Shadowland: A Marvel Event

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.

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This review may offend Daredevil’s delicate sensibilities. Source: memecenter.com

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.

 

The Review:

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Cover Artist: John Cassaday

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.

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Cover Artist: Roberto Delatorre

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

 

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Cover Artist: Sana Takeda

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

 

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Cover Artist: Clayton Crain

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

 

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Cover Artist: Mike Perkins

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

 

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One of the coolest covers in the whole crossover. Cover Artist: Francesco Mattina

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

 

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Cover Artist: Francesco Mattina

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

 

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Cover Artist: Jean-Baptiste Andreae

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

 

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Man-Thing gives the T-bolts their own evil Groot. Cover Artist: Marko Djurdjevic

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.

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Don’t worry, Shadowland. You still aren’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to Daredevil….

gif source: giphy.com

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Daredevil (1998) – Volume 2

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Source: Comixology

One of the incredible things about Daredevil as a character is that he works so well in a solo title. With very limited interactions outside of his own series, Daredevil allows his writers to operate in a relatively insulated world, rarely even leaving Hell’s Kitchen. That may be why he has attracted such an impressive line of creators over the years. From his beginnings in 1964 as the first blind superhero, Daredevil and his alter ego, Matt Murdock, have been on a bit of a popularity roller-coaster. Though a very creative and unique character from the start, Daredevil never really amassed the same popular support of his contemporaries (Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, the Avengers).

The great Stan Lee wrote the first 50 issues, but despite introducing a slew of iconic villains and developing the character’s full cast of supporting characters, origins, and powers, he never became a top-selling hero. Throughout the 1970s, a carousel of artists and writers tried to shake up the character and dredge up some better numbers by making the run bi-monthly, teaming him up with Black Widow, moving him to San Francisco, and a bunch of other shake-ups. But nothing truly worked until Frank Miller came onto the scene in the early 1980s, transforming the swashbuckling wise-cracker into a dark and gritty antihero. It was under Miller’s helm that Daredevil really found a home. His world was dark and dangerous, the tone dour and harsh, and Miller’s artwork and innovative redefining of the character propelled Daredevil to popularity for the first time. With his iconic (and highly recommended) Man of Fear mini-series, and the Born Again arc representing the core of this new Daredevil.

Unfortunately, following Miller’s run in the early eighties, the character began to decline again. Despite some solid arcs from Ed O’Neil and Ann Nocenti, the series’ sales started to fall back to pre-Miller levels, and the 1990s brought much of the same flawed, over-indulgent arcs that plagued the innumerable X-titles and Spider-Man titles of the decade. By the late 1990s, Marvel had over-printed and Rob Liefeld-ed their way nearly to bankruptcy, forcing them to sell off their movie rights to the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man. It was at the company’s all-time low that they sought to innovate and bring in some new creative teams to breathe new life into the stagnant company. Enter: Marvel Knights, an experiment with Indie writers and artists with more creative autonomy than a regular Marvel comic. The Marvel Knights initiative gave four under-performing properties to Joe Quesada’s small comic company, “Event Comics,” for some fresh ideas and plot-lines (find a more complete history in my Black Panther (1998) review, here). Daredevil was the highest profile of the four MK titles, and its relaunch in 1998 sparked a new golden age for the character.

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Source: Comicvine

Daredevil’s rebirth as a gritty, but thoughtful hero began here in 1998, under the Marvel Knights label and would soon usher in multiple Eisner Awards, a 2003 movie starring Ben Affleck (that was horrible), and establishing a new level of popularity that surged to the present day, where Daredevil has seen two seasons of the amazing Netflix/Marvel collaboration. A review of the mammoth 120-issue 1998 run (which lasted until 2010) is below. The review is broken out by creators, as that tends to roughly define each chunk’s tone and significance. Some of these runs were pretty long, so they encompass many arcs, making their reviews more about the aggregate of those individual arcs.

Blorgons be advised: I am trying to avoid spoilers, but some of them are inevitable. The further you go in this review, the more likely elements of previous arcs will be discussed. It is difficult to assess each author’s work on the the character without examining the cumulative histories that build on previous authors’ writing. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum but some major plot points in each run are necessary to fully analyze the works. You have been warned!

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Cover Artist: Joe Quesada, Issue #1

Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada (#1-8): In 1998, Joe Quesada, the mastermind behind the Marvel Knights initiative at Marvel, chose the snarky writer Kevin Smith to headline the most famous of the four Marvel Knights properties – Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. Smith, famous for his quirky films Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Dogma, as well as his iconic role as Silent Bob in the Jay and Silent Bob duo, had not written any mainstream superhero comics before. A lifelong nerd and comic fan, Smith had only recently forayed into the comic medium with a tale about Jay and Silent Bob set between his films. I’m sure this seemed like a pretty big risk at the time, but Quesada was confident enough that he did the penciling himself for Smith’s run. His gamble certainly paid off.

Smith built up a complex mysterious plot for the Man Without Fear with a highly allegorical tale of belief, doubt, and redemption. The plot drew heavily on biblical stories of the apocalypse and its parallels to Smith’s film Dogma, which was released a year later, were numerous. A first-time read through the story is very compelling and surprising. Smith does an expert job of gradually revealing plot lines while letting the suspense build. And the big reveal is actually surprising. It is hard to discuss the story too much without giving it away, but the basic premise is that Matt Murdock (currently set up in a swanky law office with Foggy and Foggy’s mom) hears a young girl with a baby fleeing some bad dudes in car and goes down to rescue her. Then, after the girl leaves the baby with Matt, series of mind games and self-doubt circles around Daredevil as he tries to unravel the mystery around this baby and the strange things that keep happening. The result is a surprising and emotional psychological thriller. The heavily allegorical tale is rife with religious symbolism, all of which makes the tale particularly personal for Matt Murdock and is a good fit (if unsurprising from Smith). The dialogue is pretty verbose at times, making each page a little more wordy than I tend to prefer, but the story progresses pretty well.

Rating: 8 of 10 for first-time readers, mostly due to the elements of mystery and handling of the villain. 6 of 10 on re-reading, since most of the value in the series is the unfolding of its mysteries.

 

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Cover Artist: Joe Quesada, Issue #13

David Mack and Joe Quesada (#9-15, 51-55): Taking over for Smith, Mack certainly had his hands full. But I’m not sure that the hand-off was all that clean, as Mack’s run doesn’t really show Matt suffering or dwelling on the earth-shattering conclusion to Smith’s arc. I think it is somewhat implausible for Matt to seemingly recover so quickly and start to develop a new love interest. Perhaps Mack supposed a large time gap or he just wanted to tell this story regardless of how stark a contrast it paints from the previous arc. So, right off the bat, the transition is a little weird and definitely represents a big stylistic change from Smith’s 8-issue run. And oddly enough, it’s only tangentially about Daredevil. However, don’t let that dissuade you. Mack’s work (both after Smith and later in a Bendis/Maleev gap) are really timeless examinations of a new character he introduced in issue #9: Maya Lopez.

Mack’s artistic style is really unique. Paintings with mixed media functioning as a sort of character collage with an interesting amount of repetition, reusing portions of the paintings again on multiple pages to show emphasis. The first handful of issues in his run were actually still drawn by Joe Quesada, but Mack’s storytelling style still influenced the artist layout with the words in sheet music and other stylized choices (issue #12 is the one exception, as it is more of a standalone written by Palmotti/Haynes interrupting Mack’s story for one month). The full Mack-effect is seen in the first few issues of Bendis’ run in #16-19, as well as Mack’s #51-55 full on scrapbook, modern art, paint explosion in the “Vision Quest” arc. It is pretty impressive and definitely enjoyable. Mack’s depiction of dream sequences, memory, and emotion are very unique and involve very artsy representations of his characters. The most impressive visual aspect of all is how Mack integrates the visual representations of sound into the storytelling. He showcases different techniques to show music or silence or other key auditory sensations with visual approximations. The result is definitely enjoyable.

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Source: Marvel.com, Issue #53; Cover Artist: David Mack

I enjoyed Mack’s work as a creative riff on the superhero comic genre and his care for character development, especially Maya: the deaf Native American savant who gradually became Echo, the first deaf superhero, over the course of his run. It is interesting that Daredevil/Matt Murdock falls into more of a supporting character role, as Mack’s focus is on exploring the psyche of Maya: her pain, her memories, and her motivations on the quest for vengeance and eventually redemption through understanding. Mack also deserves some solid recognition for his infusion of Native American cultural histories into Echo’s narrative. He did a great job creating the origin story of his character, Echo, but the result is that is not really a Daredevil comic. Sure, Matt is the love interest and/or adversary for Echo, but it is Maya’s struggle not Matt’s that is the emphasis. At times the narratives became too repetitive, like Mack didn’t trust that his readers would catch the artistic references he made, which seemed to slow down the plot in his later issues. However, the overall feel for these two story pieces is quite good. I hope it is all collected into one “Echo Collection” of sorts soon. I would definitely buy it, if only to skim through the art again.

Rating: 6 of 10, the art is unique and very cleverly rolled into the story. The story itself is solid but nothing spectacular.

 

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Cover Art: David Mack, Issue #25

Bob Gale (#20-25): What started off as an intriguing arc focusing on Murdock in the courtroom, gradually started to go downhill. Gale’s idea for a lawsuit brought against Daredevil for damages made for an interesting idea. He pushed it even further with the notion that it was in Nelson and Murdock’s best interest to take the plaintiff’s suit themselves, so as to best protect Matt’s secret identity from another prosecuting attorney. The Matt Murdock side of the lawsuit was actually fairly intriguing, as the plaintiff’s back story with murky details and a mysterious possible brainwashing sub-plot progressed in a fun way. However, the weird semi-romantic plot between Matt and the defense attorney was pretty forced and didn’t really due either character credit. Even worse was the “multiple Daredevils” development. I would have preferred to see such a complicated legal set up to be resolved with Matt and/or Foggy’s legal genius rather than some cheap costume stunts. All in all, Gale’s run is not bad, but largely forgettable considering Bendis’ incredible writing on either side of this arc. The most important aspect of this story is the legal implications of the Daredevil suit on Bendis’ later arcs.

Rating: 5 of 10, a solidly middle-of-the-road comic, that I won’t seek out to re-read but didn’t mind while in it. I don’t necessarily recommend it, but it’s not a bad read if you’re a Marvel: Unlimited subscriber or a completionist.

 

 

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Source: Marvel.com Issue #62; Cover Art by Alex Maleev

Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev (#16-19, 26-50, 56-81): The first four issues of this run (#16-19) were not actually drawn by Maleev, but were instead a Bendis/Mack collaboration. The short arc was intended as a guest appearance by Bendis, and featured a self-contained story about a young boy dealing with trauma following an altercation between Daredevil and the boy’s father, a B-list villain. The story is told from the perspective of Ben Urich, the intrepid reporter for the Daily Bugle, who interviews the boy, his mother, and Matt Murdock to get a sense for what happened during this altercation. The result is a deeply emotional story arc with expressive and evocative art, along the same style as Mack’s other work on the series. But the key difference is that Mack’s writing in his own arc came up a little short, whereas here, he could rely upon Bendis’ strong characterization to drive the story. This short story is very well done and really sets the tone for the kind of stories that Bendis wanted to write about the Daredevil character. He really touched on the negative ripple effect that even good deeds can have on innocent people, highlighting something almost taboo in the superhero comic genre: touching on the victims of superhero intervention, which so often escalates a conflict into a much broader and prolonged event. Though it is only a short four-issue story arc, it packs a pretty significant emotional punch, and despite only appearing in a few frames, Daredevil’s impact on the plot is crucial, and even surprising.

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Source: Marvel.com, Issue #60; Cover Artist: Alex Maleev

The remaining 50 issues of the Bendis and Maleev run was nothing short of incredible. Maleev’s art is one of my personal favorites and a perfect fit for the dark and dingy corners of Hell’s Kitchen. Maleev emphasizes shadows and uses a lot of black lines to show details and muted colors that make each panel seem distressed. The tone was just as dark, as Daredevil was pushed to new extremes, and the brutal realities of his dual identity and vigilantism came to a surprising head. Bendis did a great job of integrating crucial character history into the story, all while introducing some new characters (Milla Donovan first and foremost) and spinning a completely new tale. Bendis knew all of the right themes to emphasize: loss, faith, identity, violence, and that ever-so-delicate balance between law and justice that has always been a pivotal debate for Murdock’s character. The difference between the man and the mask was written in as well, giving some insight into the emotional relationship a hero has with their alter-ego. Bendis seemed to take some inspiration from Miller’s seminal Born Again saga, but he provided his own spin on those familiar themes. I don’t want to give much away, but I highly recommend it to anyone who likes comics, especially those with a darker, grittier tone.

Rating: 10 of 10, a rare feat. This is definitely one of the strongest comic runs I have ever read and it is in my top ten favorites. I bought all three Ultimate Collections as soon as I finished and will certainly reread this many times. Bendis and Maleev just presented a high quality product with great art, story, and characterization. That’s what the medium is all about. I highly recommend it.

 

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Source: Marvel.com, Issue #84; Cover Artist: Tommy Lee Edwards

Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark (#82-119, 500): The end of Bendis and Maleev’s run had readers reeling with a real cliff-hanger, but if anyone was up to the task, it was Ed Brubaker. Brubaker is the author of my all-time favorite comic run, Captain America (2004) #1-42. His bread and butter is a noir style full of political intrigue and espionage. Daredevil was a natural fit, with his gritty style and the penchant for bloody violence and moral ambiguity that accompanies a high-profile street-level hero. Brubaker, along with the primary penciller, Michael Lark, did an admirable job picking up where Bendis and Maleev left off, delivering a believable spiritual successor in the “Devil Inside and Out” arc. *SPOILER* the fallout of Matt’s prison time, as well as the Punisher’s inclusion, and the attack on Foggy maintained that same dour and hopeless tone that Bendis had cultivated, continuing Daredevil’s downward spiral. The emphasis of his emotional torment seemed fitting, and Matt’s continued struggle with interpersonal relationships is, as always, at the forefront of plot lines.

After the resolution of the first arc, Brubaker and Lark’s run seemed to ebb and flow a bit. Some arcs were pretty strong (Mr. Fear in particular), while others seemed to be affected by the event-apalooza that was taking the Marvel Universe through the Civil War, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, Siege, and Heroic Age. Some of those events started during Bendis’ run, but the real fallout didn’t seem to trickle into Daredevil until Brubaker took over. Some of these influences (the Iron Fist bit, Daredevil’s foreign travel, Osborn crossovers) had definite impacts on story developments and were, to some extent, unavoidable. Brubaker did an adequate job covering for the stresses that superhero registration and Osborn’s eventual Dark Reign would have on Murdock’s character, for whom anonymity and street-level crime and corruption have always been defining characteristics. It is clear that Brubaker understood Daredevil pretty well, alternating between taking him out of his element to challenge him, and returning him to his roots. The mind games and mysterious noir elements of many of these struggles provide the perfect tonal fit for the character. Michael Lark’s art, while not quite as beautiful as Alex Maleev’s, was perfectly enjoyable. The occasional inclusion of echolocation-type rings around Daredevil’s head was a cool effect and timed well with the story’s progression. Definitely a solid artistic showing.

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Cover by: Marko Djurdejevic, Issue #100

Unfortunately, I did not get the sense that Brubaker really knew Matt’s supporting cast all that well (apart from Foggy), and attempted to undo select pieces of Bendis’ run (Milla, particularly). The characterization of Dakota North was a bit cheap, focused primarily on telling readers how cool she was, rather than giving her much of a chance to show it herself. The weird relationship between her and Matt did not feel natural, and served mostly to jettison Milla from the forefront more than anything else. Of course I definitely enjoyed the Iron Fist cameos, since Brubaker was scripting his solo series concurrently, making the tie-ins and character take seem pretty well developed. His use of Vanessa Fisk and the little-known Mr. Fear were also quite well-executed in their respective arcs. Brubaker also reimagined the Black Tarantula, giving him much more sympathetic characteristics and making him another solid supporting character to contrast with Matt Murdock. In contrast, Lady Bullseye was pretty shmeh.

 

My biggest problem with Brubaker’s run, however, was its ending. The final handful of issues left a cliff-hanger that I fundamentally disagreed with. I don’t want to give it away to those who have not read it, but *SPOILER* if you know what the Shadowland arc is about, you’ll know what happened here. I understand the desire to push a character in new directions or to challenge them in new ways, but the decision to flip on such important issues is unacceptable to a fan of the Daredevil character. The final four issues of the run docked the whole series by at least a point (in my arbitrary rating scale), taking what could have been a great comic run, and turning it into just a solid one.

Rating: 7 of 10, it hurts me to rate Brubaker with anything less than an 9. He penned my all-time favorite Captain America (2004) run and he in unparalleled in writing noir-esque political intrigue into superhero comics. However, this Daredevil run is not quite as consistent as his typical work. Though there are flashes of brilliance (Ryker’s, Mr. Fear), there are also some plot elements that seemed rushed or under-developed. I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt, blaming some of this on editorial pressure to tie into Marvel-wide events. Either way, it’s worth a read, and at least the first 20ish issues will offer some resolution of the massive cliffhanger Bendis left. I would recommend it to Brubaker or Daredevil fans, though Bendis’ run is certainly a prerequisite.

 

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Cover Artist: Paolo Rivera, Issue #506

Andy Diggle and Roberto Delatorre/Marco Checchetto (#501-507; Shadowland #508-512): It is hard to give Diggle and co. a fair assessment here. They were handed a poor concept and had to usher in this street-level event with just a few months of lead-in time. The art is fine, dark and blurry, with a bit too much computer editing for my taste, but definitely serviceable for the themes. Diggle, whose greatest comic writing achievement was for Marvel’s Distinguished Competitors on the Green Arrow: Year One mini-series. I think Diggle’s attempts to show a gradual descent into madness were admirable, but that doesn’t mean I liked it or that I would recommend it. The whole concept was a betrayal to the character of Matt Murdock, his honor, and his principles. There is no way I can rationalize it to make it seem good. If you like other street heroes (Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Shang-Chi) but aren’t particularly attached to Daredevil, then maybe you will disagree with me and enjoy Diggle’s run along with the Shadowland event (read my review here).

Rating: 4 of 10, an ok story line with a bad premise, makes this just a slightly below-average comic. It could have been worse, but I didn’t like it, though I am not sure who to blame: the writers, the editors, or just the larger culture of eventification.

 

 

Brave Blorgons, thanks for making it this far! But that was just 12 years of comics, you couldn’t have really expected me to do it too quickly! Here’s a little bonus for your dedication:

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And another one:

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Go Team Red; Source: virtualstars.tumblr.com via giphy.com

Marvel’s Trend of Eventification

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Marvel’s penchant for “crossovers” and multi-title “events” has taken the comics industry by storm in recent years. What started simply as a marketing ploy for a new line of Hasbro toys (*ahem* Secret Wars), gradually developed into a company-wide strategy for cultivating and controlling continuity across their many books. These events have become increasing polarizing in the reading community. Though generally thought to bring people in to new characters and convince them to buy other books, the dearth of intertwined and overlapping stories makes it harder for comic traditionalists who just want to read a solo title about their favorite characters or enjoy something on the fringes of the greater Marvel continuity.

All of this is hardly news. Anyone who has read any Marvel comics since the 1990s knows about these crossovers and these complaints are all over Reddit and message boards across the internet. But not everyone hates events, and let’s be honest, not all of them are bad. Some have been really good (Infinity Gauntlet, Civil War), some are loved by some and loathed by others (Secret Invasion, Age of Apocalypse), but then some are just bad (Atlantis Attacks). The full range of complexity and creativity shown in these different arcs should give readership some hope that a Marvel-wide event can work. The real question, perhaps, is whether they all should.

Now, my opinion is that events tend to be too frequent. I don’t think events are inherently bad, but the frequency cheapens them. If every six months, there is a massive “earth-shattering” event, the magnitude of each is lessened. It’s a classic case of the boy crying wolf, especially when so few of these massive events can have far-reaching consequences or any lasting results. Another criticism of the frequency is that it prevents many of Marvel’s ongoing series to get any momentum going. This has been especially true of the recent Avengers titles (however many there are now). The team books are basically devolving into event-machines, leaving no room for smaller adventures or character development. And story-telling quality certainly suffers for it.

The proliferation of existential threats in recent comics also decreases the relevance of any solo adventures that manage to sneak in between these colossal events. If a character is on a super-team, why wouldn’t they always work as a team? Wouldn’t it be better to overwhelm any adversary with a fully-powered super-team than to go it alone and risk defeat? Sure, that doesn’t make for a good story, but it seems to be more plausible and risk-averse behavior. The original intent was that active Avengers would only come together to fight the fights that none of them could manage alone. This also operates under the assumption that each of its members are busy with their personal lives and smaller-level, solo crime-fighting adventures in between team activities. But if there is no time between mega-events, how can anyone have solo stories?

Let’s just calm down on the events for a few years. Maybe cut it back to every two years? I thought the new Secret Wars might help, but we’re already rolling into Civil War II, and I just can’t keep up, no matter how much I may (or may not) want to.

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Art by Steve McNiven for Marvel’s 2006 Civil War crossover. Source: Wikipedia

This same question has begun to plague the MCU. As excited as I am for Captain America: Civil War (very, very, hugely excited), there is a part of me that worries Marvel will start to make the same crossover mistakes they have been making with comics. I love the inclusion of so many of Marvel’s great characters into the MCU, but there is a risk of overpopulation. With too many heroes, each film will have to choose to cut some out (risking under-exposure of certain fan favorites), or virtually every film will become a massive Avengers film. To be clear, I love the Civil War story and Winter Soldier was one of the best Marvel movies ever (so props to the Russo brothers), but I don’t want to see every movie turn into a Secret Invasion style cameo-explosion. And maybe this worry is irrational. Kevin Feige seems to have earned our trust, turning unlikely heroes like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy into some solid properties. Let’s hope they avoid this pitfall and that, by the time we get there, Infinity War has fewer heroes in it than the name might suggest…

 

Black Panther (1998) – A Marvel Knight

The Black Panther has always been a difficult character for Marvel’s writers to properly portray. On one hand, he is T’Challa, the cunning, brilliant, and enigmatic king of Wakanda, a fictionalized West African nation; and on the other hand, he is the Black Panther – a fierce and almost primal blend of instinct and power. This dichotomy has given many creators trouble, with the great “King” Jack Kirby opting for more of a Burroughs’ Tarzan approach, placing T’Challa in a series of jungle adventures where he explored tombs, sought mystical treasure, and gallivanted across the globe like Indiana Jones. Others have erred on the side of the stoic statesman, a mistake that lends itself too easily to caricature.

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Black Panther’s debut in Fantastic Four #52 Source: Marvel.com

I also think that some of this difficulty in writing the Black Panther stems from the cultural and racial significance of the character. When he debuted in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966, the Black Panther became the first Black superhero in mainstream comics. For many years, he remained one of very few significant Black characters in the Marvel universe, as Storm, Falcon, and Luke Cage gradually also broke onto the scene. T’Challa became an important character in the universe, frequently guest-starring in issues of the Fantastic Four and becoming a key member of the Avengers shortly thereafter. His name was as important as his race, since the Black Panther party was growing in prominence during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The comic book industry was still almost entirely white men, making a genuine portrayal of Black or other minority heroes difficult and prone to stereotyping. T’Challa was shielded from some of the stereotyping since he was an African character rather than the African-American characters of Falcon and Luke Cage, whose origins, vocabulary, and costumes tended to involve crime and violence and swooping necklines, drawing more inspiration from Shaft than George Washington Carver.

The result was that it took many years for the Black Panther to get his own solo title. T’Challa was featured in some issues of Jungle Action, but it took another ten years for him to get an eponymous solo series. The first run was led by Jack Kirby himself, a legend in Marvel comics lore, who wrote 12 issues of a short 15 issue series in 1977. As I mentioned above, the 1977 series struggled to balance Kirby’s love for the bizarre with the established Avengers’ character of a serious and calculating king. The result is an odd Indiana Jones rip-off that seems like more of an acid trip than a coherent story. The bizarre adventure series exploring jungle ruins petered out quickly, and the idea of a solo title for T’Challa was shelved for another ten years. In 1988, a quick 4-issue miniseries by Peter B. Gillis, penciled by Denys Cowan. The series had very little impact and is not available in a reprinted trade, so it has been largely lost from the Black Panther lore. Another unsuccessful solo series led to ten more years on the shelf for T’Challa.

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Source: comicvine.com

Enter Marvel Knights. In 1998, a new solo title was launched for the Black Panther as part of the Marvel Knights initiative. This was during a dark time for Marvel – it had just filed for bankruptcy in 1998 and was struggling to maintain readership after the comic sales bubble of the early 1990s burst with the dotcom bubble. Marvel hired Joe Quesada and his independent comic company, Event Comics, to write, illustrate, and edit four series of B-list heroes featuring rising stars in the indie comics world. Quesada and co. were given extensive creative license to reinvigorate the genre and their four series, Daredevil, Punisher, the Inhumans, and Black Panther, each were wildly successful and quickly became classic parts of each characters’ canon.

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Black Panther (1998) #1 Source: Marvel.com

Quesada chose Christopher Priest to launch the new Black Panther series, making him the first African-American writer for this quintessential Black superhero. Under the Marvel Knights banner, Priest had much more freedom to interpret the character of T’Challa. From the first page, it was clear that the tone of his run would be much different from Kirby’s jungle explorer. T’Challa’s first appearance is not in his Black Panther uniform, but in a sharp suit and sunglasses, flanked by his tall female bodyguards, the Dora Milaje. Priest also spends a significant amount of time on the supporting cast, building up King T’Challa’s entourage of assistants, guards, and advisers into a full and believable royal court. Starting with the Dora Milaje, T’Challa’s step-mother Ramonda, and down through the regent W’Kabi and the adviser Zuri, the royal court is full of believable and important characters that balance out many of T’Challa’s internal conflicts and give him people to fight for and protect. These characters helped Priest to demonstrate and explain the African cultural influences that drove T’Challa’s actions, and provided him with a solid support network that every hero needs. The run also featured some cool cameos from other comics, such as the Falcon, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Captain America, and Storm who each brought their own unique relationships with T’Challa and helped to show the many facets of his character.

One of the most interesting things about Priest’s run on the Black Panther was his use and development of the villains’ storylines. That was one of the more enlightening things for me as a Marvel fan who was relatively new to the Black Panther. I had read plenty of Avengers comics that featured T’Challa and had seen him guest-star in broader Marvel events, Fantastic Four, and even recent X-Men comics, but his solo series gave me a chance to get to know his rogue gallery. As is true of most Marvel characters, there is a theme to most of T’Challa’s enemies; in Black Panther’s case, they all tend to be political rivals. This allows for each villain’s arc to build up a lot of political intrigue, playing various tribal factions against one another, assassination attempts, or even trying to usurp T’Challa’s throne through economic or political manipulations. Most of these adversaries also seem to have a tie to T’Challa’s past, whether a former friend (M’Baku, the Man-Ape), or the result of a misplaced grudge (Erik Killmonger), or even a spurned lover (Malice). The villains helped highlight T’Challa’s strengths as a statesman and his true genius. Killmonger’s arc in particular showed the importance of honor and tradition in Wakandan society, and its emphasis by T’Challa and his enemies alike. The tribal challenges and political/cultural maneuvering of the heroes and villains created a lot of believable intrigue and gave this Black Panther run a different feel than most other comics. The conclusions of each villain’s arc also showcased the Black Panther’s skills, as so many of these arcs conclude with a series of twists and machinations that only T’Challa could have foreseen, planned for, and executed to perfection. Each seemingly unwinnable situation is different and planned out by a different baddie, but when the going gets tough, T’Challa goes full panther and just kicks butt. It’s impossible to read these comics and not be super impressed by the Black Panther character. He’s pretty awesome and Priest sure knows it.

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Source: Marvel Comics; Issue #1

The single most surprising element of Priest’s run was the character of Everett K. Ross, State Department liaison. A comically incompetent American bureaucrat assigned to shadow and guide T’Challa during his stay in the US, Ross became a sort of de facto narrator. Priest used Ross’ perspective (written in the style of reports back to his government leadership) to frame a significant number of the issues in the series, keeping a light and humorous tone around some otherwise dour themes of tribal violence and espionage. Ross is a very likable character and an amusing foil to T’Challa’s confident and stoic man of mystery vibe. He is a great character who adds a lot of personality and even some good semi-heroic moments throughout the run, but his most important function is to give some first-person perspective.

The amazing thing about Priest’s run on Black Panther is that none of it is from T’Challa’s perspective. His voice is never in the narration boxes, it’s Ross or it’s Queen Divine Justice (one of the Dora Milaje) or eventually Kasper Cole, but it’s never T’Challa. I think this tonal choice works well in the opening couple of arcs, where Ross is still trying to figure out what is happening and still getting a sense of the impressive figure that is the King of the Wakandas. However, as the arcs progressed and T’Challa was seen to have some self-doubt, inner tumult, and some attempts at emotional character development, the void of personal perspective became a bit of a weakness. I think the decision was made in order to keep T’Challa aloof, but this aloofness occasionally makes the character less dynamic. This lack of T’Challa’s perspective is perhaps the only true weakness in the first 49 issues of Priest’s run, which is otherwise very strong.

Thematically, Priest’s emphasis is less on the superhero and much more on the statesman T’Challa and the political ramifications of balancing super-heroism with kingship. Throughout the long run, Priest focuses on the burden of power and the kind of lonely responsibility that being a good and honorable leader requires. There is only one point in the whole run that T’Challa really opens up about that weakness, with Storm in a Wakandan garden, and even that momentary self-doubt is short-lived. The rest of the time, T’Challa is a strong-willed, force of nature who is truly fearless in the political arena. Priest emphasizes the political savvy of his title character over and over, as T’Challa thwarts Killmonger’s economic attacks by purposefully tanking the Wakandan economy or standing toe to toe with Marvel’s infamous political players: Doctor Doom, Namor, and Magneto. Seeing all of Marvel’s heads of state negotiating in one room was pretty cool. The command that T’Challa had, even over the strong, egomaniacal personalities of Doctor Doom, Namor, and Magneto, proved just how powerful and cunning the Black Panther could be. It also provided a different lens to view T’Challa through, as he is somewhere between Captain America and Namor — undoubtedly a superhero, but also a king and directly beholden to his kingdom and its subjects. Priest emphasized these two pieces quite well, and let the sometimes complementary, oft conflicting roles lead many of the run’s plot-lines.

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Source: comicscube.com; Issue #26

Another interesting dynamic in Priest’s run on the Black Panther was in how he wrote about Wakanda. The inner conflicts of T’Challa were often mirrored in his homeland, as the tribal elements of violence, pride, and tradition warred against the progressive, capitalistic, and calculating features of a technologically advanced nation. The country is divided between the futuristic cities and their cosmopolitan residents and the rural farmers, Vibranium miners, and tribal chieftans. Neither side is portrayed as wrong, but as equally important features of the Wakandan cultural geography. Their mutual interests only truly overlap in their fealty to the king and the Panther cult. This makes managing these external forces as much of a challenge for T’Challa as managing his own internal struggles with these competing forces. Priest also touches on the inherent dichotomy of enlightenment and subservience. The Western perspective that Queen Divine Justice (the American-born member of the Dora Milaje) has on authoritarianism provides a natural way to discuss the nature of Wakanda’s government. How can the most technologically advanced country in the world be a kingdom? And why is their king, a brilliant, compassionate, and powerful man, willing to embrace the paternalistic aspects of this culture and continue enforcing an authoritarian power structure in his country? Priest’s attempts to answer these questions were laudable, though I am not completely sure they landed. The primary explanation for continuing a monarchy was that the country would fall into endless civil war, and that keeping a tight leash kept everyone safe. While well-intentioned, the answer is no less paternalistic than any other authoritarian might make. “It’s for their own good.” But Priest understands that the most important thing in relaying this discussion of values is not to agree with T’Challa, but to understand his motivations and to see why he makes these choices. In that, Priest certainly succeeds.

One really cool stylistic decision was the inclusion of the Kirby-era Black Panther (considered in the story to be a future self) whose rambunctious, Indiana Jones-esque routine offered a fun contrast to the grimly contemplative T’Challa of Priest’s run. I especially liked that the artist (Sal Velluto) drew the old-school Panther in Kirby’s style. It was a nice touch that paid homage to Kirby and created this sort of “something isn’t quite right here” feeling while reading the character interactions. Definitely a fun highlight of the run by Priest and Velluto.

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Kasper Cole as “White Tiger” after T’Challa makes him give up the Black Panther suit. Source: Wikipedia.com

Notes on the Crew with White Tiger #50-62; and Crew #1-7 — not a bad story, but not really about Black Panther, which makes it an abrupt transition. Definitely the weakest part of the whole run. It seemed like a lot to ask of the Black Panther readership that they would abandon their title character and become instantly sympathetic to the new protagonist, Kasper Cole out of nowhere. I think the transition may have worked a bit better if Priest had somehow worked Kasper in gradually prior to the switch. The story wasn’t bad, it just didn’t feel like a Black Panther comic anymore. The Wikipedia entry for this bit says that T’Challa “mentored” Kasper, but reading it, I really did not get that sense. It just seemed like an abrupt transition that didn’t fully wrap up because the series was canceled. An unfortunate end to what was a very strong series previously.

Overall, I definitely recommend issues #1-49 to any readers who want to learn more about the Black Panther, Wakanda, or T’Challa’s back story. It is especially timely considering the release of Captain America: Civil War early next month. But this Black Panther series is also a good fit for anyone who wants to read a politically-minded story with some espionage and/or political intrigue. Priest did a good job fleshing out his characters and keeping the action compelling. It is my first serious foray into the character of T’Challa, and I finished this series looking for more, which is always a good sign.

Rating: 7 out of 10 — for strong plot and supporting characters, would be an 8 if it weren’t for the abrupt transition in issue #50 and the weird flash-forward story in the middle that didn’t tie back to the present.

The Kasper portion of #50-62 and the Crew #1-7 gets a 5 out of 10 — it wasn’t bad, and had its moments for Kasper to develop his character, but I never fully connected with the character and found a lot of the supporting cast to be weak and it felt like being under the “Black Panther” moniker was a bit of a mislabel. The follow-on series, “The Crew” had one primary arc that was obscured by an oddly-written Rhodey character and the goal/resolution was pretty unclear. The one highly redeeming feature was the inclusion of Isaiah Bradley and tie-ins to the powerful “Truth: Red, White, and Black” story. If you have not read that 7-issue miniseries, I highly recommend it. “Truth” shows a darker twist on the Captain America legacy that is sadly believable in its horrible racial prejudice.

 


I supplemented this chronology of Black Panther with some information from Wikipedia. Read more about T’Challa, Wakanda, Christopher Priest, and Marvel Knights.

Doctor Strange: Mysticism in the MCU

The first Doctor Strange trailer is finally here! It came out on yesterday (April 12th) and unsurprisingly racked up over a million views in its first 12 hours. If you haven’t seen it, please go watch it here.

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Source: wikimedia

This November, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is going to face a tough challenge. I’m not talking about the specifics of introducing a little-known hero into the growing pantheon of Marvel heroes, because that is a gamble that has paid off time and again for Kevin Feige and co. A stellar cast, anchored by Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, is sure to deliver a quality movie. Stephen Strange’s comic book origins provide plenty of material for an emotional and dramatic film. Much like Iron Man, Doctor Strange will provide audiences with a complex and flawed character whose greatest enemy is often himself. I think the casting of Cumberbatch is absolutely perfect, as evidenced by his iconic portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the eponymous Sherlock BBC series.

Even in the comics, Doctor Strange’s origin is the story of redemption. The fall of a prideful surgeon, whose wild successes had tainted the motives of his medical profession, driving Stephen to seek fame rather than focus on healing his patients. A horrible accident then left Stephen unable to perform surgeries, effectively destroying his life’s sole purpose. Aimless wandering leads him to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who takes him on a path of mindfulness, meditation, and the mystical arts. Stephen’s journey is a personal one, as he fights his own inner demons and overcomes his own weaknesses to become a powerful magician/mystic. Created by Steve Ditko in 1963, Strange’s path to heroism is not all that different from many of the other Marvel characters of the Silver Age, and these origins have all translated successfully to the big screen. All of that being said, I think Marvel has earned our trust to deliver solid movies with believable and likable characters, especially when the material is there for them to draw upon. The wild successes of MCU films and Netflix shows about lesser-known characters like Jessica Jones, Ant-Man, and most especially the Guardians of the Galaxy, have proven that any character can succeed with the right creative team (and with a little help from branding, to be sure). There is only one problem:

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Doctor Strange with the Eye of Agamotto. Source: Marvel.com

Magic. Don’t get me wrong, I love magical stories: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, even movies like Prestige, or Inception are all wonderful. My hesitation is not about whether the magic or mystical powers of Doctor Strange and his foes will translate to film, because I’m sure they will. It is all about how the existence of magic in the MCU affects the rest of the films. I’m afraid it will taint them. How will magic blend with the science fiction elements of futuristic technology (Iron Man, Ant-Man), biological accidents/experiments (Captain America, Daredevil, Hulk), and alien technology/influence (Thor, Inhumans, Guardians)? Marvel has already done a lot of work to downplay some of their other mystical elements in Daredevil (see Stick and Elektra) and the seemingly Inhuman explanation of the Scarlet Witch’s powers. So maybe they will continue the trend, making the mystical arts more of a cosmic entity or alien technology, making it fit better in the MCU. There are a couple of ways to do that, but I am not sure if they would come at the expense of Doctor Strange’s own story.

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the Eye of Agamotto zoom of the above image. Source: Marvel.com

One big theory floating around is that the Eye of Agamotto is one of the Infinity Stones, of which only Time and Soul are presumed to remain, assuming the Aether from Thor: Dark World was actually the Reality gem, of which I’m kind of iffy. The portrayal of gravitational anomalies and portals in spacetime doesn’t seem to really show control over “reality” in the same sense that alternate universes would. And the first Doctor Strange trailer hints directly at a multiverse for the first time in any MCU or TV property: “what if I told you that reality is one of many?” This may lend to the exploration of alternate realities, and how better to do that than with the Reality Stone? Perhaps the Eye is actually the Reality stone and the Aether is something else (Time?). If Doctor Strange gets all of his magical powers from the Infinity Stone, it begs the question of what would happen once he loses the stone to Thanos (as he is bound to in one of the two Infinity War mega-films). If magic were only derived from the Infinity Stone, however, it would take away the permanence of Doctor Strange’s power, making him into merely the custodian of someone or something else’s abilities. I think that would short-change him, as his comic presence relied as much on the training and exploration of the mystic arts as on the artifacts he found along the way. Either way, using the Eye of Agamotto or another infinity stone to control Doctor Strange’s magical powers couldn’t be all-inclusive, since Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the Ancient One, and other characters would have to have had magic of their own too.

That means magic will have to become a central force in the MCU. In order for it to blend well, Marvel will have to establish rules. Rules about magic’s limits, who can use it, how it works with or against technology or powered individuals, or even a good reason why magical individuals might not deign to participate in the more earthly conflicts (i.e. why Strange may be kept to the sidelines in other films). I hope that Doctor Strange, whether he is the Sorcerer Supreme or not, will be tasked with serving as the sole protector of Earth/this reality/this realm from magical attack. If he is pledged to inaction in non-magical events or otherwise indisposed, it might help to keep magic out of future films that rely more on technology or biological powers. The problem with magic is that it can be limitless or transcend rules of physics, that tend to limit the more science-fiction-based elements of the superhero genre.

Magic could introduce a sort of deus ex machina into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, giving heroes (or even their enemies) an “out” in seemingly unwinnable situations. I firmly believe that one of the MCU’s true strengths has been its attempt to keep things real-ish, creating an alternate reality only slightly different from our own. This relies upon believable explanations for the powers and events that drive the superhero films. Suddenly, magic can be a loophole or creative shortcut that brushes over sloppy plot points or neuters story complexity. Can you imagine the Avengers facing Ultron or Thanos or the Masters of Evil and having Doctor Strange show up and just conjure a spell that traps all of the bad guys in another reality? Or distorts time around him so that the Avengers can have a second chance to win? Suddenly, the limits that are placed on our heroes could be upended. Characters can be brought back from the dead, impossible things can become commonplace, and then our heroes can’t lose. Not that we want them to, of course, but for a movie to be good, the peril has to seem real. Magic can remove the consequences of mistakes and take the edge off of our heroes’ peril. If it does that, will the MCU survive?