In 2000, Garth Ennis took his first turn on the Punisher for a 12-issue miniseries. This arc, Welcome back, Frank, serves to bring the Punisher back into popularity after the previous decade of ’90s excess saw him turn into an Archangel of Vengeance, a pretty far departure from his harsh vigilante roots. This series returned Frank to the streets, where his brutal violence and gritty demeanor fit like a glove. The unforgiving relentlessness of his vigilante cause is made apparent from the very beginning. Though I am not really a big fan of the character, I can appreciate his significance in the Marvel Universe and Ennis’ special treatment of Frank Castle.
By far the best moment in the whole series occurred in Issue #3, with the rooftop scene between Frank and Daredevil. The dialogue and contrasting views on vigilantism served to really highlight the difference between the Punisher and other heroes. The source material here was wonderful and an easy choice for the TV adaptation in Season 2: Ep 2 of Marvel’s Daredevil.
There were two things I did definitely notice in a positive way in this series. First, Frank almost never spoke out loud. That seemed like a good choice for such an experienced and ruthless fighter. The talkative ones are Spider-Man, Hawkeye, and other fun-loving nonlethal characters, so keeping the Punisher silent during fights only adds to the perception of his stoic seriousness. Second, Frank talked pretty extensively about tactics and the specifics of the weaponry he used. This seemed like a key trait for a highly-trained, militant vigilante like Castle, since he surely knows his way around an arsenal and is likely to pick the perfect weapon for the job. I feel like some of the influences for Bernthal’s characterization of Castle in Marvel’s Daredevil show on Netflix came from this depiction by Ellis. Ellis certainly seems to have a good grasp on the character, I just never really got into the plot.
But beyond that, I wasn’t really in love with this run. The art was okay, pretty much standard comic book fare. I would say that didn’t add too much or detract from the story either way. The first two issues, and the entirety of the second arc was just an unrelenting rash of violence. The characterization of Frank Castle was solid, but the plot development seemed pretty flat. Yes, he made his way through a prominent New York City gang, but it just didn’t feel personal or all that important. Also, I never really liked the copycat characters. This brutal violence is not really my style and I tend to prefer the Punisher as a cameo supporting cast member to a solo act.
Overall, Ennis did a solid job bringing Frank Castle back into the fore, and I’m sure his diehard fans will number this among the best runs on the character. But to me, it’s a slightly above average character story with a completely average plot. Issue #3 is worth the read, though. Rating: 5 of 10.
Following the mediocre Shadowland event, the Daredevil character was ready for reinventing. Two vastly different miniseries were written within a few short years of the event to provide very different codas to this chapter of Daredevil. As I had previously written here, the Shadowland event was not a great success, and did some damage to the integrity and principles of Matt Murdock’s character. In order for either, or both of these “endings” to work, they had to attempt to reestablish Daredevil as a wholly good person, flawed perhaps, but good and not the selfish monster of Shadowland.
Daredevil: Reborn: First, the in-continuity, glorified reboot for the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, written by Andy Diggle and art by Davide Gianfelice. Diggle was the very same creator who led Matt Murdock through the wringer with his cap of the Daredevil, Vol 2 run in 2011 and the Shadowland event. So this Reborn arc set out to examine the fallout of Matt’s self-destruction, and, I think, to remind audiences that he was still a hero. The whole premise was pretty hokey though: rather than face the consequences of his actions, Matt flees to the Southwest, while his friends are left to clean up the mess he left. His retirement from the hero biz is short-lived and not particularly believable, since the first inclination of something being wrong in this run down Southwestern town drives Daredevil to suit up and take down the crooked cops and drug runners ruining the town. Even his “unlikely ally,” the blind kid with an abusive father figure, didn’t feel very inspired.
The art was ok, but nothing special, and the whole concept felt more like a means to an end, rather than a cohesive story arc. Overall, this four-issue miniseries is definitely skip-able. It’s a below-average look at the complex character and just feels like a letdown after the strong work Bendis and Brubaker had put in only a few years earlier. Just head right into Waid’s relaunch (I’ve heard it is good, but have not yet had a chance to read it).
Rating: 3 of 10
Daredevil: End of Days: In contrast, the End of Days arc is Bendis’ homage to the character of Matt Murdock. Rather than accepting some of the bizarre creative decisions that followed his run, Bendis chose to ignore them. That’s right, he just kind of retcon-ed them out of his continuity. Instead, Bendis wanted to right an arc that would act as a eulogy to Daredevil and provide closure for some of the more serious emotional developments of his own, Eisner Award-winning running (reviewed here!). This series also featured a number of classic Daredevil creators who came together to collaborate on this classic tale of Daredevil’s final days. With art from David Mack, Klaus Janson, and Michael Lark, covers by Alex Maleev, and writing credits for Ann Nocenti, Bendis, and others, it truly felt like a group effort. That made this miniseries a truly collaborative sendoff for such an iconic character, and one that capped decades-worth of material. Though the plot elements drew mostly from Bendis’ own run, there were certainly references to crucial developments during Nocenti’s and Miller’s runs as well.
I don’t think this counts as a spoiler, since it happens in the first issue and the title largely gives it away, but this whole story is about the fallout from Daredevil’s eventual death at the hands of Bullseye. The death scene is brutal and sudden, which makes it rather shocking and gives the whole event a more realistic and less romanticized version of Daredevil’s death than I would have expected. Bendis’ writing throughout the arc is phenomenal, as is his ability to integrate all of the key supporting cast from across Daredevil’s history into important roles in the story. Told through the eyes of Ben Urich, the quest to find a fitting eulogy for his friend felt like a good blend of personal and documentarian qualities. The art, though varied, really did fit the mood, and the composition of each book seemed very well-measured. The stylistic changes were considered much more thoughtfully than the average comic is, and made for a very well-composed story.
My sole complaint regards the ending, which is also a bit of a *SPOILER*. The revelation of who Daredevil’s successor was seemed ok, even if he was clearly unequipped to fully fill Matt’s mantle (no innate superhuman abilities or sensory perception). But I really didn’t think it made sense for his daughter to be this new embodiment of Stick. Was it really meant to be Stick’s spirit reincarnated? Was it a metaphor? Why would she have been waiting around for Timmy? It didn’t really make any sense to me. But that was just the final 10 pages, so hardly enough to spoil a tremendous effort.
Overall, this End of Days series was a great and fitting conclusion to the Daredevil mythos. While definitely a “What If?” or “out of continuity” story, the tone and plot progressions seemed to truly follow how each character might have been expected to behave. Bendis’ run on Daredevil is probably a prerequisite in order to properly enjoy this miniseries, as it was designed more for fans of the character than to simply appeal to general comic readers. But either way, it is a great read and a very well-executed miniseries. Definitely recommended.
Marvel’s new lineup of Netflix shows stormed onto the scene last year with the first season of Marvel’s Daredevil, where Charlie Cox, Vincent D’Onofrio, and company delivered masterful portrayal of the iconic hero, as well as a dark and gritty look into the world superheroes at large. The violence and moral ambiguity of vigilantism and the horrible depravity of the criminal underworld led to some truly innovative scenes, pushing the superhero genre further than it had ever seen on television or in films. The frills and bombast of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) keeps its heroes fun and witty, fighting more with lasers and well-timed quips than beating their enemies to a bloody pulp. This is not a criticism of the MCU, as I greatly enjoyed the vast majority of their films (see a full review here), but the tone and intended audience is quite a bit different in these Netflix shows. The mature content drives plots to more complex and distressing topics like sexual and domestic abuse, human trafficking, and other horrible things that can occur in the underbelly of a major city. This first season was incredible and highlighted a whole new world of content made available to Marvel fans like myself. A resounding applause to the whole creative team, led by Jeph Loeb.
After the wildly successful and creative first season of Daredevil, Marvel followed it with another new show six months later. This time, the title character was a little-known super-powered woman named Jessica Jones, a foul-mouthed, aggressive, functional alcoholic with a dark past. Marvel’s Jessica Jones pushed mature themes even further, as Jessica served as a sort of antihero, reluctantly seeking an odd and occasionally disturbing combination of justice and revenge. Her interests were sometimes selfish, her approach can only be described as unorthodox, and her treatment of friends and lovers was not always the nicest. The depth and complexity of Jessica’s character, delivered by Kristen Ritter, was perfect. She is the most complex and dynamic character Marvel has developed to date. The whole show, anchored by opposing performances by Ritter and David Tennant as the horrifyingly evil Killgrave was an absolute thrill. These two shows set the bar so high for following seasons in Marvel’s Netflix line, that it seemed the sky was the limit.
Following another six month gap, we arrive at the present. Marvel’s Daredevil released a second season to follow its incredible inaugural performance. Anticipation had been building for months, as casting decisions for the next two entries (Luke Cage and Iron Fist) were gradually announced. Marvel confirmed a second season of Jessica Jones would be on its way as well. Marketing and trailers revealed that two of the most iconic members of Daredevil’s supporting cast would be making their small screen debuts: the Punisher and Elektra. I had March 18th marked on my calendar. I was ready!
The start of the season brought the same incredible drama that had drawn me in so completely in the first season. A new, unknown force (clearly the Punisher) was taking down large swaths of the criminal underworld in a massive, execution-style take-down. Naturally, Daredevil finds himself at odds with this brutal riff on vigilantism, leading to an epic ideological struggle. This first arc lasts for about six episodes, centering on the contrasting worldviews of Matt Murdock and Frank Castle, the latter of which, played perfectly by Jon Bernthal, absolutely stole the show. The rooftop scene where Frank and Matt first debate their competing visions of justice and vigilantism is iconic. Daredevil is chained to a chimney, while the Punisher tries to convince him that he is “just one bad day away from being me.” The contrast between Castle’s callous brutality and his severe emotional damage made for an extremely compelling character. He was terrifying and yet pitiable, a murderer and a hero. I can’t say enough about the handling of the Punisher’s character and that whole first arc.
Unfortunately, the second arc of the season was not quite as well fleshed out. The introduction of Elektra (played by Elodie Young) did work pretty well, and Young brought a certain crazed energy to the character that seemed true to source material. I also enjoyed the flashbacks to Elektra and Matt’s earlier romance, which cleanly provided the background audiences needed in order to understand the present-day relationship. The show’s decision to downplay the mystical elements of Miller’s original writing was a good one. Though the mysterious “Black Sky” did leave mystical or spiritual possession on the table for an explanation of Elektra’s blood-lust. I appreciated Marvel’s willingness to show Elektra as an erratic, thrill-seeking and borderline sadistic woman, though I never understand the romantic interest in such tropes. But beyond the characterization, much of the plot of this second arc was underdeveloped. The Hand seemed to appear out of nowhere and the question of their zombie-like “raised from the dead” status was more opaque than necessary.
All of that being said, my largest problems of the whole season came during the final episode, when it felt as though the show took some shortcuts in an attempt to wrap up many story lines at once. Needless to say, this paragraph will be largely *SPOILERS*, so just skip to the next one if you have not yet watched. First, why does Karen continue to go off alone and get into danger? I think it undermines the development of her “street-smart” persona if she continues to be so careless. Castle’s house, the Colonel’s house, abduction by the Hand… is she a strong, enabled character? Or just another damsel in distress? I would prefer the former. Second, the rekindling of Matt and Elektra’s romance seemed abrupt. He resisted romantic interest for most of the show then just decided he loved her again at the end? Eh, kind of lazy. Plus, that dialogue when they were trapped on the roof was oozing cheese. And not in a good, fresh nachos way. Worst of all, though, was the very end. Reminder, this is definitely a *SPOILER*, Elektra’s death, while expected, was kind of odd. The choice to kill her seemed reasonable, but after Daredevil and Stick had seen the Hand resurrect Nobu and all of their ninjas without heartbeats, did they really think burying Elektra was a good idea? They were fighting an enemy that was able to resurrect the dead and they didn’t think to at least cremate the body? A more believable outcome would have been if the Hand carted her body off during the fight. A funeral scene, while maybe more dramatic emotionally, made our heroes look like chumps. Seemed odd.
All of that being said, this show is mostly great and there are far more positive things to say than criticisms. For instance, the supporting cast was incredibly good. Foggy Nelson and Karen Page are always tremendous, and personally, I loved that the show gave Foggy more of an opportunity to show his strengths as a lawyer and to show him as a brave person, rather than relegating him to the pudgy and pathetic comic relief that the comics so often do. Elden Henson is such a perfect fit for Foggy that the real stars of this Daredevil show continue to be the casting directors. Karen’s character continues to grow, though her inability to anticipate danger and leap headfirst into ridiculously risky situations has become a bit repetitive. I think for a character who is supposed to show some investigative smarts, she sure seems surprised by danger a lot. Next season, they should have her stop being the damsel in distress so much, but Deborah Ann Woll was great, yet again, and continues to show some serious emotional range. Rosario Dawson is always fun and believable, though her part seems to serve more as the binding for Marvel/Netflix’s Defenders crossover than to further individual plots at this point. But, once again, the absolute show-stopping performance of Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin was probably the highlight of the season. Unexpected and largely forgotten by the time he showed up mid-season, he instantly reminded viewers of his cold and terrifying performance from the first season.
Overall, the second season isn’t quite as perfect as the first one was, but sequels usually have that problem. It is still a great show and I will certainly watch it again at some point. Much like with the MCU, the cohesiveness of this show’s plot is somewhat impacted by the desire to flesh out the network of characters to build into Defenders and even spin off into their own solo series (Punisher, Elektra). This is somewhat of a reflection of the growing pains of an interconnected universe, and shouldn’t be criticized too much, since the resulting web of shows is sure to continue at a high level of excellence. It has a few weak points, especially toward the end of the season, and certainly more than season one or Jessica Jones, but some tremendous acting and Jon Bernthal’s Punisher help to make this still one of the best shows out there.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: