ďThe Murdock Papers: Part 6Ē
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Alex Maleev, Dave Stewart (colours)
This issue marks the end of Bendis and Maleevís epic run on Daredevil, and whilst I wish I could say it goes out on an all-time high, it at least offers up something of a resolution to the story of Mattís out-ing in the press which has plagued him for the majority of the teamís four-year mega-arc. Bendis has been in danger of losing direction ever since he had Matt declare himself Kingpin of Hellís Kitchen, as Ė whilst this twist offered up some interesting story possibilities which were explored directly afterwards Ė subsequent arcs have had the feeling of treading water without as strong a sense of story as youíd expect from such a revered writer. Thankfully, ďThe Murdock PapersĒ has seen Bendis return to the kind of dense plotting and complex webs of character relationships which characterised his earlier work on the title, and it provides a fitting end to his Daredevil oeuvre, even if it isnít as conclusive or defining as I might have expected.
Our hero was left in a pretty dire situation last month, exposed as Daredevil once and for all, and awaiting trial after being captured by the FBI. Yet for all the undeniable good that Matt has done as a superhero, Bendis is careful not to paint him as a sympathetic victim of circumstance. A central thread of the writerís approach to Mattís outing has been the characterís continuous Ė and morally ambiguous - denial of his dual identity, and as the stakes have grown higher and higher, weíve seen the potential consequences of Mattís inevitable downfall grow more and more serious. Iím reminded of the line from Withnail & I: ďIf you were hanging on to a rising balloon, you're presented with a difficult decision... let go before it's too late? Or hang on and keep getting higher? Posing the question, how long can you keep a grip on the rope?Ē Here, Marvel shows commendable conviction in allowing Bendis to follow this idea through to its logical conclusion, and although I was slightly disappointed that this issue didnít tie off as many of the writerís loose ends as it could have done, or provide an iconic finale to the teamís run, itís the most organic and natural way to allow their story to end. Iíll be interested to see if the powers-that-be choose to link this story up to Marvelís big Civil War summer event, because - taken as a whole - itís one of the most realistic treatments of the problems that can be caused by a heroís dual identity that Iíve ever read, but Iíll be even more interested to see what kind of approach the new creative team which starts on the book next month choose to bring to the new status quo.
Bendis devotes a fairly substantial chunk of this issue to a fantasy sequence which presents Matt fleeing the courtroom and, with the aid of his superhero buddies, leaving America to build a new life complete with a false identity and an erased past. On a first reading, the revelation that this ďendingĒ is entirely in Mattís head seems like a cheap trick and a waste of valuable space in Bendisí final issue, but once you see its context in the finished issue, it actually makes far more sense as a storytelling tool. Mattís daydream is symbolic of his reaction to his out-ing ever since the press got hold of his story, but it also gives Bendis the chance to explore the alternative possibilities which were open to him in ending his run. Although itís an exciting and in many ways more fitting solution to Mattís predicament, itís also far more predictable and clichť (even to the point of having Bullseye show up to kill yet another of Mattís girlfriends, and having Matt seek solace in Elektra yet again). As such, Bendis makes a strong case for his actual ending as an original and somewhat daring step in a new direction, which doesnít offer up the kind of simple status-quo-resetting solution youíd find in the characterís Silver Age adventures but instead pushes the hero in a radical new direction.
Alex Maleev serves up a great finish to his artistic run on the book with this issue, proving again that heís one of the most relentlessly self-improving artists working in mainstream comics today. Comparing his work here with his Daredevil debut in issue #26 shows just how far he has come, with subtleties now evident in his work which were simply not there a few years ago, and with a much-honed grasp of character nuances, facial expressions and action sequences. Heís managed to get out of the trap of stiff body language and repetitive facial expressions that his techniques provided in the runís early years, and he proves a solid collaborator to hit all the right emotional notes that Bendis is aiming for in this final issue. His illustrations during the fantasy sequence are suitably optimistic and bright, before descending into the dark, shadowy urban sections of the issue which mark the metaphorical fall back down to earth for Matt. The issueís closing sections drip with atmosphere and foreboding, setting up a real shift in tone for the next creative team, and Iíll be very interested to see how he parlays his skills into the new Bendis-penned Spider-Woman ongoing series. It would also be remiss not to note the hugely significant contribution of colourist Dave Stewart here, who enriches every page with his well-judged tones. I was particularly pleased to see Bendis pick out Stewart and previous colourist Matt Hollingsworth for particular praise in his essay which closes the issue, as they have both been integral to the success of the titleís art.
Despite some of my reservations about this relatively inconclusive and low-key ending for such an epic run, Iíll admit to being fairly intrigued by the situation Matt is left in at the issueís end. It leaves Daredevil in an environment which holds a lot of storytelling promise, and would have come as a fairly groundbreaking and surprising move if it hadnít been spoiled by advance Marvel solicitations. Iíd like to say that itís a ballsy move, but weíll only really see if itís a worthy idea when Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark take over to title in a monthís time. It could be seen as canny marketing on Marvelís part, as it makes any readers who have got into Daredevil through Bendisí run more likely to stick around and see how Brubaker follows him. But that said, Iím willing to give the publisher the benefit of the doubt on their decision to interlink the two teamsí stints on the book so integrally, as itís nice to see a transition between two writers which is as smoothly-planned as this one seems to have been. Recent arcs might have seen the bloom come off the rose of Bendisí Daredevil run, but it canít be denied that he and Alex Maleev have made the character their own over the past few years. In doing so, they may have ignored some key elements (Matt the lawyer has only rarely been seen in action, and the characterís enhanced senses are only intermittently referenced) but they have played up the pulp-ish, noir-ish sensibilities that make the character stand out above the four-colour Marvel pack. I hope Brubaker and Lark can do the same.
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