When Colin Bell (of ComicBooked.com) and I talked about Daredevil, he asked if I had any favorite issues. Aside from my all time favorite Daredevil #191 (Roulette), the others on my top ten list are difficult to rank, but one issue that’s dear to my heart is Daredevil #304 by D.G. Chichester, with pencils by Ron Garney. So, for no other reason than nostalgia – as well as being able to provide a demonstration of “simple” often being brilliant – here’s a little spotlight of one of my most cherished nuggets from the Daredevil archives.
Daredevil #304 – 34 Hours
“34 Hours” is a play on the issue number (or so I assume), and the issue is as close to a day-in-the-life-of story as you’re going to find in Daredevil. While I’m not ordinarily a huge fan of issues where Matt appears only in costume, this is a very character-driven tale that takes place in various places around New York. Interestingly, Daredevil is never portrayed as being the center of the story, watching instead from the sidelines and inserting himself into other people’s “stories,” saving the day as needed.
The title “34 Hours” is a reference to the timeframe during which the issue takes place and the full meaning of it is explained at the very end of the issue, through the use of captions:
“Daredevil knows the streets, while the man named Matt Murdock who lives behind the mask knows the statistics. A “normal” day means a murder every 3 hours, 55 minutes. It’s the rare 24 goes by that spares a human life. And when it does, it’s not that a city’s protectors have been provided a much-needed breather… it’s that some family’s been saved from another tragedy. It comes from less than an avenue away, with the suddenness of a serpent’s strike. A moist-sounding whistle-slash of steel cutting deep into flesh. Anguished gasp dwindling, vanishing under the all-too familiar copper reek of blood. 34 hours out of the entire year.”
It’s not clear whether Matt Murdock gets any sleep at all during these 34 hours, but his first heroic act comes from saving the life of a small child whose stroller is caught in the closing doors of a subway car. While the scene is dramatic, there is no violence or malice at play (though one might argue that there’s negligence on behalf of the subway operator). Daredevil gets to play the role of the kind of hero who is just as happy rescuing cats from trees as he is throwing tough guys through the window of Josie’s Bar.
His next act of heroism is even more mundane. A young woman – a small town tourist, no less – is trying to catch a cab when an arrogant hot shot New Yorker cuts ahead of her and takes her cab. Daredevil, in an act of chivalry, pulls the man out of the cab and instructs the woman to get in. No lives at stake, just a man in a costume trying to make NYC a little bit more pleasant.
As the hours pass, the level of violence escalates and Daredevil’s further adventures are told mostly through the captions which are sprinkled liberally across every panel. Chichester strikes a rather interesting balance between the restraint and emotional detachment of a seasoned news reporter and his distinctive “senses writing” which offers us Daredevil’s perspective of the events:
“Images of colliding, featureless figures echoing their way back to the top of the arch. Tension so thick he can almost feel it raising the hairs on the back of his arms underneath the supple red of his suit. Daredevil sees none of it — and follows it all. Senses drifting, focusing, then moving on again as radar comes back from 360 degrees at once — a wholly unique world view of the seemingly separate, mental pictures forming of how it might all come together.”
Daredevil’s later intervention in a park, where three separate events come together and nearly cause a tragedy, is greeted by the applause of the gathering crowd, another example of something you don’t see much these days. This is a story that reminds us that being a superhero was at one time, at least occasionally, a gratifying venture for Matt. The entire issue sees him make a very real difference to people’s lives and he actually gets to enjoy both the accomplishments and the admiration of those he seeks to protect.
All good things inevitably come to an end, and the last page sees Daredevil overhear, from a distance the murder which puts an end to 34 hours of relative tranquility. In a way, it highlights the tragedy of Matt’s existence. Though he can do many things for many people, he can never do enough and his fight will never end.
The technique used to tell this issue is a little unusual, and that’s probably one of the many reasons it stands out to me. The script and the art combine to give slightly different takes on the events of the story with the art carrying significantly more emotional impact than the seemingly distant narrator. Daredevil #304 is an issue that combines the profound with the mundane and puts the title character in a larger context than what is usually seen, giving us a slice of daily life for the people of New York and one of the men in costume who has set out to protect them.