Charles Soule was a virtual unknown when he started on Swamp Thing in 2013. Since then, he’s written some of comics biggest characters, from Superman and Wonder Woman to Deadpool and Wolverine. December saw him tackle the man without fear with the launch of a new volume of Daredevil. Drew sat down with Soule to go through issue 1 page by page, so get your copy handy and join us on the Commentary Track.
Retcon Punch: Let’s just jump in with page one. My first question is actually about the location. It seems like the Brooklyn Bridge is a more iconic Marvel landmark, and I’m wondering if you thought about any of those Brooklyn Bridge moments when you chose the Manhattan Bridge.
Charles Soule: Well, I live in New York, and the Manhattan Bridge is one of my favorite bridges — I run over it when I’m going for a run, and it has these great walkways along the side of it that are convenient for the scene that we’re trying to do here, whereas the Brooklyn Bridge has a walkway in the center, and there are roadways on either side. So that wouldn’t work for this particular scene. There’s a practical reason I picked the Manhattan Bridge; it has the walkways that let us do this thing. But, whatever: I just like the Manhattan Bridge.
Walking, or running or driving over the Manhattan Bridge, it arcs right over Chinatown, where the Brooklyn Bridge is south of Chinatown and sort of in the Financial District. So this was a way to tie this series very directly — straight up — to the Chinatown area, which is where a lot of the action is going to be set.
RP: Looking at the voiceover on this page and the next… it’s very identifying. We’ve got Matt introducing himself to us. How important is this as your introduction of your Daredevil?
CS: In a larger sense, it was important to me to make this feel like a re-introduction of the character to readers — that this was going to be a real chance to jump in. I mean, literally: you look at what Daredevil is doing and he’s leaping in, he’s being a daredevil, he’s jumping into a new situation, he’s leaping before he looks. I wanted to give that to readers in the same way. Tom Brevoort, and other editors I’ve worked with, they like to treat each comic book like it’s someone’s first comic book… and I think at a certain point, it can be tough to do that. But, for a number one issue, certainly, you gotta treat it like this is the reader’s first introduction to the character. The thing that’s challenging with these books — and I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of number-ones — is that you need it to be a satisfying experience for both for new readers and old readers. People who’ve never read Daredevil comics before, people who have been reading Daredevil for 40 years. That is a really tough needle to thread because some of those goals are contradictory. You don’t want it to feel to familiar, for people who have been reading the character for ages, but you also don’t want to throw in all these in jokes or references to stories past.
RP: I was struck by the amount of white on the page. I’m curious when in the conception of the series, when did Ron Garney and Matt Milla come on board and how much discussion was there over the finished look of this book?
CS: There was a ton of discussion about the finished look of this book. There are versions… I probably have four different version of page one and some of these other early pages in my inbox as far as coloring goes. They range from very fully-rendered, what you might consider a typical-comic-book look to, eventually, this. Again, my goal was to really make it feel different and — I don’t want to say “normal” comic book — just not that standard comic, computer-rendered thing that is all-the-rage. I also really wanted it to feel distinct from Chris Samnee’s work on Mark Waid’s run. They had a very particular, kind of technicolor look to what they did, bright colors and so-on. We knew the book was going to darker and we wanted it to feel like, when you opened this that you were getting something that was unique. It’s a whole experience. It can’t just be “oh, you’re getting another comic.” You’re getting something that’s going to be notable. The colors and the art and the writing — it all has to feel like you’re getting one of those memorable experiences. So much of comic reading is sort of disposable; you know the next one is going to come out soon, so you just read to find out what’s going on. We wanted to make this feel like it wasn’t that. This is meant to be more memorable and powerful than that. And whether or not we succeeded… time will tell, but that was the goal.
RP: I’m also struck by how different this style is from Ron Garney’s work that I’ve seen in the past. Did he come in with this style or…?
CS: He did. I don’t think anybody expected this from him. I’m not even sure that he expected this from him. We had a great chat this past weekend, just talking about plans for the book and kind of congratulating each other on our great launch and we talked about that very question. He felt that it was important for him to do something that was more of a statement — sort of like he was showing what he’s capable of now. And also something that was unrestrained. He specifically mentioned the experience he had on Men of Wrath — it was very clean for him — that’s a Jason Aaron creator-owned book that came up through Marvel’s Icon line. This is so different, but this seems to be the direction he wants to go, and thank God for that, because it just looks unbelievable.
RP: Moving on to Daredevil trying to use his radar sense off the bottom of the river —
CS: This is some of my favorite stuff in the issue, for sure.
RP: This is kind of our introduction to his abilities. What were your goals in this portion?
CS: Well, it’s the same thing. The whole opening sequence is designed to introduce readers to Daredevil; to his power set, the fact that he’s a heroic figure, that he’s saving someone’s life, that he’s smart, that he solves problems with his mind just as much as he does with his ninja-ing. One of the things that’s fun, and I’ve had this conversation with Mark Waid a little bit — who I should say, has been very very gracious about me working on a character that he had been writing on for years and years. Not only am I doing that, I’m not doing something that’s a direct sequel to what he did. He is one of the nicest people in comics, and he continued to be nice with this. But like I was saying, one of the fun things — and one of the challenges — about Daredevil is that you get to think of ways that a blind character with super senses would operate. What do they sense, or smell or hear? What do they understand about their environment that an ordinary person wouldn’t? And the way that someone who is very experienced at this, like Daredevil is, uses those skills as an expert. He’s been doing this since he was a little kid — twenty years now, or whatever — so he knows how to do it. But it also goes back to showing these things to the reader early on. If there is someone who doesn’t understand what Daredevil can do, what his powers are — and that’s very possible — they get a sense of it.
RP: How about the look of the radar sense effect?
CS: We asked how we could convey radar sense in this book in a way that doesn’t necessarily look exactly like it did in the previous version. That was amazing. I love that radar sense stuff — that’s probably my favorite. I probably even like it more than this. (laughs) But this is our version, and we needed a way to convey radar sense, but also not be what we saw before. Looking at the top of that page there, where Daredevil pinpoints that target, that’s what we landed on. It also had to work with the coloring and Ron’s drawing style. Yeah — lots of challenges in the design phase of this series, but I think we came up with a good solution.
RP: Turning the page yet again and now kind of getting to an explanation of what’s going on… at least from Daredevil’s perspective. So: tell me about your version of Daredevil. Who is this Matt?
CS: One of the things that I thought was incredibly successful about Mark’s dialogue — his portrayal of Daredevil — was the charming, swashbuckling side of him. And I really did not want to lose that here. Matt’s a lawyer right? And lawyers know how to talk (if they’re good, anyway). But also, because of the fact that his secret identity is back, I took the chance to make those personalities distinct in a way. So where Matt is right now is that he feels like — for the first time in many years — he can make Daredevil and Matt Murdock be separate entities. They do not have to act the same way. Daredevil can take risks in a way that Matt can’t.
I’m jumping around a little bit but one of this big brainstorms I had when I was thinking through this was this idea of getting his secret identity back. I feel — and feel strongly — that it is impossible for a practicing attorney to be a known vigilante. It’s impossible. I mean, he’s been disbarred many times! But he’d never get it back. He would not be allowed to practice law. I don’t care. It goes against the way the law is set up — it is just not supposed to be that way. But I also thought — you know, for me writing a Daredevil series — if he wasn’t going to be a lawyer, then… that’d be dumb. I am a lawyer. People want to see how I’m going to use that skill set in writing this book. That’s part of the appeal. So I needed a way to put it in so: secret identity is back. The whys and wherefores of that will be revealed later. But that’s my thought process. I needed to give him a chance to be both Daredevil and a lawyer. So he’s leaning into that — he’s letting Daredevil do things that Matt Murdock would never do, and vice versa.
It’s fun. I don’t think Daredevil has been written this way in a really long time — I think it was back in the Bendis days that his secret identity started to be unraveled a little bit. Certainly most of the hero community has known who he is for a long time. But in these stories, only one person knows who he is and that’s Foggy Nelson. You’ll see in future issues, but I’ve done some neat things with other heroes and villains and people in his world who don’t know who he is, but used to.
RP: The reveal of Blindspot is really fun. Matt knows something that nobody else knows. Is that an important dimension of that character?
CS: That he is able to turn invisible?
RP: That Daredevil can see him when no one else can.
CS: Yeah. It seems so obvious, in retrospect, but it wasn’t obvious. I mean, coming up with powers that are cool and make sense is not easy. And having them work thematically? He’s an undocumented Chinese immigrant, so he is somebody who, in many ways, is invisible in society. He washes dishes and stuff like that. Giving him powers, where that invisibility becomes a strength as opposed to a weakness, I thought that’d be a very cool way to go. The fact that Daredevil can see him and interact with him when he’s got his powers activated is kind of the cherry on top.
Y’know you have one idea and then another, it starts to takes on a life of its own. You know you’ve got something if it works really well, as I hope it does here. So, yeah, I was happy with figuring that out.
RP: Turning the page again to their conversation — they already have a casual rapport. Are we going to see their meeting at some point?
CS: Yes. There was an 8-page backup story in All-New Marvel Point One that told the story of the first time this guy, Sam Chung, met Daredevil, basically. He’s a guy who knew he wanted to protect Chinatown, his community, in the same way that a lot of other comic book vigilantes in New York do. So he had files on, you know: Spider-Man, Luke Cage, and Daredevil. He knew that he didn’t really know how to do the job, so he would go around town trying to hang around looking for them and hope that he could sign on with one of them, that one of them would be his teacher. Daredevil was the first one he actually found. He sort of met up with him and things happen to get to this point. The stuff in that “this happen” we’ll probably see at some point. In some ways though, I feel like that story — you kind of know how it goes. I’m sure there are some surprises there that we haven’t quite yet seen, but we’ll see. There are a lot of other stories that I’m really excited to tell before I tell “what did these guys do in the early days of their acquaintance. We’ll see what happens, but that’s kind of how I feel about it right now.
RP: The very final panel of this spread, where you see Sam’s distinctive shirt — was explicitly called for in the script, or was that added later to make Sam’s identity at the end clearer?
CS: It was called for. The tricky thing about this is that Daredevil and Blindspot do not know each other’s real names, so there was no opportunity in this scene for him to be called Sam Chung. In the stinger scene, the cliffhanger scene at the end, just because Tenfingers calls him Sam Chung wouldn’t have any reference for the audience because they don’t know he’s the same dude. So we had to find a way to do it visually, and I think the idea that he’s unzipping his suit there on the bridge is maybe a little tiny bit — I don’t know if he actually would, but in this case he does. Whether he actually would or wouldn’t, he is doing it.
RP: Moving on to Foggy’s apartment, Foggy makes it very clear that he doesn’t want to see Daredevil. How important is their relationship going to be as the series plays out?
CS: Foggy will be around, but I also felt — I took a lot away from Daredevil in this series, at least as it starts. He feels like he’s gained a lot, as he sort of explains it here. He’s gotten the ability to be a lawyer. He’s gotten the ability to take real risks with Daredevil again. He’s able to be a better Daredevil and a better attorney. He’s not always fighting against that question of “is Matt Murdock Daredevil?” — all that stuff is gone for him now. He feels like he’s achieved a certain amount of clarity. Which is great, but clearly he did something questionable to get that. Foggy is kind of like “Dude…” — this is an echo of scenes we’ve seen before. We even saw it on the Netflix TV show. Foggy is a smart man who has been able to establish himself repeatedly on his own — he doesn’t need Daredevil. He doesn’t need Matt Murdock, he doesn’t need Daredevil. At this point, his thinking about Matt is like, “I don’t need you here. Let me live my life; you live yours, if this is how you really want it to be.” I mean, there’s a lot more to it. This story will be told — kind of how all of that happened — but I probably won’t be getting to it until issue 15, somewhere around there.
RP: Is this the most we’re going to get in the way of teasing that, or will that be kind of a central question of the series?
CS: No, it’s a central question. You see a lot of it in issue 6, which I just finished last week. I’m gonna probably write 7 later this week, which will also look at it. You know, there’s a lot of weird questions associated with a guy who everybody knew as one person, and now they know them as two people. The way that the mechanics of this work — and I don’t think I’ve really explained this specifically yet — but basically, you just think of Matt Murdock and Daredevil as two people. You don’t think of them as one person anymore. So, anytime you’re hanging out with Matt Murdock, you’re hanging out with Matt Murdock, but not Daredevil, and vice versa. It sounds complicated, right?
RP: Well, I’m not sure how that happens, but won’t try to squeeze that out of you now. Moving on to Matt’s new digs in the office. There’s a lot of fun stuff going on here, but I’m particularly enamored of sequences where we get this kind of detailed explanation of Matt’s experience. That’s something that Waid did very well —
CS: Yeah, I think he did it extraordinarily well. I was very, very impressed with that aspect of the series, for sure.
RP: What does it take to get in Matt’s head in that way? Do you sit in a room with your eyes closed? How do you conceptualise the way Matt experiences the world?
CS: You know, I haven’t done that, but it’s probably a good idea, sitting in a dark room with my eyes closed. I think, for me, sight is the primary sense, and I’m sure that’s probably true for most sighted people — it’s the main way that we interact and think about the world. Whereas, I think when you’re looking at Matt, or trying to write scenes where he uses his senses — for him, I think he doesn’t have a primary sense. They’re all useful, and they all give him information in different ways at different times. When you’re writing sequences like this, you just sort of think “oh, okay, what would be a way to convey information here that isn’t sight, that isn’t radar?” It’s fun. I have some really fun ones coming up. I’m really thinking about him as a blind man, more than a hyper-sense man, I suppose. Because, you know, he has to play blind in a way we haven’t really seen in a long time because of the way the previous series’ worked. There’s lots of little — I think it’s in issue 2, actually — there’s a bit where his watch is a braille watch, like there’s things that he can’t see. Just because he has radar sense doesn’t mean he can see. I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s a lot of that stuff. The idea of the things he can’t see is a recurring theme throughout this series that I think will be interesting. He’s blind in many different ways. We’ll see how it goes with that. Hopefully I won’t hit that too hard, but that’s the hope.
RP: This character that you introduce here, Ellen King — is she going to be an important part of this series as it moves forward?
CS: Yep. She’s basically his gal Friday in the series, at least so far. She pops up anytime there’s a legal scene. We meet Matt’s boss, I believe, in the next issue, who’s based on a long-standing DA of New York, Morgenthau. But yeah, she’s around quite a bit. I did a lot of research on the DA’s office before starting this series because I’m not a litigator. I’ve never really gone to court and argued — I have a little bit, but not very much — and I’ve certainly never worked in the DA’s office. While I do have a legal background that gives me more insight than other people might have, there’s still a lot of internal process stuff that I really want to get right, so I had the help of a very sarcastic ex-Manhattan ADA who worked in this specific office. Like, literally, you know that elevator shaft office? I read in one review, some guy was like, “that’s impossible! That’s totally unsafe! Some elevator would fall on him!” First of all, the elevator doesn’t move, obviously. People aren’t going up and down that elevator shaft all day long. But my main contact for the ADA research was in this elevator shaft office, so it exists. He had it.
RP: Moving on to Matt’s pep-talk to Billy — it’s almost an anti-pep-talk, it’s so threatening. Some folks in comments on our site have suggested that with Matt’s move to being a prosecutor, there’s not as much room for compassion in his character. How is that going to play out in your run?
CS: I think it’s extrapolating quite a bit from one scene to say that Matt has lost compassion. I mean, he saved this guy, like, ten pages before. And he did it at potentially great injuring cost to himself. You know, he jumped off a bridge for this guy. On the other hand, he’s very much on the side of justice, and this dude is a sleazy guy. Perhaps it hasn’t been conveyed, or maybe we’re just so conditioned to thinking that somebody in this position needs help and should be coddled and so on and so forth, but Billy Li is not a good guy. At all. He’s a criminal. He’s an informant. He’s someone who is trying to survive the system the best he can, but it’s made clear on this page that he has many outstanding warrants on him, essentially. Convictions that can be called in at any time. He has committed crimes and has been convicted of them.
When I talk to my contact about the way these scenes go, it’s all leverage. This bargain? The “help us or you’ll go to jail” is a bargain that’s made all the time. These are not necessarily friendly relationships. These aren’t buddies. I mean, everybody’s a human being and so on and so forth, but this is how it is if you’re a DA, at least in part, in a situation like this. However, we will see many, many different sides to Matt’s legal practice as a DA. One of the great things about this series, I hope, is that we’ve never seen Matt be this kind of lawyer before. It’s very different for him. And hopefully that comes through. We’ll see!
RP: You mentioned earlier that, because Matt and Daredevil are different people in everyone’s eyes, he can really play up Daredevil as a character. I’m wondering if, in your mind, he’s doing that with Matt, as well.
CS: Yes. Absolutely. I think that he’s finding his way, to a certain extent. He has not been in this role for a while. His lives are split. He hasn’t been a prosecutor. There are all these things that are different now for him. His relationship is apparently done, with Kirsten McDuffie. His friendship with Foggy is on the ropes. But, at the same time, he’s got new relationships, like with Blindspot. There’s a lot going on for Matt. Whether that’s all good or bad, or how things go remains to be seen.
RP: Moving on to the final scene, should we be able to gather anything about these characters other than how weird this is?
CS: Maybe, but not really. Tenfingers, who he is, where he came from, what he wants, what he’s up to — all of that will become much more clear in the next couple issues. I think he’s a fascinating antagonist for Daredevil in ways that you’ll see — particularly in issue 4. He’s super weird. I think that design really nailed it on that last page. I mean, this guy has ten fingers, but on each hand. Did you notice that? (laughs)
Anyway, there’s a lot more to him, but I didn’t have 30 pages here, I had 20. I wanted it to feel like a big punch, just such a weird image. Particularly for something new. A big thing for me in taking on this run, and in a lot of the stuff that I’ve done I’m making up new stuff — there are some that would say that’s crazy because I’m giving characters to Marvel and so on. But you know what? I’ve loved the Marvel universe since I was a young kid, and the idea that I’m adding pieces to it is great. And for that matter, the DC universe, like Swamp Thing characters and all of that. What I’m getting at is that for this run, the first five issues will kind of focus on Tenfingers. You’ve got Blindspot. I’m going to continue to focus on new characters for at least the first year of the run. There’ll be some appearances by familiar characters, but it’s gonna mostly be new stuff. I think that’s a cool thing — there’s a lot of neat, amazing stuff that has come out of Daredevil in the past, and I wanted to take a shot at adding stuff to it myself.