Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Michael Lark
One of my favourite old-school Marvel “What-If” stories was the issue which asked what would have happened if Elektra had lived through her battle with Bullseye. Like that Frank-Miller-scripted issue, “What if Karen Page had Lived” is scripted by the current writer of Daredevil, and as such gives us an interesting parallel take on Matt Murdock’s current trials and tribulations. However, unlike that issue, which presented a idyllic (if irresponsible) future of bliss and carefree happiness for Matt Murdock, this story sees him go through a hell which makes current issues of Daredevil almost pale in comparison.
Brian Michael Bendis, apparently sitting in a diner in Marvel’s New York, recaps the story of how Matt lost his second great love. It’s a fairly faithful retelling of Kevin Smith’s story, playing down the details of the unimpressive ending of the original arc and in doing so infusing the whole affair with more meaningfulness and melancholy than it ever had before. However, Bendis poses the question: what if Bullseye’s aim had been “a centimeter to the left… a centimeter to the right…” and Karen Page had lived? Our answer plays by the conventions of many “What If?” issues, as the apparent blessing turns into even more of a curse than Karen’s death turned out to be. It’s a compelling tale, well thought-out and logically plotted by Bendis, and rendered with finesse through Lark’s suitably dark renderings, reminiscent of Michael Gaydos’ work on “Alias” and “Powerless”. We see Matt go after the Kingpin in a fit of rage, pushing himself further than before and winding up with blood on his hands. His subsequent trial and media circus mirrors the events of recent Daredevil issues, and Matt’s eventual fate brings his story to a bitter, melancholy conclusion which fits the current take on the character quite well.
However, as the story is necessarily compressed into one issue, the reader loses all the little insights which have become such an important part of Bendis’ Daredevil to date. The tale is necessarily told in such broad strokes that we have to take it on trust that there’s a good reason that the rest of “Guardian Devil” would have played out as normal but that Matt would have been even more angry afterwards, and would have gone after Fisk personally, immediately, and fatally. We lack the window into Matt’s soul which makes current issues of Daredevil so readable, and although Bendis can narrate some interesting twists and turns for the character (his public out-ing, worse than ever before; a tense court case; a prison sentence), it’d be so much more entertaining to see this story through Matt’s eyes - no pun intended.
Ultimately, this is one one-shot that I would have preferred to see given a little more room to breathe. With Bendis, the current master of decompression, at the helm, this concept could have found feet as an alternate-reality miniseries in the vein of “Powerless” – as it is, the story merely stands as an engrossing and compelling story, but one which has a sense of being just a little too superficial and too quickly told to make it a classic.
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