Editor's Note: Daredevil #501 arrives in stores tomorrow, October 7.
"The Devil's Hand: Part One"
Daredevil has been one of the most consistently strong superhero titles in Marvel's stable for a number of years now. Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's run was a compelling epic that broke Matt Murdock down more thoroughly than ever before, and Ed Brubaker, Stefano Gaudiano and Michael Lark continued the trend with a series of dark storylines in which Daredevil's world continued to crumble, despite his best efforts to keep his life under control.
Hot on the heels of issue #500's big cliffhanger (and the recent Dark Reign: The List special), this issue sees Brubaker, Gaudiano and Lark hand the book over to the new creative team of Andy Diggle and Roberto De La Torre -- and even if this isn't quite as strong an opening issue as Bendis's #26 or Brubaker's #82, there's a sense that the book isn't going to deviate too far from the tone established by the new team's predecessors.
My one big concern about this new run was the possibility that the book's new editor, Stephen Wacker, would try to bring the book into closer proximity with the goings-on of the rest of the Marvel Universe (as I've always felt that Daredevil works better as a solo title, kept as separate as possible from the rest of the MU). Happily, whilst the Dark Reign: The List special did revolve around the machinations of Norman Osborn, the references to "Dark Reign" are only vague and minor here, with a greater emphasis on exploring Daredevil's new position as the leader of the Hand, and the changes that he feels he must make to his approach to superhero work in the wake of his recent encounter with Bullseye.
Not a huge amount actually happens in the issue, but this allows Diggle to introduce his main players in full, for anyone who might be coming the series cold. Whilst there aren't any surprises as far as the cast is concerned, he sketches each character out adequately, providing a rich mixture of personalities that should give him ample opportunity to tell a good old-fashioned Daredevil story. The only possible weakness is with Matt himself, as I'm not sure that Diggle has quite got a handle on his heroic lead yet. Some of Daredevil's dialogue sounds generic and a little cliché (particularly in the opening pages), without much of a sense of the character of Matt Murdock lurking behind his alter-ego's gritty exterior. However, I get the impression that this might be intentional -- at least partially -- in order to show DD's increasing disconnection from his civilian persona.
There's a slight sense that Diggle is holding back on his plotting, too, with the only really surprising development coming at the end of the issue (and even then, I'm not convinced that everything is as it seems). Don't get me wrong, I think that the story has potential: I'm keen to see how Daredevil implements the new approach to crime-fighting that he thinks is necessary, and I'm keen to see how he plans to subvert the Hand to serve his purposes. However, we don't really see much of that here. I'm hoping that Diggle can lend some weight to the surprising cliffhanger from the end of Brubaker's run, because at this point I still don't buy the idea that Matt would really go along with the Hand's offer of leadership (including their brutal, bloodthirsty initiation ceremonies). Personally, I'm holding out hope that this is all a big bluff, and that he's working to destroy the clan from within -- but I guess we'll have to wait and see whether that's the case.
Roberto De La Torre's artwork is strong throughout, sometimes evoking the gritty, textured feel of Alex Maleev's artwork, and sometimes coming close to emulating the grounded, shadowy look of Gaudiano and Lark's visuals. However, he doesn't let the influences of his predecessors overwhelm his own style, which feels a little more generic than those artists, yet is still rich enough in detail and atmosphere that it fits the book well. Colourist Matt Hollingsworth helps to maintain consistency with the previous art teams, bringing the same subdued mixture of hues to the book as he did during Bendis and Brubaker's runs, thus reinforcing the idea that Diggle's run takes place in the very same world as those stories.
Despite being painted into a corner by Brubaker's slightly contrived-feeling cliffhanger, this is a decent first issue from Andy Diggle. It feels as though he's easing himself into the book slowly rather than trying to make his mark immediately, and that's probably a good thing -- particularly since Brubaker's run felt as though it was so abruptly curtailed. It remains to be seen whether he'll be able to match the quality of his predecessors' work on the title, but this is a solid enough start. I'll be interested to see where things go from here.
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