“The Devil in Cell-Block D: Part two”
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Michael Lark / Stefano Gaudiano (p & i), Frank D’Armata (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Foggy Nelson lies dead in his grave. Matt Murdock – Daredevil - is on the brink of a (nother) nervous breakdown. There’s a new DD on the streets, and Ben Urich is poised to spring into action to rescue his old friend from the hell he’s found himself in. Yep, there’s no doubt about it, Ed Brubaker is making his mark on this book, and a lot quicker than I thought. He’s already managed to put several plots and subplots in motion, he’s re-introduced a couple of great supporting cast members, and he appears to be building towards an exciting resolution to the Daredevil-in-prison setup which was entrusted to him by the outgoing writer, Brian Michael Bendis. He’s also got Gotham Central collaborator Michael Lark onboard the book, and if anyone was tailor-made to follow the pulp noir of Alex Maleev, it’s him. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that expert colourist Frank D’Armata is in the mix, adding his own finish to the artwork with a far greater command of subtlety and atmosphere than was evident in his Avengers run.
Surprisingly for me, Brubaker’s take on the title has managed to seem even more hard-edged and gritty than his predecessor’s über-noir run, although that’s possibly as much because of the dire situation that Daredevil has found himself in and the overall tone of the book as for the particular stylings of the writing or art. However, Brubaker doesn’t sacrifice the more traditional conventions of superhero comics in order to tell his down-and-dirty story either, with a fair amount of action and intrigue and a respect for continuity present, as well as costumed fight sequences which are provided by way of the “other” Daredevil - whose mystery remains tantalisingly unresolved. There are definitely already a lot of balls in the air, and the proof of Brubaker’s quality will be in how effectively he can resolve the many subplots which he has already set in motion within the space of two issues.
I’ve always been of the opinion that in superhero comics, the common man can seem even more heroic than super-powered individuals when he’s confronted with the threats which are faced daily by the spandex set. Daredevil in particular has always had the asset of one of the best supporting characters in the genre in the form of Ben Urich, who has been a reluctant everyman hero more than once in the past, and who has gained a lot of respect from readers as a result. As the book’s central character seems to be heading to a darker and darker place (as evidenced by some powerful prison scenes this issue, particularly the tense confrontations in his cell), it’s refreshing to see Brubaker making it clear that not every element of the book has to be that grim and downbeat in order to make the emotional arc work. I can’t wait to see how Urich is used in future issues, as the closing pages suggest that he’s going to play a key part in redeeming a mentally broken Matt in the future.
Brubaker is treading a fine line between providing a good continuation of the past four years’ worth of Daredevil and also forging new ground here, and the craftsmanship of his writing shines through on every page. Whether he’s dropping subtle hints/red herrings as to the identity of the second Daredevil, cannily setting up future plot developments in a way which seems very organic and natural, or simply writing the characters in a way which seems to capture their essences in an efficient, unfussy way, it’s very difficult to fault his work. The only problems I am having with this new era for the title are the slightly "off" cover art and the already very ambiguous nature of the crucial plot development of Foggy’s death (which has already, by the second issue, been given an obvious “out” - should Brubaker choose to take it). Still, these are minor quibbles for a book which was always going to come under heavy scrutiny: on the evidence of the team’s first two issues, we’re in for a run which is going to be as memorable as the one which preceded it. Well worth your money.
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