereading it, I remembered how Teenage Me wanted to know every little thing about the Thieves Guild, the Assassins Guild, and the dark bargain they struck so long ago, and my desire for more was a direct result of how much good stuff the creators lace throughout the text.

Most of the connections to the larger X-Men storyline come in the form of back-and-forth between Gambit and Rogue, and here, too, the creators reeled me in hard and fast. There’s enough on the page to establish that these two have A History (caps necessary), plus plenty of forward motion on their relationship--not all of it to either party’s advantage. It was my introduction to what I’ve always thought of as one of the Great Comics Romances (something I forgot to mention during last week’s post), and it was a good ‘un.

GAMBIT also strikes that fantasy-science fiction balance comics can be so very good at. The X-Men live in an SFnal world rife with advanced technology, but the Guilds deal in territory that could just as easily be magical, if it’s not science so advanced that we might as well call it magic.

It captivated me when I was fifteen, and even though I can no longer love it the way I once did, I’m mighty glad I reread it.

Cover of Daredevil #1, featuring a redheaded boy wearing dark glasses. He cradles the body of a dead man. The title and a red outline of a man wearing a horned superhero costume hover in the background.
DAREDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR didn’t mean as much to Teenage Me, perhaps because I didn’t choose it myself. It was a gift from my father, who found it at the grocery store, of all places, and brought it home because he knew of my love for the discounted comics bundles that were so ubiquitous in the mid- to late-90s.

And yet it, too, became a touchstone series for me. Which is sort of weird, because it turns out I barely remembered it at all.

The Hell’s Kitchen heat wave I made so much of last week? Is barely anything. The neighbourhood’s “extreme danger” also plays as far less important until Kingpin takes control fairly far into the miniseries.

Which is another thing: I’d forgotten how very much this is a Highlights of Daredevil’s Origin sort of a production. We have the accident which blinded him and gave him his powers (via radioactive goo, not the acid I remembered). We have his time with Stick (who I’d totally forgotten and didn’t recognize when he appeared on the Netflix show), his emerging friendship with Foggy2 (another person who didn’t even sort of stay with me), his relationship with Elektra (who I did remember! Go me!), and Kingpin’s eventual rise to power as a sex trafficker, among other things.

The series isn’t so much a story arc as a prelude. It tells us who Matt Murdock is, how he became Daredevil, and what he might do next.

It, like GAMBIT, does various 90s things that don’t always read smoothly to a contemporary reader; but it, like GAMBIT, mostly holds up. The narrative is expository but fairly tight, with fewer descriptions of what the reader can see for herself. The eventual shift from omniscient third person to Daredevil’s first person POV feels like a deliberate choice as he embraces his superheroic destiny. The art is dated yet evocative, with the fight scenes laid out with great care for the choreography. I was weirdly pleased, too, to see the same black mask ninja outfit Matt wears on the show plastered on the page.

It’s the sort of prequel that makes you want more. Had my library been in the comic book racket back then, I’d no doubt have rushed out and read more Daredevil the moment I finished it. Since my options were limited to whatever floppies I could find for reasonably cheap, I had to wait until the combined kick in the pants of Netflix and Marvel Unlimited.

And there we have it. Two miniseries I remembered vividly but imperfectly, and which hold up surprisingly well despite their foibles.


Should you wish to explore either series, you can do so in the following ways:

Alas, GAMBIT has never been collected, unless it’s tucked away in some massive omnibus or other. It’s also unavailable for digital purchase either on comiXology or through Marvel’s web store, so Marvel Unlimited is your best, if not your only, option there.

I sold my own copies a while back at a very good profit, to a guy who talked to my father throughout the entire pick-up. Because it wasn’t like I was the one selling him a ginormous stack of comics or anything.

  1. Foggy story! When I first started the show, I was like, "The hell kind of a name is Foggy?" Then I remembered my name is Memory and I have no right to judge.

    Thanks to the miniseries, I now know his given name is Franklin, and I’m rather sad. Foggy was one of us weird name types; now he’s just a regularly-named guy with a nickname.

    Also! I’m crap at identifying male beauty, but I find the actor who plays Foggy very pretty, especially in the flashbacks where he’s got longer hair. Forever depressed Foggy cut his hair to fit in with Corporate America.

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