Michael: After 20 issues Charles Soule and Ron Garney finally give us the backstory of how Daredevil’s secret identity once again became a secret. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I’m very impressed with how they pulled it off. If the controversial Spider-Man arc “One More Day” is how not to accomplish an identity retcon, then Daredevil’s “Purple” might be the complete opposite.
Matt Murdock’s been sitting in confessional booth with Father Jordan for about four issues now, so it’s about time he wrapped up his “confession” story about how the world forgot who Daredevil is. After having defeated their “father” the Purple Man, the Purple Children decide that they owe a debt of gratitude to ‘ol hornhead so they make the entire world forget his secret identity. In fact, their mind trick is even more specific by adding the caveat that no one will learn who Daredevil is unless he wants them to.
Matt decides that the right thing to do is to leave his girlfriend Kirsten and spare her from the burden of remembering his secret identity. He doesn’t extend this courtesy to his pal Foggy however — something that has made Nelson very bitter towards Matt in previous issues. This mystery of it all and Foggy’s coldness to Matt made me think that Matt personally did something to make everyone forget Daredevil’s identity — something bad. I’m not saying that Foggy’s resentment is misplaced, but I’m pleased that Matt didn’t do some dirty deeds to conceal his identity once more.
I don’t mean to harp on “One More Day” so much, but it’s a good point of reference for how much cleaner a retcon “Purple” makes. In “One More Day” Spider-Man — one of the greatest, most moral heroes around — makes a literal deal with the devil to save Aunt May’s life. Peter and Mary Jane give Mephisto “their marriage” to save May and make the world forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. The absurd editorial gymnastics to split MJ and Peter aside, you’ve got the hero actively working with the devil. Not great.
In Daredevil 20 Charles Soule makes it so that Matt Murdock is not an active participant in his own worldwide mind wipe. Matt isn’t completely innocent, however; in previous issues we saw him exploring all sorts of avenues for regaining his secret identity to no avail. So in essence he was just window shopping — he didn’t actually commit to anything.
Despite his lack of active involvement, Matt still feels guilt over the whole saga with the Purple Children. We’ve got the hero doing heroic things and feeling guilty about the things that he had no control over — sounds like a Daredevil story to me. That taps into Daredevil’s form of Catholicism and need for penance — of which Father Jordan has none to offer. He knows Matt is just beating himself up over this thing that he didn’t have any say in.
Something that really intrigues me about the Purple Children’s mindwipe is the detail that Soule goes into framing it. “It feels…simple…like the way children solve problems.” That line right there is loaded with a hella lot of subtext. Who are the children here? Is Soule poking fun at himself? Is it Marvel? Comic book fans everywhere? A little bit of each?
Listen, I love comics. You love comics. But the hoops we jump through to justify the teeniest tiniest continuity changes are sometimes laughable — we’re little kids trying hard to make our funny books adult. And that’s great! Soule is establishing and embracing the fact that the way things are settled in comic books are silly but that’s how comics do.
While there’s certainly a weight of guilt and responsibility placed on Matt in the wake the mindwipe, you can’t help but notice how much it has freed him. Ron Garney draws several sequences of Daredevil relishing in his regained secret identity — beating up bad guys and giving the old “say my name!” line.
Matt Murdock is a man who feels guilty about a lot of things but the thing that he feels most guilty for is probably how much he enjoys being Daredevil. That’s why the breakup with Kirsten stings and he asks Father Jordan for forgiveness — in the end he didn’t choose to protect Kirsten from the dangers of Daredevil, he chose Daredevil over her.
Spencer did you find the conclusion to “Purple” as satisfying as I did? Is Matt justified in his guilty feelings or is it just Matt being Matt? Any particular thoughts on Matt’s mysterious “plan to end all crime?” Seems like another example of Matt Murdock’s overconfidence, but who knows!
Spencer: I certainly don’t think that “crime,” as an abstract entity, can ever truly be 100% stopped, either in real life or in the comic book worlds that need crime to drive their stories, but it’s exactly what every good superhero should want and should be trying to do, so I can’t really fault Matt there. Given the events of this storyline, I do have to wonder what Matt would even do with himself if there were no crime (we already saw him slowly going crazy without Daredevil in his life). That said, I think the biggest issue with Matt’s plan is that he’s trying to go it alone. But I’ll loop back around to that in a bit.
Michael, I gotta admit that I initially found the fact that Matt wasn’t actually responsible for altering the world’s memories of his secret identity a bit of a cop-out. As you said, we know it’s what Matt wanted, so giving him exactly what he wanted while, at the same time, absolving him of any responsibility for it is kind of underwhelming after 20 issues of build-up. Unlike Michael, I don’t necessarily feel like Matt making that decision would have hurt the character — a deal with the devil is much more of a Daredevil choice than a Spider-Man one — but I freely admit that I could be wrong there. Ultimately, Soule and Garney probably made a smart move by giving Matt a much more personal reason to feel guilty.
As Father Jordan later points out, Matt is probably right that his decision saved Kirsten’s life, at least in the long-term (we know Mark Waid would have never harmed Kirsten — those weren’t the kind of stories he was trying to tell — but we couldn’t have the same confidence about future creative teams), but in the meantime it robbed her of her agency. She’s an adult capable of making her own choices, even if they’re ones that put her in danger, and Matt couldn’t respect that, even if his own choice to be Daredevil puts him in similar danger.
Matt should feel guilty for that, but I don’t think he does. Instead, he feels guilty for being afraid. Father Jordan points out that Matt is allowed to be afraid, but the problem is that Daredevil isn’t. In the field, fear puts Daredevil in danger, but in his personal life, it leads to drastic decisions. Matt chose being Daredevil over living a life with Kirsten. I think that was a decision driven by fear — fear of being happy, fear of hurting Kirsten, fear of what he would possibly do with his life if he wasn’t Daredevil. I’m not saying that life with Kirsten would have been perfect, but it was a chance for a new beginning for Matt, a new chapter in his life, and that’s a chance he thoroughly rejected in order to embrace his old status quo (talk about your metatextual commentary). I don’t think Matt regrets his decision, but he certainly feels intense guilt for it, which is oh so very Daredevil.
Actually, though, I think that Matt’s greatest sin isn’t that he rejected his new life or that he rejected Kirsten — as I mentioned earlier, it’s that he’s isolated himself. The Purple Children’s gift to Daredevil wasn’t just his secret identity and reputation back — they specifically gave him full control over who could have knowledge of his dual life, and Matt’s chosen to share his burden with essentially no one; his relationship with Foggy is strained, and he hasn’t even opened up to his new partner, Blindspot. Father Jordan is a step in the right direction in that regard, but Matt’s still about to embark on a daring, likely dangerous journey almost completely alone. That’s got me worried.
I’m curious about Foggy; we’ve seen first-hand how intense his anger is, even close to a year after Matt regained his identity. I always assumed a part of his anger was due to whatever Matt actually did to regain his identity, but now we know that isn’t the case (because Matt did nothing) — Foggy’s anger is solely due to Matt shutting Kirsten out of his life. That’s understandable, but Foggy’s anger still feels too big for that alone. I think Foggy’s real problem is that Matt changed things, and Foggy can’t accept change. He can’t accept that he and Matt are back in NYC instead of happy together with Kirsten in San Francisco.
This in and of itself could be a bit of meta-commentary about fans who can’t let the Waid and Samnee run go and instead hold onto a time that, was admittedly great, but no longer exists. In-universe, though, I think it gives Foggy some interesting shading as a character. We’re so used to Foggy, not just being Matt’s conscience, but his common sense as well, that it can be easy to forget that he can be a bit petty, that he can be judgmental, that he can hold onto grudges. But all those things are very much Foggy Nelson, and his anger may not be quite as justified as earlier issues of Soule’s run made it out to be.
So while there’s a lot of suspect choices that the characters make throughout this story, I feel like Soule and Garney’s choices are generally spot-on, and have opened the door to plenty of interesting stories down the road.
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