Editor's Note: Daredevil #107 arrives in stores Thursday, May 29.
"Cruel & Unusual: Part One of Four"
A while back, two guys named Brubaker and Rucka wrote a book for DC that was illustrated by a third guy named Lark. I never read it, but I hear it was good. Now they're [insert cliché of your choice] and working on a four issue storyline in Daredevil. And from what I've read online, this is fairly cut and dried. Four issues, then Rucka is gone, and Brubaker goes on with another couple of years (at least) of stories. According to Rucka, Brubaker already had the story idea and knew where Matt Murdock's head needed to be at the end in order to move into that next batch of work. They then tossed ideas back and forth with Bru having veto power (as opposed to the 50/50 responsibility and work load they used to share).
So, after reading this issue, I really don't see Rucka's hand in it. But to be fair, I'm not sure I'd recognized Rucka's hand if it was slapping me around in an alley. Maybe they just work that well together. It's not like Immortal Iron Fist where you could at least guess which part of the story was contributed by Brubaker and which by Fraction (although there was never any guarantee that the guesses were accurate). This issue runs like the well-oiled machine that is Daredevil with no discernable impact from the collaboration.
So that's a good thing, I guess. It's good in that the book maintains the solid craftsmanship that is its hallmark. The characters and their situations all flow smoothly from the end of the latest story arc, with Matt again hitting an emotional bottom and needing someone or something to pull him back up. And this time it's a tough case that may do the trick.
Big Ben Donovan is a disbarred lawyer who's done a lot of very bad things. He's not a nice man or even a good person. Now he's confessed to the beheading murders of three children, defended himself in court, and is set to be executed in six days. Luke Cage thinks he's innocent and wants Matt to look into the case. And with that we're off.
Well, not quite, but you get my drift.
The story is pretty basic, as Brubaker's run on Daredevil has tended to be. Basic but solid. The story is meticulously paced, with no wasted space. We open seeing just how DD's anger has gotten the better of him. You really must be an idiot to try to mug someone in Hell's Kitchen these days. What are these criminals thinking? Whatever they were thinking, they now know that surrendering is not an option. No, a good thrashing is really the only possible outcome.
It's a good, if familiar, scene. Most of the rest of the book is dominated by the supporting cast, with the emphasis on Dakota North as she investigates Donovan's murder case.
The real stars of the creative team here are Lark and Gaudiano. Lark lays out each scene with a filmmaker's eye and the confident hand of a master storyteller. Scenes are established with dramatic and realistic opening shots, and then the action that plays out in them is always choreographed and framed to keep the narrative moving. The camera moves around the actors naturally, if you will. Even when we have a page of just two people talking, two people without colorful costumes even, it doesn't get boring. The timing of dialogue is reinforced by the pacing of the panel layouts and then reinforced over again by the characters' clear expressions and body language.
The inking is heavy, sometimes oppressive (in a good way), and really helps to create a distinct world for Daredevil to exist in that looks like no other title in the Marvel catalog. It's a look that occasionally carries echoes in spin-offs and one-shots, but saturates the storytelling here so completely that it is always identifiable as the source. Those photo-realistic backgrounds are made believable thanks to the inking. Color isn't even necessary for this title.
Which isn't a bad thing, since colorist Matt Hollingsworth is fairly limited in the palette available. Everything is murky and grimy and there's very little light to be seen in Hell's Kitchen. That's not his fault. It's just what the story demands. He does a good job adding depth and additional shading, but it's a thankless job. Even in full color this book has a black and white vibe.
So a new storyline kicks off and Matt may find a little bit of peace by the end of it. I wouldn't count on it, but we can always hope. Good, dependable work by everyone involved, with skills in play that make most books on the racks look silly in comparison. Call it a jumping on point and make your friends read it. They'll thank you for it. Or at least they won't beat you senseless in an alley.
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