Sunday Slugfest - Daredevil #82

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Michael Bailey, Kelvin Green, Judson Miers, Jason Sacks, Dave Wallace
“The Devil in Cell-Block D”

Michael Bailey

Plot: Matt Murdock is in prison. So who is the person running around as Daredevil in Hell's Kitchen? Matt’s existence in jail grows more precarious as the feds and inmates plot against him. After being forced to fight, Matt is helpless as one of his closest friends is killed.

Commentary: In my assessment of characters I don’t use the alphabet system of breaking them down into A-List, B-List and so on. To me there are no B or C-List characters. There are characters that are a going concern, those I have absolutely no interest in because an incarnation has yet to come along to grab my interest and acquaintances that may fall off the radar for a while until a story or writer comes along to get my attention.

Daredevil is definitely among the latter. I like the character, and I have enjoyed the bulk of the stories that I have come across, but he is not someone I follow on a regular basis. At the same time there are bits and pieces of Daredevil that appeal to me. The suit. The martial arts. The law angle. The fact that he is blind and has a pretty cool ability. All of these come together to make a complex and entertaining character, just not one that yells at me to pick it up every month.

For the time being, that is going to change.

A lot of that has to do with Ed Brubaker. I haven’t followed his run on Captain America for financial reasons, but I am familiar with his Batman work. With Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, Ed created one of the best series of the past decade in Gotham Central. His work mixes the hard boiled/film noir genre along with a lot of characterization, which is tricky. It’s easy to have gruff dialogue and vicious action, but without a center and people to care about, it won't hold up. Even though he is working in the super-hero genre, his writing always feels like this is a crime story or police procedural that has someone running around in a costume.

This feeling carries over with his first issue of Daredevil. “The Devil in Cell-Block D” had one of the best opening scenes I have ever read. As someone who doesn’t regularly follow the book, the reveal that Matt Murdock is in jail had a lot of impact. Add to that, the fact that there is a mystery Daredevil, and the trap is sprung. I was hooked.

Brubaker doesn’t let up either. The pacing was seamless as the plot unfolded. Brubaker hit all of the beats of what it would be like to have Matt in prison. He addresses what the environment would do to someone with Matt’s gifts, how his enemies would react to having him inside with them and how unpleasant prison life can be. I enjoy when writers make the villains truly despicable people, as long as it is true to the story. In the past it was easy to say that villain-of-the-month was in prison and escaped, but what were they like on the inside? It has become more common for super-hero writers to try and be realistic about prison life, and Brubaker’s style lends itself to that type of storytelling.

Brubaker also gave me as a passing fan of Daredevil who likes certain aspects of the character everything I could want. Foggy was there to cover the legal aspect, and Brubaker gave just enough detail not to drown the reader in legalese. There was a really great fight scene, and frankly if you are going to put a character like Matt Murdock in prison, you have to have the scene where a bunch of inmates surround him, forcing him to fight. Brubaker had the perfect Daredevil fight even though it was Matt in his prison jammies instead of the red jammies. There was the rough, violent leg breaking stuff but also the graceful acrobatic moves as well. Then there was the use of Matt’s radar sense which made for the most dramatic and heartbreaking scene in the book. All of the tools were there, and Brubaker used them well.

Brubaker also brought in Dakota North, which was awesome.

It would be heresy not to mention Michael Lark. I will admit that it took me a while to get used to his art in Gotham Central, but once I did, I really started digging it. Brubaker wrote a great story, but without Lark’s artwork and the cinematic quality he brought to the page, it would not have been as good as it was. It is amazing to me that just as the writing in comics have advanced in terms of how the writer tells a story, it is great to see that an artist can come in and do pages of small panels with talking heads and it be more riveting than any overblown splash page. Lark provides the realism that I believe Brubaker is trying to bring to the page, and he makes the world that Matt is currently in so dirty and dark that you can’t help but think that this guy is really in jail.

In The End: What an ending. What a freaking amazing ending. Brubaker and Lark pulled off a fantastic introductory story that makes you want to come back for more. The drama and action are in perfect balance, and the shock ending was a major punch in the stomach for those who weren’t expecting it. If nothing else, Brubaker and Lark have created a story that would make both regular and casual readers want to take notice. Brubaker has the potential and ability to be the best Daredevil writer since Frank Miller, and I have a feeling that this story will stand as one of the best Daredevil stories ever told.

Kelvin Green

Well, this is a bit of an exercise in inconsistency, isn’t it?

On one hand, Brubaker does a good job of setting things up in his first issue; the mystery of the identity of the replacement “Daredevil” is immediately compelling, although one panel in particular does perhaps give it away (unless, of course, it’s Ronin), and there’s some particularly good work building up the tension between Foggy Nelson’s friendship to Matt Murdock and his professional integrity as a lawyer. On the other hand, this isn’t the most friendly of jumping-on points for new readers; this comic reads like a continuation of Bendis’s run rather than a bold new direction (although that said, more happens in this one issue than in four Bendis issues). In terms of tone and setting, that’s perfectly understandable, as the noirish aspect is presumably one of the reasons the book has been as popular as it is with its fanbase, and it would be rather foolish to abandon that. However, Marvel seem to be trying to put this change in creative teams across as a good jumping-on point, but the continuation is so slick and seamless that it undermines that intention to some extent. We’re told all the important stuff we need to know about the cast in nicely subtle and economic ways, but conversely, important parts of the actual ongoing narrative are left out; we know Murdock’s in jail but we don’t really know why, beyond some vague muttering about him being on trial for “being Daredevil.” This kind of thing must be obvious to long term adherents of this title, but I can’t see new readers making much headway. Much as Marvel claim that this issue is for a new audience, it rather seems more for regular Bendis-Daredevil readers; Marvel are showing that the names on the cover might have changed, but that long term readers should feel content in the knowledge that the same sort of stories are being told.

There are also a number of clumsy moments that seem more like the work of a novice writer than an experienced comics scribe like Brubaker. There’s rather too much in the way of pretentious flowery prose, especially at the beginning of the comic, and there’s a rather odd moment towards the end of the book in which Brubaker seems to be at a loss with what to do with new cast member Dakota North and so deals with her in a manner which could be called sexist by a less generous reviewer. And right at the end, we get the Kingpin chortling to himself with an incongruous Beavisesque “Heh heh heh,” which really doesn’t seem to fit the tone of the comic as a whole, and which would have worked much better if just presented as a “silent” panel of the crime lord smiling to himself. But as if to highlight the strange contradictions in Brubaker’s writing, that closing sequence, details aside, is very well done, effectively making use of Daredevil’s powers to generate unease in the run up to the cliffhanger. And an earlier scene between Foggy and Ben Urich struggling to discuss Daredevil’s situation as friends, while aware all the time of their jobs and the restrictions they place on honesty, just sizzles with uncertainty and anxiety.

The inconsistencies in the writing don’t transfer to the art, as this is a great looking comic. I generally prefer Michael Lark’s work to that of other recent artists on this title; while he is just as strong at characterisation and conveying mood as Alex Maleev, for example, he also seems more assured and confident regarding the action sequences, particularly when Daredevil is in costume. In particular, the opening fight is a wonderfully vivid piece that shows that Lark is coming out determined to make a splash with his
first issue. Colourist Frank D’Armata proves to be a great match for Lark’s linework, although part of me does wish the US fanbase wasn’t so deathly afraid of black and white comics, as I think this title would work so very well in that format.

(Of late, I’ve been imagining a sadly hypothetical resurrection of Marvel’s old 70’s black and white horror line, and Lark would fit in nicely there, alongside Ryan Sook and Frazer Irving, my other picks so far.)

This isn’t the most confident and impressive debut from Brubaker, but I know he is capable of better, so I’ll put the flaws here down to opening night nerves. Otherwise, it looks like Brubaker is going to easily provide the sort of stories that fans of the Bendis run have been reading up until now, and while that’s never really caught my interest, maintaining this title’s quiet success with its existing fanbase is perhaps the most important goal for Marvel. Daredevil #82 could be better, but it’s probably good enough.

Judson Miers

To start off, I haven’t been following Daredevil all that closely over the years. In fact, it was the Daredevil movie that just sort of tipped me off the fence about Daredevil. The last Daredevil issue I read was the first issue of the Redemption mini-series for a Sunday Slugfest, and I didn’t like it.

After having laid the groundwork, I’m stoked about this storyline. According to the issue, Matt Murdock is in prison on suspicion of actually being Daredevil. To make matters worse, he’s in the same prison as such notable baddies as Hammerhead and the Kingpin! If you’ve visited the MU further than the X-related titles, you know how dangerous the Kingpin is. Not only is he a master of hand-to-hand combat, insanely devious, and as patient as a glacier, he’s also the size of house and strong enough to be more than a fight for a dozen normal men! While Matt is trying to survive prison and the inevitable showdown with some of Daredevil’s old enemies, another individual has donned the red horned jammies to fight crime. Poor Foggy!

Overall, I can feel a new life being breathed into a staple of the MU. The artwork is appropriately gritty and shadowy, the dialogue was believable, and the story has legs. I can’t wait to see how this little story finally ends up!!!

Jason Sacks

I’m going to try hard not to make this review a commentary on the work of Brian Michael Bendis. He had a long and mostly illustrious run on Daredevil, and he’s now moved along. Ed Brubaker has taken over from BMB, and this is Bru’s first issue. So, not considering anything that Bendis did, how’s the comic?

Awfully damn good, that’s how it is. Matt Murdock is in Federal prison, basically for being Daredevil. At the same time, there’s somebody parading around Hell’s Kitchen in a Daredevil outfit, fighting the bad guys. Nobody really believes the man in Hell’s Kitchen actually is Daredevil, but still, there he is, fighting crime while displaying DD’s moves.

Meanwhile, in prison, Murdock is having a rough time of it. He’s not in the general population because he’s blind, at least legally, but that’s being challenged because everyone believes he’s Daredevil. Murdock’s lawyer, his longtime friend Foggy, is trying everything he can to help Matt. Finally, when visiting Matt one day, something unexpected happens, and the story takes a very frightening twist.

This is an intense and interesting issue. The prison setting adds a whole level of menace to the story, since it’s almost impossible to find a more realistic scary place, especially since villains such as Hammerhead, the Black Tarantula and the Kingpin are there. Matt Murdock’s been on a downhill slide for most of the Bendis run, and this first Brubaker issue accelerates the slide.

Michael Lark’s art adds grit and realism to the story. Brubaker and Lark were always a good team on Gotham Central, presenting an intensely street-level view of a cop’s life. Here in Daredevil, they do the same for our hero in prison, and a nasty life it is. Brubaker and Lark build on Bendis’s mythos for the series. Nothing comes easy for our hero. Everything comes with moral compromises, and the biggest compromise is Matt’s freedom.

I can’t wait to see where this book goes next.

Dave Wallace

This issue ushers in a new era for Daredevil, and it’s a welcome gear change, as -although I enjoyed the climax of Bendis and Maleev’s run last issue - there has recently been a growing sense that a new direction for the title was long overdue. That said, Brubaker takes advantage of the extensive groundwork laid by Bendis over the past few years to continue Matt’s story in such a way that the story feels like an incredibly smooth (almost imperceptible) transition, picking up a lot of the threads which were left dangling during Bendis’ run, yet adding in enough of his own ideas to make this first issue stand out from his predecessor’s body of work.

One of those ideas is introduced with the issue’s opening page, as a mysterious “new” Daredevil is seen taking out some thugs before being caught on tape by some kids filming the action out of a nearby window. It’s an interesting new wrinkle in the story of Matt’s out-ing which isn’t explored in a huge amount of detail this issue, but definitely holds potential for the future and the eventual trial of Matt. Indeed, there’s more hope regarding our hero’s fate in this issue that Bendis ever dared to suggest when Matt was at his lowest ebb, and as Foggy and Matt talk through their possible defences (juries apparently still “don’t really understand DNA yet,” and there’s also a mention of how impossible it would be for the Feds to prove that Matt isn’t blind) there’s a sense that they definitely have a fighting chance. However, Brubaker is also canny enough to cut straight to the core of the moral problem regarding Matt’s continual denial of what is ultimately The Truth, and even if the prospect of Matt and Foggy committing perjury isn’t resolved in this issue, it’s definitely laid bare for further exploration.

Brubaker also works hard to imagine exactly how imprisonment might affect a hero like Daredevil, both in physical terms - we get to see how the thick prison walls and constant noise is making it hard for Matt to keep a handle on his senses – and in terms of the emotional toll. When we learn that Matt’s marriage is breaking down because talking to Milla only makes it feel as though the walls are closing in even closer, it feels very genuine and heartfelt rather than a forced emotional beat. Matt hasn’t yet been broken by the system, but the cracks are definitely beginning to show - and Foggy’s allusion to the hero’s past psychological breakdowns doesn’t augur well for future issues. In fact, Brubaker makes Foggy as much part of the book as Matt in this issue, and it’s not a moment too soon as the character has long been due an opportunity to prove that he has storytelling potential beyond the bumbling sidekick role which is so often used as a crutch for comic relief. His discussion with Ben Urich is one of the high points of the issue, touching on the subtleties and ambiguities of both characters’ relationship with Daredevil in a way which not only shows that Brubaker has a solid understanding of the trio’s history, but also that he has the writing chops to take their relationships forward in a very logical and organic way.

As well as all this talk, we also get a few moments of very solid action - for which much of the credit must go to Michael Lark. I never read this creative team’s previous and well-received work on Gotham Central, but the reports of their high-quality work do not seem to have been exaggerated, as this issue shows how effective comicbook storytelling can be when the writer and artist are really gelling together. An awesome panel shows the raw power of a naked Kingpin’s colossal form fending off attackers in the prison showers, and another sequence brings to mind some of the best work of Alex Maleev as Matt takes on a sea of fellow prisoners without the protection and anonymity offered by a gaudy superhero costume. As well as the action scenes, there’s also more subtle work to be found here as many small details show the care with which this issue’s art has been created. Whether it’s the almost-unnoticeable Daredevil-shaped shadow in Matt’s prison cell (which I missed on first reading) or the subtle difference in body language between the “new” Daredevil and the Daredevil we know and love, it’s clear that Lark is paying close attention to his craft.

The only part of the issue that didn’t work so well for me is the heavily trailed plot development at the end of the issue. Whilst it’s a more brutal and viscerally shocking moment than I expected, it’s also the least well-executed, feeling as though it was included purely as a shock ending to punctuate an issue which is strong enough that it really doesn’t require it. That said, Brubaker is known for plotting his arcs pretty tightly and not tipping his hand too early (see his recent work on Captain America), so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and see what he makes of this plot twist in future issues. My only other slight concern is that Brubaker occasionally slips too far into Batman territory with his writing of Daredevil, as the grim-n-gritty opening voice-over and the section where the “new” Daredevil silently disappears after a brief rooftop confrontation with Foggy felt just a little too similar to scenes which have become too cliché for the Dark Knight to really be effective in their own right, even in another title. That said, it’s only a small niggle, and certainly one which doesn’t drag the issue down as a whole. This is really an excellent jumping-on point, and with a lot of content for your $2.99 – at a bumper-sized 40 pages, with no ads – it’s well worth picking up even if you haven’t been following the series so far. For longtime fans of Bendis’ run however, it’s even more worthy of attention, because on the strength of this issue it’s difficult to imagine any other creative team picking up where Bendis and Maleev left off and running with it so effectively.

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