"To the Devil, His Due: Part One of Five"
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano (p & i), Matt Hollingsworth (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
This issue of Daredevil is so adept at conveying every aspect of the character that makes the book so appealing that I was convinced that it must have included extra pages to fit it all in. Imagine how surprised I was, then, to double-check the count and find that Brubaker has managed to cover so many bases in such a scant 22 pages.
Opening with the gruesome aftermath of a possible attack by the incarcerated (although apparently reformed) Gladiator, the issue launches into a breathless action sequence that shows off Matt Murdock's intellectual prowess as well as his impressive physical attributes, reinforcing Brubaker's reputation as one of the finest noir writers of the medium with a intelligent and involving plot concerning simultaneous crimes - with one offence acting as a distraction to allow the other to proceed unnoticed. The criminals in question meet a grisly end which asks more questions than it answers, opening up a mystery which looks as though it will act as the backbone for Brubaker's third major story arc. It's a compelling sequence which is fantastically illustrated, with Lark and Gaudiano clearly relishing the chance to illustrate a good old-fashioned car chase with a retro 1970s feel thanks to the funky design of the vehicle. The colouring by Matt Hollingsworth is also pitch-perfect, with the various hues of the dark scene feeling almost photographically realistic.
Brubaker certainly doesn't neglect the human side of Matt either, as his selfish reaction to the Gladiator's predicament is perfectly in-character for a hero who has only just been able to get the nightmare of his public out-ing under control. Matt won't defend Melvin Potter because he thinks that taking the case would reflect badly on him, and when he's confronted by his two partners, he's as stubborn as ever - and his slightly self-satisfied arrogance is captured well by the book's artists. However, Brubaker is careful not to paint him as completely unsympathetic, and the fact that he ultimately accepts his friends' charges of hypocrisy speaks well of his moral core. It's great to see Matt return to regular legal work, as it's an aspect of the character which was neglected by the book's previous writer for a long time, and I get the feeling that the current scribe is keen to exploit the inherent drama of Matt's occupation now that his secret identity woes are behind him. The book ends with a couple of cliffhangers - one which suggests that Matt's neglected wife may be in more immediate danger than he imagines, and one which confounds our expectations of where Melvin Potter's story might have been heading. Both make me very keen to read on, and - in addition to the mystery elements of the criminal subplot from earlier in the issue - provide a lot of meat for this latest arc to get its teeth into.
Brubaker has managed to neatly avoid the whole Civil War debacle by moving DD out of the country during that period (and the writer seems to take pains to avoid mentioning details of the event this issue), and I couldn't be happier, as this is one title that is making such a success of its current direction that any interference from the crossover would have undoubtedly had a negative impact on readers' enjoyment of the book. Costumed superheroics, criminal intrigue, legal machinations and human drama; this issue is one of Brubaker's strongest on the title so far, showcasing his ability to reconcile these elements of the book with flair and outlining some compelling plotlines which utilise longtime Daredevil characters in a new and innovative way.
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