This review contains spoilers and my going off on a little rant. Consider yourselves warned.
Here’s the thing; Andy Diggle is a really good writer. He’s done a good job with the Daredevil book, especially given the unusual predicament that Ed Brubaker left the main character in. Daredevil #508 was a masterpiece, one of the best issues I’ve read in years. Diggle also wrote the sensationally well-plotted The Losers, which was ripe with witty dialogue, intelligent plot twists, and great characterizations. Why am I telling you this? Well, what I guess I’m trying to say is that Diggle is a much better writer than this. With this issue, Shadowland took a complete nose dive.
There are no ifs and buts about it. To me, Shadowland #3 was a massive disappointment. But, to be clear, I’m getting a growing sense that I’m not the target audience for this kind of story. I love that the Daredevil book and Matt Murdock as a character speak to me as a mature reader who gets a kick out of character-heavy, grounded stories where the supernatural is kept to a minimum. I’ve always liked that Daredevil is not your typical superhero. He’s a modern take on a classic, a character that has changed with the times, and managed to shed many of the cliches which have prevented at least my enjoyment of certain other books in the genre.
While I felt that Shadowland #1 and #2 left much to be desired, I was still hopeful that Shadowland would develop in a direction that I’d be able to enjoy, especially considering the kind of work Diggle and Johnston had been doing on the Daredevil title. Very little of that hope remains, and I’m looking to Daredevil #510 to save what’s left of my interest in this event.
Shadowland #3 lacks everything that has made Daredevil such a great read for so many years, including the main character. This version of Daredevil has turned into a caricature of his evil self, and nothing remains of Matt Murdock. I realize this is part of the point (and I take no issue with the possession aspects per se, aside from the fact that I generally like less mysticism in my Daredevil comic), but it does kind of kill my interest.
To add insult to injury, the dialogue – an area in which Diggle has usually performed admirably – is cringeworthy in places. Why does Moon Knight copy Daredevil’s “Damn it all to hell” expression when it’s really not the kind of thing people say a lot (which makes it stand out)? Why does Daredevil – now possessed and in a rage – say “Consider my ban on killing hereby lifted!” before he orders his ninjas to “Slay them all!”? It just sounds awkward and out of place, not to mention completely redundant. And I know Spidey is supposed to be witty, but “Maybe one of your ninja baristas could whip us up a frappucino and biscotti!” is not that funny. At all. And why is the first thing ouf of Shang-Chi’s mouth after their escape “I am no longer the master of kung-fu… that title must now pass to Matt Murdock.”? Really, Shang-Chi? You’ve just fought a clearly possessed man who is supposedly a friend of yours and your biggest concern is that he now beats you at kung-fu? I just don’t buy it.
There are parts of the plot that I’m not really getting either. Are the first two pages of Moon Knight fighting just showing how he imagined it happening in his head? If not, it contradicts what happened last issue since he wasn’t fighting any ninjas when Ghost Rider burst on the scene. Maybe I’m misunderstanding what’s happening here, but it’s confusing. Then there’s the always silly element of the huge fight and the conversation meant to reason with the bad guy happening at the same time, yet the fight appears to pause for this conversation to take place.
Also, some of the characters seem to know more than they should. In the beginning, when Ghost Rider shows up, he tells Moon Knight: “This ain’t a game, an’ I ain’t playin’, moon man. More like I’m the one being played.” To this, Moon Knight says: “How’d you figure that? How the hell could someone else make the Spirit of Vengeance dance to his tune…?” Well, the thing is, Ghost Rider isn’t exactly saying that, is he? In fact, he’s being really vague and mysterious about the whole thing. I’m sure Moon Knight could make the kind of inference that he makes from what Ghost Rider is saying, but it sounds like a stretch to me, as if he knows what the reader knows when he really can’t. A similar situation happens after the fight when the heroes find people looting in the streets. Danny reacts to this with “Isn’t it obvious? Whatever dark power Matt’s tapped into up there — it’s spreading!” In this case, I as a reader have to wonder, how is this obvious? How does Danny know that this is in any way related to what happened to Matt? There was an obvious assault on Daredevil’s strong hold, maybe the same people who would resort to looting during a riot decided to do the same thing here. It’s nice that the characters help tell the story, but they shouldn’t be telling it as if they’re the ones writing it.
Speaking of things happening to Matt, this issue sees him get a power upgrade to go with his possession which results in him bouncing around for much of the issue. Not a big fan of this at all. By the time we get to the part where he decides to dig up Bullseye, I’ve already stopped caring about whether anything that happens in this issue is either in character or even logical.
Billy Tan’s artwork improved greatly last issue. Here, it feels a little bit more uneven again. Some pages are beautiful, but others are hard to follow and the fight scene could have benefited from a different approach and more fluidity.
At the end of the day, I realize that this may not be for me. My complaints may seem like nit-picking, and you just have to go to the CBR boards to get a very different view of this issue, but I have to be honest about how I feel. Yes, Frank Castle makes a cool entrance, I agree, but this story has to be about more than cool moments and big fight scenes. Shadowland is supposed to be about the battle for the soul of New York – and that of Matt Murdock – but I’m left wondering about the soul of the whole event.
We’ve seen a lot of news about the future of Daredevil and Matt Murdock in the last month or so, and I can’t say that I’m particularly worried that Matt will die (at least for very long) or that the character will sustain any kind of long-term damage from spending time as a villain. But I will say that, unless Daredevil #510 manages to change the direction of this event, whatever the future brings can’t come soon enough. What started out as an exciting roller-coaster of an event has turned into a bumpy ride, and I’d rather just fast forward to the end.