Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Daredevil 12, originally released January 14th, 2015.
Spencer: In my mind, I always equate action with fight scenes. Call it a remnant of my high school obsession with Dragonball Z, or even my growing up on Adam West’s Batman series (which featured a gigantic fight scene as the centerpiece of each episode), but I often forget that there are other, equally thrilling definitions of action. Fortunately, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee aren’t as forgetful as I am; Daredevil 12 is filled with action of all sorts, be it high-flying stunts or heart-pounding car chases, and there couldn’t possibly be a better artistic team than Samnee and colorist Matthew Wilson to bring that action to life.
We open on Daredevil racing Stunt-Master across the upper cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s far from an ideal situation — not only does the terrain negate most of Matt’s senses, but his opponent is actually his client, the original Stunt-Master George Smith, kidnapped and strapped to a deathtrap of a motorcycle! Of course, the man without fear’s faced worse, and Matt’s rescue kicks the issue off with a bang.
There’s so much to admire about this spread that I almost don’t know where to begin — so how about we start with that gorgeous explosion, filled with some terrific shades of red by Matthew Wilson? Not to be outdone, letterer Joe Caramagna’s sound effects each have a life of their own — the contrast between that giant “BA-WOOM!” in panel two and the pathetic little “Paf” in panel four is hilarious, but also indicative of the personality Caramagna packs into each effect (and though it’s not as obvious on these particular pages, Caramanga’s lettering is especially intuitive throughout the entire issue, fluctuating in size and intensity in perfect sync with the narrative).
Still, what impresses me most about this spread is Samnee’s layout, with the action and the slant of the panels expertly leading the reader’s eyes from one panel to the next. Despite cutting across a whole row of panels, Matt’s swing in panel two still leads us to panel three thanks to those motion lines that break through the panel’s borders entirely. Meanwhile, the way panel five slants to the left helps to emphasize that Matt’s line is pulling George in that direction — in fact, despite reading from left-to-right, both panels four and five pull our attention back to the left, essentially directing us down to the conclusion of the sequence in panel six.
Matt next has to capture the impostor Stunt-Master, leading to a car chase across San Francisco as well as yet another chance for Daredevil‘s artistic team to strut their stuff.
Samnee continues to pull off some ingenious stuff by angling panels on this page; panel one’s slant essentially mirrors the steep San Francisco hill the two daredevils use as a ramp. The slant in panel two is more about managing space; Stunt-Master’s easy escape takes up the more open right side of the panel, while Matt’s tight route is crammed into the corner. The inset panel in the next row serves to essentially flip the camera to match the flipping of Matt’s car, while the final panel resets it; notice again how the motion lines break through from the gutter, essentially righting not only the camera, but the entire panel as it if was a physical object.
It’s masterful, but perhaps the best part is how subtle Samnee is about it; his work is clever but never flashy, never drawing attention to itself but instead helping to fully immerse the reader in the action. Fortunately, Mark Waid’s story lives up to the high bar set by the art — you see, just as Matt takes down the impostor Stunt-Master, George Smith is revealed to be the brains behind the entire operation! He’s been using dangerous drugs to fool Matt’s lie-detecting senses, and drugging and sacrificing the homeless in order to keep the Stunt-Master charade going, all simply to publicly outdo Daredevil and revive his career.
In many ways Smith is a mirror to Matt. Both men are risk-takers; the issue even opens with Matt mentioning how he has to sometime convince his friends he’s not suicidal, while Smith’s plan is essentially long-term suicide, with the drugs he took to elude Matt’s senses cutting his lifespan down to two years. Both men also have an ego; Smith’s entire plan is driven by his ego, while we spent most of our discussion of Daredevil 11 talking about Matt’s. I suppose, then, that Smith may be a warning for Matt of what he could become if he lets his own ego get the best of him, which may be a valuable piece of information to keep in mind as he continues to write his memoirs.
It’s also what makes his relationship with Kirsten so essential (a relationship that they take to the next level in this issue, by the way). Smith cared about his own fame more than other people, but Matt has Kirsten and Foggy to keep him grounded; Kirsten even snaps Matt out of his funk when he starts to get worked up about how badly Smith duped him (Kirsten might want to look out, though; things historically don’t turn out very well for the women who love Matt Murdock, though the way she fights off Smith is a good sign).
Drew, I still feel like I’ve barely even begun to scratch the surface of this issue. What’s your take on the Stunt-Master twist, Matt’s ego, and all this glorious action? Also: why is there so much traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge in the middle of a big public event like this? It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Drew: I’m not really sure how any of the logistics of using the bridge for an event like this would be. Given the shots we get of the bridge during the stunt, it looks like they went with “the bridge is a parking lot now! Hope you want to see a motorcycle trick!” The thought that anyone would authorize something like this seems pretty unlikely, but Waid and Samnee pile on enough audacious moments to make that seem totally plausible. The issue packs in the over-the-top action sequences a la Crank or Shoot ‘Em Up, emphasizing fun and humor over any sense of verisimilitude. Every scene is an absolute blast, but none had me grinning wider than when Matt hops behind the wheel of that charger.
I’m by no means a muscle car guy, but come on; that’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. There’s a lot of things that make this badass — Matt driving via billy club, the calm “I’ll drive” after commandeering some rando’s car — but Waid takes extra care to seed the most obvious one: Matt’s blindness.
Sure, all of the talk about Matt’s radar sense being “practically useless” on the bike heighten the tension in that opening sequence, but they also lay the groundwork for just how unlikely it is that Matt would be able to navigate a car through dense traffic. Because we established that earlier in the issue, Matt doesn’t need to say it again, allowing the car chase that follows to unfold sans any dialogue or voiceover. Spencer has already offered a fantastic breakdown of what makes that sequence so effective, but I think everything Samnee does there is enhanced by the fact that there’s no text boxes disrupting the flow — ALL of our attention is on the art.
But for all the (well deserved) praise we give the action sequences, this issue is surprisingly diverse — in addition to the motorcycle rescue and car chase, we get a street interrogation of the “Kid Stunt-Master”, a hostage scene at the hospital, Daredevil swinging in for an unexpected rescue, a more formal interrogation (in an interrogation room and everything), and some romantic afterglow. As Spencer suggested, there’s a lot going on here, and all of it is great. I’m particularly impressed at that final scene with Kirsten — it’s easily the most understated of the issue, but it’s also the only one where Matt seems legitimately scared. This series keeps coming up with new ways to test Matt’s fearlessness, and while he’s got action sequences and last-minute rescues down cold, telling his girlfriend he loves her for the first time still elicits a genuine fear response.
It’s an unexpected — but totally natural and relatable — thing for Matt to be afraid of, but as always, the risk pays off.
I’m intrigued at that similar nexus of risk, reward, and fear in George’s plan. His acceptance of an early death (a side-effect of his plan) suggests that he isn’t afraid of death — but is that just because he’s more afraid of being a has-been? I appreciate that this is a virtually endless rabbit hole to go down, but I think fear motivating fearlessness is a big part of George’s story. He needs to be in front of a crowd, or he might as well be dead; in that way, death is really no detterent. The end of this issue reminds Matt that he definitely has something to live for, and I’m curious if that will change his attitude towards death-defiance.
Man, what a good issue. This is my new gold standard when pointing to the value of long-term collaborations in comics — everything here is so perfectly keyed on telling this story, I can’t find a wasted line or panel. I’m calling it now: Daredevil 12 is a contender for our “Best Issue of 2015.”
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