Drew: We often chide comics for their relatively high cost of entry. It’s easy enough to pick up random issues here and there, but to really dig into a series might require an understanding of decades of stories, and how any of it might matter now. What’s worse is that any given series may have crossed paths with any number of other series over its long history (and might just be crossing paths with any of them again soon). To committed fans, this creates an immersive, almost tactile world, but to folks hoping to ease their way into comics, that dense, interwoven history can be downright impenetrable. We’re generally willing to go along for the ride here at Retcon Punch (which is why we’ve aimed to cover essentially any crossover event DC throws at us), trusting that that dedication will be rewarded. In the final scene of Daredevil 21, Mark Waid turns that expectation on its head, actively rewarding our ignorance (or at least uncertainty) about exactly what’s going on.
The issue picks up right where the previous one left off — with Matt in Coyote’s lair, as both are being overrun by Coyote’s newly freed prisoners. Matt manages to scare away the crowd by breaking the machine the Spot is hooked up to. Of course, this also allows the Spot to escape, and immediately start trying to kill Coyote, but Matt needs Coyote alive — both to exonerate Foggy’s client AND to tell him whose behind the plot to sabotage his life. Coyote cops to the murder, but isn’t able to get specific about his bosses before he and the Spot are sucked into the feedback created by the portal-collars all of the prisoners were wearing.
It’s a thrilling sequence (though I’ll admit that I may be a sucker for “Tell me who sent you, damn it!” interrogation scenes), but the real excitement of the issue comes in the daring emotional reveals that populate the issue’s three epilogues.
The first is Foggy apologizing to Matt for doubting him, and admitting that he told Kirsten everything. Matt is upset that Foggy doesn’t trust him, but Foggy insists that Matt must be in denial — his friend (a born-and-bred Catholic, mind you) would NEVER be able to live down the guilt for all the bad shit that he’s done. Foggy has a point, but Matt’s counter-argument essentially boils down to “if you know me so well, then you’d know I haven’t forgiven myself.”
That notion is borne out in epilogue #2, where we read Matt’s note to Milla explaining that he’ll spend the rest of his life trying to make up for what he’s done wrong. Heartbreakingly, it’s revealed that this note (and apparently every other one Matt has ever sent her) is intercepted by the doctors at the psychiatric hospital and secreted away in a file.
The third coda finds Kirsten enlisting somebody’s help in bringing Matt in. The final reveal shows us that this mystery man is Spider-Man, but maybe we need more information to truly understand who this is:
Now, readers of Amazing Spider-Man 698-699 (or 700, but that wasn’t out when this issue was released) might have had a question about when this is happening (and thus, who is really behind the mask), but since the timing of these cameos is always a little up in the air, everybody should react to Spidey’s line exactly like Kirsten does. We’re used to getting the hero’s perspective — which is to say, we’re used to getting ALL of the information that’s available — but aligning us with a civilian here is a neat trick. Like Kirsten, we simply aren’t expecting Spider-Man to have this reaction, which makes this reveal incredibly effective. More importantly, it would be less effective if we already knew that Spider-Man wasn’t exactly to be trusted. Relying on our uncertainty has been a tool Waid has used quite a bit in this arc, but doing it with a character from another series requires an extra level of bravado, and might have just worked to sell a few issues of ASM.
Before I turn things over to Patrick, I’ve got to sing my praises on the art in this issue. We’ve rightly sung Chris Samnee’s praises for his work here (and I’m particularly taken by the brush effects on his ink work), but I can’t get over Javier Rodriguez’s colors. We often only remark about colorists on really flashily colored titles like Green Lantern: New Guardians, and while Rodriguez’s work here certainly doesn’t draw as much attention to itself, his subtle brush-work that jibes perfectly with Samnee’s inks. Moreover, while the art doesn’t feature complex rendering and lighting effects, Rodriguez is still taking full advantage of modern printing techniques to produce some incredible atmosphere. The entire issue looks incredible, but my favorite sequence for soaking this up is the window-lit scene in Foggy’s office, of all places.
Again, there’s nothing to draw attention to itself, but everything Rodriguez does adds depth and reality to that scene.
I could go on listing things that mesmerized me about this issue, but I should turn things over to Patrick before my girlfriend gets jealous. Patrick, were you as thrilled by the three epilogues as I was? Were you as tickled by that Spidey reveal?
Patrick: I was pretty stoked by the Spidey cameo. Two interesting things to mention about it that you haven’t already mentioned: 1) Spider-man has sort of a history of being deceptive in this Daredevil series, like when he was pretending to be a super-crime guy; and 2) it looks like he’s got horns. I can’t say for certain what any of that means, but I can guess that we’re about to see Matt Waid challenge Daredevil’s perception of his common reality in a fresh new way. Oh Superior Spider-man, you’re going to have wider implications than any of us initially imagined.
No, for me, the money reveal was the dead-end that met Matt’s letter to his ex-wife. One of the things that didn’t sit so well with me during the previous arc was the way Milla was effectively a prop. Presumably, she was once very important Matt, and her sanity was collateral damage in Daredevil’s fight against crime. But I don’t have any of those specifics because Waid’s is the only Daredevil I’ve read. Which means the relationship was never emotionally real for me. That’s all well and good when all you’re trying to do is unseat Matt Murdock as captain of the U.S.S. Daredevil, but the second you consider Milla herself, shit get’s dark fast. I don’t need my Daredevil brooding, but I do need to know that he feels horrible about all the horrifying stuff in his world. This series usually has me chuckling to myself or pumping my fists in excitement, but I think this is the first time the series ever broke my heart:
Drew, you’re right to suggest that the emotional oomph of the issue is scattered across the various codas, but it’s arresting how well Matt’s crumbling persona is forecast earlier in the issue. In fact, there is the oddest parallel between Matt’s sunny disposition and the fucked-up condition The Spot finds himself in. The Spot is an allusive motherfucker because it’s essentially impossible to pin him down – Matt’s attitude is an emotional defense that mimics this power: you can’t upset him because he simply refuses to be in that upsetting place. Optimism is Daredevil’s escape. But we see what happens to The Spot when his escape tactic is used too frequently – he becomes a mess of holes and hands, all grasping for something to hold on to, but only finding more holes.
So that distorted Spot is a graphic representation of what’s going on inside Matt’s head. PLUS it’s disturbing as shit – reinforcing the idea that Daredevil’s world is so much darker than this series’ early run would suggest.
I know you were already praising the color work in this issue, but I’ma go ahead and heap one more specific point of praise on Rodriguez. There are a few very quick flashbacks, all of which switch over to a set of high-contrast, sepia-toned colors. It immediately feels like an image out of the past, evoking both that Instagrammy yellowishness and the color printing technologies comics used in the 80s and 90s.
I know there are a lot of exciting directions this series could go in, but this is one of the series where the current issue is so compelling, I don’t really feel the need to speculate on what happens next. You know what I mean? So much of this serialized storytelling is about making us excited for what’s about to happen. Mark Waid successfully has me excited about what is happening.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?