Spencer: This new volume of Daredevil has largely revolved around Matt Murdock’s move to San Francisco and how his unfamiliarity with that city has affected his skills as a crime fighter. Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez’s Daredevil 6 finds Matt returning to New York City (seemingly only so he can get mixed-up with Original Sin), but despite being back in his old stomping grounds, things don’t get any easier for Matt. Waid spends this entire issue showing us just how unprepared Matt is now that all his secrets are out in the open; the way Waid piles tragedy atop tragedy atop tragedy is horrifically beautiful.
The Watcher’s exploding eyeball (new band name!) reveals to Daredevil a disturbing secret about his parents. Matt seeks out his mother, who’s been living as a nun known as “Sister Maggie” for years now, but finds that she’s been arrested for vandalism and now risks deportation to Wakanda despite the harmless nature of her crime. Matt tries to investigate but finds nothing but dead ends; eventually he stumbles upon a vast conspiracy between Wakanda and the United States governments, but gets beaten senseless in the process, with the Wakandan Ambassador adding insult to injury by Ozymandius-ing him in the process:
As I mentioned in the introduction, despite his return to the city he knows so well, Matt still finds himself out of his element. Without his connections as a lawyer he can barely even see his own mother in prison (and having a public identity apparently doesn’t help either), and besides Hawkeye of all people, none of his allies are any use, with old friends such as Black Panther having moved on or disappeared completely without Matt even knowing. He may have every aspect of New York City committed to memory, but while he’s been away things have changed, and I don’t think Matt was prepared for it.
Beyond all that, Matt still hasn’t fully adjusted to his public identity either. With the details of his abilities out in the open even some Wakandian ambassador with a desk job can take down Daredevil! Matt has years of experience compensating for his disabilities, but he’s always had the fact that his blindness was a secret working to his advantage — now that he’s lost that ace up his sleeve, he may have to reign in his infamous recklessness if he hopes to survive.
Like I said, Waid is an evil genius when it comes to stacking the odds against Matt, but even if he wasn’t, Matt would still have a perfectly reasonable excuse for being off his game: his Watcher-fueled revelation that his father, the greatest man Matt has ever known, beat his mother. This is a particularly personal blow to Matt (that leads to more of the same when he discovers the conspiracy against his mother), and it’s fascinating to watch the way it affects him. We know Daredevil as “the man without fear”, yet Matt obviously has fears; they just manifest themselves as fear for the lives and safety of his friends and family. Matt’s only fearless when it comes to his own safety, his own life, yet this revelation has rocked his world to its core, and now Matt’s scared that he may never have a chance to speak to his mother again, to verify the vision he’s received, to discover if his hero was truly a sham. Jack Murdock’s original sin has Daredevil of all people afraid; that certainly can’t end well.
This is without a doubt a darker issue of Daredevil than I’m used to seeing since Waid took over, and the art has shifted to reflect the grimmer tone, with Javier Rodriguez (who has been coloring the book since before the relaunch) filling in for Chris Samnee on pencils. His work is close enough to Samnee’s style so as not to be jarring, but the subtle differences in his style and staging work to make the issue feel less inviting, even claustrophobic at times. He and Waid even stage more than one scene of Matt brooding in a rainstorm like he’s Batman or something, which would be hilarious under less tragic circumstances.
Rodriguez also makes some minor changes to his usually lush colors that adds to the hopeless feeling of this issue. Many of his color choices are still bright and unusual, but he tones them down just enough that they no longer look to cheerful and inviting; the green walls of Maggie’s prison visiting room, for example, might look warm in a usual issue of Daredevil, but only come across as sickly and uninviting in this particular story.
Still, after stacking the deck against Matt, Waid and Rodriguez also start to show how he might get himself out of this mess. Waid and his various artistic partners have always been adept at showing how Matt’s unique senses are an asset, but this spread from mid-way through the issue takes the cake:
I wish I could spend all day talking about how fantastic this page is art-wise — and believe me, if I had the space I would — but what’s most significant about this spread to me is how Matt’s finding new ways to use his abilities, how when all his usual avenues fail he pushes himself to his limits instead. Matt knew every inch of New York City like the back of his hand (which he hasn’t seen in decades, of course, but I digress), but could that have made him complacent? Matt’s doing some serious readjusting right now, but will he come out of it a better superhero?
In many ways this issue feels strange, from the darker tone to Matt’s rather forced return to New York, but Waid and Rodriguez use the shift in focus to craft a devastating story, not to mention a surprisingly effective Original Sin tie-in. Drew, do you feel the same, or is this too much of a departure for you?
Drew: You know, in spite of the totally tossed-off explanation for why Matt is in New York in the first place, I actually found this issue to be very much in line with the rest of the series. For me, this volume has been about testing the limits of the Daredevil mythos — what happens when he’s taken out of Hell’s Kitchen, or when Foggy is out of the picture (at least in name)? — so it only makes sense that his fearlessness would be scrutinized sooner or later.
Spencer, I admire your restraint in avoiding the word “bravery” when describing Matt. Indeed, I think the difference between “fearless” and “brave” is exactly what this crossover is going to be. I’m reminded of the now famous quote from Nelson Mandela about fear:
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
Matt has long been the man without fear, but that’s left him with virtually no experience in conquering fear. Normally, that’s not a problem — he needed to overcome fear like a fish needs a treehouse — but once some of that fear gets in, Matt’s utterly defenseless.
That Matt is ill-equipped to address his own fear is a clever bit of observation on Waid’s part, but I think the nature of that fear is much more telling. I mean, who is Jack Murdock if not Matt’s own personal superhero? The thought of having the picture of his hero dragged through the mud like that is understandably upsetting, but it also reflects some very popular trends in superhero comics — trends that all but define Original Sin. Rodriguez distills this notion down perfectly into a simple two-panel sequence.
It’s not yet clear to me if Waid and Rodriguez aim to subvert or even challenge those trends, but I do think it’s interesting that Matt is tapped as the audience surrogate here. This isn’t the story of our hero’s secret past; this is the story of our hero learning the story of his hero’s secret past. It’s exactly the kind of heady nonsense I love, even if it doesn’t end up being a full indictment of the trope.
I was initially trying to read this as Waid’s commentary on writing comics — getting close to his heroes, as it were — and even had some thoughts about how “the greatest man I have ever known” must refer to Superman, but I actually think this has way more to do with the past of Daredevil, the series. Spencer noted all of the rain-drenched brooding as being Batman-like, but honestly, it’s an affect I associate quite specifically with Daredevil. Maybe not Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil, but certainly Frank Miller’s. Indeed, Sister Maggie’s presence seems designed to recall that era precisely — she was created by Miller and David Mazzucchelli during their historic run. I’m certain Waid and Rodriguez are deliberately digging into that darker history, but I’m not yet sure to what end. Is it a sign of respect to that era of Daredevil history, or an assertion that a return to that style would only bring pain? It may be too early to say for sure, but I’m certainly anxious to see.
As for Rodriguez’s work here, I’m actually most taken aback by his bold color work in this issue. He seems much more restrained when coloring Samnee’s lines, but seems perfectly comfortable turning his inks into highlights, as he does judiciously in the dual images of Jack I posted above. That’s the only sequence where he’s quite so forward, but it’s enough to leap out as an incredibly striking choice, deifying Jack with an almost halo-like backlit glow (one that is tellingly disrupted in the second panel).
Gosh, what a good issue. Not only is it gorgeous and entertaining in it’s own right (and I get the distinct impression that Waid was well into the first season of Orange is the New Black when he wrote this), but it brilliantly reflects back on Original Sin as a whole. We’ll see how Waid and Rodriguez stick the landing on that front, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it, either way.
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