by Patrick Ehlers and Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Patrick: Each of the issues in Charles Soule and Phil Noto’s “The Death of Daredevil” is named for a fear one could reasonably ascribe to Matt Murdock. “Hold on,” you might say, “isn’t Daredevil supposed to be the Man Without Fear?” Well, if that’s the case, perhaps these issue titles are more reflective of what Matt has to overcome to be the hero Daredevil. Issue 612 is titled “Apeirophoba” – a fear of infinity or infinite things. This issue confronts just how much terrifying infinity there is in both life and death, in stories that wrap up nicely, and in stories that refuse to quit.
First thing’s first – all of our pet theories about what’s been going on in this story arc prove to be correct. Matt is dying on the operating table from wounds sustained five issues previous, and everything he’s experiencing is his apeirophobic mind trying to put a clean period at the end of a sentence. And the story that Soule and Noto present here is startlingly neat. Daredevil follows up on one clue, which leads him to the Mad Thinker, who just so happens to be loudly confessing to rigging the mayoral election in Fisk’s favor. Everything from that flows as neatly as you could imagine. Fisk is done in by his own vanity, like every supervillain ever put on a fictional witness stand, and he’s forced to resign in disgrace.
Noto leans into the wish-fulfillment of this moment. Framing Fisk between a bright window and a gently hung American flag makes him look damn near presidential. My heart was momentarily a-flutter with even the suggestion of a corrupt president being removed from office. Soule underlines the fantasy with Fisk’s line: “I don’t even remember why I wanted this job.” I believe that Donald Trump never really wanted the job of President of the United States, and also never expected to win. Wilson Fisk is a little bit of a different animal, and I actually have kind of a hard time reading this line in his voice.
This is a satisfying ending. A conclusion that dares to let us imagine that our own election-stealing criminal-in-chief could finally being taken down a peg. The headline in the Bugle the next day reads “The King is Dead.”
But… that’s not the end. Remember, we’re afraid of infinity here – if it ends, then it ain’t infinity. Soule and Noto give us our first taste of infinity by staging the second of two fights between Daredevil and The Vigil. Even from that simple description, the repetition is obvious. “The King is Dead” but that doesn’t allow Matt to stop fighting. The fight between them is meaningfully tough to follow, and Daredevil seemingly falls off the gargoyle they’re perched on, only to rise on the other side of his opponent. But of course this doesn’t matter, because removing the Vigil’s mask only reveals the face of Matt Murdock.
This moment of realization, and the subsequent spinning out to reveal that the whole reality is false, revolves around Matt’s inability to perceive it. He touches his own face on The Vigil’s body and asks “what is this?” Then we’re hit with a rapid fire volley of Matt’s friends and family asking him to do the one thing he physically cannot: look.
Having all of these characters in succession identifying Matt with the role he plays in their life hints at the multitudes of persons Matt Murdock actually is. These are further hints of infinity. He’s not just Daredevil, he’s not just the hero who brought down Fisk. He’s a friend, a teacher, a son, and so on. That’s a cue that Noto takes and absolutely runs with, building a kind of mobius-nesting doll of different versions of Daredevil.
Check out how carefully he aligns the bottom of one panel with the top of the next. At first it feels like he’s simply zooming out while cycling through Daredevil costumes, but the transition between the yellow costume to the red blurs the line between where one ends and the other begins. Is that the yellow Daredevil’s nose or the top of red Daredevil’s head? The truth is that each one both contains the next and leads directly to it. Soule accompanies this recursive expression of identity with a repeated “I fight it, it comes back.”
They’re undermining their nicely concluded story, but… to what end? Daredevil accepts the fact that he hasn’t actually defeated anyone, and gives himself over to death. Noto gives us one fully empty page – nothing but blackness. What kind of infinity is that? Spencer, I’ll pose this as a question to you: as the heart monitor re-ignites, is Matt overcoming infinity or accepting it?
Spencer: I suppose I’d say that he’s accepting it, but what infinity is he accepting? Let’s take a look back at that final image Patrick posted, this time at the copy, at Matt’s increasingly frantic reaction to the never-ending evil that plagues his city. Matt is accepting an infinity of struggle, an infinity of battle, an infinity of confronting evil.
In essence, he’s accepting his very nature as a comic book character, as a hero with over fifty years and counting of continuous publication and no end in sight.
To that end, Soule and Noto have played these last four issues almost to the point of parody. It’s the “long-running creative team’s final storyline” amped up to eleven.
Here Matt runs through everything he thought he’d done in this storyline, and every beat hits one of the tropes you’d expect to find in any creative team’s grand finale. It’s too much, and ultimately, that makes it too easy. Even at the end of long-running storylines, comic book superheroes just don’t get those kind of easy, concrete endings. There’s no rest, only another new (or old) threat that needs fighting.
That makes everything that Matt dreamed in this storyline a form of wish fulfillment, both for himself and for the readers. Matt wishes that he could topple Fisk that easily in the same way so many of us wish Trump could be toppled with one perfectly-timed scandal, no matter how unrealistic that seems. Matt wishes he could find resolution in his personal life, but instead his relationships with the likes of Foggy, Mike Murdock, Blindspot, Elektra, and Frank/Cypher/Reader remain frustratingly open and unresolved, the way no real life relationship ever reaches some tidy conclusion or closure. Matt has to accept that the struggle is real, and the fight continues on.
What’s important, though, is that Matt chooses to keep fighting, even when he has an out.
It’s certainly an appealing out (or, at least, as appealing as death can be). Noto makes this vision as gorgeous and ethereal as possible, the kind of image anyone would want to embrace, and Soule not only hauls out one of Matt Murdock’s greatest loves, but has her tell him that he did everything he could. It’s not only a welcome affirmation, but permission to stop fighting. It’s permission to deny infinity. We know how desperately Matt wants his fight to be over, but ultimately, he simply can’t accept her offer. He still has work to do.
In his farewell note at the end of Daredevil 612, Soule mentions that Daredevil came back to life “because that’s what super heroes do.” That could be read as a cynical jab at how laughable death has become in comics, but I take it as more inspirational — superheroes will always come back because we need them to, because there’s always more evil to battle, because the job is never done. Daredevil, specifically, comes back because he “cannot see the light.” He can’t see any hope, so he has to be that hope. Matt needs it as much as Hell’s Kitchen needs it.
Soule and Noto have left both Matt and his next creative team with quite a full plate. It’s a lot to deal with, but struggle has always, perhaps more than anything else, been a defining element of Daredevil. What makes Matt a hero, what makes him aspirational, isn’t that he has radar sense or that he never looks before he leaps, it’s that he always keeps moving forward, that he always keeps fighting, no matter how dark things get. That’s something all of us can do as well, and that’s why this ending feels so powerful, no matter how atypical it may be.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?