Drew: Ah, the anthology-style anniversary issue. I absolutely appreciate the concept of bringing in a bunch of top creators to riff on a character they know and love, but in practice, all of that talent ends up competing to leave an impression. That often means wild deconstructions of the very character the issue is celebrating — a thrilling exercise for longtime fans, but one that runs the risk of alienating more casual readers. In the letters column for Daredevil 1.5, editor Ellie Pyle asks what Daredevil means to us, but the question in my mind is “who is this comic for?”
That sounds harsh, but I only bring it up because I suspect the answer doesn’t include me, a loyal fan of Daredevil, Vol. 3, but with no other Daredevil experience. Again, that this isn’t for me isn’t inherently bad — I’ve loved a number of Batman stories that are clearly meant for über fans — but it does force me to question exactly my Daredevil fandom is. Am I a fan of Daredevil as a character? As an abstract idea? Or am I specifically a fan of Mark Waid’s Daredevil? I honestly don’t know, but this issue provides little in the way of guidance.
The feature picks up on Matt’s 50th birthday, where he’s retired as a crime-fighter, and worries too much about his only son. Waid employs some How I Met Your Mother coyness about the intervening years — most notably avoiding any substantive hints as to who his son’s mother might be — but gives us enough to understand that he’s leading a fulfilling life (no husk-of-his-former-self The Dark Knight Returns-isms here). That is all put in jeopardy when the majority of San Francisco is suddenly rendered blind — a chaotic scene that Javier Rodriguez renders with absolute abandon.It’s a striking concept (and I highly recommend José Saramango’s Blindness to anyone who’d like to explore the fallout of a blindness epidemic), and one that cleverly gives Matt the hometeam advantage. Matt disables the technology that causes the blindness (turns out it’s the offspring of Google glass: Google eye-drops), but not without sacrificing his abilities, cementing him as the man without fear before circling back to suggesting that his son also has the makings of a hero.
It’s a loving tribute to the character while still offering a wink and a nod that the adventure doesn’t have to end there. Of course, this is a creative team whose take on the character I already understand thoroughly (even if Waid apparently has plenty of surprises up his sleeve), so I can appreciate their particular brand of deconstruction: at his core, Matt is fearless. That thread is harder to find in the two backups, though I’m sure my ignorance has something to do with it.
The first is a virtual prose piece by Brian Michael Bendis, with illustrations by Alex Maleev. I can appreciate that their run is extremely well-regarded, but this story doesn’t give me much to latch onto. Indeed, the story reads more like erotic fan fiction than a comic — half because of the medium, and half because the story is told from the lusty perspective of Stana Morgan, who maybe married Matt Murdock? I don’t think I have the Daredevil knowledge of who Stana is or is not to fully understand what’s going on here, or what it means that Bullseye shows up at the end. Presumably, it’s not good, but it’s also not clear to me that this last will and testament doesn’t reflect some kind of delusion. I’ll leave it to Patrick and/or the commenters to set me straight on this.
The final story also takes the form of a last will and testament, this one for Mike Murdock, a bygone attempt by Matt to throw folks off of Daredevil’s scent by pretending to be his own twin brother. It certainly harkens back to a goofier era of Daredevil stories, but I’m not sure I understand its purpose beyond that. Why would Matt feel compelled to send himself a motivational video will from his own made-up alter-ego? Between the framing device and the presence of a “fake” Daredevil, there’s obviously some dense meta-commentary about the nature of storytelling (beyond the obvious self-deprecation of this particular chapter of Daredevil history), but I’m not sure I’m adequately familiar with the subject matter to parse it.
For me, this issue offered an interesting counterpoint to Detective Comics 27, a similarly reflective anthology-style anniversary issue. I was lukewarm on that issue largely because I was too familiar with deconstructions of Batman, where here, I think I’m not familiar enough with deconstructions of Daredevil. I know there’s a sweet-spot somewhere (which is how I got burnt out on meta-Batman riffs in the first place), but familiarity with only one version of the character is clearly shy of it.
But maybe I’m over-thinking this. This issue successfully sketches out the limits of Daredevil-dom, from off-the-wall silliness to maybe-trying-too-hard seriousness to somewhere comfortably in between. It also features a charming introduction from Pyle, as well as extensive reflections from fans and creators. I can absolutely see how this issue might be a powerful emblem for longtime fans, but I fear I may be lacking the necessary foreknowledge to fully appreciate it myself. Were you getting any of that, Patrick?
Patrick: I think you pretty much nailed it: the anthology-ness of Daredevil 1.5 does more to highlight why I shouldn’t love “Daredevil” as much as I do. I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with Matt’s history with women and that Brian Michael Bendis story really reinforced how many of Matt’s flings have been fridged in an on-going cycle of Daredevil reinvention. To the best of my knowledge Stana Morgan isn’t an established character in Daredevil’s canon, which makes her marriage, pregnancy and implied murder at the hands of Bullseye all the more frustrating. Like, is she just representative of all the women Matt Murdock has profoundly failed? Tell you what that doesn’t do, is garner my excitement for the character. Right? I should be pumping my fist in the air, hooting and hollering that “Daredevil is the coolest!” (I still celebrate like I’m 14, what of it?), but instead I’m left with an icky, confused feeling – like stepping on something squishy on your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Also, this is petty and makes me feel like an idiot, but why the hell is that second story set up that way? Each page has two-drawings, with a dense block of text in the middle. The story is far enough removed in both format and tone from all of its presumed influences that it doesn’t successfully evoke any of them. The format immediately made me think of an old LIFE magazine story, with the photographs prominently upstaging the copy. But the content of the copy is way to intimate for a magazine article, and when the final paragraph reveals that we’re reading Stana’s will, everything makes less sense, not more. What is this story? Drew very specifically used the word “illustrated” to describe Maleev’s work here, and that might be the most damning comment of all. It has less in common with the comic it’s celebrating than some weird illustrated confession / will. And “illustrated confession / will” isn’t even a phrase that makes sense.
Also, the less you think about the woman’s name, the better… “Stana” isn’t a sly/not-so-sly reference to Stan Lee, is it?
I’m similarly bummed out by the Kesel’s story. Daredevil comes off looking like such an arrogant asshole, and if that’s part of the character we’re bound and determined to celebrate, I’m not sure I want to come to any more of his parties.
Drew, you asked in your opening paragraph who this issue is for, and I’m afraid my only answers are filled with snark. Filled! The very final “story” in this anthology issue is a two-page splash of Elektra murdering some ninjas. My favorite / least favorite thing on this page is the “To be continued in Elektra #1.”
It’s a beautiful image, but like, we don’t have to pretend that the page is telling a story I need to see continued in Elektra #1. It’s an advertisement masquerading as a comic. That’s the most upsetting takeaway from Daredevil 1.5: rather than presenting some universal truths about Daredevil, or exploring the medium that spawned the character, this anthology seems more mired in the business that spawned him – right down to another crass pitch for a new series. The Kesels’ story suggests that this straightforward, cocky salesmanship was part Daredevil’s DNA, but that’s not the character Mark Waid has made me fall in love with over the course of the last couple years.
It’s not surprising, then, that for all of my gripes about the issue as a whole, I also really liked the first story. I wonder what the rest of the fan reaction is to this thing — are we drawing lines in the sand? WHO DO YOU LOVE? PRE-WAID DAREDEVIL OR POST-WAID DAREDEVIL? Or maybe we’re all just shrugging at this collection, waiting for issue 2 to come out.
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?