I’ve already had a bit to say about Marvel events in general (here), but I stand by my assertion that some of these major crossovers are quite good. Not all of them are though. Often, it feels as though the schedule to develop an event is the driving factor, rather than the desire for a specific story to be told. It all seems a bit backward to me, but it is all too often the case for Marvel. But beyond the generalities, I also want to discuss a specific Marvel crossover that I read recently: Shadowland.
Before I start, Blorgon Warning: as a Daredevil-centric event in 2010, this review will contain spoilers to some of the final developments in the Bendis/Brubaker Daredevil runs. I won’t spoil the specifics of this event’s conclusion, but in order to discuss its significance or any plot elements, some big DD twists may be spoiled.
So the primary concept of this event is a “What if” question: “What if Daredevil finally had enough and took justice into his own hands?” (pun intended). The basic gist is that Daredevil had recently agreed to take over the Hand in issue #500. The stated intent was to prevent Wilson Fisk (the Kingpin) from taking over, and to attempt to change the Hand from within. All of this is set under the Dark Reign of Norman Osborn, so Murdock’s confidence in the proficiency and morality of the legal system were at an all-time low. While all of the lead-in materials attempted to show Murdock’s fight to make this band of evil ninja assassins into a law-abiding, non-lethal strike team, the whole premise is clearly doomed to fail. How are we supposed to believe that Daredevil, sworn to a high moral code and one of the closest protectors of his secret identity, will have so totally changed that he compromises all of his principles, even leading to the cold-blooded murder of Bullseye in the first issue of the event.
The whole premise is so antithetical to Daredevil’s persona, that I am inclined to believe the plot was contrived as an afterthought, and is more reflective of the editorial pressure to deliver a “street-level” crossover event for some Marvel characters who traditionally don’t get as much exposure in the main events. Driven by the recent popularity of Luke Cage and Iron Fist, the editors probably wanted to come up with something to drive more spin-off series and increase sales for these characters, causing Diggle and co. to back into the plot rather than develop an event organically from their own creative material. That’s not an excuse, because either way, Daredevil’s entire character was dismantled solely to increase sales. Killing a character off is one thing, but dismantling them ideologically makes for a much more difficult retcon later, and this dark chapter will now always be in Daredevil’s continuity.
Shadowland mini (#1-5): As I mentioned above, I just can’t get past how much I disliked the premise of this event. I am really trying to be objective about the true quality of this event’s art and writing, which means that both concept and execution should be taken into account. So, unsurprisingly, I gave this event a pretty poor rating for concept, given the complete and total compromise of an iconic character’s core principles. I also feel that the entirety of this event, written by Andy Diggle and penciled by Billy Tan, was derived for the sole purpose of creating a crossover for the street-level heroes, who are so often left out of the mega-events (like Secret Invasion and Siege). With this goal in mind, Marvel decided to make Daredevil decide to lead the ninja assassin death cult known as the Hand, establish martial law in Hell’s Kitchen, and virtually terrorize his neighborhood into submission through harsh and overly violent enforcement of his rules. He even erected a Japanese-style fortress in the heart of Manhattan, sat on a throne, and threatened all of his former friends to either join his brutal crusade under penalty of death. Absolutely none of that is a believable turn for Matt Murdock.
In an effort to be objective, I have tried to consider the progression of the story independently of the premise as well. Here, there are definitely some positives, though not so much to redeem the conceptual shortfalls. Billy Tan’s art is very good and classic comic book. It’s not highly stylized, but much like the cover art by John Cassaday, is well-executed classic comic art: brighter colors, rounded edges, and more detailed ab muscles than facial features. I don’t really have any complaints there.
Diggle also had some strengths in plot development for the supporting cast early on. The Moon Knight arc of breaking into Shadowland undercover was very cool, though the decision to throw in Ghost Rider to steal his thunder seemed out of place. Especially since Moon Knight later just disappeared after issue #3 (presumably to go off on his horrible side-adventure). A lot of the set up with Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Shang Chi, Spider-Man, and the Punisher was pretty good. This event was as much about the supporting cast of street-level heroes as it was about Daredevil, and the heroes’ subplots were generally pretty solid. Diggle definitely does deserve some credit for that, as it saves the event for all but true Daredevil fans. *Spoilers* The initial fight with Daredevil in the Shadowland fortress, as well as Elektra’s eventual betrayal were solid plot arcs. Though I found the demonic powers Daredevil gained to be pretty under-developed, Ghost Rider’s failure seemed insignificant, and Iron Fist’s weirdly magical “chi-blast” made for a hokey fix to the problem. If he could do that the whole time, why didn’t he? Finally, *Spoiling the Ending* what was with the weird mental seppuku? How did that kill the demon but not himself? And why did he lay down dead then get back up? I would have preferred that this total dissection of Daredevil’s character to end in his actual death, since that would make more sense as a means of banishing the demon possessing him. It would also seem like a more just self-sacrifice than simply moving away to the Southwest, which is hardly penance for the death and destruction he caused.
Overall, the Shadowland event was a misguided concept under the guise of creatively pushing boundaries, and had some pretty big plot holes, but the art and the characterization of the event’s supporting cast redeems it enough to give it a try. I wouldn’t recommend buying it, but if you have read the lead-in Daredevil issues, or are a big fan of Luke Cage and Iron Fist or Elektra, you may check it out of the library or read it on Marvel: Unlimited. It could have been worse, but it also definitely could have been better.
Concept: 3 of 10; Execution: 5 of 10
Shadowland One-Shots and Tie-Ins: It seems as though this event was also used as an excuse to relaunch some street-level heroes in their own solo or group titles. This makes many of the tie-ins unnecessary to the progression of the key events in the Shadowland timeline, so I provided a quick Yes/No for Shadowland event relevance, as well as a rating.
Daredevil Tie-Ins (#508-512; After the Fall): Written by Andy Diggle and an alternating tandem of pencillers, Roberto Delatorre and Marco Checchetto, these tie-ins act as the tail-end of the often stellar 1998 run on Daredevil (comprehensively reviewed here). As I mentioned in my previous review of this run’s entirety, I did not like the direction that the final 15-ish issues of the series took. The entire concept of Matt Murdock’s transformation was completely uncharacteristic and relied upon a total abandonment of the very principles that defined his character. I understand that the authors sought to provide a new plot line with different challenges that had been seen before, but this total deconstruction of Daredevil seemed much more apt for a “What If?” title or an alternate reality, rather than an in-continuity event. Since it was the main DD title that led into this Shadowland event, it certainly shares the blame.
However, this subset of tie-in issues was after the groundwork had already been laid, and these issues focused much more on Daredevil’s supporting cast than Murdock himself. In that sense, it provides some interesting insight into how Foggy Nelson, Dakota North, and Becky Blake dealt with the events of Shadowland. Their struggle to remain hopeful of Matt’s recovery, Foggy’s incredulity at the extent of Matt’s transformation, and Dakota’s struggle to keep the three of them safe in Daredevil’s absence, all served to keep these characters relevant during the event. The writing was solid and the artists’ dark and blurry style worked for the tone, even if it’s not my favorite. These issues could have been much worse and Diggle showed good judgement to leave Daredevil almost entirely out of these final few issues, allowing the supporting cast an avenue to wrap up some of their loose ends before the end of the series.
Relevant? Yes; Rating: 5 of 10
Elektra One-Shot: I’m not a big fan of Elektra. Not even the Frank Miller version, which could very well be blasphemous among Daredevil fans. Too much mystical mumbo jumbo and a dispassionate violence with which I could never really sympathize. However, her role in this one-shot and the broader Shadowland event is significant, so this issue is one of only a short list that is required beyond the main event miniseries. It tells of Elektra and Master Izo’s journey to Japan and their efforts to find a way to defeat the spirit possessing Matt. A bit hokey, but it also includes some important and rare emotional development for Elektra, whose antipathy and stoicism generally prevents her from taking any moralistic action beyond self-interest. Master Izo’s character also shows some remorse for the events that led to Shadowland, providing a different glimpse into this odd and enigmatic character than Diggle’s run on the primary Daredevil series did. Though not a masterpiece, this one-shot, written by Zeb Wells and penciled by Emma Rios is a solid piece of the Shadowland puzzle.
Relevant? Yes; Rating: 5 of 10
Ghost Rider One-Shot: I have never understood the interest in Ghost Rider. He’s a tough guy, biker take on the Headless Horseman from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The punk superhero. And yet, for some reason, he’s got all of this weird religious and spiritual symbology. The flaming skull dude is sent by an angel as the spirit of vengeance to burn baddies with Hell-fire? I don’t get it. Honestly, I wish this one-shot (written by Rob Williams and penciled by Clayton Crain) had been completely irrelevant because I don’t like the character and I really didn’t get the point of this story. But since Ghost Rider shows up in the main Shadowland event, you may care to read this to see why. But frankly, it is just another random cameo in my opinion and probably skip-able. Only for completionists and Ghost Rider fans, whoever you are.
Relevant: Kind of; Rating: 3 of 10
Spider-Man One-Shot: Spider-Man is always good fun, and Shang Chi is a under-utilized character at Marvel’s periphery, so the idea of a team-up could have been a nice little jaunt. However, the entire concept of this one-shot spun out of one panel in Shadowland #3, where Spider-Man is sitting on a windowsill. It is just a pointless side adventure that doesn’t further the plot of Shadowland, or even really show much character development for either hero. This little side-battle focused on the two heroes seeking out Mr. Negative, an odd recent addition to Spider-Man’s rogue gallery, who was over-used during the Dark Reign period. The choice of villain is particularly disappointing given the strength of Spider-Man’s rogue gallery, which is perhaps second only to Batman in all of comic-dom. The resulting brawl written by Dan Slott and penciled by Stephanie Hans is sadly skip-able.
Relevant? No; Rating: 4 of 10
Power-Man (#1-4): First and foremost, this is not a Luke Cage story. Luke does show up in the supporting cast, but this is instead an origin story for a new character, Victor Alvarez. This miniseries is only tangentially related to the Shadowland event, so it is definitely not required reading, but it tells the origin of a new young hero out of the tragedy from Dark Reign: The List – Daredevil, an important precursor to the events of Shadowland. In that issue, a fight between Daredevil and Bullseye led to the destruction of a tenement building and the death of 107 innocent civilians. Victor was the lone survivor, and finds himself with some chi-based powers that draw Iron Fist’s interest, and lead to some adventures with former Heroes for Hire baddies. The story by Fred Van Lente is decent, though somewhat formulaic, but the concept of Victor using Craigslist to find new work as a Hero for Hire was pretty creative and worked well to frame these few issues. Mahmud Asrar’s pencils definitely work to complement Van Lente’s story of a young hero dealing with loss and family hardship, all while trying to learn about his new powers. It’s a solid character arc, even if the “big reveal” in issue #4 about his origins is a bit cheesy.
Power-Man is probably the best-written story with the “Shadowland” moniker, but it really is pretty irrelevant to the event’s story. Worth a read if you like street heroes and are fairly familiar with Luke Cage and Iron Fists’ backgrounds. The List one-shot is definitely a pre-requisite, but otherwise this could be self-contained.
Relevant? Not really; Rating: 6 of 10
Moon Knight (#1-3): Moon Knight is perhaps the most difficult Marvel character to write well. Though often criticized as a spoof on Batman, he is much more than that. He is the only full-on, basket of cats crazy superhero I know of. Sure, some have toed the line, had their insecurities and their breakdowns, but even Deadpool’s 4th wall-breaking, delirious rambling can’t keep up with Moon Knight’s dark and twisted reality of Dissociative Personality Disorder. The descent into madness that Daredevil experienced during this Shadowland event is old news compared to Marc Spector (er, Jake Lockley?). His idea of vengeance is a lot bloodier than most heroes are comfortable with, and he doesn’t really play well with others, making him a great fit for this morally ambiguous event.
Unfortunately, none of that played out. Instead, after a really intriguing cameo in Shadowland #1 and #2, where he infiltrates the Shadowland facility under cover to break out the hostages and sneak up on DD, his thunder is completely stolen by Ghost Rider, and Moon Knight skulks off to go on this pointless adventure in his 3-issue miniseries. All three issues have great cover art by Francesco Mattina, but the positives just about stop there. Greg Hurwitz’s story felt out of sync with MK’s cameos in Shadowland and his running around to retrieve some weird Moon-shaped weapon was completely pointless. He is told that the weapon is crucial to the defeat of Daredevil, but he doesn’t even have it when he shows back up toward the end of the main event. The depiction of craziness was not all that believable, going more for shock value with a giant squawking bird-Khonshu and gratuitous blood. The art was weird and cartoony, and Spector’s brother was just kind of gross-looking. I didn’t enjoy the story or the art and would definitely recommend skipping it.
Relevant? No (but I wish it had been); Rating: 2 of 10
Blood on the Streets (#1-4): This miniseries was an interesting concept, but the execution fell flat. Misty Knight, long a peripheral figure in the street hero community, was finally given a chance to shine in this four-issue tie-in written by Antony Johnston and penciled by a team of Francesco Mattina and Wellington Alves. Johnston wrote Misty’s character fairly well, and I wanted to like this story, since her detective skills made for an interesting side arc to the Shadowland story. Those elements often played out pretty well, referencing some recognizable bit players in the old Heroes for Hire series. However, this arc suffered from over-crowding and a poor resolution. Shroud was a character I didn’t know before, and he seemed a bit flat and under-developed, but ok, I guess. His character also didn’t really affect the end results too much. But the inclusion of Paladin and Silver Sable made very little sense to me. They served only to distract from Misty’s primary arc, and really didn’t drive much of the plot.
Solid art, and decent writing on the primary character make this an ok comic, but the other characters distract too much to make it really worthwhile. I think if those secondary characters had been cut, and Johnston and co. had focused more on Misty, this could have had a real chance.
Relevant? No; Rating: 4 of 10
Daughters of the Shadow (#1-3): Oh man, this was not good. I think this mini beats out even Moon Knight’s terrible miniseries for worst Shadowland title. Written by Jason Henderson and penciled by Ivan Rodriguez (covers by Jean-Baptiste Andreae), this mini-series attempted to follow a similar format to Misty Knight’s above solo series, but this time with Misty’s longtime compatriot, Colleen Wing. Wing, another member of the Heroes for Hire series’ supporting cast, is a trained martial artist armed with a katana and exemplifying the ronin (master-less samurai) trope. Wing is a little-used character, whose connection to the core characters of this event could have given her a good jumping off point. However, this miniseries ignores all of this character’s best characteristics and makes her into a glorified errand girl instead.
Following the events of Shadowland #2-3, the contingent of heroes who escaped Shadowland began to plot another way in to end the madness. However, this series expects us to believe that Colleen Wing, one of these heroes who had just fought her way out, would come back to Daredevil and agree to join him simply because he “knows something about her mother.” Really? A hero will give up everything and join a death cult because her demon-possessed friend tells her that she would be following in her mother’s footsteps? That is the entire premise. She takes over some group of powered women to enforce the Hand’s will because of this ludicrous excuse, and is only jarred to her senses when some unimportant innocent neighbor is captured in the crossfire. There’s no emotional development and it all seemed so unbelievable and pointless. Just skip this silliness.
Relevant? No; Rating: 1 of 10
Thunderbolts (#148-149): Though this title was hardly related to the action at all, it was actually one of the best reads of the entire event. The new Thunderbolts series that followed the Heroic Age semi-reboot saw Luke Cage become the new leader of this convicts-turned-heroes squad. It is solely this Cage connection that brought this new T-bolt team into the Shadowland fore, but I’m glad it did. Written by Jeff Parker, these two issues provided some humorous moments as well as a good window into the writing and feel of the larger Thunderbolts series. The addition of Juggernaut and Crossbones to the mix adds some harshness to the previous rosters, while Man-Thing is kind of like an evil Groot (half mascot, half planty powerhourse), and under the tough-love leadership of Luke Cage, I think the book shows some real promise. The art in both #148 and #149 was pretty good, penciled by Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey, respectively. This small window into the new T-bolts has me intrigued enough to want to read the larger series at some point. That is the biggest win for any crossover title. Though largely irrelevant to the Shadowland event itself, it is still worth a look!
Relevant? Not really; Rating: 7 of 10
Overall Event Rating: 4 of 10 — a terribly flawed concept, as well as a jumbled cast of thousands, made this “street-level” event into a cameo-splosion with too many mystical shenanigans and contrived emotional struggles. While it is certainly a below-average event from Marvel, Diggle did manage some solid writing for some of the supporting cast (Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Shang Chi) and the first issue was actually pretty strong. It is unclear how much of the creative process was editorially-driven, and how much was from the creative team themselves. I probably won’t read it again, but some completionists and fans of ninja brawls may disagree.
gif source: giphy.com