Joe Casey, Alex Ross and Edgar Salazar revive the original Golden Age Daredevil in this series spinning off from Project Superpowers.
Rating 4 out of 5 stars
As with the other major characters featured in Dynamite Entertainment’s Project Superpowers titles, the Death-Defying ‘Devil is a superhero from the 1940s who is in the public domain. The Death-Defying ‘Devil is not actually his original name: it was Daredevil. As Marvel Comics now owns the trademark on the title “Daredevil,” Dynamite obviously could not publish a series under that name. Hence the change to The Death-Defying ‘Devil.
The ‘Devil, like the Black Terror, has been utilized by other publishers in recent years. AC Comics issued a one-shot renaming him RedDevil, and had him as a supporting character in Femforce. Erik Larsen also uses him regularly in the pages of Savage Dragon. Since the character’s name doesn’t appear on the covers, Larsen is able to actually call him Daredevil within the book itself.
I mentioned in my review of the Black Terror trade paperback that you really needed to know what took place in the initial Project Superpowers miniseries to fully understand the story. Fortunately, since then I’ve had the opportunity to read the Project Superpowers TPB. So this time, with The Death-Defying ‘Devil, I had a clearer understanding of the plot.
Having said that, I still really wish Dynamite would put some sort of one page text summary of preceding events at the beginning of their later collected editions. That way, those who did not read the earlier stories wouldn’t be lost.
The events in The Death-Defying ‘Devil TPB pick up on a subplot set up in the Project Superpowers miniseries. The ‘Devil encountered members of a terrorist movement calling itself The Claw, and joined up with police officer Justine Boulet to thwart their attack on Paris.
The Claw rears its head again within the pages of The Death-Defying ‘Devil. It is suggested that they have some sort of connection to the demonic supervillain also named the Claw who the ‘Devil and other superheroes fought during World War II. But this is not elaborated upon. The Claw organization is shrouded in mystery.
At first, I wasn’t particularly impressed by The Claw. They were a group of ordinary humans armed with machine guns. If they really were tied to an inhuman supernatural arch-fiend, surely they should have been more imposing.
But then I realized that Joe Casey and Alex Ross actually made The Claw scarier than if they’d been running around in battle armor shooting death rays. They are frightening in their mundanity because they so closely resemble real life terrorists. In addition, The Claw agents are linked by some sort of hive mind. They also have the ability to brainwash ordinary people, turning them into new recruits or worse, sleeper agents unaware they have been subverted.
The ‘Devil and Justine are joined in the fight against The Claw by Silver Streak and the Ghost, two more superhumans from the 1940s. A third party also enters the conflict: the Dragon, a figure opposing the ‘Devil for personal reasons. The Dragon has a costume identical to the ‘Devil, except instead of red & blue, his is green & purple.
The ‘Devil either can’t or won’t talk, which necessitates having other characters present to advance the plot via their speech. Of course, the Dragon does so much ranting and shouting that you could say he more than makes up for the ‘Devil’s silence! Still, some sequences could have used more dialogue. It must be difficult to make a non-verbal protagonist interesting.
Joe Casey’s writing on The Death-Defying ‘Devil is very good. I’ve enjoyed Casey’s work since his run on Cable with artist Jose Ladronn. Casey, with fellow writer James Robinson, took a character I had little interest in and made his title a must-buy for me. Since then, I’ve followed Casey’s writing on various projects. His hardboiled superhero graphic novel Nixon’s Pals, done with artist Chris Burnham, was really good. Likewise, I enjoyed The Death-Defying ‘Devil quite a lot.
The artwork by Edgar Salazar is full of energy. His action sequences are dramatic, with innovative layouts. In the bonus features of the TPB, several of Salazar’s page thumbnails and layouts are shown. Nice to see examples of the creative process.
I also loved Salazar’s rendition of the Ghost, with his sepulchral, skull-headed airplane. Now that would be a sight to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers.
The coloring by Romulo Fajardo Jr is crisp and vibrant. I’m guessing it was done on computer, since that’s pretty much what everyone uses nowadays. My problem with many computer color jobs is that they muddy and obscure the artwork. That was a gripe of mine on parts of Black Terror, especially the scenes set in Manhattan. I was unable to discern if the city was overgrown by foliage, or if it had been demolished.
That is not a problem with Fajardo’s work. Everything is crystal clear and vibrant. I especially liked the unearthly glow given to the Ghost and his aircraft. As for Manhattan, Salazar’s artwork and Fajardo’s coloring establish that a huge forest has sprung up all over the island, but the buildings are still intact.
The Death-Defying ‘Devil is a change of pace from Project Superpowers and Black Terror. Both those stories had a great deal of moral ambiguity, with the protagonists fighting elements of their own government, or even among themselves. There were no real clear-cut villains, except perhaps the Dynamic Family. I felt this ambiguity was handled very well. Alex Ross & Co. succeeded where Marvel and DC floundered on books like Civil War and Identity Crisis. The Project Superpowers stories did not just have a bunch of “heroes” beating each other up ostensibly in the name of philosophical disagreements. Instead, Ross and his collaborators actually had their characters discuss their differing viewpoints, and recognize that there were no clear-cut easy answers.
While I enjoyed this approach, I would not want to see that moral ambiguity in every story. There is a bit of it here in the conflict between the ‘Devil and the Dragon. On the other hand, The Claw is shown carrying out terrorist acts, murdering innocent people, all apparently in the name of chaos. They are obviously a very dangerous menace that must be stopped. That said, the organization is an enigma, and I suspect there is much more to be revealed about them.
The TPB also contains “The Hollow,” a ten page story scripted by Jim Krueger and drawn by Andy Smith, originally printed in a Free Comic Book Day special. This outlines the original Claw’s origins, and the heroes’ conflict with him back in the 1940s. I wish “The Hollow” had been placed at the beginning of the collected edition instead of at the end. It takes place before the events of the main story, and contains information that would have informed the reading of the rest of the book. Still, it was a useful summary of the Claw’s backstory.
It’s worth pointing out that the cover of The Death-Defying ‘Devil trade paperback is near indistinguishable from that of the Project Superpowers collected edition. Both have close-ups of the ‘Devil drawn by Alex Ross. It may seem a minor point, but Dynamite ought to have done more to differentiate between the two volumes.
In any case, despite some minor problems, I did enjoy The Death-Defying ‘Devil, and am looking forward to future chapters.