Greg: I went and saw a movie last week against my better judgment. That movie was the clunkily titled Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, a comic-book adaptation and sequel to the excellent 2005 adaptation of Miller’s hard-boiled neo-noir stories. My roommate, who shares my love of this first one, warned me it was terrible. Rotten Tomatoes warned me it was terrible. I didn’t listen. I went and saw it, and boy, terrible doesn’t scratch the surface. It’s a miserable piece of garbage. I could spend hours rage-explaining (ragesplaining?) what is so fundamentally wrong with this dreck, but one criticism stands head and shoulders above the rest: The stylistic tics and techniques are arbitrary, meaningless, and add nothing to the story. Conversely, any play with form in Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s outstandingly excellent Daredevil 8 are part and parcel of an intense, dark, and captivating story.
I haven’t been this disquieted by an opening of a story in any medium in a long time. In dark, chiaroscuro purples and blacks (enormous shout-out to the work of colorist Matthew Wilson), we see a group of children break into a home, overwhelm a child sleeping in his bed, and force him to join them. When the mother enters and tries to stop him, a man with the power of mind control possesses her, forcing her to horrifyingly commit suicide. From there, we move to a happier scene (again, Wilson doing excellent work, as the contrast in his peppy, primary colors is a shock to the senses), as Matt and Kirsten explore a zoo and bring us up to speed with their new practice in San Francisco, and new identity as a public Daredevil. All’s not exactly well for Kirsten, though — beyond growing to resent clients who only want Daredevil to represent them, she’s recently heard from her estranged father and stepmother, and smells something fishy (barracuda-ey, even). When they meet on a yacht over bloody marys and oysters, things seem amiable — until Kirsten’s dad offers a sum of money to publish Daredevil’s autobiography. They can’t contemplate this domestic drama for too long (though it does flatter Matt), as Daredevil is called to the crime scene from the prologue. He deduces the mind controller in charge is Killgrave — and here, Waid and Samnee throw us a curveball. Instead of ending this issue with the cliffhanger revelation of the new big bad of this arc, they present us with an even more horrifying ending. Kilgrave’s children, now blessed/cursed with mind control powers, revolt and overthrow him, sending him in front of a speeding train. Scary, malevolent kids with mind control — San Francisco’s got a lot to worry about.
I recently heard a great maxim about effective writing — you have to find the asshole in the saint, and the saint in the asshole. Purely “good” and “evil” characters aren’t as interesting or real as those with shades of both. Thus, after absolutely despising Killgrave in the opening, I’m shocked and impressed that Waid and Samnee wring some genuine pathos and irony out of his fate. In remarkably compressed yet earned storytelling, we see that Killgrave uses these powers to mask and replace his feelings of loneliness, isolation, and yearning. Riches can only get you so much; he needs love, a love that will always feel empty when forced. Thus, when he genuinely asks his “children” if they truly love him without ordering them to say yes, it is brutally ironic and pathetic to see the result. Of course these kids will overthrow you if you give them power — you’ve spent so much time taking their power away! In this way, I’m reminded of a particularly crackling good The Twilight Zone or Tales From The Crypt.
But what does this issue do that non-comic mediums cannot? There are two moments of storytelling that may seem overly simplistic or irrelevant to the larger story at hand, but I feel are special enough to highlight. Firstly, take a look at this panel, wherein Matt and Kirsten walk away from Kirsten’s stepmom:
Wilson has suddenly made them pitch black — an odd choice unrenderable in most physical mediums like TV or movies (unless you’re Robert Rodriguez, then you’ll probably try and find a crappy way), yet one that conveys a piece of information in a, dare I say, fun way. The indication is that Kirsten and Matt are speaking in hushed tones, so that Kirsten’s stepmom can’t overhear. A simple distinction, communicated with a specialness to comics. I love it!
Finally, take a look at this intense panel:
When even the lettering is being used to tell your story (props to VC’s Joe Caramagna), you know an issue is something special. Does a better, simpler, and more effective way to communicate a character’s struggle between mind control (heretofore established with the purple motif) and independent thought exist, other than to switch between purple and black text? I think not.
It’s small gems like these that show just how much craft and care is being put into these issues, and what makes the comic medium so special. What say you, Spencer? Were you as captivated by this issue as I was?
Spencer: Oh, most definitely Greg, though when it comes to Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil that’s practically a given. What’s especially skillful about this issue (and you touch on this briefly, Greg) is how they switch from a dark, horrific story with the Purple Family to a much brighter, more playful story with Matt and Kirsten and back again without ever making the transition feel jarring. In a way this just goes to further emphasize the more optimistic Matt Murdock that Waid established at the beginning of the prior volume; Daredevil still lives in a dark, cruel world, but no more does he allow his life to become consumed by it, and as much work as Matt puts into making that lifestyle a reality, Kirsten probably has a lot to do with keeping Matt optimistic as well.
While the idea of Matt writing his own autobiography is intriguing (and I particularly enjoy the way this plot plays a bit with how Matt’s ego is one of his weaknesses, even down to his “business expense” designer suits putting his practice in the red), I must admit that I spent a good while wondering how these couple of scenes fit into issue as a whole. Now from a pure “comic book” viewpoint I understand that focusing on Matt and Kirsten for a while allows Waid to reestablish their relationship at the beginning of a new arc and possibly even create new plot points to be addressed once the Purple Family threat is over, but I also think that there’s one concept that ties these two plots together — albeit tentatively — and that concept is “family.”
I mean, the story with the Purple Man and his children is explicitly about the Purple Man trying to build a family to find unconditional love, but much of Kirsten’s scenes also involve her strained relationship with her father, and Kirsten even brings up Matt’s recent adventures with his mother, yet again interjecting the idea of family into the issue.
It’s interesting to me that these three families are all very different from each other, yet each relationship requires some degree of reconciliation; Matt and his mother’s turned out well, while the Purple Man’s obviously took a darker path. The future of Kirsten’s relationship with her father is still up in the air, though, and while Waid hasn’t shown any overt connections between the Kirsten plot and the Purple Family plot yet, the concept of family is just too prominent in this issue for it not to mean something. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye open to see how this plays out.
Throughout the Kirsten plot there’s also a recurring motif of comparing people to animals: there’s a hilarious smash-cut where Kirsten compares her mother to a barracuda only to have the very next panel layer the stephmother’s laughter over a shot of a harmless dolphin, but later Kirsten also compares her to a cougar, and there’s also a panel at the zoo where Matt’s hanging from the monkey cage imitating the monkey within. I have no idea what, if anything, these comparisons mean beyond being clever jokes (and there’s a pretty substantial part of me that thinks that’s all they are, which wouldn’t be a bad thing), but they seemed just significant enough to be worth commenting on.
Greg, I appreciate the comic-specific feats of this issue that you highlighted, but I was also impressed by some of the things Waid and Samnee pulled off that are actually harder to demonstrate in comics than in other mediums, and one of those is the way Samnee illustrates people moving against their will.
It can’t be easy to illustrate a character being controlled in this manner, but Samnee is able to pull it off with aplomb: he demonstrates Killgrave’s struggling with only a few motion lines and his stiff, unnatural posture, and shows Killgrave’s lack of control with one simple, shocked expression in that first panel. I’m reminded of the horrific bloodbending technique from Avatar: The Last Airbender/The Legend of Korra, but while those series have the benefit of movement and sound effects to help create the feeling of unease, Samnee pulls it off in a static, silent medium, and that’s just plain masterful.
Waid’s characterization of the Purple Man is just as impressive. Waid makes no attempt to hide how truly vile Killgrave is, not only exposing us to Killgrave’s gleeful murder in the opening sequence, but also giving us a subtle reminder of some of the less flashy but just as monstrous evils he’s capable of:
I often think that villains who plan to, say, take over or destroy the world are on too large of a scale for most readers to truly understand, but villains like the Purple Man are much easier to hate because their crimes are ones many of us have personally experienced. In that sense I don’t feel bad for the Purple Man at all, but I do find his story in this issue to be somewhat tragic if only because he just doesn’t seem to know how to function as a human being. Killgrave craves unconditional love, but you have to actually love someone first to be loved in return, and Killgrave is incapable of understanding that; he’s been controlling people for so long that even his plea for unconditional love immediately becomes an angry, shouted command. Killgrave long ago lost his humanity with no hope of ever finding it again, and that combined with his ironic fate has all the trappings of a Shakespearian tragedy. The fact that Waid can tell such a nuanced and complicated story with the Purple Man without glazing over the monster he became or trying to redeem him is one more masterful bit of writing in this already excellent issue.
I know I heap a lot of grandiose superlatives on Daredevil, but it’s only because the book is just so consistently good month in and month out. It’s one of the few books on the stands I can pick up each month and feel 100% confident I’ll enjoy it; Waid and Samnee have absolutely earned that level of trust, and unlike Killgrave, they certainly didn’t need mind control to do it.
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