“The King of Hell's Kitchen: Part 2”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
Picking up after events last issue, Matt finds himself face to face with 100 of the Yakuza's finest in a battle for Hell's Kitchen.
"When someone really wants to kill you -- really wants to end your life... They just show up and do it."
After a breathtaking return last issue, the creative team spends the majority of this issue showing us the ensuing fight between Matt and the 100-strong Yakuza gang, a plot development which after explanation seems as ever to follow the lethal logic that has dictated Matt's life ever since his ousting as Daredevil. The battle royale is bookended by Ben Urich's explanations to a mysterious stranger, thanks to which Bendis manages to squeeze in its fair share of words to go along with the dark and atmospheric art of Alex Maleev in a way which adds to the visuals rather than simply describing them. "Gritty" may be a word which is banded about all too often when attempting to convey an artistic style, but here it fits the bill.
As a retort to those who have criticised Daredevil for being light on any real action and superheroics, this issue serves its function well. Urich's narration infuses the battle with a sense of purpose and immediacy and there is a real feeling that Matt is under threat here, sustaining what looks like considerable damage whilst fighting against seemingly unbeatable odds. Whilst the concept of the issue is an exciting one, readers who saw last year's Matrix Reloaded (and I'm guessing it's a lot of them) will feel a sense of familiarity as they follow the action: as well as Matt's Neo-esque longcoat, some of the action choreography seems to be lifted directly from (or perhaps paying homage to) the 100-Agent-Smiths sequence from that film - even if there is a greater sensation of menace and real threat here, reinforced by the dark nature of the artwork.
Refreshingly choosing to play against their strengths, an action-heavy issue gives the creators a chance to showcase Maleev's artwork - work which is happily making substantial progress with regard to action sequences. It may be the way Maleev's work is composed which has led to so many static action sequences in past issues of this title, but whatever the reason there are sure signs of improvement. Knockout full-page splashes (in particular Matt's airborne entry into the fray and a vivid depiction of his radar) please the eye at the same time as some moments of real poetry, such as Urich's musings on the nature of Matt's enhanced senses, entertain the mind. Occasional problems with stiff posing and a lack of dynamism still persist, but on this evidence Maleev is coping with these shortcomings admirably.
As the issue draws to a close, a new mystery is set upon us - one which may subtlely poke fun at fans' complaints that we might soon have an issue of Daredevil with no Daredevil in it at all - and a soap-opera-esque revelation gives us something to ponder as we wait for the real story to play out. The consequences of this all-out battle will surely be felt by Matt for some issues to come...
Pushing Matt's character to the forefront at the expense of a garish costume has done this title no harm at all as it continues to rise head and shoulders above standard superhero fare. Bendis and Maleev prove that sophistication in comics doesn't always have to come at the expense of kinetic thrills. Action junkies will get a lot out of this issue and, even if newcomers may feel overwhelmed by the plot up to this point they should really check out one of the most consistently entertaining titles on the market.
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