Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing Daredevil 17, originally released February 15th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: Our mission statement here at Retcon Punch has always been to foster thoughtful discussions about comic books, but there’s another idea that’s always factored heavily into our work as well: everyone’s unique perspective contributes heavily to their interpretation of any given book. It’s an idea that kept popping into my head as I read Charles Soule, Ron Garney, and Matt Milla’s Daredevil 17, because my feelings about this issue are heavily influenced by my feelings about Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s previous run with the character. I can only imagine that this story reads far differently to anyone without that attachment.
To be fair, Soule’s Daredevil run has been drastically different from Waid’s since the start, but the confidence and distance with which Soule presented those differences helped me embrace his “new” take (which is more of a return-to-form for the franchise, but I’ll skip the Daredevil history lesson for now); the mysterious deal Matt made to regain his secret identity always felt more like a smart plot device to facilitate the series’ new direction than a story that desperately needed to be told. Daredevil 17‘s flashback to this story, though, forces readers to reconcile the two runs, to see first hand how Waid’s Matt Murdock became Soule’s.
It’s a smart story, but one that forces me to confront Matt’s seeming emotional regression head-on, which is tough pill to swallow. That said, Matt himself is struggling in his old life, finding that his new public, celebrity lifestyle is interfering with his mission to help people, both as a lawyer and as Daredevil. Matt’s been presented with a chance to try something new, but he’s not taking to the idea.
Of course, Matt’s never been one to embrace change (even when he tries to), and I don’t for a second think that he would ever progress beyond being Daredevil as long as Marvel continues to publish comics. But a major theme of Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil was Matt finding ways to change and grow and hang onto happiness despite his hang-ups, so it’s depressing to see Soule revisit that era just to give Matt a hang-up he can’t overcome. Likewise, the reasoning behind Matt’s current predicament is sound (being Daredevil invalidates his work as a lawyer, being a celebrity invalidates his work as Daredevil), but it wasn’t a problem when Waid and Samnee were telling stories set in that same time-period. I trust Soule’s take on the situation (he is a lawyer), but it kinda makes it look like Waid didn’t know what he was talking about when it came to the legalities of Matt’s San Francisco lifestyle.
I suppose that’s what I find troubling about this story; it essentially disassembles and undoes the happy ending of the previous run in a way that’s usually reserved for far less critically and commercially successful storylines.
This joke is a more silly example, a crack about the (divisive, to put it lightly) “One More Day” story over in Spider-Man that also pokes fun at some of the wilder predictions about how Matt regained his secret identity. I don’t mean to suggest that Soule is being flippant, dismissive, or disrespectful of what’s come before in the slightest, but I can’t help but to see some similarities between this and the way the rest of this issue pokes holes through the previous run, suddenly making its status quo unsustainable. Even Matt’s joy at returning to New York — “playing my instrument again” — while completely understandable, paints the previous run as “lesser” in some ways. Or, at least, that’s the feeling it gives me, deep in the pit of my stomach.
Interestingly enough, though, Soule and Garney don’t necessarily paint Matt’s decision to leave that life behind as a good idea.
The thought that this chapter in Matt’s life is a “dark time” has been broached multiple times throughout this run, and here Matt frames the story of how he regained his secret identity as a “confession,” implying that he did something wrong, something he needs forgiveness for. That makes sense, considering that the Purple Children are somehow involved (and how smart is it of Soule to hold the issue’s title until that final page? Giving us the title up-front would have changed the entire story). This is another situation where outside context helps — just seeing how the Jessica Jones Netflix series treated Kilgrave’s powers makes Matt possibly using his children all the more morally troubling. I don’t expect (nor want) Soule’s run to end with Matt renouncing the entire thing and returning to San Francisco or anything, but I do like that this opens up the possibility that Matt’s attitude in this flashback could come to be considered wrong or unhealthy.
Whatever my misgivings may be with the story’s contents thus far, there’s no denying that it’s very well told. Matt’s frustrations come from a very real, in-character place, and Soule captures Kirsten’s voice (and the spark between her and Matt) perfectly, more than well enough to make me really miss her again. Garney and Milla put in some fantastic work as well, especially in the moments when they highlight the color red against a black background (such as when Matt charges Typhoid Mary). I would love to get to see this art team tackle Daredevil’s all-red costume more often.
I think that’s what’s bothering me: this is a great issue in a lot of ways, and my frustrations with it largely come down to how it’s affecting my perceptions of previous stories. I don’t like engaging with a story in that way, but I also don’t want to deny that that’s what I got out of the issue. I am going to keep an open mind, though, and take the rest of the storyline as it comes. I still think it could go to some truly fascinating places, especially with the Purple Children involved. What about you, Patrick? What did this issue do for you?
Patrick: I’ve actually been pretty sloppy about keeping up with Soule and Garney’s Daredevil, partially out of deference to Waid and Samnee’s majestic run with the series. I don’t need to have all of my Batmans embrace the same tone, and I don’t need to like all the things I like in the same way, so it’s not as though I was resisting this newest iteration of the character as a matter of course. However, I was feeling the tension that Spencer identifies in this issue from the very first pages of Daredevil 1. If you look back at the comment section of that piece, a bunch of us are wrestling with what this change in tone means, and how we can ever hold it in the same space as the run we just came off of. The change was so fresh that both our readers, and the comic itself, posed the question: what happened?
That was the end of 2015. Left unexamined for over a year, the question does feel a little less vital, doesn’t it? Like, at this point, we’re either accepted the fact that Matt Murdock and Daredevil changed, or we haven’t. The actual purpose of revisiting this story, then, must be to force the audience to re-investigate their questions about Matt’s newfound anonymity. Make no mistake: this isn’t Soule and Garney telling a Waid / Samnee story, this is Soule and Garney doing what they’ve done the whole time. They take a hard look at the real facts and deliver a grimy verdict. Does that always feel great? No. But “making the reader feel great” has hardly been a stated goal of this series, has it?
There’s something very smart about targeting something the readership loves to make the audience feel threatened. Think about just how rare that is. Deep down, we want to see our heroes in danger, so a reader doesn’t actually have skin in the game when Batman is trapped in a Riddler death trap. Marvel is taking those threats reader-side for a little bit — Hydra Cap is a great example of a plot development that is almost more menacing for the real world than it is on the page — and this is Dardevil‘s chance at that. The scale is just much smaller, as is appropriate for the character.
All of which is to say that I agree with Spencer about what’s so upsetting here, but I’d argue that is one of the greatest strengths of the issue. I think Soule and Garney even offer us an emotional out from their assault on the happy-go-lucky Daredevil of yore when they write about Matt Murdock’s “perspective.” It’s a stunning page that uses the language of Marvel comics to communicate a simple point: you can’t just be one thing.
I absolutely love that Matt doesn’t name Punisher in his list, but Soule and Garney make it clear what can result from that kind of myopathy. Frank Castle is one of the hardest characters to write realistically without addressing some seriously disturbing mental illness. He is single-minded in a way that make him ignore the immorality of his actions, or the irrevocable consequences of his war on crime. He lacks perspective. And that’s what we need. Yes, it hurts to see a happy ending recontextualized as tragic, but we have to remember that we are more than simply fans of “Daredevil” — whatever that means. Perspective on Soule and Garney’s direction with the character — including understanding the publishing initiative around the end of Secret Wars and embracing the tone set by two storytellers we like — helps to compartmentalize this pain.
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