Daredevil 20

Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Ray Bari are discussing Daredevil 20, originally released November  21st, 2012.

Patrick: Let’s talk about dramatic reveals. No, no — no spoilers before the jump (but boy-howdy: spoilers after the jump). There’s nothing worse than a botched reveal — the sense that the storytellers just don’t understand the value of their own story is discouraging as hell. But a well-deployed revelation — one that alters the fundamental nature of a character or conflict — should turn your stomach just from sheer excitement. Daredevil 20 drops two such revelations, and with an uncharacteristically graphic imagery, ratchets that stomach turning up to 11.

Last time we saw Daredevil, his head was separated from his body. While that sounds alarming, both appear to be alive and well — even if his body is tied up. Coyote (believed at this point to be The Spot in a violent new persona) brags to Daredevil’s head that he’s been making mad-bank off human trafficking. Y’see, the quickest way to pacify all these bodies is to remove all their heads and then store those heads haphazardly in closet. Horrifying. Meanwhile, Daredevil’s body has Houdinied his way out of his bonds and stumbles into Coyote’s control room, but because his head is in the other room, he can’t sense The Spot’s unconscious body wired into some machine — presumably the machine generating all these head-removing portals. Daredevil frees himself, slaps a headless-collar on Coyote and then powers down the machine. But the freed slaves turn on him!

I know this series took a little flak a few months ago when Mole Man dug up a cemetary and sent Matt on a quest for his father’s remains. “Too dark” they said, “not consistent with the tone of the series!’ they went on. That criticism isn’t totally unfounded, but it does reek of the all-too-common book book fan complaint: “I don’t want this thing I love to change.” Yes, Matt Murdock’s new-found optimism is a boon for the tone of the series and it is more fun to follow characters that are capable of having fun. But Matt made a conscious decision to be more carefree and happy — this decision would mean nothing if the world around him didn’t challenge this disposition. That’s exactly what Coyote is up to.

Consider the previous adventures of Daredevil: escaping Dr. Doom’s fortress, that whole business with the Mega Drive — none of it is particularly weighty. I mean, the Super Crime organizations might technically be scary, but they sent wave after wave of clueless henchmen after the Drive. It was the sort of goofy fun that let the New Matt shine through. There are certainly fewer laughs when your villain deals in human trafficking. So the tension rests, not only in how Daredevil will rescue these people, but in how Matt can maintain his sunny disposition against a criminal that would use this method of drug smuggling:

Artist Chris Samnee handles this darkness with aplomb, taking extra care to emphasize the human element to all the horrible things Coyote is doing. Look at the woman on the left in the picture above (and the workman-like expression on the man shoving drugs inside her). Samnee also masterfully hides the heads of the slaves just outside the frame during Coyote’s explanation of his evil plans, making the full-page image of the head-pile that much more shocking. But while that picture tells a horrifying tale all its own, the beat that Mark Waid and Samnee deliver immediately afterward is the gut-wrenching detail that makes the whole thing seem a little too real for comfort: feeding time.

Oh, head-pile, I feel for you, I really do.

There’s another force that drives this issue forward, and that’s the clever voice of Matt Murdock, attorney at law. He uses his witness-interrogating skills to keep Coyote talking to his head so his body can investigate the cave. Before Shit Gets Real, Matt’s able to crack jokes about Coyote’s name (comparing his schemes to a Road Runner cartoon) and even talk a little shit:

I like seeing Matt’s lawyering abilities leveraged as Daredevil. It also allows for a fun little moment when Coyote realizes that Daredevil’s body has been up to something — he only suspects something is amiss because Matt stopped jibber-jabbering. Hey, even the bad guys know Murdock likes to talk.

And with that, I’d like to hand it off to my friend, Ray. Ray and I were in an improv class together, and through the course of normal conversation, I discovered that he’s a total nerd (just like me!). I hadn’t been reading Daredevil at the time, and he properly admonished this Mark-Waid-shaped hole in my pull. So it’s interesting to me that the issue we’re discussing is so uncharacteristically dark for this series. Did you find the grim tone distracting? Is Coyote too intense of a villain for this series? Or are we dealing with a more versatile Daredevil — one that can deal with this kind of conflict and still make witty quips?
Ray: Thanks for the introduction Patrick! Well, like you mentioned, I too found that the grim tone worked perfectly with Mark Waid’s gameplan for the character of Daredevil. The whole-selling point of Waid’s take on the character was that Matt Murdoch was not going be brooding and depressed anymore: he was going to fake it until he made it (or die trying). However, just because Matt has a cheery outlook, Daredevil still faces the exact same threats fighting crime in Hell’s Kitchen as he did before Waid took over. This dichotomy has made Waid’s run so stand out.

A perfect example of this is the first page of the issue. Daredevil recounts the horrors that have been inflicted upon him by Coyote (including how his friggin’ head has been detached from his body), rather than jump straight into battle with Coyote, Daredevil smirks. His voice-over informing us that “and that’s when I knew I’d won.” Now, this line works on two levels: first, it reflects Waid’s new take on the character — that even when the chips are stacked against him, Daredevil is gonna charge, almost foolhardily, headfirst into the fray; and secondly, it’s almost like Waid and Daredevil are assuring the readers that Daredevil hadn’t been going crazy these last few issues, he hasn’t broken down despite his circumstances, and that he has this under control… for now. Rather than waiting to see how things could get worse for Daredevil, as was the trend this last decade of the book, we, the readers, are waiting to see how Daredevil outsmarts Coyote and redeems himself with Foggy.

Also, like you mentioned, I loved the subtle nods to Matt being a lawyer that Waid masterfully weaves into the story. What could be a cliche villain monologue is revealed to be Daredevil working his witness on the stand, pumping Coyote for just enough information while not letting Coyote know what he’s up to. Additionally, I enjoyed the Kristen McDuffie interlude in the middle of the issue which gave the reader a few breather pages to make the earlier human trafficking reveal a chance to pop. Moreover, I’d argue, these pages are where Waid reveals Daredevil’s real enemy. Matt has adopted his happy go-lucky attitude as a mechanism to better deal with his dual life, yet all its really done is isolate him from those who care about him. It’s almost counter-intuitive. Matt Murdoch’s  attitude prevents him from maintaining meaningful relationships and, thus, brings about harsher, darker circumstances for himself. By not dealing and reflecting on his problems — or admitting his vulnerabilities — Daredevil has literally blinded (excuse the pun) himself to his worst enemy: himself. Herein lies the genius of  Waid: whereas most writers have an arch villain pulling the strings all along leading to a climactic battle in issue 12, Waid first gets a firm grasp on a character and what makes him tick, and then keeps the reader coming back not for the ultimate reveal, but because the readers are invested in the character Waid has crafted.

In terms of art, Chris Samnee is firing on all cylinders. The way he builds up tension to the closet reveal by only showing the human trafficking workers bodies creates an uncanny sense of dread. Samnee’s panel layouts and use of shadows in this issue makes me hopeful that he sticks around with the character for quite a while.

That’s enough of me praising Mark Waid and Chris Samnee! All I can say is, month in and month out, I find that Waid’s Daredevil is one of the finest superhero books in my pull list. If you’re not reading it, get started: you’re in for a treat!

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

5 comments on “Daredevil 20

  1. The pile of heads was unlike anything I’d even imagined would occur.

    Daredevil’s smirk on page one was masterful.

    Seeing Spot (The Spot?) hanging there, the reader knowing that he was a prisoner as well before Daredevil knew was masterful story telling and perhaps is one of the best examples this year of why comics can work in a fully unique way from other mediums.

    I think this was Samnee’s best work. I think this might have been Waid’s best Daredevil story. I’m beside myself with glee.

    • Yeah, I also really liked the dramatic irony of seeing Spot before DD knows what’s going on.

      Actually that whole sequence is super cool. I know Waid’s spent a lot of time experimenting with Matt’s senses working in different ways to perceive his environment, but making his body wander around without the head was a fantastic little twist of that. He’s still more capable than most, but without that head he can’t hear, he can’t smell, he can’t radar-sense. Something about the image of a headless Daredevil using a cane to explore a room just makes me happy.

  2. Hey, so if they’re using holes which can be made and unmade at will, and can connect any two places, why would they need drug mules at all? Couldn’t they just have a hole in the floor of wherever the drugs are manufactured that leads directly to wherever they’re processed and sold? Why would the ladies need to be pregnant? None of that really makes any sense.

    • I thought the same thing, but sort of reasoned it out that Coyote was trying to ingratiate himself to drug smugglers. So rather than going in and reinventing the wheel, he first just offered improvements on their methods. That image is so horrifying, I could see see where maybe the justification was reverse engineered.

  3. Ray really hits the nail on the head: Matt’s upbeat attitude has to weather the storm, or he’ll totally lose it. Daredevil is historically a very dark title, but Waid’s solution is (brilliantly) to just have Matt seeing the sunny side by sheer force of will. If anything, I think dropping him into darker material galvanizes Waid’s thesis, making for an even stronger take on the character.

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