Patrick: Have you ever watched a video of a baby eating a lemon for the first time? There are hundreds of these videos up on YouTube, and while it always strikes me as a little mean-spirited, it’s fascinating to see the purity of these babies’ reaction to the sourness of the lemon. There aren’t any videos of adults eating lemons, because: who cares? Adults have filters and modesty and the knowledge that they can make that sour taste stop. The baby, meanwhile, just has to stew in this unpleasant, unfamiliar experience. The same is true of emotions — adults have enough perspective to realize that their emotions are temporary or irrational or perhaps just resultant from a changeable attitude, but children are largely at the mercy of their emotions. Basically, adults can will themselves to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but as far as a child knows, the tunnel is all there is. The Marvel villain the Purple Man is a scary presence, with his ability to impose his will on others, but the Purple Children introduced last issue are something much more terrifying: the entire slate of childhood emotion projected outward.
That’s really bad news for someone like Matt Murdock. Matt’s a lawyer and a super hero, but his most characterizing trait until Mark Waid took over writing duties for him a few years ago was his ability to suffer. Like most superheroes that passed through the hands of Frank Miller, there’s an absurdly long list of lost friends and family members in Daredevil’s past, and angsty revenge-a-ramas were built into the character’s DNA. I’m not going to suggest that Waid himself never put Murdock through his paces, but the writer has allowed Matt to choose happiness, in spite of his experiences. It’s a very adult choice: moping is easy, moving on his hard.
Or, if I’d rather let Waid and Chris Samnee express that in one beautiful image:
That’s decades of melodramatic Daredevil anguish right there, distilled into one neat pile of bloody bodies. I love Matthew Wilson’s color work throughout this issue, and on this page particularly, as he finds so many dynamic ways to play red against black, making the suffering feel as though it’s quintessentially Daredevil. And then, of course, the copy on the page is hilarious: “The Story of Daredevil. Are you kidding me?” Letterer Joe Caramagna is so smart to distinguish the lofty, self-serious title of “The Story of Daredevil” in that more literary font, making it larger, and employing capital letters. That makes the punchline of “Are you kidding me?” — which is presented in Marvel comics standard lettering — that much more potent. While this kind of blood-drenched, shouting-at-the-sky-in-pain agony has characterized Daredevil for a long time, that’s just not what this current incarnation of the dude is about.
The story immediately snaps back to real-life, in which Matt strolls through the streets of San Francisco with his awesome girlfriend, his still-alive best friend and an eight million dollar advance on his book. Not a bad life at all, right? But that’s when the Purple Children arrive on the scene. Amazingly, we get two separate introductions to the kids: the first serves to impress their scariness onto the reader, and the second impresses that same fear on to Daredevil. They’re both incredible sequences, but I wanted to focus a little bit on the first.
The opening two pages of the issue are presented without copy, brilliantly allowing Samnee and Wilson to tell a simple and chilling tale that casts the readers as the Purple Kids’ latest victims. It starts innocently — and evocatively — enough, with a close-up of the leader’s shoes against a dense black background. The camera pulls back, revealing more kids and more dense blackness, but also establishing a perspective of pulling away from these creatures. Their forward-motion is also implied from panel to panel by the alternation of which foot each of them has forward. We might not know exactly what we’re dealing with by panel three, but we know that they’re coming for us and we don’t want that. When we finally get to the bottom of the page, it’s clear that these children of purple faces and OH MY GOD SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT.
Quick question for non-digital readers: did you have to turn a page after this one? Reading on my Kindle, I wasn’t able to see what was on the next page until after I finished taking this in. The next page shows two panels of the children from behind — somewhere in the page turn, they passed through us — and a final panel of a small crowd of people screaming in terror in their wake. It’s a simple way to place the reader right in the path of destruction these kids are blazing through the streets of San Francisco.
Okay, so finally: Daredevil himself has to confront the Purple Children, and by this point in the story, we’re so well primed to empathize with Matt and fear the Children that the scene absolutely clobbers the heart. Spencer, there is so much to love in that final confrontation — including that amazing splash of Matt feeling each of the childhood emotions individually — but I think my favorite part is toward the end when the Children toss Daredevil off a bridge. Samnee switches over to using tall, narrow panels communicate this idea of height, carrying it over from one page to the next.
There’s a beautiful symmetry to these page, and a wonderful sense of Matt’s fall punctuated by that final panel, where he’s curled up in a ball, helpless. Plus, as an added bonus, those two panels of the Purple Children on the second page recall that same attention to their position from the first two pages.
Spencer, I found this to be a near-perfect issue of Daredevil. The team is just so well aware of what Daredevil was and what Daredevil is now — I don’t think I’ve ever seen that gulf expressed so neatly as it is here. What’s more is that Waid and Samnee manage to make the baggage of the franchise the baggage of the character, and make it all make sense. Plus, any day I get to see a Samnee drawing of Ikari is a good day.
Spencer: To answer your question from earlier, Patrick, yes, there is a page-turn after that first page, and it’s remarkably effective. I love the point you raise about that scene casting the reader as the victim, and that reading makes for possibly the scariest moment of the entire issue:
Anyway Patrick, I agree with you that this issue is practically perfect. Everything in it works, from the overarcing themes and techniques to smaller character moments, from new ideas to reoccurring elements, such as the depiction of Matt’s blindness.
The heightened abilities caused by Matt’s blindness are almost always shown to be advantages, but Waid never hesitates to show us when they leave Daredevil at a loss either, and I found this to be a particularly clever moment in that regard. Although the Purple Children are creepy no matter what, without being able to see their purple skin Matt can’t piece together who they are and what they can do until it’s too late. I’ve always been grateful to Waid for this aspect of Daredevil, because disability superpowers can so often make it easy to forget that the hero is even disabled at all, but Waid makes sure we remember the difficulties Matt has to go through even with his enhanced senses.
Despite the focus on scares and the dark moments of Matt’s life, the more humorous scenes in this issue work just as well as the rest of it. In fact, those three or four pages Matt spends with Foggy and Kirsten may be the most important pages in the issue — not only do they demonstrate how happy Matt actually is (thereby showing how much he has to lose), but they reveal vital components of Matt’s happiness: Foggy and Kirsten. After all, this is the first we’ve seen of Foggy in three or four months now, and I think that’s significant; without Foggy the last few issues have been especially grim. Their presence helps keep up Matt’s spirits and gives him the strength he needs to keep himself positive, and that’s the kind of knowledge Matt needs to keep in mind if he’s going to overcome the negative influence of the Purple Children’s unbridled emotions.
Speaking of the Purple Children, I cannot emphasize enough what a fantastic concept they are. On a visual level alone they’re absolutely chilling, but even conceptually they’re a fascinating take on mind-control powers. When adults get the ability to have whatever they want they inevitably try to amass power and wealth and sex, to manipulate just as the Purple Man so often does, but children have very different wants than adults. These purple kids only seem to want two things: to stick together, and to do whatever they want whenever they want.
Both these wants are understandable. Killgrave is not a father to these kids, and he took their mothers away, so the group is really all they have. Despite that, though, they still want to have fun, like taking a cop car for a joyride, cause, hey, they’re kids! Even the way their powers seem to work changes to fit their more childish mindset; just look at the particular words highlighted in purple in the image above. Unlike Killgrave, the kids don’t seem to use their abilities when specifically trying to manipulate people, but simply when they really want something; the “I want” in the second panel, for example, isn’t directed towards anyone in particular (thus making it a useless display of her power), but she “wants” so badly that she can’t help but to use her powers. The Purple Children’s use of their power is unintentionally cruel in the same way children so often are in real life; they’re acting without thinking or really even understanding consequences, and that’s absolutely horrifying when they have so much sheer power at their disposal.
I’m also finding myself fascinated by the way the Purple Children work together. It’s easy to think of them as a unit, perhaps some kind of hive-mind — they walk in unison and all work together to push Daredevil off a bridge without any discussion — but Waid and Samnee also go out of their way to point out that each one of the Purple Children is still an individual. The page where Matt feels each of the kids’ emotions shows that each has their own issues to work through, and some are obviously more into what they’re doing than others; the oldest kid, for example, eggs the girl on when she wants to take the cop car for a joyride and later when she wants to quit. This raises a lot of questions: can the kids use their powers on each other? Are they stronger as a unit, or would they be just as dangerous if they split up? Are they still just normal little kids who barely understand what they’re doing, or have their powers changed them somehow? The strange language some of the kids use (one of the kids describes crying as “leaking fear”) makes me think that they’ve been changed, but I also think it depends on the kid; I can see some of them wanting to be saved, while I can see others fighting against it with all their might.
At some point my Daredevil pieces always turn into piles of praise no matter how hard I try to avoid it, but as far as I’m concerned, they always deserve it. All in all, this is yet another masterful issue from Waid, Samnee, Wilson, Caramagna and the crew; this storyline may just be the perfect canvas for this creative team to display the full extent of their skill, and I can’t wait to see where they take “The Story of Daredevil” next month.
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?