[Since I’m discussing the fallout of the Without Fear arc in this post, it goes without saying that you probably shouldn’t read it if you haven’t read the arc and intend do so “un-spoilered.” That’s why I’m hiding the entire post under a cut. If you reached this page directly, there’s a lovely graphic to keep you safe.]
Have we been here before? Technically, no. The stories that might be inspired by a wife who’s been taken out of commision, but isn’t actually dead, could very well add something new and unique to Matt’s character, and there’s also the very real possibility that she might be brought back into the book at some point (just look at the fact that Melvin Potter suffers from the same thing, and I’m not sure Marvel wants to discard him just like that). Thematically, we have been here before. Many times. I would say too many.
If you were to look at Matt’s life as if he were a real person in his early to mid thirties (let’s say he’s thirty-three), who’s been a superhero since he was twenty-five (that would be since right after law school), you would quickly come to the conclusion that he has led a very intense life. In eight years, he’s fought one major villain about every ten days (counting one villain per issue, a little crude, I know), faked his own death about two or three times, had his secret identity seriously compromised four or five times, and lost no fewer than four current or past girlfriends. He has also had enough mental health crises to last more than a lifetime.
On the one hand, this would seem to be a typical “crowding effect” (yeah, I just made that up) of having a hero age only a few years in fictional time while existing in real time for decades. His stories have to be filled with something and the same old thing seems like a safe bet. At the same time, every time the same thing happens it seems more and more absurd. Four dead girlfriends and a wife in the loony bin in eight years? That suddenly doesn’t make for a very relatable character. Instead, we’re left wondering why he doesn’t put an end to his misery.
So what do you do when you have a character that’s been around this long? Is it possible to change the winning recipe and tell new stories that seem fresh and don’t rehash old themes? I’d like to think so. You do need to keep the status quo, or the basic formula, in mind, but Daredevil’s “bottom line” is not as narrowly defined as some like to think it is. The only real constant thing about him is that he’s a blind lawyer with heightened senses who fights crime. Since Frank Miller, there’s also been that “dark and gritty” element that works well with this character. Other than that, he can be used for almost any kind of story you could imagine. And, they don’t always have to hit this close to home. Having Matt react to and be personally affected by the events of the stories he’s in is one thing, having his friends, family and sanity threatened at every turn is quite another.
Looking specifically at Without Fear, you also need to look at it from the writer’s perspective. A new writer on a book inherits not only a character and a mythos, but a set of given circumstances and a whole host of other characters he or she didn’t invent and may not feel comfortable writing. Brubaker (knowingly) inherited the “Matt in prison as an indirect consequence of being outed” plot, and he inherited Milla. With Matt back from “almost certainly being Daredevil” to just “probably being Daredevil, but people don’t know for sure,” and Milla now effectively out of the picture, some people have looked at this last arc as the final undoing of Bendis’s run. With the exception of what happened to Milla, I don’t see how Brubaker could have played the hand he was dealt any differently. Unless you’re the Fantastic Four, you cannot be an out of the closet superhero indefinitely. Aside from being a great story in and of itself, it’s one with limited potential in the long run, and it might prevent the telling of other even more compelling stories down the line.
When it comes to Milla, I would say that if Brubaker wanted to take her out of the picture in order to build his own platform for the book, he did so in a very creative way. He didn’t kill her, and actually made her non-death matter. In fact, he showcased her decline and Matt’s desparation so skillfully that he even had some of the more hardcore Milla bashers go “Ouch, that’s gotta hurt.” But, as much as I liked the arc, and the way Brubaker found a brand new way to torture Matt, I would say that I’m not in love with the way things are. And, unless Brubaker decides to bring Milla back, a good ol’ divorce would have been a better choice in my opinion.
However, one thing that I actually enjoy about the fall-out of this arc is that a majority of fans and reviewers are now beginning to long for brighter, slightly more upbeat stories. The “give the guy a break!” chorus is becoming more and more vocal, and that’s a good thing. Especially considering that the reason many people give for not reading Daredevil in the first place is that the book is too depressing. Right now, I’d have to agree. Brubaker’s run has been a real favorite of mine so far, but I can’t wait for things to start looking up for Matt.
So, where do we go from here? What are some possible developments? One important element of the first couple of times Matt was brought to the edge, such as in Born Again and the last few issues of the armored costume era, was that Matt was not only “reconstructed,” he stood triumphant. He didn’t just survive, he came out of these crises with a new will to live and a brighter outlook. Too much of the otherwise stellar run since the Dardevil relaunch has been restricted to Matt going from broken to merely coping. There is very little triumph, very little incentive for Matt to go on being Daredevil, and very little reason for him to cancel his lifetime subscription to mail-order Prozac. Constant pain cheapens the pain. And, it cheapens the character. So, I’ll join the chorus. Give the guy a break!
I’m very much looking forward to the Brubaker/Rucka arc starting with Daredevil #107, and I’m interested to see if we’ll get a change of pace and how Brubaker will continue to handle the character. In the end, I’m impressed enough with Brubaker’s obvious talent that I trust that he will do what he feels is right for the character, and right now there seems to be nowhere to go except up. I would love for Matt to win really big, just once. If Brubaker could make that happen, I would be a very happy little fan.