“The Devil In Cellblock D: Part Four”
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Michael Lark (p), Stefano Gaudiano (i), Frank D’Armata (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
EDITOR’S NOTE: Daredevil #85 will be in stores this Wednesday, May 24.
Plot: Matt Murdock begins to hear rumors that Kingpin is the one responsible for the death of Foggy Nelson after the man who stabbed Foggy is found hanged in his cell. As Matt ponders what to do with this information, he has a conversation with Frank Castle regarding his recent mental state. A confrontation with Wilson Fisk leads to an unexpected conclusion.
Commentary: As much as I have enjoyed watching Matt Murdock go ape on his fellow inmates over the past two or three months, this issue relied more on dialogue and characterization to make it the solid read that it was. Despite the rather grotesque opening page, this chapter of “The Devil in Cell-Block D” was focused on what kind of person Matt was turning into while in prison and the decisions that needed to be made to determine whether he was going to slide further into violence or actually use his head to figure out who is responsible for Foggy’s death. This may not be a new angle to take with the character, but Brubaker is doing so well with it that I have no problem with the supposed re-treading of an older theme.
These ruminations led to two conversations, the first of which was with Frank Castle, the Punisher. I was excited at the thought of Frank getting himself arrested and thrown into Rykers because I knew that there was going to be some good, old-fashioned beat downs and other sorts of violence. Brubaker threw me a curve on this one by having Frank sit down and poke at Matt a bit seemingly to get Matt to see what was happening to him. Of all the people to sit down and provoke Matt into thinking about what he was doing, Frank seems like an unlikely choice, given the history between the two but at the same time it works. Frank almost comes off as caring and concerned at least until one of the other inmates starts mouthing off. The resolution of this gave me the violence quotient I needed.
The second conversation was with Wilson Fisk and if you are sitting on the fence regarding this story-arc and whether or not you want to continue reading it, the talk Kingpin and Matt have should tip you over. This was a very well written scene, and once again, Matt gets advice from an unlikely corner. This was an extremely tense moment in an issue full of tense moments, and between the internal dialogue and the art I felt some of what Matt was going through. The aftermath of this scene shows that Brubaker understands Matt Murdock as a character and it had the desired effect of making me want to return next month to see how Matt’s phone call plays out.
The sub-plots are coming along nicely as well. Brubaker nails Ben Urich every time he writes the character, and the scene between Ben and J. Jonah was a rollicking good time. There is nothing like people putting J.J. in his place and as a geek who can get obsessed with continuity ,the reference to Jameson’s recent encounter with the New Avengers was much appreciated. I haven’t put much thought into the identity of the new Daredevil mainly because I want to be surprised. Sometimes this happens. Dakota North got some screen time too, and her investigation is another aspect of the story that keeps me coming on back.
In The End: You’ll learn a lot in this issue of Daredevil. You’ll learn that Matt can be pushed to go places he normally wouldn’t, though some of you may already know this. You’ll learn that as much fun as it may be and as much street cred you might get by mouthing off to the Punisher in front of everyone, the end result could be rather painful and most of you should know this. You’ll learn that Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano are a fantastic art team that captures the mood and intensity of the writing. You will also learn that Brubaker knows how to pace an extended storyline to keep it fresh and exciting issue after issue. This arc was an excellent time to start picking up Daredevil and as long as Brubaker keeps writing the book, I’ll keep buying it.
Life just gets more and more complicated for Matt as Frank Castle rolls into prison and right away starts breaking bones. Horrified at what he might become but still determined to find Foggy’s killer, Matt arranges to meet Fisk and is left with more pressing questions. With the prison a powderkeg of criminals and supposed heroes, how far will Matt go to find the truth before the entire place explodes?
Brubaker’s run on Daredevil so far has been almost spotless. Like his current run on Captain America, he has taken a traditional hero and thrown in a healthy load of suspense and mystery, shaken it up with the occasional special appearance and stirred into a fine dark mix. I mentioned when I reviewed his first issue that he had big boots to fill after Bendis’ amazing run, and so far he has pulled it off with the grace and respect it deserves.
We truly begin to see the cracks in Matt’s psyche start to form as his time in lockdown continues. How much has prison really changed him? How far is Matt willing to go to avenge his friend? These questions of the mind are what is making this series flow brilliantly parallel to Bendis’ run and taking the character to even greater heights, or lows as it may be. Matt’s troubles are compounded greatly by The Punisher’s unexpected appearance (who admits the only reason he came back was to watch “What it looks like when you turn into me”). This dialog is only matched for tension when Matt agrees to visit the Kingpin in the yard. It’s all good work.
Although the issue presents very little action, we are shown that everything is building up to the next issue. The scene has been set, the cast assembled. It promises something epic next issue as the hundreds of convicts being led by a few villains (such as Hammerhead) prepare to take control. Brubaker again builds the tension but this time across the entire prison.
Of course, the pencils by Lark never hurt to maintain the mood, especially with the dark inks from Gaudiano and muted colours from D’Armata. The Punisher looks scary, and The Kingpin looks pompous.
With a death at the start of the series Brubaker’s Daredevil draws some similarities to his own Captain America, but don’t let that stop you. While a little light on action, this series so far is doing just fine. Next issue is going to be fireworks.
The Punisher comes to Rykers to see if Murdock has become as violent and heartless as they say. Even Murdock’s not sure. Given the chance, he almost kills Kingpin for arranging Foggy Nelson’s murder. But Kingpin is innocent. Fisk reminds Murdock that he used to be pretty good at thinking his way out of problems, and Matt starts asking questions. Meanwhile, Dakota North gets the wrong people mad at her, and Ben Urich gets a lecture from J. Jonah Jameson about objectivity.
The conversation between Jameson and Urich is great for two reasons. First, Jameson talking about objectivity? That’s a hilarious amount of hypocrisy! Second, the conversation reminds me how long it’s been since we’ve seen a real conversation between two people in this series. Bendis’ characters usually talk with stutters and clipped sentences before launching into monologues that other characters interrupt. This issue made me realize how annoying and artificial that can be.
But the thing I like best about this comic is Matt starts to think again. The thing I miss about the Silver Age of comics is how the hero would outsmart the villain, or use his powers in clever ways. For too long, Matt has been living under suspicion and the threat of violence. He kept doing what he wanted to do while other people worked to destroy him. That ends today. He stops living with his problems and starts solving them.
And yet, I don’t think Matt is getting out of prison anytime soon. Even after the end of this storyline, I still see Matt in prison for at least another six months. That comes from Ed Brubaker’s natural pacing and realistic plot devices. Daredevil has been at its best when it was a crime-noir drama. Bendis’ run was a personal battle between Murdock and the world. Now Brubaker takes us back to the morally grey world on the border between law and crime. That’s where Daredevil is most at home.
Step aside, Martha Stewart: there’s a new Master Chef in town, and he’s got a doozy of a recipe! Mix a cup of Irish-Catholic red wine with a tablespoon of angst. Add half a cup of Fisk-flavored jelly, half a cup of beef (preferably Castle franks), and a tablespoon of mystery. Sprinkle with dead friends and old enemies, then heat at 300 degrees for six months. What do you get? One of the best Daredevil arcs in recent memory.
More than any other Marvel series, Daredevil tends to reach its creative peaks when following a specific formula. You’ve got to have Matt’s life in shambles, the Kingpin pulling strings, Bullseye waiting to strike, the Punisher showing us Matt’s dark reflection. It’s the blueprint that made Frank Miller and Brian Bendis the two most influential writers with regards to this character - others who tried to break away from that (i.e.: Ann Nocenti, David Mack) didn’t fare quite as well.
Ed Brubaker plays both sides of the equation here: he’s following the Miller/Bendis tradition, but also distinguishing himself from them by transposing all the familiar dynamics into an entirely new setting: Matt’s in jail, locked up with his worst enemies, and it works magnificently. This issue - this entire arc - is suffused with a feeling of intense claustrophobia: everything is dark, boxed in and locked up, and I could almost feel the walls closing on me as I read on.
There’s a nice contrast between the two big mysteries here. Within the prison, Matt’s trying to find out who murdered Foggy Nelson but finds his progress blocked by his inability to move about. Outside, Ben Urich and Dakota North are searching for the Daredevil impersonator jumping around town and simply can’t keep up with him.
Brubaker has a pretty impressive grasp of the various characters; there’s a sense of deep history in Matt’s charged interactions with the Kingpin and the Punisher. It should go over well enough with new readers, but if you’ve read “Born Again,” The Matt/Fisk faceoff resonates even more strongly. At the same time, Brubaker is pushing forward, putting the relationship between hero and archnemesis in a completely new light. Matt has often contemplated killing the Kingpin, but this is the first time where he might actually do it, where he’s distraught enough and has relatively little to lose by doing so. And the Punisher is there to egg him on, to remind him how easy it is to cross the line.
As the penultimate chapter of “The Devil In Cellblock D,” this issue gives the distinct impression that everything is on the brink of spiraling out of control: unlikely alliances are made, plots are hatched, and the body count is rising. I can’t wait to see what comes next!
Daredevil is one of those comics whose greatness I take for granted every month. So far, writer Ed Brubaker and artist Michael Lark have shown no signs of letting any of their readers down or letting up on the intensity level. Daredevil #85 is receiving the same rating from me – – that Captain America #18 did last week, for many of the same reasons. Consistency has been the word on the aforementioned star-spangled Avenger’s series, and Brubaker and Lark bring that same quality to Daredevil.
I am NOT badmouthing Brian Michael Bendis here (I won’t even mention how much House of M sucked… oops!), but when speaking of Daredevil it’s hard not to find myself comparing the current state of the title to the last few years when Bendis was in charge. Bendis’s issues were absolutely brilliant as TPBs, but I was unable to enjoy the series in the “tiny dose” single issue. There just wasn’t enough substance there to fulfill me on a monthly basis. Brubaker brings a totally different approach. Each individual chapter is immensely satisfying, and something of significance seems to occur on every page. By the time I reach the end of an issue of Daredevil, I feel like I had to have read more than 22 pages.
Tensions continue to build within Rykers. Brubaker’s pacing is impeccable as he weaves subplots together, giving each sufficient face time. The inclusion of Ben Urich’s reporting on the Murdock/Daredevil situation acts as a valuable lens through which the reader can see what’s going on outside the maximum-security facility. Brubaker emphasizes the relationship between Urich and J. Jonah Jameson, exploring their views on journalistic integrity while throwing in a nod to recent New Avengers continuity. Lark and Frank D’Armata’s art is as pitch-perfect as ever, capturing not only the grimy prison walls, but also Murdock’s raw desire for justice for his friend. The Punisher and the Kingpin both exude a confidence and smugness befitting their attitudes.
The parallels to last week’s Slugfest run deep in that Daredevil #85 is neither a monumental single issue nor a boring yawn-fest; it’s simply another fulfilling issue that advances the overarching storyline while continuing the trends we have all come to expect from the team of Lark and Brubaker.
From the very first panels of this issue of Daredevil, it’s clear that Brubaker and Lark have perfected their take on prison life in the Marvel Universe. When Foggy Nelson’s killer is found hanging in his cell, the plot thickens for Matt Murdock, and as he attempts to discover who was behind the killing, the Kingpin requests an audience with him in the prison yard. As pools of urine collect underneath the body of the dead killer, the “schoolyard of hell” that is Rykers has never felt less appealing – and it makes for a superbly dank and atmospheric backdrop for the dark, moody story – but there’s something a little lacking about this issue which makes it feel as though Brubaker is perhaps treading water a little too long in the build-up to what promises to be an explosive conclusion to his first arc.
An exchange between our hero and his fellow prisoners shows that incarceration really has changed Matt, and Brubaker’s writing of the character continues to walk the fine line between restrained anger and bursts of intense action. Murdock is more of an unknown quantity here than we’ve seen in recent years, and it makes for a compelling read. Further characterisation of more minor characters continues to be a strong point of the writing, and a brief interlude at the Daily Bugle shows that Brubaker has got a great handle on what makes Ben Urich such a special character for the book (his response to J. Jonah Jameson’s “Do I look like an idiot?” is priceless). It’s nice to see that the more serious issues of journalistic integrity which were examined by Bendis through the Bugle have been continued here by the new team, as it’s been one of my favourite secondary plots of the entire series since Matt was outed. Later in the issue, a great showdown between Matt and the Kingpin in the prison yard shows that Brubaker really “gets” the characters, that he can write Fisk as the master manipulator and intellectual equal of Matt that he always has been, and that he can create high tension and drama in a scene with little more than the simple presence of a knife. That said, some of the other subplots are moving at a very slow pace, as there’s not much development of the story thread about the “other” Daredevil here, no further appearance for Bullseye, no return to the thread about the director of the FBI, and even the Punisher doesn’t make quite as much of an impact as you’d expect from his great introduction at the end of last issue. Still, I’m willing to accept such gradual advancement of the story as symptomatic of Brubaker’s slow-burn approach to the book, and I ’m sure it’ll only make the payoff all the more satisfying when it eventually does come.
Luckily, there’s some great artwork from Lark, Gaudiano and D’Armata to make the time pass pleasingly. D’Armata is perhaps one of the best colourists you could choose for this kind of work, and his work here and in Moon Knight proves that artwork doesn’t have to be murky and unintelligible in order to create a dark, gritty atmosphere. His colouring is a great complement to Lark and Gaudiano’s linework, which uses fairly heavy inks to make us feel the darkness of the prison, but is never less than very clear, concise storytelling. Standout scenes include the opening page of the dead body being cut down and put into a bodybag, a violent lunchtime confrontation between the Punisher and an overly cocky convict, and the incredibly effective pair of panels which show Matt and the Kingpin “alone” in the crowded prison cafeteria. Sadly though, it looks as though the covers are going to get worse before they get better, as Tommy Lee Edwards again turns in a strange, abstract and angular DD which almost works as a piece of pop art, but makes for an unappealing cover image.
Ultimately, there’s nothing terrible about the issue to make it feel out-of-place in the rest of Brubaker’s story, and my slightly lower bullet rating for this issue should be seen in context as more of a compliment to Brubaker’s previous issues as a disparagement of this particular instalment. When it comes down to it, the pieces are in place for a (literally) riotous conclusion to this first arc, and I’m incredibly eager to see if Brubaker can follow up on the promise of this great exchange between the Punisher and Daredevil in their prison duds:
Frank: “I wanted to see it for myself.”
Matt: “See what?”
Frank: “What it looks like when you turn into me.”
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