Editor's Note: Daredevil #500 arrives in stores tomorrow, August 19.
With this issue, Daredevil becomes the latest in a long line of Marvel titles to revert to its original numbering just in time for a big anniversary. As with the recent six-hundredth issues of Thor, Captain America, Amazing Spider-Man and Hulk, that means an extra-sized celebratory issue featuring a whole host of creators.
However, Daredevil's anniversary issue is slightly different from those other books in that it's also notable for providing the closing chapter of the current creative team's run on the book.
Ever since it was announced that Ed Brubaker was going to be leaving the title after this issue (to be replaced by Andy Diggle), I've found myself wondering if and how he would find the time to wrap up the many plot strands that he's left dangling over the course of his many arcs. As the "Return of the King" arc has progressed, I've found myself increasingly concerned that not enough was being done to bring Brubaker's big picture to a close by the time the final issue was over. This left me thinking that one of two things was likely: either the writer was planning such a seamless handover to Diggle that these elements would continue into his successor's run on the book (to be resolved at a later date) or the majority of his outstanding subplots were going to have to be hurriedly wrapped up in the space of a single issue. Unfortunately, there's more of a sense here of the latter, as Brubaker brings most of his story strands to a sudden crescendo in a manner that doesn't really do justice to the complex build-up of the last few years of stories.
Admittedly, Brubaker's finale is more-or-less double the length of a regular issue, so there's more room here to wrap things up than you might expect. However, there are so many different subplots and character relationships to pay off that each of the issue's many "endings" feels a little too simple and convenient. Matt's goodbye to Milla, the resolution of her parents' legal action against him, the rescue of Dakota, and the way in which the Owl, Lady Bullseye and the Kingpin are despatched with all feel as though they could have benefited from far more time and attention. Equally, new developments (such as Master Izo's "man on the inside") feel as though they come out of nowhere, existing only to facilitate a quick and neat wrap-up of the story. The feeling is like that of a person hurriedly packing a suitcase to go away on holiday: everything is crammed in, things are randomly packed into spaces that are really too small to hold them, and you just hope that you've managed to remember to include everything that you wanted to.
The story is punctuated by small flashback scenes, such as a revisitation of Matt's hospital experiences after the accident that gave him his powers, or an ancient exchange between Master Izo and Stick. Whilst these backwards-looking interludes concerning Izo's backstory would be fine for a regular issue, they detract some attention from this big finale -- which already has a lot of work to do in tying up all the loose ends of Brubaker's run on the book -- and doesn't actually add a huge amount to the story at hand, other than to flesh out Izo's character a little more fully. I can't help but feel that this space could have been put to better use giving the present-day sections of the story more time to breathe.
Even the artwork feels a little rushed in places, with Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano providing visuals that tell the story very well (as ever), but that feel a little less polished than usual. There's a rough texture to the artwork that may be intentional, but may simply be due to a lack of time to give the pages their usual slick finish. Also, the Stick/Master Izo flashbacks are given ugly bright-red and olive-green borders that undermine the delicate, pale look of the artwork within.
Much has been made of the cliffhanger ending that Brubaker has left for Andy Diggle to resolve, and whilst it's an interesting (if slightly predictable) development, I don't feel the same sense of tension and anticipation that I did when Bendis handed over to Brubaker. I won't spoil it here, but it's not a development that I see lasting a particularly long time, as it shifts the book's focus a little too far from the core Matt Murdock concept to really feel sustainable.
On its own, this story would probably rate 2.5 bullets, as it's a disappointing ending to an otherwise excellent run on the book. However, this being an anniversary issue, Marvel has packed the book with a lot of extra content, and these extra stories raise the overall rating slightly, despite the increased price of the issue.
The second story appears to be a preview of Dark Reign: The List -- Daredevil (an unwieldy title if ever I've heard one). As a direct tie-in to the current "Dark Reign" status quo, it's a bit of an anomaly for the regular Daredevil title, which has by and large avoided any significant tie-ins to Marvel Universe happenings in recent years. Still, it gives us an early look at Andy Diggle writing Matt Murdock, and sets up a direct conflict between Bullseye and DD in the near future -- even if it's not yet clear how some of the details fit with the ending that Brubaker provides in the main story.
The third story, "3 Jacks," by Ann Nocenti and David Aja, is a quiet little vignette that sees Daredevil encounter a pair of quirky characters at a fairground who help to bring him around after a fight with Bullseye. Whilst it's not quite as profound as it seems to think it is, it's an enjoyable, thoughtful story, with terrific art by Aja, who employs a bold, well-defined style that evokes the simplicity of more old-fashioned comics artwork whilst still feeling delicately and carefully crafted.
The package is rounded off by a selection of pinups (by such luminaries as John Romita, Geoff Darrow, David Mack, Joe Quesada, and Patrick Zircher -- even Bendis draws one of them!) the usual cover gallery (tiny reproductions of the cover of every one of Daredevil's 500 issues) and a reprint of an old DD story in full. The reprint is Daredevil #191, the classic "Roulette" story. It was the last issue of Frank Miller's original run on the book, addressing the relationship between Daredevil and Bullseye, whilst also acting as a precursor to Miller's later work, such as the noir-drenched Sin City. Most DD fans will probably already have the issue in their collection somewhere, but it's still difficult to think of a better choice for an old standalone issue to reprint here.
Taken as a whole, this issue provides a few treats that temper a slightly disappointing conclusion to a run that I've otherwise enjoyed. Ed Brubaker began his work on the book with Michael Lark way back on 15th February 2006, and the team's three-and-a-half year tenure roughly equals the length of Bendis and Maleev's run. The stories they told were often just as good as those of their much-lauded predecessors, and I could have happily seen Brubaker continue on the book for much longer: he certainly didn't seem short on story ideas. It's not for me to second-guess the machinations of Marvel's editorial process, so I don't know who ended up making the decision to cut Daredevil from Brubaker's long list of projects, but on the strength of this concluding chapter, it seems to be one that has abruptly curtailed his overarching story, forcing him to rush the conclusion of many plot strands that might have been more satisfying had they played out at a more natural pace. However, I'm not going to turn my nose up at a solid three-and-a-half years of stories just because this final issue was slightly fumbled, and I'm going to approach Andy Diggle's run on the book with an open mind, in the hope that he can turn this issue's lukewarm cliffhanger into a compelling backbone for his opening arc on the book.
Plot: Ed Brubaker ends his run on Daredevil as the story converges on the Hand.
Comments: Andy Diggle has his work cut out for him when he takes the reins of Daredevil next month. Leaving Matt Murdock in an interesting position with a new set of responsibilities (and potentially enemies) the book could go forward in some challenging directions, but I could also see it becoming a dour take on the wonderful Agents of Atlas if the new creative team makes the decision to go the simplest route with the material.
As for the current issue – well it's been a long time coming as the "Return of the King" arc has seemingly been going for about a year or more. Things that I really enjoyed about the latest story pitting DD against the clan of mystical super ninjas – the endless machinations, the retreating more and more behind the mask, Kingpin's reluctant return to crime – each was a familiar trope made fresh again and subsequently undone by the interminable length of the storyline.
I wonder how much of the pacing was determined by the need to gain synchronicity from the 500th issue. To a certain extent it has to be assumed that some of the story was reverse engineered from the end of the arc back, leading to pacing that at times felt leaden with story beats dragged out beyond normal tolerance levels. This also has the impact of making the events occurring in this issue kind of a foregone conclusion.
Not to say there was no enjoyment to be taken from this conclusion – Matt, his friends, the Kingpen, Lady Bullseye, and the Hand all end up where they're logically supposed to be after everything is said and done. There are a couple of twists and revelations that give new context to earlier events and a little background on Master Izo showing his involvement in the proceedings (and even providing some tweaks to Matt's origin story). It's executed quite well and leaves enough balls up in the air for Andy Diggle to juggle when he takes the book over.
Given that it's a 500th issue we get several backups and art support by some luminaries. It's good to have Klaus Janson back, even if only temporarily and the mezzo mezzo "3 Jacks" story brings Ann Nocenti back to the book alongside Brubaker collaborator David Aja. We get a sample of Andy Diggle's upcoming work on the book with a preview of the Dark Reign: The List DD book and while I'm unsure what it bodes for Diggle's future work on Daredevil I can tell you with some certainty that I could care less for this mini given the tired bases it seems to cover and how it essentially contradicts Norman Osborne's M.O. to date when it comes to criminal organizations.
The issue also reprints one of stronger single issues from Frank Miller's run on the title – issue #191 which sees Daredevil in full costume playing a game of Russian Roulette with a paralyzed Bullseye as the former mulls over the impact that their violence has on the community. It's an excellent story but I'm not sure how it ties in to the current issue or storyline (particularly its resolution).
Final Word: It's all very solid work from all involved (even if Diggle makes an inauspicious start with the character in his backup) and it's a fitting commemoration of the character after 500 issues.
If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at Monster In Your Veins
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