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Man Without Fear #1 Review: Lacking more than fear

A back and forth issue fails to energize the beginning of Matt Murdock’s return.

In November, Charles Soule and Phil Noto ended their Daredevil run with issue #612 — the conclusion of their “Death of Daredevil” arc — in the most suitable fashion Daredevil creators can, making it as hard as possible for the next creative team to pick up what little is left of Matt Murdock and Daredevil’s life and craft a story from the pieces. That took the form of our red-horned hero diving in front of a truck and seemingly being left for dead. Surely, writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Marco Checchetto will have plenty to figure out when their run starts in February, and I have no doubt it will be easy going for them or Matt himself. In the meantime, however, Jed MacKay and Danilo S. Beyruth are teeing up the hero’s return with Man Without Fear, a five-part miniseries that details the challenges the partially-comatose Matt will face in the depths of his own mind and in returning to his own broken body that starts here with issue #1.

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How is it? Unfortunately, not very compelling.

Centered around an initially interesting back and forth: Foggy visiting Matt in the hospital — hoping that he’ll pull through — while Matt, clothed in the various Daredevil suits he’s donned throughout history, battles ghastly visions of death, demons, his own failures, and more in the depths of his mind, the narrative falls apart less than halfway through.

The caption work, matter-of-fact but eerie and grotesque is great – really leaning into the fear angle that the story, is going for: “That smell, it’s everywhere. Like a henhouse when a weasel’s gone mad with blood.” However, the dialogue, especially that within Matt’s own fever dream of sorts reads just like that, as if its pulled from a nonsensical dream. There’s a thin line between mystique and obfuscation, and the frustrating back and forth between Matt and the villain as the scenes change seemingly on a whim — only to be clarified at the last second to a kind of “oh, okay” resolution — is most definitely the latter. It feels weightless, and as if we’re only here to bide time until more serious hurdles are presented for DD to overcome (one might think that being comatose was enough to lean into as is).

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Beyruth’s artistic effort feels similarly unfinished and perfunctory. While the dueling villains of the issue are rendered fantastically, taut suits pinned on horns while flesh and skin hang above bone whites, everything else pales in comparison. The core idea of a pastiche of the character’s past isn’t bad, and Andres Mossa’s colors touch the various palates of the previous creator’s runs well, but the ultimate effect is muddled and lacking definition. Long sketchy lines and shading blend into each other and it’s hard to tell where one figure ends and the other begins. Certainly not helpful when the character anatomies and faces are inconsistent as they are.

All in all, while this issue serves an undeniably important function, and some of the tricks it tries out are cool, it fails to deliver on anything more than what feels like coloring in the lines because it doesn’t commit to them. The final cliffhanger of a panel is the most compelling bit here and hints at a better arc to come, but it’s a bit of bummer that this is the footing it started on.

Is it good?
A largely perfunctory and characterless next step for Daredevil, this issue tries out some cool tricks but fails to really commit to any of them.
MacKay's caption work is creepy and wondrous in its tone-setting -- you really feel the effects of Matt's nightmare taking hold.
The central villain(s) of the issue are rendered in a horrible, awe-inspiring acuity.
The dialogue is flat and meandering, if not entirely nonsensical at times.
All of the artistic effort here really pales in comparison to those villains, blending into a miasma of sameness.

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