Overview

Black, Red and White in Daredevil: Noir

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Writer Alexander Irvine seems to be a man who can hold many pens simultaneously. Encyclopedias about Vertigo and TV’s Supernatural, short story collections, novels (5 and counting) and of course, comics – they’ve all come from the mind of Irvine, as have books on Batman and The Ultimates. And if that isn’t enough, he also teaches creative writing and American literature at the University of Maine. That makes him the coolest teacher ever. His current project is Daredevil Noir, the latest from Marvel’s series of Noir mini-series which has already re-imagined The X-Men and Spider-Man.

BROKEN FRONTIER: How did the noir concept originally rear its head?

ALEXANDER IRVINE: Axel Alonso and I had been talking about a Daredevil project for a while, and at some point after we’d begun to develop it, he suggested that it might be a good fit for the Noir line. I went back through the story and retooled it to fit the setting, and had a great time doing it. Many of the Daredevil characters seem right at home in 1930, which made it a fun and artistically fulfilling way to channel my inner Chandler.

BF: Why do you think Daredevil is a natural fit for the noir approach?

AI: Well, I wouldn’t be the first person to point out that DD has always had a noirish atmosphere. He has all the signal qualities of the great noir hero: he works outside the law, he has an ethical sense that puts him in conflict with both cops and criminals, and he’s got romantic troubles. The noir is always about a guy who’s outside of everything, a guy who’s always trying to be a little bit better than the world around him wants him to be. Matt Murdock is that guy. Also, the noir hero tends to be a little bit blinded by his powerful personal sense of what’s right and wrong, and I thought that this was an interesting way to explore Murdock’s extraordinary senses. After all, when you can literally smell if someone’s lying, it’s going to be easy to believe that you’re right about everything all the time. That’s at the center of the story I was telling; that ability of Murdock’s also becomes the lever his enemies have against him.

BF: Were there any characters you would’ve liked to fit into the noir setting, but couldn’t, at least for now?

AI: I cooked up ways to incorporate a lot of the great Daredevil characters into the retro setting, but in the end I cut the cast down to tell a particular kind of story. The last two characters I cut between the original pitch to the story as you’ll see it on the page were Karen and the Owl. But you will see two of Daredevildom’s favorite villains.

Some of the most interesting changes were to Murdock himself. I did some research and couldn’t find any record of blind lawyers in New York City in the 1920s. This doesn’t mean there weren’t any, but it sure would have been a tougher path to follow than it was for Murdock in the '60s and after. So I worked backward from his character as an adult, and figured out an origin story that fit with the times—and also has interesting consequences for the story itself. I don’t want to say too much more about it.

BF: How did you and Tomm Coker approach the visuals?

AI: Tomm did a fantastic job getting at the atmosphere of Prohibition-era Hell’s Kitchen. Beyond writing the script—which he occasionally ignored, usually to the book’s benefit—my primary contribution to the visuals was going back and forth with Tomm on good reference images for the period. I had found quite a bit of stuff doing research for the book, and also walking about the neighborhood, which still has a lot of remarkable buildings from that era despite huge redevelopment in the last twenty years or so. There’s a quality to Tomm’s art that gets at the noir atmosphere even in the scenes where people are sitting around talking in Foggy’s office. That’s not easy to find. I was thrilled to have him on the book, and would love to work with him again. We’ve talked about a couple of potential future projects.

BF: The Vertigo Encyclopedia must have been a mammoth undertaking. Have you always been a fan of Vertigo or did you have to put your head down and do some serious research?

AI: Both. I had read plenty of Vertigo comics—who hasn’t?—but there’s no way to read everything. So the book was both a chance to get reacquainted with some old favorites and a second chance at a bunch of books that I would have liked to read when they came out. It was a mammoth undertaking for sure, but I enjoyed it hugely. Every day for a while, comics would show up in the mail, and I got to tell my wife that I was working when I was kicked back on the couch with old issues of Hellblazer. One interesting byproduct of working on the Vertigopedia was that now, as a comics writer, I have an even longer list of artists I’d like to work with.

BF: Your new novel, Buyout has a rather intriguing premise. Can you break it down for us?

AI: The basic gist of it is this. In a near-future America in which prisons are hugely overcrowded, increasingly privatized, and more and more expensive, an insurance company that also owns prisons figures out that basically, older prisoners are a lot more expensive than younger ones. They need more medical care, they file more lawsuits, and so forth. So, it would be good for the bottom line if the company—which in the book is called Nautilus—could make sure that its young prisoners never get to be old.

Well, how do you do this? If you’re Nautilus, you figure out who much it’s probably going to cost you to feed, clothe, house, treat, and litigate with an inmate over the course of his actuarial life. This amount is in the many millions of dollars. Then you go to that inmate and you say, Okay. What if we give you a piece of this money that we haven’t spent on you yet? Say, three million. Or five million. You can give it to whoever you want—family, charities, anyone—and the only catch is that tomorrow morning you agree to take the needle.

This is what is called a life-term buyout, and the book is about a charter program designed to establish the concept and expand it throughout the American penal system. Needless to say, it’s a complicated question, and would have all kinds of unsavory consequences. The book tries to trace some of them.

BF: After some pretty dark projects are you now going to move into happy stories about talking animals and sun drenched meadows?

AI: Actually I’ve been working sporadically on a couple of talking-animal stories for my kids. How did you know?

On the professional front, I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. There will be more comics, and more novels. I just finished an Iron Man book and I’m working on a Star Wars novel right now, which will come out in the fall of 2010. I’m always tinkering with short stories, scripts, bits of new novels…you name it, I’m probably writing it. One thing I’ve been devoting some time to recently is a graphic novel about the life of Philip K. Dick with a friend who’s an enormously talented illustrator, and I can’t wait to see how that comes out.

Daredevil Noir #1 and 2 are out now from Marvel Comics priced $3.99.

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Comments

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver May 11, 2009 at 4:26pm

    I always hate to say I'll wait for the trade but I'll probably do just that with this project. Of all these "Noir" books DD is the one that most lends itself to that genre. After all, the normal monthly book has one foot and four toes of the other foot in that world already.

  • NinjaGeorgie

    NinjaGeorgie May 13, 2009 at 6:17am

    Are there any Ninjas in it?

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs May 14, 2009 at 6:05am

    'The dame walked into my dojo like she owned the place. Her nipples stood out like two sai's, steeled for combat.' That could work, NinjaGeorgie.

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs May 14, 2009 at 6:07am

    wowowowow! fodder for another interview: 'a graphic novel about the life of Philip K. Dick with a friend who?s an enormously talented illustrator'!!!!

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