Today, Ryan D. and Spencer are discussing Daredevil 4, originally released February 24th, 2016.
Ryan D.: Sometimes, as a lover of comics, I feel like I need to make even my objective voice take a step back. A friend asked who my favorite superhero is. I answered with Daredevil. I love DD for the fact that he is very mortal in a multiverse of gods and supermen. His human story of a boy who grew up blind and parentless while still having the temerity to finish law school and start his own practice is just as compelling as his mask. I related to the Irish-Catholic-American guilt with which the character often struggles, and I love that, unlike many characters who guard the earth from cosmic threats such as Galactus, Daredevil just wants to keep his neighborhood safe. The noir-rich Brubaker and Bendis runs on the series opened my eyes to places I did not know superheroes could go, and the Mark Waid return to the swashbuckler proved to be a delight.
But we have a “new and improved” Daredevil now, one who has One More Day‘d away his previously very public identity, who now sits on the side of prosecution instead of defense and even totes a sidekick. Taking my step back and knowing that this run has no intentions of being the DD of yore, I have been interested in seeing when the character, plot, and art might all fall into their respective, complimentary rhythms, and I am unsure as to whether issue number four takes any steps forward or backward in this regard.
The set-up is none too complicated: both Daredevil and Matt Murdock find themselves in opposition to Tenfingers, the enigmatic leader of the Church of the Sheltering Hands, which has been quickly amassing followers in the form of Chinese-born immigrants. This issue, narrative-wise, tells three stories: Daredevil “teaming up” with Steve Rogers, Murdock’s verbal sparring with Tenfingers, and Sam (Blindspot) confronting his mother at the temple. The recurring theme in all three of these beats is trust: in Cap, in Sam, and in himself.
I find it interesting that Mark Waid brought in Capt. America in issue 2 of his 2011-2014 run with the character as a means to address Daredevil’s history (remember when DD was the head of The Hand?), and now Soule uses Steve Rogers to address Matt’s guilt over, somehow, erasing everyone’s memory regarding Daredevil’s secret identity. The language used in this scene directly evokes the very Catholic idea of a priest and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as the narrative captions tell Matt to confess to Rogers to plead for absolution. Their verbal exchange also warrants the most interesting page of composition in the issue:
I enjoy the choppy, vertical paneling of this page, giving the conversation a nice, staccato rhythm. Ron Garney keeps a very consistent visual score in this comic, so the times when he mixes it up stand out. Garney and color artist Matt Milla love playing the red against the blue, and it was nice seeing them try out some touches of green and orange.
Conceptually, there is much to celebrate in Garney’s Daredevil. I love the concept of diffused colors punctuated with sharp, the mingling of silhouettes and mattes, and how everything contrasts with the bevy of tans, greys, and blacks. However, when I asked a passer-by what Daredevil’s costume looks made of, they quickly responded with “tight garbage bags”, and that the background looked like a red wine stain which someone tried to remove with white wine. Ultimately, I enjoy the idea behind much of the art and appreciate the strong choices being made, but viscerally find myself looking for parts that match the tone and feel organic more often or not.
Furthermore, the vaguely ethnic explosives dealers here do not matter one lick to the over-arching plot, and the ne’er-do-wells do not even live in Hell’s Kitchen! Grumble. The scene in general serves primarily as an excuse to bring in the star power of Rogers and fill the pages while Murdock embarks on some serious directly-expository internal diatribe.
Ultimately, this issue finds itself exploring themes rather than progressing on a narrative level. While readers of Sex Criminals recently saw a successful issue featuring very little plot advancement, that almost never works in any narrative medium unless it is magnificently curated, and even Blindspot’s brazen reveal of his identity to his henchwoman-mother seems like more of a change in dynamics than a step forward. Spencer, does Tenfingers also strike you as a polydactylic Mandarin? With all of the outcry for Marvel diversifying their characters, the aesthetic of their Asian antagonists strikes me as somewhat reflexive at this point. And is his dynamic with Matt Murdock reeling you in?
Spencer: Those are all excellent questions that I promise I’ll get to in a little bit, Ryan, but first I want to address one of your earlier criticisms: the lack of relevance for the bomb plot. I’ll admit, you hit the purpose of that scene right on the head — adding some action to the otherwise talky, exposition filled discussion between Matt and Steve — but a scene that exists simply to provide some action can still be quite entertaining in its own right (as I feel this one is). Moreover, even if it’s mostly unrelated to the Tenfingers plot, the bomb threat still manages to provide some insights into Daredevil’s conversation with Steve.
First off, it helps reinforce why Matt’s decision to erase his public identity may have been a bad one. The narrative so far seems to to be subtly condemning Matt’s choice, both by comparing him to Tenfingers (which, again, I’ll loop back around to soon) and by focusing so strongly on Matt’s guilt. The bomb threat, though, reveals a much more simple, yet still potentially dangerous consequence to his action:
Not only have Matt’s friends forgotten who he is, but they don’t even know he’s blind. That goes beyond any betrayals of trust — it’s an omission that, in this situation, endangered every single person in that building, and that’s a direct consequence of Matt’s decision to regain his secret identity.
The bomb threat also highlights why Matt turns to Steve Rogers for advice and absolution. Yeah, obviously, Steve Rogers is the closest thing the Marvel Universe has to a conscience (or perhaps even a patron saint), but there’s some more specific details at play here too. Matt mentions in his internal monologue that Steve still keeps an eye on his old neighborhood and finds ways to help it when it’s in need, and that’s gotta appeal to Daredevil, the man who dedicates himself to guarding about ten square blocks of NYC because it’s his home turf. Steve is someone Matt respects on both macro and micro levels — of course he looks to him for guidance.
Anyway Ryan, while I haven’t actually seen the Mandarin for a while, you’re right that Tenfingers’ design does seem to be a bit on the “generic Asian” side. I certainly wouldn’t call it racist, but it is just a tiny bit concerning — of course, I’m a white male, so I may be overlooking something important in this regard. Please don’t take my opinion as the final word on the subject.
I do appreciate, though, that the Chinese heritage of Tenfingers and his acolytes — and, even more specifically, their experiences as new immigrants in America — is front and center in this storyline. This perspective gives story an unique touch I haven’t really seen elsewhere in comics, and also does wonders to explain why so many would so willingly give themselves over to a creepy cult leader dude with ten fingers.
The perspective of immigrants even extends to the conflict between Blindspot and his mother.
This is the kind of argument you might see between any immigrant and their Americanized child — strip out the murder-quests and I could even see Kamala Kahn having a similar conversation with her parents. The immoral actions of Tenfingers are easily forgiven because his flock has nobody to trust in this strange new land but each other, because tradition dictates that they stick together. You could probably tell the Tenfingers story if he was a different ethnicity, but it gains far more depth by using Chinatown as a backdrop.
Ryan, you also asked if the dynamic between Daredevil and Tenfingers is reeling me in, and yeah, there’s quite a bit of juicy subtext to dig into there.
Calling the man who parades around at night in a devil suit a “devil” seems a bit redundant (I wonder if Tenfingers would appreciate the irony if he knew who Matt really is), but it does force Matt to confront the similarities between himself and Tenfingers. Matt may not have the straight-up God Complex that Tenfingers has, but he seem to think of himself as some sort of tool of God, and he uses that line of reasoning to justify his actions in the same fashion as Tenfingers — that scares Matt, as it should. Is Tenfingers sincere in his desire to help his congregation, and if so, does that excuse his crimes? We all probably have our own answer to that, but mine is “no,” and that’s potentially damning for Matt, who’s pretty much in the same boat here. Do his noble intentions and actions as Daredevil make up for whatever he did to regain his secret identity?
I honestly don’t know. I’ll admit, it’s frustrating not knowing exactly what Matt’s done, nor what Tenfingers’ ultimate goal is. It’s pretty clear that Charles Soule plans to reveal both pieces of information in due time, but until then, we don’t quite have the complete picture we need to fully unpack these two characters’ motivations. Still, there’s already some pretty fascinating layers to their relationship, and it has the potential to become much richer if handled properly. This story looks like it might go to some pretty dark places, but for now, I’m definitely down for the ride.
Before I bring this article to a close, I do have a question for our readers: What do you think it means when Tenfingers asks Matt if he’s a man of faith and Matt replies “I…used to be”? Has Matt just gradually lost his faith over the years (his Catholic background was only sparsely referenced in Waid’s run, after all), or does this have something to do with Matt’s deal to get his secret identity back? Geez Matt, please don’t tell me this is another Mephisto thing…
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?