Dakota North
Created by Martha Thomases

Red-headed former fashion model turned private eye DAKOTA NORTH originally ran an international troubleshooting agency, North Security, in a short-lived Marvel comic book from the eighties. Alas, the inspiration seemed to be more Charlie's Angels than Ms. Tree.

Still, Ms. North seemed to be doing okay, what with offices in New York, Paris, Rome and Tokyo; or at least well enough to finance her seemingly endless supply of red motorcycles and skin-tight black jumpsuits.

'Course, even a jetsetting take-charge kinda gal needs a bit of help every now and then. Pitching in are Dakota's brother, Ricky, and her faithful assistant, Mad Dog." Meanwhile, lurking just out of sight is her dad, Samuel J. "SJ" North, a retired agent of some unnamed U.S. intelligence agency.

Big guns, a little cleavage, and lots of things exploding seemed to be the main points of interest in the series, and it was scrapped after just five issues, leaving a case that began in issue three, involving super-models and nerve gas hidden in an antique pen unresolved.

However, Dakota has rather remarkable staying power for the star of a failed (and it must be admitted, rather lame and embarrassing) series. Just a little over a year later, she popped up in Web of Spider-Man, helping Spidey capture The Slasher, a serial killer who'd been murdering fashion models with a straight razor. Subsequently, she's popped up in assorted Marvel books, most notably an arc in the Cage series (featuring superpowered "hero-for-hire" Luke Cage) in the early nineties and finally as a supporting character in Daredevil in 2006. Gone were most of the more ridiculous trappings of her earlier incantations, replaced by a calm, competent professional put on retainer by the law firm Nelson & Murdock as an investigator and bodyguard (Jessica Jones formerly held the position) while Matt Murdock (AKA Daredevil) languishes in prison.

What makes this renaissance so appealling is it's dark, almost-noirish (and decidedly non-spandex, at least in the case of Dakota) tone. It's the first time she's seemed like anything other than a preposterously bad joke. It's scripted by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Michael Lark, who've done some damn fine P.I. comic work over the years, including The Little Sister, a graphic novel adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novel and Scene of the Crime, still one of the best comic book P.I. stories I've ever read.

Although Dakota has flitted in and out of the Daredevil stories, making a cameo here, or playing a pivotal but brief role there and even occasionally disappearing for a few issues, it's still got to be one of the most satisfying character turnarounds in comics history, particularly in the "Cruel and Unusual" (issues #107-110), co-written with Brubaker's old pal Greg Rucka, a man who knows a thing or two about crime and comics himself. Dakota works to free a man on death row, and realizes she's beginning to have feelings for her boss. This is the real deal -- Brubaler and Lark have teamed up here to deliver a taut, terse and decidedly adult burst of honest-to-goodness detective fiction driven more by character and plot than endless, ridiculous fight scenes.

A new Dakota North mini-series, currently unscheduled, was also rumoured to be in the works back in 2003, to be written by CB Cebulski. Whether he was planning to pick up where Brubaker and Lark left off, or turn Dakota back into the cartoon she began as remains to be seen, as the book was never published, but having seen what Brubaker's done with the character Cebulski would have had some pretty large shoes to fill.

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Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with a special thanks to John McDonagh for the heads up.


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