Funnybook Babylon

March 9, 2009

Page Appreciation: David Aja and a Damn Amazing Piece of Storytelling from Daredevil #116

Filed under: Articles — Tags: , , , , , , — David Uzumeri @ 10:39 am

Gonna go ahead and say it: David Aja is the best thing to happen to comic book art since J.H. Williams III.

His technical and formal inventiveness is off the goddamn charts, and recently my co-Savage-Critic-ite Tucker Stone brought up what was a really damn great piece of storytelling from last week, Ed Brubaker and David Aja’s Daredevil #116. He liked it a lot, but he omitted one portion, one page that blew the brain out of my head and really made me want to contribute to the panel/page dissection initiated by those geniuses over at Mindless Ones – this little masterpiece. I’ve cut out the narration for the purposes of both avoiding spoilers and focusing purely on the art.

Daredevil #116

So, here’s Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. In one page.

He’s a dude with a lot of history. He was a Spider-Man villain – and that’s pretty evident by the basic structure of what lies within his profile silhouette. Spider-Man lies at the center of the webbing that, due to matching the color of the negative space outside the silhouette, overpowers the structure of this … let’s call it a mindscape. Spider-Man’s web is the origination of the demons Kingpin fights, at least beyond the usual gangster bullshit anybody of his stature has to deal with, and that’s why we’ve got that pistol and automatic rifle in the same color as the web. That’s the primary intrusion from the world outside the Kingpin to the world inside the Kingpin, the major threat to the balanced and stable yet morally repugnant life he’s built for himself, the Tony Soprano fantasy.

Then we’ve got Daredevil. He looms larger than Spider-Man, because he practically mugged him in the middle of some desperate alleyway and stole the Kingpin because Frank Miller felt like it, and it worked out pretty damn well for everybody. Kingpin’s been minted by Hollywood as a Daredevil villain; that’s as much of an official stamp as you can get, and that’s why Daredevil, and the radar effect that symbolizes his signature power-set, dominates the Kingpin’s illustrated mindscape, more than Spider-Man or the guns that symbolize a constant life of violence. Spider-Man was a nuisance that drew him into the powered world, but Daredevil was a nuanced, personal enmity.

And then, there’s Bullseye, the still-major avatar of human psychosis, hiding within Daredevil’s shadow, Fisk’s greatest mistake. While Daredevil’s radar and Spider-Man’s webbing dominate the proceedings, he’s just sort of a creepy spectre of death lurking within Daredevil. (I have no idea if this was intentional, but I *love* how Bullseye’s sai is where Daredevil’s dick would be, equating getting a good rodgering by Matt Murdock with getting a sai through your abdomen courtesy of Bullseye.)

And then, outside all of this is Wilson’s lady, his woman, Vanessa, the only halfway decent thing inside his life, the lonely artifact inhabiting the expansive, pathetic negative space that is Wilson Fisk’s life outside of being a reprehensible roly-poly ball of shit rolling downhill on every poor bastard in his way.

What’s awesome about this page is that there was originally text on this, but all of the meaning I just brought out was there before read a single damn word. I don’t know whether to credit Ed Brubaker or David Aja, but as an exercise in visual storytelling in modern superhero comics, this is pretty much untouchable.


  1. i just stared at that page when i turned to it. it was spell-binding. the only thing that week to have a semi-comparable would be the ‘the flash: rebirth’ (sidenote: i’m slightly unhappy its not called ‘flash: rebirth’) house ad. i think that was more due to the contrast in colours (i was reading ‘gotham gazette’)
    even my normally-not-into-comics sister loved the aja page

    Comment by fayzan — March 11, 2009 @ 5:46 am

  2. You should probably mention how it’s a throwback to Steranko’s artwork, who Aja seems to take a lot of inspiration from. Here’s one page froma simple google search that shows something similar from Steranko’s Cap run ( He used the technique a lot and many better than the sample I linked to.

    Not trying to take anything away from Aja, love his work, but it’s clearly an homage or inspired by Steranko’s style.

    Comment by Kirk Warren — March 11, 2009 @ 10:49 am

  3. I wouldn’t say it’s quite a throwback to Steranko. There was definitely a bit during the Death of Captain America run that was an obvious reference to that, but this Aja picture ties things into one picture so much more coherently. Steranko uses a bunch of separate images close to each other, but Aja’s is one big work that’s made up of like 5 different parts.
    My explanation may not have made sense, but I’d say it’s different.

    Comment by CasinoGrande — March 11, 2009 @ 3:31 pm

  4. wow, that’s fantastic. Thanks for pointing out Aja, I’ll be checking him out.

    Comment by p — March 12, 2009 @ 11:54 am

  5. I’d be really curious to see Brubaker’s script for this page.

    Great reading David.

    Comment by Zebtron A. Rama — March 13, 2009 @ 11:14 am

  6. It’s not that it’s a throwback to Steranko – it’s an outgrowth of Steranko. Aja is so obviously influenced by Steranko, but as CasinoGrande points out, he’s not just doing an homage to Steranko. He’s taking that style and using it is a starting point, expanding its reach and power as he creates a style that’s unquestionably new.

    Aja makes my comics formalism nerdness explode with happiness.

    Comment by A. Bayer — March 13, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

  7. I flat out hate Tucker Stone but he is quite right about DD #116

    and damn was this a great page

    Comment by Nathan — March 13, 2009 @ 8:07 pm

  8. Just as Bullseye’s sai is where Matt’s junk would be, his forehead target is where Matt’s heart would be.

    Truly a great page.

    Comment by Rand — March 17, 2009 @ 8:12 pm

  9. Aja is without a doubt the pick of the relative newcomer crop, and in time I fully expect him to sitting at the top of the tree with the Quitelys and Bonds of this world. I luurve him.

    While that panel might find its formal roots in Steranko’s work, it would be wrong to think of his work as purely derivative. He’s a formal innovator, an experimenter, someone who’s (thank God) happy to eschew naturalism when something else will get the job done better or an a more interesting fashion. He’s also one of the few comic artists currently working for the big two who crams dynamism and movement into his work, which is both wonderful, in that superhero comics should on the whole be crammed with the stuff, and kinda sad because it highlights just how lifeless so many action comics have become. I was reading Batmanga the other day and almost got teary eyed with nostalgia at the relentless movement in the frames…

    He’s the saviour of modern comics, basically.

    (Oh, and what about those first few panel which rock from side to side, eh? How’s that for wilful formal innovation?)

    Comment by Zom — March 18, 2009 @ 10:34 am

  10. […] done this in a variety of ways. David Uzumeri wrote a pretty fantastic appreciation of a single page from Daredevil 116 for Funnybook Babylon. It’s absolutely worth reading, if you have the time. The reason why […]

    Pingback by 4thletter! » Blog Archive » 7 Artists: David Aja — July 8, 2010 @ 11:01 am

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