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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Cover Story - Top 20 Daredevil Covers

Edited by Robert Beach 

Yesterday marked the launch of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil season 2. I’ve already burned through the whole season, and I may do a review of the entire season. For now, I’d still like to get a Daredevil-themed article out there. Luckily, I’ve got this column. 

Yes it’s time to dive into the shallow end once more for a look at the life of the man without fear: Daredevil, showcasing the top 20 Daredevil covers culled from across the character’s massive history.  This is a big list, so let’s get started.

Something most fans might not know about Daredevil is that, for the longest time, Black Widow was a major facet of his universe and supporting cast. In fact, Black Widow’s move over to A-list Avenger is actually a very recent development. For most of the character’s run, she served as a deadly romantic foil to Daredevil, mainly owing to her Russian roots placing her squarely on the opposite side of the iron curtain. Remember, a ton of Marvel’s iconic output comes from during the Cold War and was specifically meant to be influenced by it. It made sense Black Widow used to serve as a less than savory character. 

History aside, this cover is just magnificent, a great use of symbolic imagery with the web background. I really like how much Daredevil looks lost and blind in this visual set-up, though I’m not terribly certain what Black Widow is meant to be doing to him or why her hands are so incredibly tiny. Still, great use of negative space and a striking image to boot.

A more recent cover, but damn if it isn’t incredibly memorable. I actually first saw this comic at my local store, and it’s stuck with me ever since. In case it’s not obvious, that’s Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk shaking hands with Daredevil in one of the coolest team-ups of the century. I admit I’m a sucker for villain/hero team-ups, yet there’s an extra amount of weight behind this particular collaboration.  Kingpin’s war against Daredevil in the ‘80s during the Born Again comic arc has become one of the great modern classics of the comic genre. 

Kingpin utterly destroyed Matt Murdock’s life during that period in one of the harshest and grittiest comic stories ever put to paper.  That kind of weight loomed large over this cover, enhanced by the graveyard setting given the people Kingpin put in the ground during Born Again. Add in that really snazzy and evocative title, ‘Return of the King’ and this serves as a great example of comic history used to create a new iconography. 

An inherent truth of this moment in America history is that incidents of heroes fighting or defying police have taken on a very different meaning. After nearly 2 years in what seems like an endless tide of police misconduct stories flooding the airwaves, the police can’t help but exist in a different light for fiction. This cover is one of several perfect summations of that change over. 

The design of the police here is already conceived of to imply faceless authority, brutality, and mistrust. The fact that New York’s finest are trying to beat a local blind superhero lawyer to death carries a certain degree of chilling and uncomfortable weight to it in the mid 2010s that it didn’t in the ‘80s. This was always a great a cover, but its place in the modern pop conception of law enforcement raised it from well-crafted visual to chillingly plausible representation. 

I’ll say this for Original Sin, Marvel’s already forgotten 2014 event comic, it gave us some truly amazing comic covers. Daredevil’s Catholicism has slowly evolved to be a major defining aspect of the character’s identity since its inception in the ‘80s. For the most part, heroic faith is fairly absent from character identities, usually falling into the vague “Christian” demographic if stated at all. Having a hero who was explicitly catholic was and still kind of is a unique function. This cover serves as a really interesting exploration of that idea along with an excellent use of negative space. 

I haven’t read the comic, so I don’t really know what grave secret about Daredevil’s personal history is being intoned by this coven of nuns. But the fact that a secret is involved is a major deal. This visual could easily imply messiah-esque imagery or some kind of support structure of faith; however, they add in the fact it is inherently tied to personal secrets. Suddenly, it becomes a wall of silence. It’s a great example of using the event comic branding to enhance a cover rather than just promote it.

This one may not be a spectacular cover, but I’d be remise not to bring it up given its place in the Daredevil pantheon. As the above titles suggest, this was a major issue. It's a climax point for the Born Again arc I’ve alluded to on several occasions and the cementing of one-off bad guy Bullseye as Daredevil’s arch-nemesis. This is the comic where Elektra dies. 

As far as cover conception goes, it’s a pretty solid approach. The looming figure of Daredevil in the background juxtaposes really well to the “action pose” visions of Bullseye and Elektra. The bright yellow background is a little garish and unnecessary, though as far as legendary comics go, this is a pretty solid cover. I think my favorite goofy addition has to be that Daredevil’s costume has eyebrows on it for some reason. That’s pretty great. 

Last November, Marvel premiered its all-time best production with Jessica Jones on Netflix. A big part of that show’s success was David Tennant as series villain Zebediah Kilgrave. Kilgrave didn’t actually start as a Jessica Jones villain. He originally popped up fighting Daredevil as the Purple Man. Eventually, Mark Waid came up with the idea that Purple Man had fathered a whole brood of bastard children, each inheriting his mind control powers. Together, they became the Purple Children, a deadly group of creepy, mind-control brats that spawned this amazing cover.

Firstly, I absolutely love the blend of literal and figurative visuals on display here. Purple Man’s face forming the base building for this adventure to be built on is a work of genius. What really sells this is the creepy rendering of those kids in the background. The shadow work and lighting here is phenomenal and really highlights their creepy, blank soulless eyes. It's very much in line with the Purple Children’s Village of the Damned inspired roots. Throw in Daredevil about to walk right into the abyss and this is a pretty terrifying image. 

Oh, hey, we actually get ‘Born Again’ in the title this time around.  Like I said, Born Again was a major game-changing storyline for how much it featured a villain looking to dismantle the hero’s life as a way of taking him down. Preceding this, we’d had deadly bad guys before certainly, but they were always focused on beating the hero or eeking out some moral victory of deadly wound. The thrill of Born Again was the villain pretty much won. Kingpin figured out Daredevil’s secret identity then systematically destroyed his life in excruciating and incredibly petty detail. 

This cover is the perfect summation of that idea with Matt Murdock small and literally broken caught in the shadow of the man without fear that he used to be. Hell, they even managed to fit a nun on page to double down on the Catholic symbolism that was already informing so much of this concept. If rock bottom could be perfectly summed up visually, it’d probably look a lot like this. 

Another incredibly endearing cover from Mark Waid’s excellent Marvel NOW run on Daredevil. Waid has talent to spare, but something I’ve always loved about his work on Daredevil is how much he eschewed the trendier stories of the character. Stories like Frank Miller’s Born Again or even Ed Brubaker’s mid-2000s stuff diminishes for a series grounded much more in Daredevil’s ‘60s and ‘70s stories. Covers like this serve as a perfect example of that brand of retro affection with modern day storytelling acumen.  

Everything about this cover is built from a Silver Age conception where covers served as crazy images meant to entice readers to pick them up. In fact, I could probably dedicate a whole other Cover Story to covers where heroes are beaten up by children. This trope is so common. The excellent art and color work on display here combined with the minimalist visualization makes for a deeply memorable image that in no way feels old or dated or even retro. 

This is probably the earliest Daredevil cover to make this list. And man is it visually impressive and modernistic for something coming out so early. This visual make-up and framing speaks way more to a modern sensibility, especially through the use of representative art and iconography as key informing aspects of the cover. Actually, this cover represents a perfect blend of Daredevil symbolism in that it features both legal symbols like the scales and religious references with that “in the beginning” inter-title. Obviously, this cover is making reference to Daredevil’s original yellow costume, something modern comics like to pretend never happened. That image of Daredevil holding the scales of justice is just beautiful and even the yellow costume looks pretty badass in this particular context. 

Told you I could make a whole separate list of “hero gets beat-up by children” covers. To be fair, these children aren’t actively beating Daredevil up. They still seem to be threatening him pretty badly. I haven’t actually read this issue, so I don’t know why this horde of creepy identical kids are swarming Daredevil like a horde of Borg drones. I’m willing to bet it’s pretty nefarious whatever the reason. 

This is probably the weirdest ‘80s Daredevil cover to be featured here, and one of the greater throwbacks to the ‘60s that decade produced. This is a great example of that “so strange it must be read” ‘60s aesthetic. But more than that, the inclusion of speech balloons is a very ‘60s affect. I’m still not a big fan of the yellow gradient background. I’m not really sure how Daredevil is meant to be standing, but this is still a pretty neat exploration of classic form through ‘80s aesthetics and focus. 

Another great cover from the later Mark Waid era, specifically drawn from the time after Daredevil moved from New York to San Francisco. Aside from being a brilliant visualization of the creepy nature of surveillance in the digital age, this cover also ties into my all time favorite Daredevil bad guy: the Owl. Owl tends to get overshadowed by Kingpin, and while I understand the metric there, I’m always glad whenever the Owl shows up to menace the man without fear. 

What really works here is that it plays on the Owl as a symbol of intelligence and, more importantly, knowledge. A lot of folks tend to slot Owl into a more bestial crime lord type position, so having him embrace the digital age as a creepy, yet opulent, information broker in the midst of silicon valley is a nice touch and very well realized in this cover. Additionally, the digital screen split here is thoroughly reminiscent of comic paneling, which is a clever parallel. 

One of the unique things about Daredevil is that he’s often had his identity be revealed.  Kingpin discovered his identity during Born Again, he was outed as a superhero during Marvel’s “Disassembled” universe shake-up. Then he revealed his identity himself while fighting the sons of the serpent during the Marvel NOW run. This cover comes from the time he was outed by the press, but denied the allegations. 

It’s a well-realized image, and I really like the red ink on black & white newspaper look that’s going on. Covers that looks like newspapers or magazine covers hold a major affection for me for how well they add to the illusion of this universe existing outside of simply what we see. So a cover featuring the greatest revelations of Matt Murdock fits very nicely into that particular aesthetic. 

I just love that inter-title “Again…The Punisher” as if this is such a common and disappointing occurrence the comic can’t even pretend to be shocked by it anymore. Punisher v. Daredevil is one of those mash-ups that I think gets a little overstated by geeks nowadays, but it’s still an interesting mash-up. It mainly works because they’re both characters more inclined to the dark and gritty corners of the comic universe. 

Throwing them against each other is a more natural combination than Punisher finding his way against Thor or Iron Man. Additionally, I really like the visual of Punisher shooting Daredevil right in the gut. You implicitly know Daredevil isn’t going to die here or anything, yet it’s still pretty striking thanks to the implications. Punisher’s whole thing is that he only kills people who deserve it, so what does that say about Matt Murdock?

As we continue to dig through the Daredevil iconography playbook, we come to the final element that informs a lot of his visual language: boxing. Most Daredevil fans, or at least people who saw the Netflix show, know that Daredevil’s dad was Battlin’ Jack Murdock, a New York boxer that was killed by the mob for refusing to take a dive. Given the criminal melodrama and catholic guilt elements defining Daredevil’s mythos, it only makes sense that boxing has come to be an important part of these visualizations.  

This is one of the best iterations of that particular idea, showcasing Daredevil bad guy Ikari. Ikari is basically evil Daredevil, possessing all of Murdock’s radar sense and heightened abilities only he can still see. Already, the costume is modeled on Daredevil’s early costume, but throwing in the boxing robe is just the icing on the cake of humiliation for poor, beleaguered Matt Murdock. They even finally managed to the get the yellow background color right. 

This is such a strange cover, but I absolutely love it.  Like a lot of covers we’ve got that Catholic inflected mythos going on with the “fall from grace” inter-title, but there’s a stark clarity to this cover that’s unique. A big part of this is the inversed colors and how most of the cover is made up of bright white space where we expect to see empty blackness or background areas. 

The color palette overall is just incredible. That mostly black and white inflection giving the thing a decidedly Sin City type vibe punctuated by the tiny splotch of red where Murdock is falling to his presumable death. Everything about this cover is a complete rejection of how Daredevil covers are normally composed. It doesn’t even look like a superhero comic, though it's something Image Comics might be putting out right now. 

Like I mentioned earlier, Bullseye wasn’t immediately popular or important to the Daredevil franchise. Prior to Frank Miller’s take over of Daredevil, Bullseye, much like Kingpin, was just a weird and low-rent bad guy that no one really cared about compared to Daredevil name foes like Mr. Hyde, the Owl, and Gladiator.  Covers like this are how the character went from no name C-lister to probably THE Daredevil villain alongside Kingpin. 

What’s more, this cover is a perfect externalization of how much Bullseye morphed from deadly assassin to living embodiment of psycho-murder and sadism. Seriously, the character before this point was just a weak sauce Deadshot/Deathstroke wannabes. Afterwards? Now he ranks alongside Green Goblin and Carnage as some of the deadliest and most disturbed individuals killing their way through any segment of the Marvel universe. There’s no better visualization of that change than this terrifying cover.

Probably one of the most well-realized emotionally devastating covers of its day. This was the follow up cover to Elektra and Bullseye’s final fight, and man, does it speak volumes. This was right around the time when major character death was relatively new in comic book circles with stuff like this and Death in the Family serving to seriously break the mold on what was tolerated as far as character death in comics goes. There had been major supporting character deaths as far back as Gwen Stacey, but this was different. Elektra wasn’t just “the hero’s girlfriend” she was a superhero in her own right and a major character for the series. 

Her death was decidedly gruesome and part of the continued downward spiral for Matt Murdock at the time.
Even putting all the context and significance aside, this is just a beautifully rendered cover. Daredevil and snow are a perfect juxtaposition, for the use of graveyards and crosses is a nice subtle nod to his faith (another aspect of this era that was revived for the Return of the King cover from spot 19).  Most of all, I like that we’re seeing Matt’s face in this cover. The hero and his mask is a discussion for another time. Its absence here makes this an open and intimate moment that feels almost voyeuristic; we’re not meant to be seeing this, seeing him this low. 

And you thought the last cover was sad. In all honesty, this is probably my all-time favorite Daredevil cover for how incredibly broken and human he seems within this context. It’s got all the same markings that made the previous cover great. Only here, they’re magnified a ton. This is every bit the intimate moment of weakness and devastation that we’re not meant to be witnessing without the comforting fig leaf of grief. This especially serves to highlight how much this period in comics was expecting the reader to have grown up. 

Previously, comic book heroes had been the adults in the comic/reader relationship, both figuratively and literally. They were the strong ones, the stoic ones, the ones on whom the leader leaned on for strength and fantasy. Here, for essentially the first time, we’re forced to confront the reality of imperfect, weak, human heroes. That moment of admitting fallibility and uncertainty to another person is the moment where you acknowledge that person as being mature and responsible enough to handle the burden of this knowledge. That’s what this cover does; it says “you’re an adult, we can trust you to see this.” 

Another stolen moment only this time with the emotions completely reversed.  In so many ways this cover sums up the best of Daredevil’s long history of beautiful cover art and weds it perfectly to the best elements of Mark Waid’s run on the character.  That beautiful black and white aesthetic is the best its ever looked in this cover, and the use of now to add to that element is a perfect nod of the head to the ‘80s era we’ve been exploring throughout this list.  

What sets it all apart so beautifully is Daredevil himself and how happy he is here. It’s weird to think that “what if he was happy?” is actually a brilliant subversion of classical expectation. When it comes to Daredevil, that’s basically a fundamental truth. The character has spent so much of his core existence absolutely miserable and broken. Having him lose the gloom and doom in favor of actual happiness and enjoyment of his powers is an amazing switch. Like before, this is a cover that asks you to be adult in a totally different way: to accept that a character doesn’t need to be sad and angsty to be worth your time. 


This probably seems like a weird choice but having gone through the entire Daredevil cover collection. This really is the best summation of one character’s 50+ years of existence I could find.  Make no mistake. Incidentally, that idea of one single image summing up a person’s life is very much what this cover serves.  Most of all the cover reminds me of Citizen Kane, specifically the ending scene inside the massive warehouse of items that are individually meaningless, though together they form the massive jigsaw puzzle that is one person’s life and existence.  

That idea is flipped around here that instead of a warehouse full of things, Daredevil’s life can fit into the boxes and possession of one small office space. It speaks to the inherent smallness of Daredevil’s life and efforts as a hero. That everything he does is as just one man fighting street-level bad guys in a run-down neighborhood.  And yet, none of that scale negates his emotions, his stakes, his stories. Just because his whole life can fit into a handful of boxes in Hell’s Kitchen doesn’t make his story any less important or meaningful.  

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