Drew: We tend to associate soapbox speeches with masturbatory lectures important only to the speaker — it’s an annoyance when someone gets on their soapbox — but at one time, soapbox speeches were actually considered a form of entertainment. I’m not entirely sure if the audiences tended to agree with the speeches, or if there was more of a morbid curiosity factor in play (the same type that might keep you up late watching youtube clips of The O’Rielly Factor), but the point is: there was a time when somebody would literally be on a soapbox, and people’s reaction wasn’t to just tell them to get of of their damn soapbox. I was reminded of this as I read Kirsten McDuffie’s soaring call for levelheadedness in Daredevil 34.
The issue finds Matt back in New York, sharing the recovered Darkholm pages with Doctor Strange. Strange explains that the pages include the name of The Serpent — that is, the famous apple pimp from Genesis — which allegedly gives anyone who speaks it special powers of persuasion. Matt’s not sure about all that, but he knows he has to get the Jester — who has been helping the Sons of the Serpent incite violence across the city — off of the street, so he hatches a plan: he rigs up a system to make a PA announcement to basically every electronic device in the city, telling the Sons of the Serpent that he will torch their precious Darkholm pages unless they turn in the Jester.
It’s a daringly proactive idea — and one that owes a great deal to Matt’s lawyer-y negotiation skills — but is probably lacking any real threat. How do the Sons of the Serpent know he’s not bluffing? Enter Kirsten McDuffie, the only person Matt knows daring enough to read what very well may be the palpably evil name of that original Serpent over his jury rigged PA. Satisfied that he has shown the Serpents he means business, Matt zips off to collect the Jester, but Kirsten has other ideas. Being a lawyer herself (an A.D.A., no less), she decides to use the powerful soapbox Matt has assembled to appeal to the hearts and minds of the citizens of New York.
And that’s where her soapbox becomes rather nakedly Mark Waid’s. Ultimately, her speech is meant to combat the racial unrest the Serpents have been seeding around the city, but Waid broadens it just enough to make it clear that he’s talking about fear-mongering in general.
Calling out people for demonizing the poor feels political, but I think that’s exactly the reaction Waid is driving at. His agenda here is ultimately entirely apolitical: he just wants everyone to take a deep breath and think. About what they’re scared of. About who enables those irrational fears. About what they might have to gain from it. It reminds me a bit of John Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” — a much-needed reminder that maybe the sky isn’t falling, after all.
Part of why I respect this position so much is that I’ve seen Waid take it over and over again, and always to the benefit of the discourse he’s engaged in. Seriously, he was a lone voice of reason when Apple allegedly banned Saga 12 from its iOS Comixology app, or there was that time he had to defend himself for essentially asserting that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Waid is an incredibly thoughtful, principled person, and I personally find his argument here beyond reproach…but I’m still just a little uncomfortable at the idea of having the writer speak so directly and openly to the audience.
Of course, my comfort has nothing to do with this. I asserted last month that Waid is “the writer without fear,” and I cannot think of anything more creatively fearless than dropping all pretense and just telling us what he really thinks. Ultimately, though, this fearlessness works because it’s so familiar to our everyday lives. Isolated violence and ratings-hungry news stations have eroded much of the country’s trust in its fellow citizens, creating an aura of fear that follows us everywhere, from airports to concert venues, and even to our children’s schools. That’s the fear that may be the most familiar to us, which means it’s precisely the kind of fear Daredevil doesn’t have.
Intriguingly, Waid doesn’t dissipate that fear, but simply refocuses it. We should not distrust the unknown immigrants, Kirsten argues, but the friends and coworkers who encourage those feelings. It’s ultimately a much more introspective — and harder to digest — message than we’re used to being fed, but is exactly the kind of complex, difficult moral I’ve come to expect from this series.
Geeze, Patrick, I’ve burned through my word count here and haven’t even mentioned the cliffhanger ending (though, as we’ve already catalogued, Waid may have cried wolf one-too-many times), or Matt’s openness about the “hot, flirty thing” he has with Kirsten. I’ve probably already tipped my hand about which of those I’m most interested in, but I’ll leave it to you to cover whatever you want. (How’s that for an open-ended prompt?)
I mean: not really. One of the reasons Kirsten / Waid’s soapbox speech works as well as it does is that there’s so much other really well-crafted storytelling throughout. Even the speech itself is well-crafted – there’s just enough rhetoric to make it an interesting read, but not so much as to feel buzz-wordy. There’s also just the undeniable attractiveness of an appeal to reason. It’s a phenomenal piece of writing, is my point, and it’s easy to forget that it supports a handful of smart, effective on-going stories that reach beyond the issue’s capital M Message.
As usual, this means that there is a lot of beauty to be found in the details of the issue. I love the New Yorkiness of Daredevil. I know that’s a thing that Marvel does, and that they do for a lot of their characters: Spider-Man is New York, Hawkeye is New York, Daredevil is New York. Matt seems especially connected to the city in this issue – the pre-issue Daily-Bugle recap offers an adorable “You may rest easy New Yorkers” when reporting Daredevil’s return to the city. It’s a nice little appeal to NYC as a character in this drama, and that’s ultimately the character that Matt’s fighting to save throughout the Sons of the Serpent arc.
Consider Matt’s approach to intimacy – he reveals his identity to Kirsten, but he does so in a very guarded, I’m-still-telling-jokes-about-it kind of way. But his intimacy with New York? It’s bare: naked and vulnerable. He turns to Kirsten for logistical help, but he turns to the city for emotional support. Check out how he gathers his own courage after his meeting with Doctor Strange.
First of all: holy cow – that a beautiful page. But all he has to do to “get over it” is take in his city. And then, once he puts his plans into action, he lets slip an “I love this city.” He’s dismissing Kirsten’s offer for directions, but he reveals his true feelings in that moment. It’s not just a city that’s easy for him or familiar (or, y’know, something he can navigate with radar sense), it’s something he loves.
That sentiment is weirdly at odds with Doctor Strange’s teeny-tiny freakout in Matt’s office. I don’t totally know what to make of it, but Strange says:
I’m… never relaxed in this part of town. The soulless architecture… the omnipresent energy of people obsessed with profits, spreadsheets and material goods…
Now, far be it for me to tell the good Doctor that you can use spreadsheets for fun stuff (give me a week with his library and a computer with Excel on it, and we could get that shit humming), but he’s expressing… something very specific. It’s in direct conflict with Matt’s ‘I [heart] NY’ attitude, and either that’s to draw attention to just how comfortable the city makes Matt, or there’s more going on with Strange than meets the eye. Mind you – I’ve been saying as much about Strange after just about all of his appearances over the last year, so either something REALLY BIG is in the works with him, or he’s just a weird dude and I’m being insensitive about his mild autism.
No, but seriously, what’s up that with “we’re all pulling for him” comment right as the elevator door closes? That’s not comforting at all.
Drew, you asked me about the ending, and whether tossing Foggy’s fate into a cliffhanger has any effect on me any more. This is one of those scenarios where I feel a little cheated by my own perspective. I know — and you know and we all know — that after two more issues, Daredevil is going to move across the country and the series is getting renumbered. So without any indication within the narrative itself, we can be reasonably well-assured that Big Changes are afoot for Matt Murdock. After fighting such a lovely, heartfelt fight for the soul of New York, I can’t fathom what would motivate him out of town, but I have to assume it will be Foggy-related. So, it doesn’t really matter how many times Waid has cried wolf, I’m bracing myself for the worst.
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?