Every hero has a beginning, and every story has an inspiration. The first season of Daredevil chronicled a concentrated look at the early days of Matt Murdock’s mission to fight crime in Hell’s Kitchen, and drew significant inspiration from the aesthetic and narrative elements of Frank Miller’s classic Daredevil origin story: Daredevil: The Man Without Fear.
Now that we’re moving into the second season of the series, there’s a massive pool of storylines the show could draw from for inspiration. If you’re a fan of Daredevil comics and want a refresh, or have never read a comic, but loved the first season and want to get into the books, then there’s a lot to read. To make it easy, we’ve put together a (mostly) chronological list of 12 Daredevil Comics to Read Before Season 2!
There will be spoilers for the comics, the first season, and possibly the second season of Daredevil, so consider yourself warned!
12 Daredevil: The Man Without Fear - Frank Miller
Yes, the first season of Daredevil already drew heavily from The Man Without Fear, but that well is far from dry. The book draws pretty heavily on Matt’s relationship with Elektra Natchios, who only got a throwaway Easter egg line in season 1, so don’t be surprised when her story is influenced by this book.
Frank Miller had already written Daredevil for several years prior to writing The Man Without Fear, but he had since gone on to write several other notable comics, including Batman: Year One, and Marvel wanted to try to emulate the success of the Year One-style story with a limited Daredevil series.
Man Without Fear isn’t the best Daredevil writing, it’s not Frank Miller’s best writing, and it’s certainly not Frank Miller’s best Daredevil writing, but it is still considered the quintessential origin story for the Man Without Fear.
11 Daredevil: Yellow - Jeph Loeb
Frank Miller may have written the most popular Daredevil origins story, but he didn’t write the only Daredevil origins story. Jeph Loeb also authored his own version of Horned Hellion's beginnings in Daredevil: Yellow. Loeb’s take on the early years of Daredevil follows an approach that is nearly the polar opposite of the approach taken by Miller, hewing far closer to Scarlet Swashbuckler side of Daredevil as originally written by Stan Lee.
Although Man Without Fear and Yellow tell drastically different stories, they make for a phenomenal pairing of origin stories, because they both capture very important aspects of the duality that is Daredevil and Matt Murdock.
Daredevil: Yellow - although it wasn’t used as primary inspiration for the first season - inspired some elements present in the Netflix series that are entirely absent from Man Without Fear. Most notably Matt Murdock’s long time girlfriend, Karen Page.
Yellow has been described as a romantic comedy, telling the story of Matt Murdock and Karen Page falling in love. With Karen’s prominence in the show, Yellow’s lighter tale just may end up shining through the grimdark inspirations of Frank Miller and provide the inspiration for a budding love story in season 2.
10 The Elektra Saga - Frank Miller
The Elektra Saga is an unofficial collection of most of Frank Miller’s first run on Daredevil. It serves to introduce Elektra and her relationship to Matt Murdock, the Kingpin, and the Hell’s Kitchen in which they exist.
This is the writing that brought both Daredevil and Frank Miller out of the shadows. Frank Miller’s success in this run is largely cited as the work that kickstarted his a career, and how Daredevil became one of the most loved single character series in Marvel comics. This saga also served as inspiration for the 2003 Daredevil movie, but don’t let that turn you off to it!
Elektra is chosen as Kingpin’s chief assassin, and is instructed to take down Foggy Nelson, but she’s unable to follow through when he recognizes her as Matt’s former lover. Joining Daredevil, she turns against the Kingpin, eventually losing her life to Bullseye in one of the most iconic single comic panels of all time. Of course, like all the non-Ben Parkers of the Marvel Universe, that death is only temporary, but it would be a few years before she was resurrected.
The emotional roller coaster of her death is just the start of the meat grinder that would come to define Matt Murdock’s life in comics for several decades. On top of that, the book establishes Bullseye as one of Daredevil’s arch enemies, and sets up Ben Urich as one of the most badass non-hero characters in the Marvel universe. In short, it’s what makes Daredevil Daredevil.
9 Born Again - Frank Miller
Daredevil: Born Again is considered not only the best and most influential work of Frank Miller’s career, but also the most significant story in all of Daredevil, for that matter. This book is the gold standard for how to write Daredevil, how to deconstruct a superhero, and could arguably be credited as a driving force in the advent of the darker trend that arose in most comics in the years following. After Born Again, readers were no longer accepting of a flawless hero. They now needed to see that hero bleed.
At the start of the book, Daredevil is a triumphant hero, but page by page he is completely destroyed by the Kingpin. His life is systematically upturned until there’s nothing left. It’s like Matt Murdock is opened up so we can see all the gears and levers that make him tick, and then put back together at the end. A trend that would be picked up by many other characters in many other comics over the decades to come.
Born Again also involves a diverse cast of supporting characters, from Karen Page, to Ben Urich, to J. Jonah Jameson, to Foggy Nelson, and even a guest appearance by The Avengers. All handled deftly and carefully woven into the story’s intricate plot. It’s a book that’s packed to the brim, but doesn’t feel overstuffed. By the time you turn the last page, you’d want to go back and start from the beginning again, if it wasn’t such a draining story to get there.
8 Guardian Devil - Kevin Smith
After Born Again, it was a while before Daredevil made any more big splashes. Frank Miller returned to the character in 1993 to write Man Without Fear, but there wasn’t until a big relaunch of the character in 1999 that Daredevil was worth reading again. Marvel started the series over again at issue 1, bringing in Kevin Smith as a writer.
Smith’s writing is a little controversial, as he tends to be more wordy than other comic writers, utilizing lots of dialogue bubbles and talking heads. The resulting book reads almost like a comic/novel hybrid, but it’s helpful as his storytelling can get dense. Despite a divided reaction from long time fans, the story provided a fresh launching pad to propel Daredevil into the 2000s.
Guardian Devil marks a drastic turning point for the character, but continues the “let’s destroy Matt Murdock” trend Frank Miller had started. For years, Matt Murdock’s existence had basically revolved around Karen Page coming and going from his life, but Smith puts an end to that, permanently.
Although Smith’s eight issue arc was pitched as a sort of “soft reboot,” it kept most of the past continuity in place, actually using it as an anchor, reshuffling the board moving forward. Guardian Devil, despite the mixed reactions, establishes the world that would define Daredevil comics for more than a decade to follow.
7 The Choice (Punisher, volume 4, #3) - Garth Ennis
It may not be a full comic arc, but it contains one of the most condensed contrasts between Daredevil and long time foil, Punisher. Garth Ennis is known for being one of the few authors to truly capture the nature of Punisher. You can read more of his run in the rest of Punisher volume 4 if you’re interested in the character, but issue 3 specifically tackles the dichotomy between Punisher and Daredevil.
Ennis wields his grasp of Punisher’s character to create a Cornelian dilemma for Daredevil, where he has no choice but to - through either action or inaction - go against his moral compass. From the looks of some of the marketing images, there will be a major homage (or straight-up recreation) of this scene in Daredevil season 2
Punisher captures Daredevil and chains him up, strapping a gun to his hand. Frank gives him two options: shoot Punisher to prevent the execution of a criminal, or do nothing and let him go through with the execution. There is no unwritten 3rd option to exploit. Daredevil decides to pull the trigger, only to find out that the gun has no firing pin, it was really no choice at all.
The scenario plays directly into Daredevil’s tightrope walk of morality, desiring to fight injustice, but not betraying his principles. The scene could play out any number of ways in season 2, but the homage to Ennis’s The Choice is clear.
6 Daredevil/Echo: Parts of a Whole - David Mack
After Kevin Smith reset the playing field, Matt is still grieving the death of Karen Page, but it’s time to introduce a new love interest - and continue kicking Daredevil in the teeth, obviously. Enter Maya Lopez. Maya was born deaf, but has the ability to mimic any skill she sees displayed (in person, or recorded), earning her the name of “Echo.”
After Kingpin has her father (one of his former enforcers) killed, he pins the death on Daredevil (they don’t call him the Kingpin for nothing! Sorry…), enticing Echo to seek revenge. The catch is, she has fallen in love with Matt Murdock. It isn’t long before she realizes she’s being played by Fisk. Turning her attention from Daredevil, she attacks Fisk, shooting him in the face and causing him to go temporarily - and ironically - blind.
Parts of a Whole isn't everyone’s favorite Daredevil story, but the book’s events, specifically the introduction of Echo, have major implications for future Daredevil stories, making the book nearly essential to the Daredevil continuity.
5 Underboss - Brian Michael Bendis
Enter Brian Michael Bendis. Bendis is the first person to have a long, iconic run with Daredevil since Frank Miller, and he definitely does the character justice. Bendis truly embraces the gritty street level crime of the world Daredevil inhabits, weaving a Shakespearean story that would have major implications to Daredevil and Matt Murdock.
Underboss is a Julius Ceasar retelling, with Kingpin at the center. When an attempted assassination by his underlings takes Kingpin out of the picture temporarily, his wife, Vanessa, takes over his criminal empire. Vanessa’s rule is even more violent than Kingpin’s, as she seeks revenge on Fisk’s attackers.
Fisk had long known that Daredevil was Matt Murdock, but his strong (albeit still corrupt) principles had always prevented him from using that information to his advantage Unfortunately, his underlings don’t hold the same principles. One specific underling, Sammy Silke, gets picked up by the FBI, and tries to save himself some jail time by trading Daredevil’s secret identity for a better deal.
Bendis’s distinct grasp for dialogue makes his run a compelling read, giving life to every character with a flair not seen by many other Daredevil writers.
4 Out - Brian Michael Bendis
Daredevil’s secret identity has been outed! After Sammy Silke spilled the secret, the story that Matt Murdock is Daredevil ends up in the local tabloids. As such, Matt’s ability to don the red horns and spandex is diminished, creating a story that focuses far more on Matt Murdock, not daredevil, while he leaves the super heroics to his friends.
Bendis embraces the trend started by Frank Miller, and incessantly drags Matt Murdock through the mud. Matt is treated as an emotional punching bag as he continues to justify his position as one of the most unlucky people in all of Marvel comics.
The book does receive criticism from some due to how little Daredevil is actually in it, but when it comes to Matt Murdock, Out serves as one of the best deconstructions of his character since Born Again.
3 Hardcore - Brian Michael Bendis
The culmination of Bendis’s run takes place at the peak of Matt Murdock’s torment. Things have been so bad for so long that most readers (and characters in the story) may wonder how Daredevil keeps on keeping on.
So, what better time than now to bring back all of his greatest villains? The Kingpin is back, and he’s ready to put an end to Daredevil, so he pulls out all the stops (again), kicking Murdock in the ribs when he appears to already be down for the count.
The Man Without Fear doesn’t collapse under the pressure, though. True to the title, Daredevil stands tall and goes into beast mode, rising above everything that has been put on his shoulders for years, laying down some beat downs so hardcore that many readers have actually complained that the ending was too abrupt.
The quick resolution isn’t without reason, though. After years and years of having next to nothing go his way, Matt Murdock decides enough is enough, and proves that he’s the real boss of Hell’s Kitchen in a violent display of shock and awe.
2 The Devil Inside and Out - Ed Brubaker
Just because Matt overcame the odds and rose above the torture at the end of Bendis’s run doesn’t mean anyone’s about to stop kicking that questionably lifeless horse. Ed Brubaker comes on to the title with The Devil Inside and Out and immediately throws Matt Murdock into Rykers prison. His secret identity has been outed, and the FBI doesn’t take kindly to vigilantism. To make matters worse, he think’s Foggy has been assassinated (he wasn’t).
Now Matt is locked in prison with all the criminals Daredevil has put away over the years. The only problem is, he’s not admitting to his identity as Daredevil. He has to keep himself safe in Rykers, all while pretending to be the blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen, not doing anything that could confirm everyone’s suspicions.
During this time, Iron Fist tries to cover for him on the outside by donning the Daredevil costume and fighting crime, while the Punisher (yes, none other than Frank Castle) decides to get himself put in Rykers to protect Matt, because he respects his adherence to his principles (even if he doesn’t agree with them).
Brubaker’s run is a great extension of where Bendis left off, but also helps begin Daredevil’s transition into a new era.
1 Daredevil, Volume 1 - Mark Waid
Daredevil has been through some rough stuff. In the words of Matt Murdock: "It has been a miserable last few years. And every time I thought I'd finally hit bottom, God somehow found me a bigger shovel." He always comes out on top, but not for long. Mark Waid comes onto the book and decides to let him come up for air.
After years of getting knocked around, Matt Murdock finally sees some reprieve. Waid’s take on Daredevil is a bit of a return to the swashbuckling “devil”-may-care version of the character seen in Stan Lee's original run, or Jeph Loeb's Daredevil: Yellow. It’s definitely a change of pace, but there isn’t a character more deserving of some relief.
Anyone that followed Daredevil through the crucible of Miller, Smith, Bendis, and Brubaker can’t help but feel happy for Matt’s new lease on life as he begins to rebuild his legal practice with Foggy. It’s only inevitable that this more peaceful time in Matt Mudock’s life will come to an end, but as this reading list can affirm, he deserves some peace while he can get it.
Do you have any favorite Daredevil comics you don’t see here? Which stories would you like to see influence season 2 and beyond?
Daredevil season 2 premieres on March, 18, 2016 on Netflix.