After last issue's fantastic prologue, I can't deny that I was expecting a little more from the first issue of "Return of the King". Wilson Fisk's return to Hell's Kitchen is surprisingly low-key — especially given the manner in which he was forced to return — and although Ed Brubaker writes the character well, there's a slight sense of anticlimax to the Kingpin's reappearance here.
Perhaps I'm being a little too hard on the book, as there are certainly elements to enjoy in this issue. The Kingpin's rapport with Turk and the new location of Josie's bar establish strong links with the Miller era of Daredevil, and the character design for Wilson Fisk makes him feel more like the genuinely dangerous street criminal that we saw in the later issues of Bendis' run than the more removed white-suited businessman that we know from the character's earlier appearances. The scenes between Matt and Dakota are also well-played, and the return of Milla's parents ensures that the events of the arc will put as much pressure on Matt Murdock as on Daredevil. We're even given another chance to check in with Master Izo, who I'm keen to see developed as a major part of Daredevil's world. The trouble is, none of these scenes really takes the story anywhere new, and they feel more like a recap of the story so far than anything else.
The issue's artwork helps to make up for the deficit in plot, as Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano and Matt Hollingsworth shake things up a little on a visual level, employing more vivid colours than usual and providing a couple of fairly stark sequences that stand out against the dark grittiness that the book usually provides. The sequence that sees Matt practice his martial arts against a bright red background feels like something out of Kill Bill, and the moment at which he confronts the photographer who took photos of his tryst with Dakota is given extra emphasis by the flash of bright primary colour that accentuates Daredevil's appearance. Elsewhere, there's more of the same atmospheric noir-ish quality that has become one of the most important parts of the book in recent years, helping to build the tension for the confrontation between Matt and Fisk that closes the issue.
This issue of Daredevil is the first to be released since Marvel announced the news that Ed Brubaker will be leaving the book in a few issues' time. Perhaps that has overshadowed my enjoyment of the issue a little, as it's inevitable that the knowledge that these will be the last few issues of his run has exacerbated the sense that the plot is moving a little too slowly, and that not very much has happened to push the story forward here. The final few pages are the most interesting, setting up a new wrinkle in the relationship between the Kingpin and Daredevil — but it's the one interesting development in an otherwise fairly static issue. Having said that, a middling issue of Daredevil is still better than most superhero books on the stands at the moment. I just hope that things pick up a little bit over the next couple of chapters, so that Brubaker can leave the book on a high.
I'll admit that I had kind of lost interest in Daredevil. I dropped the book a few months back during the first appearance of Lady Bullseye. There was no one individual factor that led to my decision; it was more of a combination of economic hardship and the fact I just wasn't as invested in the book anymore.
But then along came Daredevil #116. The Kingpin was back! The word was that the issue was great, a real return to form for the series. All of the above was true. It was a great individual issue, focusing almost completely on the Kingpin and his attempt at starting afresh in Europe. Of course, a man with such a violent history cannot turn his back on it completely. Instead it came and sought him out, hurting the surrogate family he had made for himself. So the scene is set for this issue and Kingpin's return to New York.
This issue's first scene is one of those classic scenes we see every so often when a character returns and every head in the joint (in this case an underground bar, literally) turns in shock. Throughout the book it is snowing in New York and it
really does add to the atmosphere of the book. There's a great scene of a couple of Hand ninjas running across the rooftops whilst the snow continues to fall. It's a great visual rendered nicely by Michael Lark. A mention for Matt Hollingsworth as well as he does good work once again with the colours. He is as synonymous with the character as Brubaker, Lark and Aja are in my opinion. He has provided a great consistency for the series over the course of this run.
As always, the best scenes involve both Daredevil and the Kingpin. A final scene between the two provides not only the cliff-hanger for the issue but a glimpse into the Kingpin's revenge-driven mindset. There's a now classic quote from the buy guy himself: "And I – I have shown him … that a man without hope is a man without fear."
After the events of the last issue and everything else the Kingpin has been through, the above quote is now a fairly accurate description of Wilson Fisk himself. It's a nice turnaround, and I love the relationship between Murdock and Fisk and how it has evolved over the years.
So, why the average 3 bullet score? The strength of the previous issue has something to do with it as Daredevil #116 is a great character piece, a change in art and a great prologue that builds up anticipation for what's to come. This issue though is one of transition, moving the players where they need to be in preparation. This is still good comics though with strong writing and art and the arc promises to be a memorable one. Also going on the recent news that Andy Diggle is taking over the book this summer, this story arc has the potential to be a great send off for Brubaker.