Today, Ethan and Drew are discussing Daredevil 32, originally released October 23rd, 2013.
Ethan: There have been a couple of times now that I’ve wondered aloud about whether this or that character in Daredevil is about to die. Sometimes with tongue in cheek, like when we saw the crooked judge take a pot shot at Matt in the courthouse, or with a little more concern like at the end of the last issue, where we saw something that looked like Foggy hanging from the neck in a darkened room. I don’t know if it’s just coincidence or a concerted effort by Mark Waid to always seem like he’s killing off one of his characters, but guess what: in Daredevil 32, I think he’s really done it. He’s gone and punched Matt Murdock’s ticket.
Last time we saw Matt — back when he was still alive — he was walking into a townhouse where what looked like Foggy’s body was hanging from a noose. As it turns out, the body is just a model made by the Jester as part of a poorly planned attempt to get revenge on Daredevil, who has no trouble smelling the fakeness of the body and the cyanide on the “suicide note.” In the course of the Jester’s plan failing we get confirmation that he’s working with the Sons of the Serpent as a whimsical contractor. Matt returns to the office to find Foggy itching for some work. Matt enlists Foggy to help in researching the Sons of the Serpent in order to kick them out of the city government, and they find some clues that seem to be pointing to an old spellbook called the Darkhold as being directly tied to the organization’s origins. Matt stops by the mansion of Doctor Strange to get a consultation, which in turn sends him into rural Kentucky looking for a man named “Jack Russell” whom Strange identifies as the expert on the Darkhold. When Matt arrives in Kentucky, he finds a town that seems to be entirely populated by members of the Sons of the Serpent. What’s more, Matt literally almost bumps into a full-blown lynch mob that’s after a small band of strange looking (and very Halloween-themed) characters. Matt attempts to help fend off the mob, but ends up being shot in the upper chest and as the issue ends, appears to bleed out.
Before I lose the dirty little scraps of credibility I might have, no, of course I don’t really think Waid is bringing this title to a weird, abrupt end. This probably won’t event slow Matt down that much, violent death in comics being what it is (more of a polite request by the Grim Reaper that maybe you wouldn’t mind stopping by his place for tea, just for a little while?) rather than a final pronouncement that your time is up.
Even so, it’s a pretty gruesome few panels there, no? Doesn’t look like anybody’s home anymore, and that is really quite a lot of blood leaving all at once. That’s one of the things that makes characters like Daredevil or Hawkeye a little different than their peers — when the bad guys knock them around, they’re in a lot more danger of coming to serious harm. No unbreakable skin or healing factor — not even the absurdly enhanced durability that almost every superhero has. We don’t talk about it much because it’s just part of the territory, but heroes like Angel and Cyclops are being thrown through brick walls or flying out of explosions all the time (and those people’s superpowers are “growing pretty wings” and “shooting lasers,” neither of which have anything to do with being able to stay alive). Nevertheless, it seems like the moment your superpower crosses a certain threshold of implausibility, there’s this unspoken agreement that you qualify for an upgrade to “much harder to kill” status.
Bad luck for Daredevil, then, since his skill set tops out at “acrobatics,” “situationally limited awareness of his surroundings,” and “super-smelling.” I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t see your name on the upgrade list here — would you like to fill out an application for our credit card? It comes with a cash-back percentage and you’ll accrue points towards your Real Superhero status at the same time! And there’s no doubt Matt could use a little more oomph at times, poor guy almost fractures his leg just trying to kick Frankenstein’s Monster in the face.
He doesn’t fare much better against the zombie
…or against the mummy
…or in trying to charm the lady vampire, or the werewolf
So clearly a little boost would be a welcome — Wait. Hold on JUST A MINUTE — I know it’s almost Halloween, but what the hell just happened? Where did Draculette and her merry band of monsters come come from? Judging from the cover art of the next issue, Matt’s about as confused by this turn of events as I am. What do you think, Drew — is this just a little October fun, or are we going to get a enough backstory for our spooky new friends for it to be anything more than that? And what’s the significance of that Darkhold spellbook thing — how is it going to help Matt fight the Serpents, especially if they’re a big enough group to be raising lynch mobs across the country?
Drew: Well, Ethan, I was as in the dark as you about these characters as you are until I read your summary — suddenly, the name “Jack Russell” jumped out as a detail that probably means something. Not having an encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel universe, I turned to the next best thing — the Marvel wiki — and discovered that Waid actually already gave us a backstory for that werewolf: Mr. Jack Russell. I don’t always like researching characters — a well-written serial should give us all the backstory we need in a given episode (or at least in an arc) — but sometimes it opens up interesting corners of a publisher’s history.
(And let me be clear: I’m neither bemoaning nor discounting foreknowledge — comics have the special ability to deliver on character moments that have been months, years, even decades in the making — but I don’t think an issue should require research in order do work. Ultimately, I don’t think I needed any research to know anything — the werewolf is a werewolf, the mummy is a mummy, etc. — but it was fun to dig into the history of these characters to learn that Frankenstein’s monster used to be teamed-up with Doop, for example.)
Anyway, seeing all of these undead characters was fun — and gives Waid a likely out for Matt’s apparent death — but the meat of this issue happens before that reveal. I love that Matt doesn’t want to go into the Sanctum Sanctorum because of “weird smells, weirder noises, rooms that don’t map to [his] radar sense.” Matt’s street-level believability may make him more vulnerable, but it also makes him less willing to put up with superhero nonsense. Waid handles this incongruous pairing with aplomb, playing up all of Doctor Strange’s theatricality to hilarious effect.
Now, it might be easy to see this as a dismissive stereotype of Kentucky — indeed, the first thing Matt encounters upon his arrival is a lynch mob out to catch “dark ‘uns” — but it’s yet another fakeout. Like the potshot from the judge or Foggy’s hanging body, the lesson is clear: don’t trust your eyes.
Because Matt can’t see, his experience of the Jester’s trap is completely different from what the Jester intended. We were shocked at a body that looked like Foggy’s — trusting our eyes — but Matt could only perceive a very fake body hanging in a room that smells of cyanide. The interesting thing is that, because of the limits of the medium, we only have our eyes to trust. Our greatest assets become our greatest liability. When the green cloud of Foggy’s snacks (or any other trick this team has used to convey the other senses) fades away, we’re left only with what we see, but we keep running into instances where appearances can be deceiving. When those appearances are literal, Matt has the drop on us, but when they’re figurative — like those of a lynch mob running through small town Kentucky — we get to experience the surprise right along with him.
Waid and Samnee have always been brilliant at doling out these kinds of surprises — Foggy’s cancer, Coyote’s slave-trade, Ikari’s vision — and as I look back, I can see that each instance has required us to make simple assumptions only to have them totally upended. It’s all been a manifestation of “don’t trust your eyes,” putting us in situations where our sense of vision is useless; that is, putting us in Matt’s shoes. It’s an incredible concept, and one that Waid has been building basically since issue one, and I’m sad that his run will soon be coming to an end. 36 issues is a good long run (and without a bad issue in the bunch, this one is sure to stand the test of time), and I can’t wait to see where both Waid and Samnee end up. But I’m getting ahead of myself — the time for eulogizing is not yet upon us. Bring on those last four issues!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?