Daredevil 20

Today, Michael and Spencer are discussing Daredevil 20, originally released May 17th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

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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4 comments on “Daredevil 20

  1. Waid did one good thing in his run. Only one. Fully revealing Matt’s identity, which was the only functional moment in the story he wanted to tell. And Soule completely fucked up the chance to reconcile it. Atrociously

    One More Day is a great comparison, because it is obvious this story was doing everything it could not to be One More Day. One More Day is a horrible story, but at least Peter is an active character in it. Having him make a deal with the devil is horrendously stupid, but that’s another problem (Daredevil is actually a character who can get away with making a deal with the devil. This is the man who played Russian Roulette with Bullseye. The man who declared himself Kingpin. The guy who took control of the Hand. He is exactly the man to make such a horrible choice ‘for the greater good’. But that’s neither here nor there.

    Again, One More Day is terrible, but at least it made Peter an active character. In fact, you could argue that the worst thing about One More Day is that they didn’t follow up on it. That the idea of Peter making a deal with the devil wouldn’t be that bad, if the next set of stories were all about interrogating what it meant that Peter made a deal with the devil, and explore all the ways it was a bad idea. Explore selfishness v responsibility through that lense. I don’t think the argument is right, but it is a perfectly legitimate argument. At the very least, it is certainly a major problem that Brand New Day didn’t explore the impact of Peter’s decisions. Because drama is based on characters making decisions.

    Here, they are so scared to redo One More Day that they take away the only good part of One More Day – that Peter made active decisions. Instead, we have a story so afraid to have the Matt be the bad guy, like Peter was, that there is no real story. The only satisfying way to tell this story was to show Matt as a bad guy, to have him do something actually wrong, and have the reader grapple with that. It certainly doesn’t involve a bunch of characters that don’t have anything to do with the story except to justify Matt getting his secret identity again.

    Even worse, it then does everything it can to whitewash what decisions Matt does take. The one thing he actually gets to make a decision on, not telling Kirsten, is made very, very clear isn’t wrong. We have a literal representative of God say ‘What you did was morally right, and you don’t need forgiveness. Stop beating yourself up, and go out there and continue being your awesome self’.

    Let’s summarize this story. To begin, in issue one, we found out that, to Matt’s great benefit, a true horror had occurred. Both to the general populace as a whole, and to Matt’s supporting cast in particular (who had their entire lives upturned). What happened this arc? We find out that by a stroke of luck, some other guys gave Matt everything he wanted, while God told Matt that he was without sin for their events. That isn’t a story. ‘I get everything I want without doing anything and without consequences’ isn’t a story. It is the worst kind of power fantasy.

    They spent so much time trying not to repeat One More Day, they repeated One More Day. Another story defined entirely by the way it fails as a story, and serves only to retcon continuity. The reasons are different, but it is the same shittiness.

    This is horrid. In fact, the way this does everything to keep Matt clean and whitewash any chance of sin (to the point of getting a representative of God himself to absolve him) almost reaches the point of vile.

    I actually feel sorry for Waid. He did one right thing, and it led to Soule writing this horrendous piece of shit

    • Just worked out the perfect summary of what I was trying to express here. This story, just like One More Day, is about the total abnegation of responsibility. They do it in different ways – OMD ignored the evil committed, while this story just wants to create a world where the evil doesn'[t amtter because you aren’t involved.

      But ultimately, both are about the same idea. Both stories express the same thesis. The thesis of ‘Who cares that a great evil has been committed, because the hero has personally benefited.’

      This issue just did a better job at hiding it

  2. Matt, I really like your deep and thoughtful analysis on Daredevil. It’s a pleasure to read.

    Yet given your dislike of Waid’s take on the character, I find it ironic that by insisting that Matt has to be the bad guy here, you’ve essentially defended his core concept that Matt is indeed the monster of his own book. By the end of Waid’s run, Matt discards his old self and life in order to be the sunny neo-Silver Age fantasy Waid wants him to be.

    Soule’s dark gritty neo-noir take on Daredevil completely rejects that concept and accordingly was never going to make Matt the bad guy in this retcon. Everything that’s happened so far in his volume from Blindspot’s injury to Matt’s crappy elevator shaft office supports the Catholic idea of achieving God’s grace through suffering. Matt hasn’t done anything wrong but feels so guilty he must atone anyway.

    I’m sorry this arc didn’t work for you, but Waid’s story was irreligious, the triumph of man and his ability to remake himself, while Soule’s story is steeped in Catholicism where man submits to God’s plan in order to become a saint. There was no way these two takes on Daredevil were going to meet in a way that wasn’t jarring because they really couldn’t be more different.

    • The problem with Waid’s take isn’t the idea – it is a story idea I love. I’ve expressed love here of stories that do the exact same idea, but with competence. The problem is that he executes it atrociously. The whole point of the story is supposed to be that Mat can’t magically transform himself, and that if he wants to be happy, he has to meaningfully confront his issues instead of dodging away from them. The problem is that Waid takes so long to address it, that you’ve given up the book out of sheer boredom. Drew even admitted that nothing actually happens until the Purple Man shows up, late into the second volume.
      The problem with Waid’s Daredevil is I got sick waiting to see which story was going to meaningfully address Matt’s issues. Matt’s new cocky demeanour places him well over his head, in the middle of an unsustainable fight with multiple terrorist organisations? Matt walks away, unaffected. A supervillain gaslights Matt Murdock, triggering Matt’s specific triggers while making him question his sanity? Matt walks away, unaffected. Bullseye, the man responsible for killing both loves of Matt’s life, returns with an elaborate plot to kill everyone he cares about? Matt walks away, unaffected. There is a reason I praised Matt getting disbarred as the sole good thing (and to be fair, I also praise Foggy’s cancer). It is the rare time something actually matters. Which is dreadful.
      The problem with Waid’s Daredevil is that Mark Waid wrote it. That they got the writer who treats drama as affectation to write a story all about the internal drama. That the book was ultimately hollow, because Mark Waid doesn’t write anything else. He only gives the illusion of drama, an illusion that is ultimately flimsy. An almost sociopathic approach where the story is instead an attempt to imitate real humanity/storytelling.
      In fact, as bad as Waid’s run is, it actually was not in Soule’s way. The only parts of Waid’s run that Soule had to engage in were the good parts. The overarching idea. The disbarment. The fact that Waid’s execution was atrocious did not matter for Soule’s story at all.

      Meanwhile, the problem with Soule’s stuff isn’t anything to do with the return to the noir of Miller, Bendis and Brubaker. I love all of that work, and the shift back from Waid’s failed, great idea back to Daredevil’s normal could have been interesting. There are all sorts of interesting story possibilities to tell. If Karen Page’s death was where the old Daredevil’s breaking point, leading to the self destruction that required Waid’s reinvention, what is the breaking point of the new Daredevil? What would have to happen to go from there to here?
      The idea of Catholicism and suffering are key parts of the Daredevil story, and used brilliantly. Bendis’ run is a great example, a cascading series of tragedies where Matt is constantly tested, suffering in every way imaginable during the worst time of his life in an attempt to continue being a hero.
      The problem here is that this story wants to absolve Matt Murdock. When I opened the first issue, we were presented with a world where Matt had done something wrong. Very wrong. The idea of Matt making a serious transgression is clear, when we see that he has lost everything. Even Foggy. Hell, his new job as a prosecutor, with emphasis on blackmailing witnesses, instead of a heroic attorney for the small, suggests a bad Matt Murdock. The problem with this arc is that it is all about how he did nothing wrong, and he shouldn’t suffer, or feel guilt. Firstly, the Purple Children absolve Matt of 99% of the responsibility. They are essentially a classic example of Deus Ex Machina. Half way through Soule’s run, they suddenly walk on, go ‘we have the power to make everyone forget about Daredevil’, do so without consulting anyone, then walk off. They exist solely to provide a clean, undramatic solution one of the big stories of Soule’s run, the mystery of Matt’s Secret Identity. Because the God in the Machine did it, Matt isn’t responsible.
      And yet, that doesn’t mean he isn’t morally clean. He should feel guilty, or should suffer, because he is aware that a great evil has been committed, and decided to benefit from it instead of correcting it. Think about what he has done to close friends like Ben Urich. How invasive it is to suddenly make the decision that Urich is no longer allowed to know Matt’s identity? To rob Urich of something that meant so much to their friendship. Or Milla, whose entire life was destroyed by something she isn’t now allowed to know about. Let alone what Matt did to Kirsten. Think of how much he stole, by not correcting the grave injustice done to her. Think of all the pain to Kirsten that has been caused by the mind wipe since, and remember that Matt is fully responsible for it. That if Matt robbed her of her agency in events but not restoring the memories stolen from her. Because he would rather enjoy the benefits of Kirsten forgetting he’s Daredevil than fix the injustice. And so, enter the Catholic Priest. An actual Representative of God. We are given no reason to doubt him. He is presented to us as both a symbol of moral authority and a symbol of what it is to be a good Catholic. And his answer is ‘you have nothing to be guilty about. This is just Catholic Guilt making you think you have sinned. I can’t assign penance, as you don’t need any. So instead, I am telling you to go out and be awesome.’ It is about how Matt doesn’t need to suffer, to be contrite, and should instead follow the path he was already on. Despite the fact that he stole the agency of nearly everyone he cared about. So between the Purple Children and the Priest, every effort is made to make clear that Matt didn’t do anything wrong and shouldn’t feel sad.

      The basic beats of the story are easy to tell. Something really bad happens to Daredevil, related to his public identity, that shakes his newfound optimism. In the process of grappling with this crisis, he comes face to face with something that would magically hide his identity. In a moment of weakness, he makes the wrong choice, and does a terrible wrong. He can’t go back, to either correct the mistake or return to the optimistic Matt he was before. Because he made this choice. In penance, he creates his most ambitious plan ever to address New York crime, so that at least he can say the great evil he committed lead to something good. That’s all you need to bridge and reconcile Waid and Soule’s work (though some effort in addressing why it is so important to essentially throw away every story since Bendis started his fateful run and trying to find a way to execute the story in a way that wasn’t regressive and backwards is important). Very simple story, that addresses everything you need, while being true to the themes of Catholicism and Suffering.
      Instead, we have a story that spits on those themes by doing everything it can to provide Matt absolution, even when he clearly doesn’t deserve it. It fails as a component of Soule’s run, and it fails as a story by itself. Instead, it is a story that breaks the cardinal rule of Superheroes. In this comic, ‘With Great Power, Comes No Responsibility’. Because if you have the power the fix the great sin committed to everyone you love, don’t use it because you get cool benefits

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