Not-so-random Review – Roulette (vol 1, #191)

Daredevil 191 cover

Daredevil 191 cover

Nope, I didn’t consult the random number generator for this one. Daredevil #191 was reprinted in Daredevil #500, and while including old content might be considered padding (well, it is), this Frank Miller classic was a very good choice. In fact, Daredevil #191 may well be my favorite single issue of Daredevil, or at least in the top three.

For starters, the art makes me take notice in a way most issues do not. Unusual angles, perspectives and panel layouts combined with the generous use of negative space makes Roulette an interesting-looking issue. It provides sufficient detail while guiding the reader along.

The story itself is told mostly in the form of a monologue, as Matt Murdock pays a visit to a the hospital bed of the now paralyzed Bullseye. Unable to move, or even speak, Bullseye has no choice but to listen to what Daredevil has to say, his first order of business being to introduce Bullseye to a game of Russian Roulette.

Introductory panel to Daredevil #191, by Frank Miller
Second panel, Daredevil #191, by Frank MillerSubsequent panel, Daredevil #191, by Frank Miller

Daredevil begins his story in an unusually sarcastic tone, which along with the gun he’s carrying suggests that he’s balancing on the edge of sanity…

“You must be wondering why I came here, Bullseye. Why Daredevil, Man Without Fear, idol of millions, wastes a lovely autumn evening in the company of his deadliest enemy. The answer’s simple enough. I’m here to play a game with you. It’s called roulette, but not the kind you play in a casino.”

After the first round, Daredevil launches into a story that touches on both his lives, the one behind the mask, and the one as Matt Murdock, the lawyer. The story he feels such a compelling need to tell revolves around the child Chuckie, the son of a client of Matt Murdock’s who’s developed a fascination with Daredevil. It turns out that Chuckie has been spending hours every day watching his video tape of Daredevil’s televised fight with Bullseye, and he gives Matt quite a shock by insisting that he, in fact, is Daredevil.

Driven by his need to find out more about his effect on the young boy, Matt pays a visit to Chuckie’s school, in costume, and gives him the experience of a lifetime. He indulges Chuckie’s fantasies, and in doing so makes his first mistake. His second mistake is following a lead given to him by Chuckie regarding his father’s whereabouts when he should have been looking after the boy, which leads inevitably to mistake number three. Catching Hank Jurgens, Chuckie’s father, being blackmailed to hide evidence supporting the embezzlement accusations against him, Daredevil knocks him unconscious while Chuckie watches on.

Distraught by seeing his father’s encounter with his biggest hero, Chuckie’s loses his fragile grasp of reality and withdraws from the world. Later, on the day of his father’s sentencing, Chuckie brings a gun to school, injuring a classmate, and forces Matt to take a long hard look at himself and the kind of example he represents to the world around him. He tells Bullseye…

“So, I keep asking myself, again and again… What made Chuckie like he was? What am I giving people by running around in tights and punching crooks? What am I showing them? Am I showing them that good wins out, the crime does not pay, that the cavalry is always on its way — or am I showing them that any idiot with fists for brains can get his way if he’s fast enough and mean enough? Am I fighting violence — or teaching it?”

The way Matt tells Chuckie’s story is calm and rational, almost subdued, but there is no denying the impact of these events on him; or the reader for that matter. Roulette is a very powerful story in its simplicity, framed by the rounds of Russian roulette that sees empty round after empty round go by until everyone, including Bullseye, knows that the bullet is meant for him.

However, not all is at it seems. In the final pages, Matt continues his story with the same kind of candor that characterized his portrayal of Chuckie and talks about his father, his life and the things that matter to him. He talks about his hatred of Bullseye and his desire to see him gone. Still, because Matt is who he is, there is only one way for the story to end; with a gun that has no bullets.

The tension and drama of this issue are extraordinary and keeps you hooked until the very end. For me, this is an issue I have returned to many times, and it has never failed to touch me, or make me notice something new. It’s very Daredevil, very Frank Miller, and just a damn good story.

Comments

  1. Bill says

    I think we forget, or at least I forget, that this was a transition period from being the Scarlet Swashbuckler to the brooding man without fear we know today. This was the issue that, to my mind, completely turned that corner. That’s why Miller is great. That’s why Miller is terrible (in that I miss that Scarlet Swashbuckler). And it’s certainly why we’re about this story 25 + years later. Great post.

  2. Aaron K. says

    I think one of the great parts about this issue is that, on a first reading, you actually find yourself believing that Matt is going to kill either himself or Bullseye. How often can you say that in a mainstream comic book? This was early enough in Bullseye’s reincarnation that he could actually be killed off and it certainly seemed that Frank Miller was intent on making Matt a much darker, more tortured hero. That suspense really drove this issue for me – will he or won’t he? The final page always forced something of a sigh of relief from me, a muted “Wow, that was close!” As the cover suggests, it really is a fight for Matt’s soul – a fight he wins.

    Wonderful choice, Christine! (And it’s DD #191; you have it as that and #119.) :)

  3. says

    I definitely rate this within my top ten single issue, which I will post about soon, I hope. It’s just a wickedly written piece of comic. Possibly even faultless. And it’s DD, so it all aligns for me.
    Thanks for the write up, always nice to be reminded of the classics as often as possible.

  4. says

    Great review of a classic Miller story. This was one of my favorites that was collected in vol 3 of the Miller Visionaries trade. Going to go back and reread my copy now!

  5. Cerd the nerd says

    You are assuming that Daredevil is talking.

    It could just as easily be that he is silent and the text is his internal monologue.

    That’s the way I’ve always read it.

    I suspect Miller wrote it ambiguously, so that it could be either way.

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