“To The Devil His Due” (Part 5 of 5)
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Plot: Hell’s Kitchen burns with violence. Matt has troubled women in his life. Foggy is a faithful friend. Daredevil pounds the streets and rooftops pummeling bottom dwellers for info. Drugs are involved. The mystery villain mastermind is revealed.
Commentary: Hello there. If the above plot description sounds like any other Daredevil comic you’ve ever read, well, that’s not exactly right. You see Daredevil’s gone through an ongoing Renaissance over the past ninety nine issues. At least for me he has. The last Renaissance occurred during the days of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, oh so long and fondly remembered ago. Before and after that for awhile no one seemed to get the character as he was put into in all kinds of super-heroic environments where he didn’t belong. I think the clincher for me occurred when Ann Noncenti had him meet the Inhumans. Daredevil? And the Inhumans? Just didn’t work for me. Why? Because Daredevil works best when he’s interacting on that gutsy street, human level. From Kevin Smith through Brian Michael Bendis and now with Ed Brubaker the Crime Noir has been put back into Daredevil, and it hasn’t let up. In a way Ed Brubaker’s scripts are even quieter than Smith’s and Bendis’s were, and by that I mean not as superhero-ey, flashy and bombastic. Smith and Quesada were certainly more so than Bendis and Maleev and now Brubaker and Lark are less so. So, what we have is a progression away from big screen superhero action to more personal and tragic stories of the city streets which in the past made Daredevil good reading and are doing so now. The balance is back in Daredevil.
Brubaker brings along all the trappings that make a good Daredevil story. They are outlined in my Plot synopsis above. He does this while placing his own stamp on the classic Daredevil cast. Brubaker has used and continues to use all that Smith and Bendis provided to good effect. I keep using the word “good” but not “great” or “fantastic.” What Brubaker has brought back to Daredevil is consistently good storytelling. It has a consistency in quality that so many other comic books lack today. Other comic book titles have spats of good issues and “okay” runs but then comes the inevitable let downs of fill in issues, artists and writers ad nauseum. Kudos to the Daredevil editorial staff. For this book they’ve picked the right creative teams for 99 issues of goodness. Brubaker uses all the Daredevil staples without making them seem old hat or cliché. It’s the curse of Daredevil’s existence to be surrounded by tragedy, and bad things always happen to his girls. It’s this devil’s own personal hell.
And a very bad thing involving Milla happens this issue. Suffice to say it’s going to take all of Matt’s legal chops and swashbuckling skills as Daredevil to pull Milla out of this mess, if it’s even possible. The fates of Matt’s women tend to be permanent. The reveal of the mystery villain stepping out of the shadows in this issue is a good one in that Mr. Fear is an all too human monster, and what he is doing is a good spin on the moniker “The Man Without Fear.” He’s taking the fear out of Daredevil’s nemeses albeit by drug induced insanity. I look forward to learning more about the revived Larry Clayton next issue.
Lark and Gaudino’s art is a perfect fit for the grittiness of the tales, and Hollingsworth’s colors exude the smoke, sweat and darkness of the proceedings well. I know this is an issue #99 and it is supposed to pave the way for an attention-grabbing celebratory issue #100 but what Brubaker, Lark, Gaudino and Hollingsworth gives us here is a good story. I’m content that Marvel hasn’t hyped up Daredevil #100. That tells me Daredevil has a good and sound fan base all it’s own and the devil doesn’t need any tricks at this point to get a fan following. I look forward to next issue and a continual good read from then on until the end of Brubaker’s run. Here’s hoping that won’t be for a good long while.
Final Word: Consistently good storytelling and perfect art teams make Daredevil a pleasure to read month in and month out. The Devil is back in the Kitchen where he belongs and confronting brands of evil he’s all too familiar with.
Plot: Things are, as usual, coming apart in Matt’s life. Implications are starting to point to one name, but will Matt figure things out in time to save his wife and friends?
Comments: I like the visual layout of this book. Each page has several panels (the average seems to be about seven per page), and each panel has its efficient portion of text to move you along. Lark’s style is not flashy, but it is consistent and ideally suited in tone to the story of a smart man surviving by his wits and physical prowess in Hell’s Kitchen, surrounded by thugs.
As an irregular reader, I’m not quite up to speed on who everyone is. I recognize Foggy and Dakota North and Milla, but not Lily and I’ve never heard of the spooky villainous mastermind revealed this issue. But continuity has never been an obstacle for me. I love the thrill of jumping into an ongoing story; often the events referred to from previous issues don’t quite live up to the excitement of just pondering them and figuring it out on your own when you search out the back issues.
Here I know that the recent events relating to Gladiator (one of DD’s most tragic foes) have resulted in a “complete mental break,” and that Matt is intent on blaming the right instigator of this misfortune (i.e., not Melvin Potter himself or his friends). We then get the iconic Daredevil comic scene: he and Foggy arguing over tactics in their law office (it just never gets old, it’s bread and butter for this book), then Dakota working hard in a legalese sort of way while clueless Lily is sort of the sore thumb sticking out all over the place.
Especially when Milla shows up, who takes an instant dislike to Lily (does she have anti-pheromones for women like the ones she supposedly uses to attract men? Is she related to Jessica Drew?) and resents her presence when Foggy and she offer to escort her home.
Milla is the normal blind person to Matt’s radar-enhanced one, and ever since she arrived all I’ve been able to think of is Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark. You just know she’s going to be tested and found worthy or not over and over by this relationship. This issue she’s in a pretty fragile state, and Brubaker weaves a tense interplay in the final scenes between the ordinary world of a crowded subway platform and the extraordinary fate of Daredevil, whose senses have led him into a trap, set by his foe.
This tense sequence, cutting back and forth from one worst-case-scenario to another, is the essence of this title, and of what Brubaker and Lark bring to a book that is like Spider-man’s worst day ever, issue after issue. Not always to my taste, but I applaud their craft.
Paul Brian McCoy:
Well, this title is nothing if not consistent. Month in and out, we can rely on Brubaker and Company to bring us an expertly crafted, exquisitely plotted, grittily visualized, and continuity-laden work of art. The character of Daredevil is as comfortably written as it ever has been, taking dramatic cues from Bendis’ long run, as well as taking melodramatic cues from Frank Miller’s classic period on the title.
This issue is no different. It has everything one might want from a Daredevil comic, from lawyer-type drama to street-thug bashing to super-villain reveals. There is only one real complaint I have about this issue, and it’s almost not even worth mentioning, but here goes. This is chapter 5 of a 5 chapter story, according to the title page. And yet, there’s no real conclusion at the end of the book. A classic villain (along with some classic henchmen) is revealed to have been behind Melvin’s (The Gladiator) mental breakdown, and we end on a cliffhanger with “To be continued…” and some threatening comments. It feels like there’s at least a 6th chapter coming.
Other than that, though, the writing is crisp. Transitions from scene to scene are very nicely orchestrated, and the characters all have distinct voices. The plot moves along at a nice pace, and while the trap sprung on DD at the end of the issue is a bit obvious (to this reader, anyway), it still works, given how distracted Matt has been through this whole storyline. Plus, it was really nice to see these characters again, especially as a complement to the previous return of The Gladiator (who was one of my favorite characters back when Miller originally made him a fleshed-out character and not just a raving loon with blades on his arms).
Artistically, Lark and Gaudiano keep it realistic and cinematic. The craft of laying out the scenes is so natural that we almost don’t even notice how they position our point of view for maximum dramatic effect. The page with Matt, Foggy, and Becky leaving Melvin’s hospital room, is a perfect example of this. It begins with a long establishing shot, then, in the next panel, zooms into a tighter shot of Becky and Matt from the left. Becky is emphasized, as this panel is about her feelings of guilt, with Matt in the background providing support. Our perspective then swings around to a single shot of Matt from the front right. For the next panel, the shot pulls back and to the right, behind Matt and the others, widening to introduce a couple of police officers. We then jump back around the left again to focus on Foggy going on the offensive. Again, Matt is in the background, providing motivation and implied support for Foggy’s actions. Then we’re back behind Foggy as he approaches the officers. He fills most of the panel, providing a barrier between the officers and Matt (or the reader, who is now also being “defended” by Foggy). Each panel’s POV flows naturally through the scene, staying focused on the characters and emphasizing the emotions behind the dialogue. Art like this makes descriptive narration completely unnecessary. When, in his solo panel, Matt says “This isn’t about you,” we can see the guilt and isolation from just the way the panel is framed.
And if that wasn’t enough, I’m pretty sure there are cameos later on in the book by two of my favorite comedians. If that’s not Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn, I’ll eat my hat. Kudos, gentlemen.
It seems the (Dare)devil is in the details.
Yeah, I know, I’m sure anyone who has ever reviewed an issue of Daredevil has resorted to that cliché at some time, but it seems especially applicable to issue #99, in which we’re treated to a story that was almost great, but where so many little things are handled poorly and the entire story hinges on one big cliché.
First things first: there was just too much packed into this issue. Brubaker and Lark have proven particularly adept at cramming pages full of panels and content while maintaining action and that almost tangibly noir-ish feel. They really put to shame all these modern creators who operate under the delusion that comics should be printed movies, with nothing but wide, cinemascope-like panels, and as few of those per page as possible. Brubaker and Lark, on the other hand, make comic books, not movies. Dialogue-heavy pages of 9, 10, 11, and 12 panels are nothing to them; only Bendis does it better.
BUT… this time there is just too much story. We drop in on Melvin; Mila is a neurotic mess who perceives Lily to be a threat to her marriage; Daredevil tracks the source of the new narcotic that has been flooding the streets of Hell’s Kitchen from some street-level dealers to some mid-level pushers to this issue’s – and this arc’s – big baddie; and Mila ends up… in some serious trouble.
And how do they get all that into one issue? Easy: Matt traces the source of the drugs via a great old cliché: the one-page montage of the hero beating up on random lowlifes until someone turns stoolie. Even worse, the climax of this story involves Matt facing the big baddie; in other words, the entire climax hinges on a one-page montage. It’s sloppy, lazy storytelling, and unworthy of Lark and Brubaker.
It is appropriate that the Enforcers show up in this issue; the beating-up-the-bad-guys-until-you-find-the-boss-montage was a staple of Lee and Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man, used especially well in the “If This be my Destiny” storyline, which was Ditko’s last major Spidey story. It was effective then because it was shocking to see how violent sweet little Peter had become, and because it was a new technique. But with Daredevil? In 2007? It’s just boring.
That was the major problem with this issue, but there were others, those devilish details to which I alluded. Why, for example, would Matt put on his Daredevil costume in front of the wide-open windows in his office in broad daylight? Why would he then leap out of one of those windows, again in broad daylight, when he and his secret identity have been under such scrutiny? And why, in light of that, would Foggy lean out that window to watch Matt leave, possibly drawing more attention to him? And why, in an issue so packed full of content, would Brubaker and Lark waste space on useless panels? For example, one panel shows Foggy looking out of a window in Matt’s office. Then a transition panel shows him leaving said office. Then a panel shows him entering another room, clearly labeled “Records,” so we know it isn’t Matt’s office. Are they scared we wouldn’t understand Foggy was walking into a new room unless we saw him walk out of the old one?
This is a big issue of Daredevil that logically advances the major storylines of this arc while setting up the next. Loaded with action and surprises – including a terrific shocker of an ending – it could have been great. But it wasn’t.
Damn those details.
As much as I wish to dismiss this issue as going to the well too many times, this writer just manages to get me with just about every offering with Matt Murdock. While this story doesn’t quite have the dramatic feel that “Devil in Cell Block D” had with it, this is most likely the breather before next month’s oversized monthly gives DD fans the jolt they need.
The previous story arc was a considerable letdown for me mainly because I am not familiar with everyone currently involved with Matt’s life. I was not around for his wedding to Mila, I do not quite understand what Dakota is all about, and the murderous Gladiator is more of a mystery than before. I won’t even go into the reveal of who the mastermind behind this whole manipulative game is, because I’m drawing a blank as well.
Here’s the thing, when Brubaker spent the first year with Matt taking us on a wild ride that ended in an Eisner, it felt new and fresh to me. Granted, people who were around for Bendis’ run most certainly could have thought the well had already run dry. It all depends on your perspective, I guess. When I had finished “The Devil Takes a Ride,” I was satisfied with Vanessa Fisk being the ringleader behind the prison riot and Matt’s frolicking around Europe. There was no need to send him circling down the drain yet again with someone else manipulating his life.
I realize Marvel readers are a bit suspicious of everything they read now. Bru’s predecessor on this title is to thank for that. When Murdock’s old flame recently turned up dead as a Skrull in New Avengers, there was no doubt the stunt would cause mass suspicion from us poor saps reading monthlies. Just this week I wondered if someone was going to tell Matt that the woman he loved may or may not have really been who she said she was when he was with her in the biblical sense. Regardless, people still don’t trust what is going on in the 616 anymore. Watching his former temptress and wife tussle in the subway, resulting in a man’s death, it’s easy to think, “Was that the way it was supposed to happen?”
Of course, in the end it probably won’t be that involved. Those familiar with Larry Cranston will no doubt put the pieces together sooner than readers such as myself and have a satisfying read as this story nears its conclusion. Hell, I’ll most likely fall into that line of thinking as well with all the hair-raising tension that I get from this book on a regular basis. I just think that if Bru thinks DD can’t be who he is if he’s not being pushed and pulled in a million directions and always under fire, I’m going to get tired and drop the book eventually.
As far as Lark, there’s nothing new to say about his work that is different from the others. I have loved how it matches the tone of the book in every sense of the word, but that won’t be news to him. He is just as much a part of the Eisner as Mr. Ed is. Those who have been following the book to this point surely have to be fans of his pencils. They would have dropped the book by now if they didn’t enjoy it every month.
The key for me as a reader of this title will be the next few issues. I realize next month’s centennial issue will be different than what we have been getting, and that’s fine. After that, I need to see something different from this team for me to keep enjoying this run. Brubaker is getting my money these days over other Marvel creators at the moment, but that could change if the Kool-Aid isn’t stirred a bit to get the sugar off the bottom.
What did you think of this book?
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