Appreciating WAID & SAMNEE’s DAREDEVIL & the Original Darker Plans With Someone Who Was There

Panel from "Daredevil #18" by Chris Samnee & Matt Wilson
Panel from "Daredevil #18" by Chris Samnee & Matt Wilson
Credit: Chris Samnee/Matt Wilson (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Chris Samnee (Marvel Comics)

Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's Daredevil run ended on a high note with this week's Daredevil #18, and the man who was there from the beginning -- and formed the band -- is clapping from the audience.

Although Stephen Wacker is no longer Senior Editor of Marvel Comics and in charge of Daredevil, he still follows along as a friend and a fan his California offices as VP of Marvel Animation. Wacker put the original team of Waid and artists Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin togehter in 2011 for the launch of the happier Man Without Fear, acting as a guide in subsequent years through artistic shifts and Marvel events. And along the way he helped Waid and Chris Samnee find their Daredevil by looking inside themselves.

Newsarama spoke with Wacker about the origins of the four year run, from the fallout of "Shadowland," to the much darker path for Matt Murdock that they almost took, and finally the magic formula to keeping the art at a high quality despite creator turnover. And with him enjoy the last 19 issues as a fan and not its editor, Wacker gives his opinion on where Waid and Samnee took the Man without Fear into this week's finale.

"Daredevil #1" cover by Paolo Rivera
"Daredevil #1" cover by Paolo Rivera
Credit: Paolo Rivera (Marvel Comics)

Newsarama: Steve, if you can recall, how did you first get Mark Waid onboard for Daredevil?

Stephen Wacker: I had a long history with Mark going back to the first book I was assistant editor on at DC, JLA. When I came over to Marvel, I was thrilled to get him into the mix as one of the Amazing Spider-Man web-heads; that is, the writing team at the time. So from there, Daredevil was sort of the next logical place and would be a good fit for Mark considering the direction I was hoping to go in.

There’s a lot of Matt Murdock in Waid, and I thought he could personalize it much the same way he did for Wally West in The Flash back in the day.

Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin were also part of the crew on Amazing Spider-Man, and I wanted to keep working with them because they are two of my favorite artists in comics.

At some point early on, we all just sat down for dinner in New York and started tossing ideas around. Getting them, and Mark, all together to relaunch Daredevil was integral to the book’s initial success.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Newsarama: And their Daredevil launched with the idea that it was distinctly different from the dark turns Daredevil has had in the past, but over the course of the run it went down some dark paths but also had some brighter moments than DD fans were used to. I see it as kind of a recalibration, to allow those darker moments to have more contrast. Was that your goal?

Wacker: That was explicitly what I wanted to do. My general  tendency when I was editing was to steer a book back to basics before going off in new directions. The best characters can absorb many different interpretations, and Daredevil is one of the strongest in hat regard.

That being said, taking over Daredevil was a challenge, and intimidating to me as someone who’s a long-time comic book reader. It’s been an A+, top shelf book since the 1970s, from Frank Miller, Roger McKenzie, Klaus Janson, Ann Nocenti, John Romita Jr., Chichester, all the way to Smith and Quesada, Bendis , Maleev, Brubaker, Lark, Rucka, Diggle. Many many more.

Without a doubt, Daredevil’s had the best long-term run of any comic in history.  Just outstanding . It’s just been a consistently great book for so many years.

Credit: Marcos Martin (Marvel Comics)

So I was intimidated.

I took over Daredevil editorially after Warren Simons left, with the pieces in place for the “Shadowland” arc where we saw Matt Murdock commit blatant murder. I felt like “Shadowland” took Matt as far as we could take him time, and so internally people began throwing out ideas –  Tom Brevoort, Axel Alonso, Joe Quesada, Dan Buckley and others – about possibly making Matt Murdock a villain. It’s one of many ideas we talked about, just to see how it works. Does he become a version of Kingpin or some other great Marvel universe villain? We thought about that for some time, but decided against it for a different direction – what became this Daredevil run we’re talking about now.

I definitely wanted to see some sunlight in the Daredevil book. When I first spoke with Mark about him possibly doing the series, I told him about living in New York City at a time in which Hell’s Kitchen was one of the nicest parts of the city. Beautiful buildings, a lot of businesses, kids on the street. So with the book, we looked to stretch the geography and embrace the city. Matt moved his offices, and his home.

When I think back to Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil, I don’t remember it being relentlessly dark. When I was reading the book in the early 1980s, I saw it clearly as a superhero comic book – a good one, in fact. Daredevil would fight the Hulk, meet Dr. Strange, occasionally smile and enjoy life… so when those dark moments happened, it felt more tragic. I love Matt falling from grace…but you need to set up grace first.

Credit: Paolo Rivera (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: So that’s what you hoped for Mark, Paolo, Marcos and company – how do you feel your hopes and aspirations for the book panned out?

Wacker: This book has been exactly what I was hoping for; better, even. Luckily, early on we got a lot of critical acclaim and awards which sort of shocked me. But it was hard to argue with the work that Mark, Paolo, Marcos, Chris and everyone else was doing.

Mark helped keep the tone of the stories consistent. And after Chris Samnee came on the book and made it his own, things really exploded and it became the unified vision of Mark and Chris. This is going to sound corny, but it’s very fulfilling to see the entire run play out and come to a natural end. The book was certainly in great editorial hands after I left with Ellie Pyle and Sana Amanat.

Nrama: I wanted to talk to you about that transition from the team of Paolo and Marcos over to Chris. Artists change on comic books a lot, but Daredevil seemed to be known just as much for its writing as its art with Mark’s run – as an editor, how did you handle that transition?

Wacker: I had faith in our readers’ taste.  Marcos, Paulo, Chris as well as Marco Checchetto. Khoi Pham and the others who worked on Daredevil with Mark are all simply great artists.

Credit: Khoi Pham (Marvel Comics)

I don’t know what the x-factor is but I had a gut feeling our audience would respond to them; they just all drew the world I recognized, and the world I like to live in. They all bring a certain amount of joy to their work. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t get dark and gritty, but I can believe in the world they’re drawing.

So I guess I never worried much about transition from artist-to-artist. I’m old enough and have read enough comics to know that changing artists is pretty standard in monthly super hero comic books. A hundred issue, uninterrupted run is a rarity for artists (and writers, for that matter), not the norm.

In addition, after handling weekly books for so long, I got pretty at looking ahead and solving problems early when possible. I always knew that Paolo and Marcos would only be there to launch the book and help make initial decisions about the visual identity of the book.

So on Daredevil, It wasn’t a surprise when they moved on and we weren’t having to change artists at the last minute, which I know can be a real disappointment to readers.

We worked ahead, and had a planned, relatively natural evolution. When Chris Samnee became available (I forget who suggested him. C.B. Cebulski maybe?), I knew going in that he could commit long-term to the book. So my job over those first few months with him was to ensure he felt invested and comfortable in pouring his massive creative energies into it.

Also, I want to make sure to recognize Javier Rodriguez, Muntsa Vincente and Matt Wilson, who colored the book. The palettes they picked for the book were very open and very engaging, and it really more than anything else, they made the transition from artist to artist much easier. You just can’t overstate the value of colorists in today’s comic books.

Daredevil #36 Cover
Daredevil #36 Cover
Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: Although you no longer edit Daredevil, do you continue to follow the book or keep in touch with the editors and creators involved? Or perhaps get an early look at the book given your past with it?

Wacker: I’m on a very top secret list and I get to see the book before it goes to press. It’s the first time I’ve spoken about it publicly, but I can say that it’s the first book I read every time it’s out.

And I do my best to talk to no one in comics now that I’m in television. Who needs to those dirty comic book hippies and their raggedy “graphic novels” around!?

Nrama: So you’re an insider and an outsider still. Let me ask you this, how do you think the Netflix Daredevil series running concurrently with Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil affected it? Not the creators as much, as seasoning the audience?

Wacker: I have no idea, but I think the two projects exist pretty comfortably in the same world. Even though the television show might be darker, it’s the same characters.

And I’ll be honest about something I was completely wrong about.  When I first got a sneak peek at the earl DD episodes,  I was very worried that the show was too brutal, too violent and too intimidating for the general public still getting comfortable with Marvel. I wasn’t sure if viewers who hadn’t read the comic books would be able to embrace the darkness.

And I was absolutely wrong about that.

Audiences had no problem accepting it, and loving it. Which means I learned a lesson so many people do in this world: Trust in Loeb.

Credit: Netflix

Nrama: This run on Daredevil has been critically acclaimed from day one, but it never rose to the lofty heights to be a Top 10 fixture or change the landscape ala Ms. Marvel or Amazing Spider-Man’s “Brand New Day.” That being said, do you think there’s room for books like this in the long-run?

WackerDaredevil’s very rarely been a #1 seller; it’s just not that kind of book. Heck, it even went bi-monthly in the 70s sales were so grim. It might’ve been a Top 10 book here or there, but continually.

I don’t judge success on how comic books are ranked against each other. Great comic books can be creative successes without being a sales success. And really, no one outside of the publisher knows what the book actually sold. The numbers that are public are a very specific set of figures showing rank against a specific unit of measurement. And they only take into account a section of the readership as a whole.

I think the creative success and Marvel’s willingness to commit to it is the reason why books like this can exist. Marvel has the kind of characters that creators can pore themselves into. There’s no way you can read this Daredevil run and not know in some respects how Mark Waid or Chris Samnee’s mind works. That to me is the real value of great comic books. You felt it in Frank’s run, in Brian’s run, etc. Through the story you get to live in the creator’s mind for a little bit.

Nrama: Last question, but since we have you and you work in animation now, can you say if Daredevil will appear in any of Marvel’s upcoming animated shows?

Wacker: There are no plans at the moment, but I would love it.

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