Rated | Alphabetical
Owl in the Family
Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev
Kevin Forest Moreau
Brian Michael Bendis continues to spin noir gold from the
surprisingly fertile Daredevil franchise, although it's his
mischievous side, rather than his gift as a manipulator of taut twists and
turns, that carries Lowlife. Bendis milks a third-rate Marvel
villain like The Owl for some genuine tension, but the real entertainment
stems from watching Marvel's most popular writer play with the conventions
and standbys of the Marvel Universe. He gets a laugh out of the clever,
"realistic" explanation of the Owl's re-emergence (he's purchased part of
the Kingpin's old turf from the latter's wife after the events of
Underboss), and the
fact that this information comes from another former bench-warmer, the
"retiring" villain Stilt-Man, adds an extra kick.
Plotwise, Lowlife builds on the evolving drama introduced in the
previous Bendis Daredevil collections,
Out. As blind attorney Matt Murdock continues to deny his secret
identity as Daredevil, he earns the disdain of his contemporary Luke Cage.
As Murdock and the owner of the tabloid that "outed" him circle each other
like sharks, swimming toward a potentially catastrophic court battle, The
Man Without Fear faces another complication, in the form of a blind love
interest, whom he unwittingly places in a compromising position when a key
figure in the drama turns up dead and Murdock emerges as the prime
But where does The Owl fit into all this? The jittery felon is
attempting a return to crime-boss status through a drug called Mutant
Growth Hormone, which gives its users temporary powers (this device also
pops up in
Alias: The Underneath, another Bendis collection). And he's got a
couple of the Kingpin's former henchmen in his employ, who gamely attempt
to exploit the Murdock/Daredevil scandal to their new boss's advantage.
When Daredevil confronts The Owl in his usual bull-in-a-china-shop manner,
the slick operators continually address him as Murdock, hoping to trip him
up on tape. The familiar melding of spandex-clad heroes and crime drama
atmospherics, at which Bendis has proven so adept, remains impressive.
Likewise, the inexorable buildup to a showdown between Daredevil and
Owl is sturdy enough, the long-standing enmity between the two characters
deftly handled. Less expert, though, is Alex Maleev's rendition of Owl;
it's tough to make this ridiculous character look threatening, but
Maleev's emphasis on Owl's signature 'do, which here resembles A Flock of
Seagulls' Mike Score having a bad hair day, doesn't help matters, although
to his credit the scenes with Owl are presented in a jumble that recalls
the caffeinated camerawork on NYPD Blue.
What holds Lowlife back from the level of entertainment of its
two predecessors is the rather obvious plot arc it sets up: The return of
the Kingpin, Daredevil's classic antagonist. There's so much territory to
explore in the Kingpin's absence, one is reluctant to see him return so
soon. But Bendis has so far proven himself an accomplished executor of
surprising takes on familiar comic tropes -- at least on Daredevil
and, to a lesser extent, with Alias -- so he gets the benefit of
the doubt. Given that he's leaving the title soon, here's hoping he wraps
up this excellent run on a high note, pulling his plot threads together in
the jarring way we've come to expect from his work on the book to date.
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