On a couple of occasions, I’ve come across people on message boards who have absolutely loved the character of Milla Donovan, the first and only woman to ever get Matt Murdock to tie the knot. One guy even went so far as to say that she was one of the best characters to be introduced in Daredevil in recent memory. However, when you look at past Daredevil reviews in various fora, the majority opinion seems to be quite the opposite, with people’s feelings for the character running from lukewarm to ice cold.
Personally, I would say that I have liked the character just fine. No more, and no less. I’ve never been attached to her in the way I am to Foggy or even Dakota and Becky, but I have a hard time fully understanding where the considerable amount of hatred is coming from. To me, Milla’s main weakness as a character has been that after her strong first appearance, even Bendis, the very man who created her (along with Alex Maleev who based her appearance on that of his wife), didn’t quite seem to know what to do with her. When Milla was (permanently?) retired from the book in Daredevil #500, she was, in my opinion, an under-explored character, despite her many appearances. The same thing goes for her and Matt’s marriage. I still have no idea what made them click as a couple or what they really saw in each other.
The fact that Milla is blind could have been used to explore the differences and similarities between her and Matt, as far as their perceptions go, but this was never even touched on. Instead, her disability became a weakness. Many female supporting characters in comics have suffered from being portrayed as perpetual ladies in distress, and with Milla’s increased physical vulnerability, that old stereotype became difficult to avoid. I think her perceived helplessness was also the basis for much of people’s frustration with Milla’s character. Many fans prefer to see Matt with women like Elektra, the Black Widow or Maya, rather than the girl next door. When the girl next door happens to be an un-powered blind woman, that certainly doesn’t appeal to the costume-coveting demographic.
With Milla having been such a polarizing character, I’m looking forward to seeing your input in the comments. I know all of you have an opinion, so let’s hear it! The rest of this post will be devoted to looking at some key events in their stormy relationship. Let’s start at…
Milla was introduced in Daredevil #41, volume 2, first shown walking down the street with her friend Lori, a character who made frequent appearances in Milla’s introductory arc, but never showed up again after that. To his credit, Bendis is clearly going out of his way to avoid the stereotypes, and makes a point of making Milla come across as confident and independent.
Unfortunately for Milla, that independence doesn’t keep her out of trouble this time, as a close collision with a bus lands her on the floor of a clothing store with a superhero on top of her. The first time Matt Murdock tried to save a blind person about to be hit by a car, he wasn’t so fortunate. This time, things turn out a little differently, and mark the beginning of a love affair.
We meet Milla again next issue where she’s having a hard time getting Daredevil out of her head. With the help of her friend Lori, she decides to go after him, in what I suspect is another very conscious choice on Bendis’s part to have Milla act in ways you wouldn’t expect. She’s the one taking charge of the situation, and isn’t content to just sit around waiting for prince charming.
It’s not until the next issue, Daredevil #43, that Milla follows up on her plans to seek out Matt Murdock. For Matt, it appears to be love at first (hm, make that second) sniff, and in the panel below he is shown virtually undressing her with his nose. Throughout their conversation, Matt tries to deny that he is, in fact, Daredevil, but Milla catches him in a lie when he accidentally reveals that he knows more about their first meeting than he should, if he and Daredevil were not one and the same.
Foggy is not convinced that getting involved with a new woman in the middle of a public relations scandal is a great idea, and teases Matt about his choice of beautiful women, despite his inability to actually see them.
At the end of the issue, Matt throws caution to the wind, and goes to Milla’s apartment to meet her. The rest, as they say, is history…
Many things happen between Matt and Milla over the next forty issues. Milla gets a very intense glimpse into Matt’s life on their very first date, when he is arrested for murder. On their second date, Typhoid Mary sets him on fire. (Is it just me, or does dating a superhero seem like a terrible idea?) After Matt takes over as the “Kinpin of Hell’s Kitchen,” the two experience a time of relative calm, though this time period is not explored in any detail in the book. Somewhere along the line, they get married, but the marriage soon falls apart when it’s suggested that Matt might not have been in his right mind when he married her, and that he has yet to get over Karen Page. Milla asks for an annulment of the marriage, and the two are separated for quite some time until Bendis’s last arc when he surprises both readers and the upcoming writer Ed Brubaker, by having Matt and Milla reconcile. Brubaker has more or less admitted that Bendis threw him a curve ball by bringing Milla back. In fact, she doesn’t appear very often in his first two arcs, the first one being set in prison and the second one seeing Matt hitting the rails in Europe. However, with issue #94 (see panels to the left and below), Brubaker does a great job shedding some more light on Milla’s character. As seen here, he appears to try to take the character back to her cockier roots, where she clearly shares her husband’s fearlessness.
The happiness, no matter how frail, doesn’t last long. Not even halfway into his run, Brubaker starts to plot Milla’s demise. His third arc, To the Devil His Due, sees Milla become increasingly erratic. Gradually driven insane by Larry Cranston – Mr Fear – she is taken into custody after killing an innocent bystander by pushing him in front of a subway train in a fit of rage. She is committed, and Matt is put in the unenviable position of watching his wife mentally slip away. The panel below, from Daredevil #104, volume 2, sees Matt coming home to find his wife distraught after assaulting her nurse.
All of Matt’s efforts are for naught, and in Daredevil #105, which I must say was one of my more emotional Daredevil reads, he learns that there is no cure for Milla’s condition. Unable to care for her, he checks her into a mental institution. While I must give Brubaker some credit for not killing her, I wish Milla had met a better fate. Whatever happened to “Dude, I can’t live like this, constantly waiting to be kidnapped by supervillains”? Daredevil is a mature book; while Spider-Man wasn’t allowed to get divorced, I don’t see why that couldn’t have been an option in this case.
Milla shows no signs of recovery, while Matt reluctantly moves on, though still clinging to an idea of responsibility that will not let him completely let her go. When Milla’s parents show up with a mysterious lawyer in tow, to sue for custody, Matt fights them even as he experiences a brief love affair with co-worker Dakota North. Below, in Daredevil #500, Matt finally agrees to meet his parents-in-law’s demands, leaving both his wife and every other aspect of his old life behind to take over the Hand.
This brings us up to the present, and a very uncertain future for Milla. We may never see her again, or she may be dealt with in some way down the line. I would love to see her recover (and get the hell away from Matt), if only to escape the tired Daredevil cliché of having Matt’s women doomed to death or misery. Still, I can see the reason for removing her from the book. She was not a very popular character, plain and simple. She could have been so much more than she was, and she could have been utilized to actually explore the main character, and shed light on everything from his relationships with women to his perception of himself as a super-powered blind man. In the end, she leaves the book as just another statistic.