You never attack from a direction I could guess. That’s why you don’t lose.
Drew: With that line, Mark Waid reveals exactly what has made his run on Daredevil so memorable: he’s always delivering the unexpected. I’ve repeated time and again that Waid’s work on this series — like Daredevil himself — is absolutely fearless, and it’s thrilling to see Waid suggest that that eschewing of safety or predictability is exactly what makes this series a success. The boldness of his writing throughout this run speaks for itself, but by having Matt rely on outside help from Elektra and Kirsten to implement that unpredictability, Waid reminds us that even the man without fear needs the support of equally fearless friends, highlighting the work of Waid’s own collaborators.
The issue begins with Matt rushing to Foggy’s hospital bed, where the doctor explains that, while they nearly lost Foggy, he’s actually responding quite well to an experimental (that is, illegal) treatment. Oh, right: that doctor works for the Sons of the Serpent, who are happy to keep Matt’s life in order, so long as he does what they say. Today, they want him to defend one of their own in court. The defendant is a Serpent, through and through, but is apparently actually innocent of the arson he’s accused of. Matt struggles to decide whether to capitulate (and defend an innocent man), or stand up to the Serpents, effectively throwing his life away. He turns to Electra for advice, who leads him to the statement I quoted above, and gives him a second wind for facing the Serpents. More specifically, it gives Matt the inspiration to buck the either/or statement he was presented, so he marches into court, and lays out the Serpent’s key blackmailing chip: that he is Daredevil.
As a reveal, that one’s actually pretty low stakes — Matt was outed years ago, and virtually every character we’ve encountered knows or suspects that he is Daredevil — but that doesn’t make it any less surprising. The Serpent’s worked very hard to give him two undesirable options, and it’s incredibly empowering to watch him thumb his nose and pick “none of the above.” Of course, it seems like this decision might have consequences: as the Serpent’s carefully point out, revealing that Matt is Daredevil could have him disbarred in the State of New York (which might explain his impending move to California), and, you know, all of the other “friends and loved ones in danger” reasons that normally lead superheroes to have secret identities in the first place.
Still, Matt’s back was up against a wall, and this is an ingenious solution, and I’m impressed at just how cleverly Waid and artist Chris Samnee work to build up to it. Basically, from the moment that Electra so socratically leads Matt to finding an unexpected solution to the final panel of this issue (almost four pages later) is a study in slowly ramped tension: Matt and Kirsten arrive late, emphasizing the question of what decision Matt came to; Kirsten — who Waid took great care in painting as fearless in issue 34 — hesitates before implementing whatever gutsy plan they’ve cooked up; Kirsten calls Matt, of all people to the stand. Every detail is well-observed, from the visualization of heartbeats (a regular affect of the series, but employed here specifically to get our pulses pumping), to the way Matt uses his finger to know when he’s poured enough water into his glass.
That detail in particular reveals that Matt is still cool as a cucumber underneath all of this crescendoing drama. That’s to be expected — he is the Man Without Fear, after all — but it also illustrates the gulf of confidence that Kirsten needs to cross to be there with him. For me, that’s the real crux of the issue; forget the Serpents or the cameras in the courtroom, half of the bravery of Matt answering that he’s Daredevil comes from the person asking the question in the first place. Kirsten, as a vital contributor to the plan Matt cooked up is very obviously the Samnee to Matt’s Waid. It’s a fun idea that allows Waid to give Samnee his due.
Speaking of acknowledging the art team, I have to once again applaud Javier Rodriguez’s color work. He’s been an indispensable part of this series for so long, it’s hard to imagine what it would look like without him. It’s the perfect match for Samnee’s ink work, and is always pitch-perfect for the whatever mood the scene requires. I know it’s kind of a cliched shorthand, but I even love how subtly he washes out flashbacks to convey that they’re flashbacks — a detail that actually becomes important when showing the secretary’s phone call with Matt.
She’s in flashback; Matt isn’t. It’s as basic as these cues can get (and calls no attention to itself), but is vitally important in conveying exactly what’s going on between these three panels.
Okay, I’m starting to gush about almost everything, so I’d better turn it over to you, Patrick. This issue really could have been all about setting up the season finale (as I’m calling it) in issue 36, but I actually thought this had some solid emotional conclusions on its own. I liked basically everything about this issue, but there’s one thing in particular I want to ask you about: wasn’t that one of the best examples of an “I’ll allow it” you’ve ever seen?
Patrick: I always preferred the more Simpsons-y “I’m going to allow this.” It calls the fact that the judge shouldn’t be allowing it into question a little more specifically. Actually, I guess “I’m going to allow this” is the joke version of “I’ll allow it.” But to answer your question, directly: yeah, of course the judge is going to allow this. Put Matt Murdock on the stand? You gotta see where that’s going!
Drew, you hit on a lot of the things that made this issue work so well for me too, but the one area you kind of glossed over was the appearance of Elektra. Check your back issues, folks, this is the first time she appears in this volume of Daredevil. This series tends to be fairly solitary — despite the odd outing here and there, Daredevil has been the lone cape throughout. In 35 issues, we’ve only really seen him team up with Spider-Man and Punisher (a little), with the occasional consult with Silver Surfer or Doctor Strange or whatever. But those are all Big Players in the Marvel Mythos, and most of them are mainstays of Marvel’s New York. Elektra is specific to Daredevil’s own story and identity. Waid and Samnee have had this card in their hand the whole time, and patiently withheld her.
And then they use her to reflect a truth back at Matt he should have already known. In fact, it’s a truth he taught her however long ago. I love this twist of the dialogue, when Matt comments that whoever taught her to (ostensibly) be unpredictable was pretty smart. Here, I like the moment so much, let’s just throw it up here:
She responds with the just-flirty-enough “Sometimes.” It’s a gentle jab that also serves as a reminder that he does have the intelligence and the courage to work through what seems like an impossible problem. Then, without another word, she disappears. Interestingly, we get one panel of Matt just taking that in, and then a nearly identical panel, with Daredevil also (presumably) vanished into the night. The dialogue dances around this point a few times, but this moment makes it clear – these characters informed so much of each others’ histories that on some fundamental level, they are the same. That makes Elektra’s lesson of “duh, just be yourself and do what you always do” all the more meaningful – and that extends to Drew’s point about the strengths of the series. Waid and Samnee have been confidently telling surprising stories with this character for three years, and I imagine there’s a little anxiety going into the home stretch. Not to fear: they’re very good at this, remember?
I’m also going to bring up this point tomorrow is our discussion about Thunderbolts 20, but it’s alarming how much more respectfully Samnee draws Elektra than Carlo Barberi. In fact, Samnee does a wonderful job of drawing the character as strong and capable, without resorting to shitty comic book-isms. Never once is Elektra pointlessly thrusting her ass at the camera, and even though her costume just is ridiculous (no getting around that one, I guess), it never flips around of its own accord so we can see a little extra skin. Hell, there are panels in here where you can see the front of Elektra and her boobs aren’t articulated. You guys! Samnee is a revolutionary of common decency. Couple that with his fantastic gift for fluid action sequences, and we’ve got one of my favorite hand-to-hand fights I’ve read in a while.
There’s also a pretty solid mystery still working its way behind the events of this issue. Those two snake-y guys at least pretended not to know the serpents in question. The dude asks “Who’s Ogilvy?” when questioned, which Matt dismisses as playing dumb. Maybe Waid and Samnee have one last ultra-surprising development in store for us before the series packs up and moves west. Remember, if we’re celebrating Daredevil’s ability to be unpredictable, we’re also celebrating Daredevil‘s ability to be unpredictable.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?