Patrick: One of the base assumptions that I usually have to check when discussing a work of genre fiction is the assumption that the villain acts as an analogue to the creative forces behind the story. Heroes — be they superheroes or brave knights or swashbuckling adventurers — seldom get to trade in particularly complex or nuanced ideas. But villains! Villains get to have a much more human relationship to morality, often holding conflicting ideas in their heads. What’s more is that both the villains and the creators have the same job: make the hero suffer. This relationship gets even trickier when the characters are on-loan from elsewhere, as is so often the case with comic books. Mark Waid and Chris Samnee have made their mark on Daredevil, but the character does not belong to them in the strictest sense. Issue 16 sees the creators trying to reconcile their relationship to the titular hero, and in so doing, welcome a host of villains into their drama.
The variety of villains in this issue is actually pretty astounding, when you consider what each one of them represents. First, there’s the looming threat from Leeland Owlsey and the Shroud. These guys are Matt’s primary antagonists — almost by definition: all the action Matt takes in this issue is to thwart their plans. Between those two characters (and Owl’s daughter, Jubula), this San Francisco-centric run is well-represented. These villains represent what Daredevil is right now. Appropriately, Leeland’s current status as the always-plugged-in eyes and ears of the city feeds into a particularly modern form of paranoia, one that’s only even possible in the world of 2015 where there literally are networked cameras and microphones everywhere. The Owl and the Shoud are — as far as Daredevil is concerned — modernity incarnate.
If we zoom out a little bit, we can see a second threat: Ikari. I love the way Samnee treats this character’s introduction in the issue: Foggy and Kristin are having an uneasy chat on the boat, but we keep cutting out to a shadowy figure under the water. Before the proper reveal, there’s no hint of the character’s identity, but Samnee uses a few tricks to make the scale of his menace apparent.
First, there’s nothing quite as intimidating as someone approaching and boarding an enemy’s boat solo. That’s like quintessentially bad-ass, NAVY SEAL shit right there. But check out how that Ikari’s panels also defy the carefully obeyed gutters of the rest of the issue. Even within this page, Foggy and Kristin’s dark panels are restrained by thick white gutters, but Ikari’s extend into the bleed. Even without knowing who this is, we already have the idea that the rules of this medium (and this story) do not apply to this guy.
The thing is, Ikari’s not just a formidable match for Daredevil and a stone-cold killer. He is both of those things, but most importantly, he’s the embodiment of the struggles Waid (and later Waid and Samnee) put Matt through back in the New York. In my years reading superhero comics, the infamous “Try the red one” moment from Daredevil 25 stands out as series-defining. Ikari was one of the bigger bads of that series, and almost certainly holds the record for most memorable baddie during that run. In issue 16, he acts as a handy shortcut to much more dire circumstances. We’ve seen a lot of “on no – Foggy’s dead!” psyche-outs before, but nothing legitimizes the danger he and Kristin are in like Ikari’s appearance in this issue.
But there’s still one more villain we haven’t discussed, and I think this is where Samnee and Waid are making the clearest statement about their relationship with Daredevil. I’m talking about Wilson Fisk – the Kingpin. There’s a lot to take in here, but it’s interesting to note that Waid has yet to really tap Fisk as an antagonist. Kingpin is a classic Daredevil baddie — both the 2003 film and the 2015 Netflix series heavily feature Fisk. He’s part of Daredevil’s DNA, hardwired in by Stan Lee, John Romita, Sr. and Frank Miller. In this issue, his existence threatens to undo the very concept of “Matt Murdock.”
The deal that Matt tries to strike with him — which boils down to “protect my friends and I’ll let you control my civilian identity” — is actually a deal that Waid and Samnee are trying to strike with Daredevil’s legacy. There’s a lot of darkness and a lot of grimy, street level ugliness in Daredevil’s past, and when Waid and Samnee finally step away from this title in a few months, there’s no guarantee that the next creator won’t return to the classic Daredevil signifiers. That becomes an increasingly likely prospect in light of the aforementioned Netflix series, which has more Miller flavoring than Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
Sorry, I don’t usually like to speculate too much on the relationship between the comics and their live-action adaptations. But Matt’s offer to sacrifice his own life in order to protect what’s important to him does feel an awful lot like creators trying to cut a deal to preserve some of what they hold so dear. While Waid and Samnee have lightened the tone of the series, it’s not as though they’ve done away with the trademark darkness entirely. My favorite page in the whole issue — which also extends into the bleed in all directions — is the scene in Fisk’s art gallery. Fisk and Matt are reduced to their representative colors, but the paintings are all rendered in stylish detail.
Horrific stuff, right? A lot of it calls to mind Matt’s adventures over the last five years under Waid’s pen. That’s the Spot’s hand emerging from Matt’s chest with his heart in-hand. Or how about this vase that shaped an awful lot like Bullseye’s weird living-casket thing? Or even the painting of Daredevil hanging from a tree, which looks like it would have been at home in the story where Matt fought off some classic movie monsters? So I guess the question is: is this a legacy that Waid and Samnee are fighting against or one that they have been feeding all along?
Spencer: I’ve gotta say, I think it’s mostly the former, Patrick. Waid and Samnee (as well as Waid’s previous partners) have worked hard to establish a lighter, swashbuckling tone for Daredevil, but they’ve never shied away from the darkness of Matt’s life either. The difference between their approach and previous runs’, I think, is that the darkness never came to define Matt’s life the way that it often has in the past. After working so hard to prove the legitimacy of his take, I don’t think Waid would bring this run to a close by destroying everything Matt has built or killing his closest allies — it’s been done before, and it would kind of irreparably damage what Waid’s tried to do with the character.
In a lot of ways Waid’s run has been about acknowledging darkness and dealing with it without giving into it — we can see this through the story of Matt’s mother, or through Matt dealing with his depression. That applies on a meta level as well. Waid’s been saying that the traumas previous writers have put Daredevil through aren’t inherently wrong, but that they had come to define the character to the point of diminishing returns, overwhelming any other take on him.
Ultimately, I think that’s why Matt’s offer to the Kingpin feels so wrong to me. It’s certainly noble, in its way, but it’s also Matt once again giving into the darkness, be it by tricking his friends (albeit for their “own good”) or by conspiring with his greatest enemy. While it has all the appearances of yet another patented Waid-era game-winning surprise strategy, it feels a bit more like something the “old” Matt would do. Foggy and Kirsten would certainly object, if nothing else, and I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that Samnee bathes so much of Matt and Kingpin’s conversation in deep shadow — literal darkness.
Kingpin can drag Matt down to his level just by being in the same room as him, and while this is bad for Matt in a lot of ways, the greatest may be simply that Fisk is much more adept at working out of darkness than he is. For all the time Daredevil’s spent down and out, he operates best in the light.
This isn’t the only part of the issue where Samnee makes the darkness of the story explicit. Shroud is a living shadow, and his darkness is so pervasive that it literally invades the page whenever he appears — the normally white gutters turn black in any scene involving Shroud, even if he’s yet to show up on panel. And when Matt runs into Shroud’s ring of shadow, he’s literally running into the black gutter.
All this makes me think that Shroud, perhaps even more than the Kingpin, may exist in this story as a physical reminder of Matt’s dark past. He certainly has a lot in common with Matt during some of his less hopeful periods — his retreating into himself, his obsession with a lost love, and his making grand plans without fully considering how it will affect everybody involved just to name a few. In a lot of ways Shroud is the darkness of Matt’s past literally invading his life, and when this is all said and done I think Shroud’s fate will give quite a bit of insight into Matt’s future and Waid’s feelings on his legacy with the title.
Of course, it’s probably foolish of me to try to predict how the comic that gave us Ikari of all characters will turn out — it’s like his very presence in this issue is reminding us that any ending we predict isn’t guaranteed, and a twist could be right around the corner at any time. Daredevil 16 is Waid and Samnee at their best (though when are they not?) — man I’m going to miss this run when it’s over.
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?