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May 1, 2000
Kabuki Creator Tackles Daredevil
by Russell Lissau
When a comic book's creative team changes, the transition can be a difficult one for fans, especially if the new artists or writers don't share the same approach to the series as their predecessors.
So the pressure was definitely on last year when writer-artist David Mack was tapped to pen Marvel Comics' Daredevil after a much-publicized run by filmmaker (and well-known comics nut) Kevin Smith. Smith's eight-issue "Guardian Devil" storyline was a huge hit with fans and critics, so Mack had some pretty big shoes to fill when his job began with issue #9. But so far Mack's run has been absolutely terrific, despite some unbelievably aggravating scheduling delays. The series hasn't missed a beat under his expert guidance, and as a result Daredevil remains the star of the Marvel Knights line and one of the most eagerly awaited books at comics shops across the country.
Now that the "Parts of a Hole" six-issue story arc has reached its midpoint, Mack -- who also has been making a name for himself with his highly regarded, creator-owned series, Kabuki -- says he has really enjoyed delving into the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood protected by Ol' Hornhead.
"It's a blast," the 27-year-old Kentuckian says. "I like to do things that are new for me, things that are a challenge for me, and with Daredevil, I had never before written a character that I hadn't created. They've always been my own characters. And I'm really getting a kick out of it."
Because he was writing his issues at the same time Smith was working on the "Guardian Devil" story, Mack didn't really worry about whether he'd be able to equal Smith's ultra-popular run. Instead, Mack felt some self-imposed pressure to live up to Frank Miller's legendary Daredevil stories from the 1980s, which Mack read -- and loved -- in his youth.
"It's pretty much the only Daredevil I had read," Mack admits. "That was the high bar for me. I wanted to give the book the same kind of energy, the same kind of heart and guts, that it had when Frank was doing it. But at the same time I definitely wanted to bring my own sense to the character, my own perspective, not only in terms of the writing but also in terms of the storytelling and in terms of the look and feel of the page."
Marvel Knights co-founders Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti turned to Mack for Daredevil after becoming fans of his work on Kabuki, which started in 1994 at Caliber but later jumped to Image Comics. The critically acclaimed series, which has been nominated for several industry awards, is about a secret agency of Japanese assassins that tries to keep both the government and organized crime in check. "When I first read Kabuki: Circle of Blood, I was floored," says Quesada, who also pencils Daredevil. "And when the Daredevil opportunity came up, I knew that David was one of the guys I wanted to get into Marvel Knights, and I knew that Daredevil was a character that he could definitely excel with."
Palmiotti was especially enamored with Mack's gift for telling realistic and complex stories, a talent he's been able to demonstrate admirably in the pages of Daredevil. "I like characters that are more reality driven," says Palmiotti, who inked Daredevil until his recent resignation from Marvel Knights. "And David's run has had a lot of what I like in superhero characters, the way he goes after their human traits and relationships."
Whereas Kevin Smith found success focusing his story on Daredevil's spiritual and emotional turmoil, Mack's tale shows that Daredevil is a hero who -- despite having fantastic super-powers and an army's worth of courage -- feels very much alone in the world, both because of his blindness and his inability to maintain long-lasting and healthy relationships. In short, he is a man with imperfections -- just like the rest of us.
"He's a guy who has three different holes (in his life) that he's constantly trying to fill," Mack explains. "Here's a guy who witnessed his father constantly fighting and wanted to be a fighter himself, but at the same time his father wanted him to be a lawyer, so he wanted to satisfy his father in that regard. And in essence he's trying to do both of those things as a grownup but in an unconventional way. And there's not only the father situation but also the mother situation. Here's a guy who feels abandoned by his mother, which maybe explains why he's always going through women -- it always seems like he's searching. And yet another gap is obviously the eyesight. Here's a guy whose senses are so amazing, but still he can't see, and there's a detachment he feels from the general populace and even the people who are his friends and his girlfriends."
That sense of alienation, of being different, is evident in many of Mack's characters, including those in Kabuki. "I'm always fascinated writing about people who have a certain kind of flaw, or something missing in their lives," Mack says. "And when you feel like you're missing something, when you feel like you don't fit in and there's something that separates you in a negative way, there's a point that you can come to where you realize that you can take what separates you in a negative way and use it to your advantage and make it your skill."
Daredevil may be the series' title character, but by no means is he the illustrated drama's only star. Mack is deliberately fleshing out the two other main figures in "Parts of a Hole:" Wilson Fisk, the crimelord also known as the Kingpin, and Maya Lopez, who as her alter-ego, Echo, has become Daredevil's latest femme fatale.
"The people who have ended up accomplishing something or succeeding throughout history often tried to replace in their adult life what they thought was missing in their childhood life," Mack says. "I asked that of Wilson Fisk. What motivates him? What made him the way he is? What does he want? And I asked the same thing of Maya. And the fascinating thing with her is that she's also someone who feels a sense of detachment. And (as for) what's missing, both in her life and in Daredevil's life, they're able to compensate for in their own ways, but it also gives them a connection."
Mack continues: "With each of these three characters, each of them starts at a certain place in the story, and they have to look at what they want out of life and pursue it. And at the end of the story, each of them ends up in a completely different place," he says. "That's really the key to characterization, when you take a character that starts two-dimensionally and you really make them three-dimensional characters by having them confront some kind of obstacle, and then during that confrontation they have to decide what their core belief is and follow that core belief through. And by the end of it, they're changed somehow. And that's certainly true of these three."
The Kingpin will begin to play a much larger role in "Parts of a Hole" starting with issue #13. A Daredevil mainstay since Miller's run on the series, the larger-than-life gangster was not included in Kevin Smith's story, but Mack promises to make up for that now.
"The last three issues have a lot more of the Kingpin's history than we've ever seen before," Mack says. "I didn't intend to make it a Kingpin origin story, but it is by default because there hasn't been that much before. There's just been a glimpse or two into his past." Mack said readers might even feel some compassion for the gargantuan crime boss, once they discover his meager roots. "There's a great part where Fisk becomes what he is, and he makes a decision to rise above what he was previously," Mack hints. "I don't think anybody says, 'I'm going to be an evil person. I'm going to be as evil and merciless as I can.' For the most part, there's a certain evolution based on where someone comes from and how they learn to adapt to that situation. And ultimately, if you write from their point of view, you can make them sympathetic to a certain degree. And when you see him becoming what he is, you're rooting for him."
Mack is doing more on Daredevil that just writing the stories. He has also teamed with Quesada on every "Parts of a Hole" cover except for the first one, which was entirely Mack's creation. The interior pencils are all Quesada's, but Mack's influence is obvious, especially in the colored pencils that were used to tell Echo's origin in issue #9. Mack actually gave Quesada thumbnails of how he thought the issues should look, which Quesada happily has used for guidance. Colorist Richard Isanove was even encouraged to borrow elements of Mack's visual techniques from Kabuki for the story. "It's been great working with Joe," Mack says. "He's created this great hybrid style. It's a wonderful collaborative effort."
Mack's Daredevil writing duties will end when "Parts of a Hole" wraps up with issue #15, but he won't leave the series right away. Mack will switch jobs and illustrate issues #16-18, a story arc written by rising star Brian Michael Bendis, who has thrilled readers recently with projects including Torso and Sam and Twitch. Bendis actually is an old friend of Mack's who has worked with him before, including drawing a pinup for a 1995 one-shot Mack produced called Kabuki Gallery. "We've sort of climbed the ranks together," Mack says.
As is his style, Bendis' Daredevil run will be much more of a crime story than a traditional superhero tale. According to Mack, the story focuses on Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich's efforts to solve a mystery involving a young boy who happens to be the son of a villain. "There's something that's not quite right about this little boy, and Daredevil helps him figure it out," Mack says. "It's a fascinating little psychological tale. It's quite different."
In an interesting twist, rather than following Mack's own tale chronologically, Bendis' story actually will occur about the same time as the events portrayed in "Parts of a Hole." Check out the story's Daily Bugle headlines for proof. "Some of the headlines will hearken back to some of the things that have been happening in my story," Mack says. "And you'll get a sense that maybe something that happened in the background of my story is happening in the foreground here, and vice versa. You'll get a sense of where the pieces connect."
Quesada is eager to see Mack's artwork for the new arc. "I don't want a clone of what I'm doing, so I think David will bring in a breath of fresh air, something completely different," he says. "It's going to be unique and special."
Palmiotti is convinced that Daredevil is going to lead to bigger projects for Mack. "It's an opportunity to open people's eyes," the comics veteran says. "David is one of those guys that, as time goes on, more and more people are going to be catching onto his stuff. I know he's going to start getting calls for everything from Batman to The Hulk."
All this talk of superheroes doesn't mean Mack is planning to ditch Kabuki -- no way. Although the book has had some scheduling problems recently, partially due to the demands from Daredevil, Mack promises more Kabuki stories will hit comics shops this year, including the continuation of the Kabuki Agents: Scarab spin-off and a hardcover edition collecting all nine issues of the current Image series that will be titled Kabuki: Metamorphosis. Another Kabuki Agents spin-off could begin in 2001, too. "It's close to my heart, and I'll continue to do it for quite some time," he says.
Mack also has some other top-secret, creator-owned projects in the works, some of which he's already written scripts for. He hasn't been able to illustrate the books yet, however, so they'll probably remain under wraps for a while.
Independent projects aside, Mack says he'd love to return to Daredevil one day, especially to write more tales about the supporting characters he introduced in "Parts of a Hole" -- particularly Maya Lopez. "In fact, Joe mentioned that I should probably consider doing an Echo project in the future, and that I should lay the groundwork for how she operates outside this particular story. There's definitely a point after the story where you think, 'Wow -- what happens next?'" Mack says. "I would be happy to write a future Daredevil story. I would never rule that out."
AnotherUniverse.com removed the article in 2001