Forget the self and you will fear nothing…
Carlos Castaneda, The Active Side of Infinity
Drew: What would you say defines who you are? Without getting too specific, I think most people would agree that their identity can be loosely described by their tastes, values, sense of humor, intelligence, and interactions with others — that is to say, their everyday state of being. Someone is considered kind or funny or smart because they are kind or funny or smart most of the time. Fictional characters, on the other hand, aren’t defined by their everyday state of being; instead, their mettle is tested through conflict — some kind of extraordinary circumstance that demonstrates who they really are. Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil has been all about defining Matt by putting him through the wringer, largely by testing his fears — fear of losing his sanity, fear of losing his friend, fear of losing his secrets — but issue 11 test the very notion of fear itself, as Matt is forced to confront his own ego.
Matt’s fearlessness has always manifested as a kind of cocksure braggadocio, which quickly comes in conflict with the truth as he sets to writing his memoirs. There’s no doubt that autobiographies tend to gloss over the less flattering parts of the author’s life, but Matt almost seems to be in denial about his first meeting with Hawkeye. It’s not that Matt’s lying, per se, just that he’s left out so many details as to make you think he through the one punch that ended the fight. Intriguingly, artist Chris Samnee renders that subjective reading of Matt’s version of the story as a kind of vintage comic book image, complete with half-tone patterns and misaligned color plates.
He does the same when conjuring Foggy’s version of the story, too, suggesting that these images are occurring in someone’s mind (maybe Foggy, Kirsten, or even some hypothetical reader of Matt’s book), representing their interpretation of the words. It posits comics as a kind of intermediary between pure literature and pure imagination, something our mind automatically translates words to.
And I mean “comics” very specifically; not photographs, not video, not even other styles of drawing. The pains Samnee and colorist Matthew Wilson go to affect that old comic book feel is palpable — especially when you consider that this image is strongly inspired by Daredevil and Hawkeye’s first tussle, in 1973’s Daredevil 99.
It would be easy to read the half-tones and in the modern version as part of the homage, but they actually way overdo it. (I should acknowledge that the older version has likely been re-colorized for its digital publication [though there’s frustratingly no information about who might have done the new colors], but images of the printed comic online don’t show nearly as prominent half-tone patterns — look at how many fields of solid magenta, cyan, and yellow there are, none of which would require a half-tone pattern, and would print as a solid field.) The point isn’t to evoke a specific comic, but the idea of a comic — something we hold distinct from all other types of images. There’s no confusing that opening image as a painting or a photograph.
Lest I go totally off the rails on Matt’s story and the use of comics to depict it (never mind that the story in Daredevil 99 isn’t exactly like either the one told by Matt or Foggy), I should probably mention the actual conflict of this issue — a case revolving kinda maybe sorta around intellectual property and the morality of altering the past. Have I mentioned how thematically unified this issue is?
George Smith, a retired Daredev–er, “Stunt Master,” has retained Murdoch and McDuffie to bring action against the pharmaceutical company that now owns the right to his name. George takes exception to the fact that a new death-defying performer is calling himself “Stunt Master,” and while his case is thin, Matt agrees to take it on when that performer also starts referring to himself as “The Man Without Fear.”
That’s another moment where Matt’s ego takes over, making the conflict with this new Stunt Master personal, but what exactly is he afraid of? So what if people know the truth about his fight with Hawkeye? So what if his tagline is coopted by another public persona? These may seem like petty fears to the man who leaps from rooftops without a safety net, but they’re also imminently relatable. I may not be able to articulate why Matt’s ego is threatened by this Stunt Master, but I’ll be damned if I wouldn’t feel the same way if I were in his position. That’s not the most satisfying note to end on, but as the start of an arc, I’m perfectly content to be left with nothing but questions. Ryan, were you as intrigued as I was?
Ryan: Interestingly enough, I had a difficult time being intrigued by this issue until I read Drew’s lead, specifically his points about ego and identity. Am I wrong to not be immediately drawn into this issue? Like every graduated English major in history, I considered law school as a possible career path. That being said, a comic which is three-fourths about intellectual property law, starring two lawyer characters who both admit that patents, copyrights, and trademarks are not their specialties, did not strike me as particularly interesting. Law can be well done in comics, as seen in the most-recent She-Hulk run, or the incredible Daredevil arcs by Benis/Maleev preceding “The Devil in Cell-Block D”, but this issue demonstrates that there is more exposition necessary before we get there.
Consider also that the antagonist in this issue, until the last few panels, is reduced to, in Murdock’s own words, “trolling”. Perhaps I am more conditioned to new villains being introduced with a literal “bang!”, but the bad-guy Stunt-Master seems more of a nuisance instead of a threat. I do not read Daredevil comics for large, universe-threatening baddies — in fact, most of his best villains only mess with his personal life, law firm, or Hell’s Kitchen — but the bruises to egos delivered by Stunt-Master did not seem any worse than the ones delivered by his loving friends as they took turns teasing him. The stakes needed to be raised.
The essential leap necessary to invest both the audience and protagonist in this conflict takes places over the course of one page:
Waid raises the stakes, but do we care enough about the purportedly deceased stunt-man to keep reading about Daredevil delivering comeuppance to whomever DD deems accountable? On one hand, George Smith appears in only a few panels this comic, Matt Murdock hasn’t even heard from the guy in years, and the audience has no pre-established relationship with him as they may have with a former villain. On the other hand, the public seems to hold a soft spot for figures who have punished their bodies for the sake of entertainment. Just look at the case of professional wrestler Scott Hall (Razor Ramon, to some): broke, addicted, and broken, the former grappler raised over $80,000 dollars on Kickstarter to fund his surgery and rehabilitation.
After what I found to be a thrill-less start, Drew’s look at Matt’s ego made me think that maybe I do want to see what sort of quandary the all-new, all-bad Stunt-Master tricks Daredevil into. As it stands, the crux of this arc thus far depends upon how much the audience invests in the old Stunt-Master’s fate. If Waid can keep us caring as the action rises, than this story could be intriguing enough to make us not wish for it to be about a pro-wrestler instead of a stunt-man.
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?