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Owl in the Family

  Daredevil: Lowlife

 

Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev

Marvel, 2003

Rating: 4.3

 

 

Posted: August 28, 2003

By 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, Underboss and 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 suspect.

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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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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