Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Daredevil 18, originally released September 2nd, 2015.
Act three: The climax occurs as well as the dénouement, a brief period of calm at the end of a film where a state of equilibrium returns. In other words, it is simply the resolution.
Wikipedia, Act (drama)
Drew: It might be reductive to call the final act of a story the most important, but it certainly defines what kind of story it is; is it a tragic or optimistic? Is it about how people and things change or about how they stay the same? Is it about satisfying resolutions for the characters, or satisfying resolutions for the plot? I’ve presented some obviously false dichotomies there, but the point is, the exact nature of a story, from its ultimate message to its storytelling sensibilities, can’t be defined until that final act. That puts a lot of pressure on the final act — a pressure that is doubly true in comics, where the final issue may make up a tiny fraction of the series’ run. Of course, it’s under pressure that Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s Daredevil has always had its highest moments, from moving Matt and company across the country to gracefully integrating into whatever crossovers Marvel cooked up to simply resolving the daring cliffhangers they came up with the month before. Daredevil 18, their final issue, is no different, which is exactly why it’s such a remarkable ending.
This issue’s greatest strength might just be in how unhurried it feels; when “climax” and “dénouement” are just words, it’s easy to forget how hard it might be to fit both into just 22 pages. I should clarify that “unhurried” does not mean that this issue lacks tension — indeed, much of the first half is taut as a drum — just that it has the flexibility to give its emotional beats the space they need to really land. The trick is efficiency elsewhere, relying heavily on Samnee’s skills at montage.
Montage is a common tool used at the end of a series (The Wire immediately springs to mind), efficiently tying up the loose ends that don’t necessarily warrant a whole scene. I’m so used to praising Samnee’s skills at layouts that the cleverness of this sequence almost passed me by. Each image is of a totally different place and time, yet each scene tells a meaningful story in itself — that’s some real storytelling right there. The key is Waid’s copy, revealing the true strength of this collaboration, which ties these moments together into a meaningful story. Moreover, letterer Joe Caramagna’s placement works with Samnee’s compositions to slowly direct our eyes closer to the center as you work down the page, adding some impact to that final, textless panel.
Of course, that montage is small potatoes compared to the time- and space-spanning Samnee does earlier in the issue. Take, for example, the reveal of Matt’s master plan, which also skips between time and location between each panel.
Unlike the montage sequence, which uses the space between panels to imply the passage of several days, these cuts must maintain the momentum of one scene, even though they all feature different subjects from different perspectives. It’s a real trick — especially when those last few are almost explicitly perspectives of characters in the scene — but Samnee pulls it off beautifully, showing us Matt’s plan, right down to its inspiration, without ever pausing to give him the long Sherlock Holmes-ian monologue where he reveals all. That’s not something many artists can pull off, and it’s certainly not something a lot of writers trust their artists to pull off, so it once again speaks to the strength of this collaboration that we have anything like this at all.
But, like I mentioned earlier, the real benefit of this efficiency is the space it affords the emotional beats, which Waid and Samnee absolutely knock out of the park. After celebrating the “all-out victory” that is Foggy’s diagnosis, Matt retreats into his own head to fret about the risks of being friends with Daredevil. Kirsten and Foggy won’t have it, pulling Matt out of the shadows with a kind of thesis statement on who Daredevil is. Surprise, surprise, it has nothing to do with darkness and death:
“Pulling Matt out of the shadows” is a statement Samnee takes literally, bathing Matt in inky shadows in the first half of the scene, but slowly blowing them away until they’ve all but disappeared (they’re already absent in the sequence posted above). That literal attention to the shadows drives home the final imagery of darkness and light, building to one hell of a final line. It’s rare that a line is so good that I would actively avoid mentioning it in a piece, but anyone even moderately interested in this run should make a point of reading it themselves.
All of which is to say this issue absolutely works for me in just about every way possible: as a climax, as a dénouement, as a plot conclusion, as a place to leave these characters, as a grand statement on who and what Daredevil is. Spencer, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on all of that, but I’m especially interested in that last point. This run rather sharply contrasts the modern interpretation of the character as defined by Miller and Bendis’ influential runs, but Waid makes a strong case that optimism may have more in common with fearlessness than pessimism ever did. He’s certainly won me over.
Spencer: I fell in love with Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil the moment I laid eyes on it, but this finale certainly cements its place, not only as one of my favorite comic book runs, but amongst the greatest Daredevil runs of all time. Drew, I love your point about optimism having more in common with fearlessness than pessimism, and I think that’s the key element of Matt’s epiphany. It’s easy to be pessimistic — to think that nothing will work out, so why even try — but optimism involves hope, and planning for success, and following dreams because you know they’re gonna work out for the best, and that can be hard, and that can be scary.
Much of Matt’s fearlessness, meanwhile, appears to be less about facing his fears and hoping for the best, and more about doing whatever he can to never have to face those fears head-on — about fearing the worst and taking desperate measures to prevent it.
Considering everything Matt’s been through, it’s easy to understand why he fights so hard to out-clever his enemies, but it’s still a strategy that can only go so far. Matt’s new costume and autobiography represented him finally embracing his public identity, but the Kingpin’s attack suddenly turned it into a liability again — even as Matt escapes, the Kingpin still chastises him for “signing” his work. Even the fact that Daredevil defeats the Kingpin by robbing him of his secret life — which is Matt essentially weaponizing his own public identity — shows how negatively Matt now views his public identity. In his mind it’s gone from an asset that keeps him one step ahead of his enemies to something that puts Foggy and Kirsten in danger.
That puts Matt into panic mode, trying to find some clever way to undo his public identity, but Foggy knows that’s simply not possible anymore. There’s certainly value in Matt’s ability to recklessly throw together a plan and make it work — just see the first half of this issue — but that ability isn’t predicated on secrets and lies. True fearlessness comes from embracing the light, from embracing the hopeful optimism that led to Matt becoming Daredevil in the first place; it’s an absolutely wonderful, hopeful place for Waid and Samnee to leave Matt as they say their goodbyes.
This also addresses a question that’s been in the air since Waid’s very first issue on Daredevil — can a happy Daredevil truly stick? Can Matt Murdock embrace the light and actually stay in it? It’s always been dubious — Matt was clearly trying to “fake it till he made it” at first, and he’s been through plenty of rough patches and depressive episodes since then — but it looks like we’ve finally got a definitive answer. I appreciate how Waid emphasizes that the path to happiness isn’t without its bumps along the way — even in our “happy” ending the Owl and Jubula escape, Ikari may not be dead after all, and Matt and Kirsten’s law firm may be defunct — but also shows that Matt now has the tools to persevere even under the toughest of circumstances. He’s no longer faking his happiness — he’s no longer afraid of the light — he instead now has the self-awareness he needs to embrace the happiness that was once little more than a foreign concept to him.
It’s something Matt couldn’t have achieved without a little help from his friends. Kirsten’s role has been a little lighter than usual in this final arc, and Foggy’s role has been reduced throughout the entire San Francisco volume, so it’s only fitting that Waid and Samnee use the dénouement to reemphasize the core relationship between these three characters. Their pacing throughout the dénouement is as smart as ever — many of its pages pack in 9-11 panels without ever feeling crowded, and these dense pages make it even more impactful when Samnee and Waid suddenly deviate from that pattern with a two-panel page and a giant, dialogue-free image.
This is clearly the moment everything’s been leading up to — Matt and Foggy are the most important relationship in Daredevil, and Samnee makes that absolutely clear even without a shred of dialogue. Matt has the skills — both physical and mental — to survive on his own, but it takes good friends like Foggy and Kirsten to remind him of that every once in a while. With this final scene Waid and Samnee continue to remind us why these characters are so important to each other (and why they’re so likable together — could Matt and Kirsten’s ribbing Foggy over his disgusting feast be more charming?), and I can’t think of a smarter note to close this run on. While they may have faked me out once or twice, Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil was never really going to end with angst or pessimism. This is a story about optimism, and there’s nothing more optimistic than these three friends facing an uncertain future together without a shred of fear.
We’ve spent a good bit of space here talking about how smart Samnee’s art is when it comes to efficient, intelligent storytelling, but those same methods also translate to the fight scenes that dominate the issue’s first half. There was one moment in particular that stood out to me.
First of all, I love the little inset panel that shows Matt hooking the cup before throwing it. Not only does it introduce the cup, which otherwise doesn’t appear in the first panel, but it shows how Matt threw it. The third panel does a fine job of indicating that Matt threw the cup, but showing that one additional detail creates a much clearer sequence of events and thus makes the fight feel that much more natural and fluid.
I also love the contrast between Matt and the Kingpin in those final panels. Matt is this tiny acrobatic figure, always in motion, barreling towards the giant, looming, still figure of Kingpin. The differences in their fighting styles are immediately clear, and even more amazingly, Samnee manages to flip this dynamic on its lid later in the issue; as Kingpin attempts to flee, Matt’s suddenly the still, looming figure, just as big as Fisk and blocking his only exit.
The fact that Samnee and Waid put just as much thought into these small details as they did the bigger plots and themes was just one of the many aspects that made their Daredevil run such a joy to read. I’m going to miss it it terribly, but I also can’t wait to see where these creators land next. The future looks bright.
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