“Without Fear” (part four)
As his wife Milla slips ever more into the madness created by Daredevil’s enemy Mr. Fear, Daredevil tries to track down his nemesis using ever more ruthless and desperate means. Meanwhile Daredevil’s friends try equally desperate means to help Milla via the legal system.
There’s plenty of action in this comic, but the most compelling scene to me was perhaps the quietest one. That’s a spooky scene with Matt and Milla alone in the kitchen. Milla grabs a knife and holds it as if to hurt herself, and the comic stops cold in a horrifying moment. Daredevil might nominally be the man without fear, but in that moment, you can see the fear on Matt’s face. He’s come up against an enemy who can hit Matt literally where he lives, in a place that deeply affects his own well-being and sense of self. On the page after Milla threatens herself with a knife, readers can see the complicated emotions on Milla’s face, and the conflicted anger on Matt’s face. It’s an effective scene because readers can sense the sort of complex ambivalence by which people often handle mental illness.
And that subtext is what really gives “Without Fear” its real power. For the last several years, Daredevil has been about a world just slightly apart from our own, a street-level, super-heroic metaphor for our sense of personal identity, friendship and mental illness. It’s easy to understand and empathize with Milla’s problems because a reader can really imagine them happening to their loved ones. We all live on a razor’s edge between sanity and insanity. We all feel road rage, all take misplaced anger out on our coworkers and friends, all get fed up and angry at minor offenses. How much does it take to push someone over the edge so they shove a stranger in front of a subway car? Brubaker seems to be saying that precious little can hold someone back. Mr. Fear simply pushed Milla over that precipice.
Thankfully Milla has friends, but unfortunately one of those friends is crazy in a different way. Lily has an amazing ability to influence peoples’ abilities to think clearly. She has the power to get people to obey her wishes, in subtle ways. This, too, isn’t too far from the real world. All of us are familiar with how the pervasive power of money influences the legal system, or a pretty woman is more able to talk a policeman out of writing her a speeding ticket. We all sense that this is a perversion of the system, yet there’s little we can to do stop it. Interestingly, Brubaker puts Lily next to level-headed Foggy Nelson in the District Attorney’s office, and while Foggy feels an aversion to Lily’s influence, he also chooses not to stop her.
“Without Fear” has been a heady mix of emotional complexity and heroic actions. The title “Without Fear” is ironic in at least two ways. It’s ironic because Mr. Fear is the man responsible for creating the fear within Milla that’s driving her crazy. And “Without Fear” is also ironic because readers can sense Daredevil’s fear in this story. He’s afraid of what’s happening to his wife, afraid of his inability to change things, and afraid that the long forgotten and petty grudges of a past nemesis will destroy the life he’s built so carefully.
Lark, Azaceta and Gaudiano do a great job of showing this world. They do a great job with action – there’s an exciting and well-rendered scene where the Ox is hit by a taxi driven by Matt – but they’re even more adept at drawing the small moments of moral and emotional complexity that punctuate this story. They’re especially good at illustrating Milla’s madness. Her alternating moments of fear and confidence are rendered beautifully.
Ed Brubaker delivers yet another great issue of D