“The Murdock Papers – part two”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Alex Maleev, Dave Stewart (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
I can see what Bendis is doing here, and you’ve got to applaud him for being patient, playing the long game, and making sure that everything he’s done on the title so far is in a position to be tied up into the final arc of his genre-defining run on Daredevil. If he can be compared to the conductor of an orchestra (and I think he can), Bendis is ensuring that this final crescendo makes the most of every instrument at his disposal, and that he goes out with one hell of a show.
But maybe we’re getting a little ahead of things, because although there’s a definite sense of things building to a head here, this is still a very low-key and personal issue which shows the various women in Matt’s life finding out about the Wilson Fisk / Ben Urich story which was released to the press at the end of last issue, and what they plan to do with the information. Whilst FBI agent Del Toro makes the sacrifice of her own job in order to make a stand about Daredevil, we see that even the detached Elektra still has some interest in Matt’s fate. Adding the Black Widow into the mix (via a nicely-scripted and very catty exchange between the Soviet super-spy and the new acting director of S.H.I.E.L.D.) we see Natasha confront Foggy Nelson who remains unwavering in his trust of his colleague. When Foggy says “Matt will know what to do”, Bendis is implying the opposite. The odds seem so long this time, and the stakes so high, that we the reader fear for Matt and his newly-returned (ex?) wife. One thing’s for sure – Matt looking happy with his lot is never a good sign, and there’s a pervasive feeling throughout this issue of a proverbial calm before the storm: that once Urich’s story catches up with Daredevil, things really are going to look dire. However, I applaud Bendis for taking his time over this last story, and I won’t complain that we don’t get to see any real action or an appearance of Daredevil in costume this issue – Bendis is doing things his way, and if we can’t trust his judgement on Daredevil then what can we trust?
Alex Maleev’s ears must metaphorically burn every time I write a review of this title, and I’m beginning to run out of new ways to praise him. Suffice to say, he’s so steeped in these characters by now that I’m going to find it hard to see them drawn by anyone else, and Bendis plays to his particular strengths this issue by giving him a who’s-who of Daredevil’s female acquaintances to render in all their glory. There’s a realistically-conceived yet impossibly perfect beauty to every one of them, whether it’s Natasha’s sleek and sexy catsuit-encased form, Elektra’s poised and balanced detachment, or Milla’s incredibly real-feeling physique in the final intimate scene in Matt’s bedroom. Maleev’s art is never exploitative of the female form in the way that some comic book art can be (Frank Cho and Terry Dodson spring to mind), but instead conveys a real artistic beauty and character to each one of DD’s old flames, eventually building to a very arresting final image this issue.
The cliffhanger in question is less of a knockout revelation or cheap shock and more of a thought-provoking image that makes me eager to read next issue, and it’s all the better for it. Bendis doesn’t feel like he’s artificially manufacturing conflict or drama here, but instead that the drive of the story is arising naturally out of the characters and situations that he’s been playing around with ever since his run began. Only now, he’s really bringing out the big guns. Case in point: even though he doesn’t appear in person, the Kingpin’s shadow hangs over this issue. I like that Fisk has continued to exert an influence over Matt’s life despite his apparent dethronement back in issue #50, and it’s good to see that their latest conflict seems likely to be as much an intellectual battle as that issue was a physical confrontation. Bendis’ assertion some time ago that Fisk likes to play “people chess” is validated this issue, as the well-meaning but ultimately misguided FBI director explains how Fisk has forced his hand: “Something has to move." It’s a welcome phrase to hear in a book which has threatened to stall on more than one occasion recently, and has been treading water for some time with regard to Matt’s “out”-ing in the press. I really hope that Bendis can follow up on the promise that this arc is currently showing, because if he can capitalise on the strong foundations which he’s laid over his last 50 issues or so on the title, he can ensure once and for all that his run on Daredevil is remembered in the same breath as Frank Miller; he can make certain that the potential of his various changes to Matt’s status quo is fully realised; and most of all, he can be sure to go out on a cracker of a story.
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