“Part 4: A study in Scarlet”
Writer: Kevin Smith
Artists: Terry Dodson (p), Rachel Dodson (i), Lee Loughridge (c)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The credits page bills this issue as “A Book Three Years in the Making (and hardly worth the wait)” and sadly, I can’t help but agree. After one of the longest cliffhangers in comics history, the story jumps ahead to the aftermath of issue #3’s final page – in which Garrison Klum, the villain of the piece, seemed on the verge of raping the drugged and immobilised Black Cat – and we find out that quite a lot has happened since then. Felicia is now in jail for Klum’s murder, she denies that any rape ever happened, and Daredevil has been brought in as her defence lawyer. What’s more, the issue’s final few pages suggests that the real bad guy is actually a minor character from the first few issues who has hitherto unknown powers. To leave a readership waiting aeons for their story to continue is one thing, but to completely change its direction and introduce multiple new characters to the book at the half-way stage is mystifying, especially after Marvel’s recent release of a collected edition of issues #1-#3 to allow readers to get up to speed. Perhaps Marvel didn’t agree with Kevin Smith’s initial conclusion to the story and demanded a rewrite, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a smooth continuation of the first half of the series.
The writing of this issue is strong enough in characterisation, acknowledging that events in the Marvel Universe have moved on since the book began (Daredevil’s out-ing is heavily referenced) but remaining true to most of the key characters’ significant traits. There are even a fair few funny moments during an exchange between DD and Spidey which acknowledge the pair’s history; I particularly enjoyed Pete’s “Hey, it’s your wacky life” comment. However, Smith fumbles the plotting so badly that these positive points barely register, with gaping holes completely distracting from the enjoyment of what remains of this series’ story. Why do Daredevil’s powers allow him to surmise that Felicia is telling the truth about not killing Klum, but prevent him from knowing whether she was really raped (and if he does know, why won’t he tell Peter)? After a long exchange about how risky it would be for them to be publicly linked with Felicia’s case, why do the two heroes embark on a conspicuous jailbreak whilst fully-costumed, instead of trying to conceal their identities? And what prompts Peter to initiate such a reckless plan in the first place when there are alternatives? You’d think someone would have taught that guy a lesson about responsibility a long time ago.
The Dodsons’ art is serviceable, but doesn’t really live up to the high standard of their recent work on Mark Millar's Marvel Knights Spider-Man run. It also feels at odds with the tone of the book, as their cartoony style sits uneasily with scenes about medical tests for rape or a forced, bloody fistfight between the two superheroes of the book. There’s also something unsettling about the doll-faced Felicia of this title being constantly abused beyond her control by “evil” men with ill-defined motivation, and these misogynistic overtones suggest that Smith can’t write strong female characters (a flaw which brings to mind the similarly weak female characters of his run on Daredevil). The book might be called “The Evil That Men Do”, but whilst we’ve so far seen men doing evil things to women, there’s been no attempt to explore exactly what compels the characters to do so. It all adds up to a very shallow and overly “gritty” book which seems to be trying to use risqué plot elements to disguise the fact that it actually has very little to say.
This is an issue that I never truly believed I’d hold in my hands, but I don’t give Marvel or Kevin Smith any extra credit for putting out a book which is years overdue; however, it hasn’t affected my bullet rating negatively either - because this issue, on its own terms, is a well below-par story. The book’s reliance on guest stars (Daredevil in this issue, Nightcrawler in the next) is a crutch which indicates the lack of confidence that Smith has in the core story that he began writing over three years ago - and with good reason.
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