Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Michael Lark & Stefano Gaudiano, Frank D’Armata (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Ed Brubaker's first arc on Daredevil comes to an end with this issue, and he and artist Michael Lark have already proved themselves worthy successors to the team that came before them. That's no mean feat, as Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's DD was a bona fide epic which redefined the character in the modern Marvel Universe, and brought a new level of grittiness to his pulpy superhero-noir adventures. Brubaker and Lark may have taken a cue from that interpretation of the titular hero, but they never feel beholden to it, having already changed the direction of book subtly since they first took over six issues ago and building a mystery over the course of their first arc which promises to underpin much of their work on the title. There's a lot more reference to Daredevil's rich history as old characters pop up in cameos, and a greater sense of Matt's adventures taking place in the wider context of the Marvel Universe - as evidenced by the big reveal of the "second Daredevil" this issue. To have the impostor turn out to be Iron Fist was a logical and plausible solution to the mystery, but Brubaker is canny enough not to make this the end of the matter, using this revelation to open up new layers of intrigue behind who's been pulling the strings whilst Matt was imprisoned. Still, Iron Fist's appearance allows for a typical "misunderstood" fight between the two heroes with some exciting art from Lark, and the visual of the two identical red devils going at it feels decidedly retro in an entertainingly Silver Age way.
The rest of the issue is devoted to the various efforts of Dakota North, Ben Urich, Matt Murdock and Danny Rand to track down Alton Lennox, the lawyer who hired Iron Fist to play Daredevil and who also seems to be strongly connected to the attack on Foggy Nelson in Brubaker's first issue. It's satisfying to see so many strands from the first arc tie up with one common goal, and it's a great example of how to make an arc feel complete whilst still propelling the book into the next major storyline. Almost all of the loose ends from the prison are tied up - Daredevil's escape with the Punisher is a particular highlight, as is the way in which the prison governor covers for Matt, giving the FBI's manipulative director his long-overdue comeuppance - but there's still plenty of material to keep us interested for the next arc, not least an exotic change of scene which promises to give the book a very different vibe to the dank, claustrophobic atmosphere which was perpetuated by the last five issues' prison setting and fully exploited by Lark's moody artwork. The artist has already shown us how well he can do a dark, brooding Daredevil story, so I'll be interested to see whether Matt's European excursion will influence Lark's style in a different way in the coming months.
This is a fine finish to what has been a very strong first arc for Brubaker and Lark, and the icing on the cake is provided by the issue's final page, which provides a twist which will come as a relief to many of the character's hardcore fans. One aspect of the character which is still sorely absent is that of Matt the lawyer, but this omission is more symptomatic of the corner that Daredevil was written into by the previous creative team than any particular fault with Brubaker's take on the book. Although Matt's secret-identity problems don't look set to end anytime soon - by the end of this first arc, he's already got a "new" civilian alter ego which provides another nod to continuity for longtime readers - Brubaker is definitely taking steps towards clearing up the all-encompassing mess that was caused by the revelation of Daredevil's identity during Bendis' run. Whilst such U-turns can often come off as contrived excuses to reset the status quo, it's actually quite welcome here, as Matt's unmasking was fully explored over the last four or five years of stories, and if Brubaker wants to concentrate on different elements of the character to tell his stories, that's fine by me. He's certainly off to a great start.
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