A closer look at Daredevil: Ninja

Hello all! I’m sorry for being absent for much of the past week (real life and all that…), but now it’s time to kick start a new month. There hasn’t been much on the news front with the exception of Tom Breevort’s semi-lengthy reply on the topic of Daredevil and relaunches in his second most recent “T&A” with CBR. Coming up later in the month on this blog are two small nuggets I’m already working on: a guide for Daredevil beginners and the first in a series of character spotlights, starting with Foggy Nelson.

Before getting to that, let’s do a little intermission featuring Daredevil: Ninja by Brian Michael Bendis and Rob Haynes. This three issue mini-series is one I think of as the misfit step-child of the Bendis run. It doesn’t really feel like an example of Bendis’s work at all (on Daredevil anyway) and doesn’t match the tone of the rest of his run. Granted, the mini-series ran from late 2000 until early 2001, just months before Bendis’s first effort on the main title (with the arc Wake Up), but the differences between the two are jarring. I wasn’t a Daredevil reader at the time, but if I had been I would have been a little worried about Bendis taking over if this was all I had to go by.

The first issue starts with Matt in bed, while a young woman sneaks into his house to steal Stick’s stick (that sounds weird, I know) which had apparently been occupying an honorary position in Matt’s basement gym. This is all overlaid with a long row of caption boxes detailing things like our title character’s relationship with his master as well as how hard it is to get a good night’s sleep when you’re Daredevil.

Panel from Daredevil Ninja #1

His chase to find who stole Stick’s stick (I’m going to have to start calling it a “staff”) leads him to two tea-drinking strangers of Asian descent whom he spends much of the issue fighting for said stick. It’s a fight they seemingly let him win, at which point he returns home to his apartment and falls asleep in costume. The final page sees him wake up in a foreign locale.

This brings us to the second issue where Matt learns that he’s in Osaka, Japan and that he’s been drugged. The drug in question is so sophisticated that Matt has been semi-conscious (and behaving normally) for his entire trip to Japan yet can’t remember it. Among his captors he finds Stick’s old associate Stone who explains that the Hand is back and that his own group has been severely decimated. They needed Daredevil’s help and the fighting over Stick’s staff (that’s what I’m going with) was just a means to test Matt’s ability as a fighter, given the time that had passed since his last encounter with Stone. So, I guess this means all of issue #1 was mostly padding then…

Panel from Daredevil Ninja #2

Next, they decide to go to The Hand’s compound in search of information and encounter a lone ninja who says the “next one” is in New York. This spawns the idea that the team must return to New York. Not before encountering the rest of the Hand, however, who are suddenly everywhere. Matt takes care of the situation by calling the police and the fire department(!).

So, to recap, we have a first issue that’s basically just one long test fight followed by a kidnapping that really doesn’t get any kind of explanation in the second issue, except that Stone “needs help.” Really, why are we in Japan given that it was apparently Matt’s idea to go to the ninja compound? (So that wasn’t it.) I’d hate to think that we’ve had two issues of ninja fighting for no other reason than that people like ninja fighting.

If the first two issues were thin on story and consisted of mostly fighting, the final issue has a completely different kind of pacing problem. You see, on the plane back to New York Matt and Stone have a telepathic conversation that’s about five pages too long (and I don’t dislike “talking heads” in comics, quite the contrary) that finally explains what the whole thing is about, starting with a story that takes us back to the year 81 AD.

Panel from Daredevil Ninja #3

To make a long story short, Stick was apparently the last in a line of incarnations of a particular great hero of Japan who was capable of wielding a powerful sword, which has now been stolen by the Hand. The soul of the warrior is now in a new body and if one side has access to both the sword and the warrior, that’s apparently some kind of ninja grand slam. The objective now is to find either the Hand or the baby before the former can get to the latter. As it turns out, they don’t have to look very hard as a huge gang of ninjas attack them in the middle of LaGuardia airport. In full ninja gear. Very smooth.

This leads us into yet another drawn-out and hard to follow ninja fight during which Stone and Trahn make an exit without telling Matt, more or less using him to fight their battle for them. Matt goes home and is not included in what happens next.

So, what does happen next? Well, Trahn and her male associate show up at the orphanage where baby Karen of Guardian Devil fame lives and adopts her. Now, how did they find her? Argh, nothing about this makes any sense! Anyway, here’s a panel from the end of issue #3. Wow, Karen is one butt-ugly baby (the art really got even weirder in the third issue). The twist that has Stick being reborn as Karen remains one of most ridiculous things I’ve read in a Daredevil comic, and that’s saying something.

Second panel from Daredevil Ninja #3

So, did any of you guys read Daredevil: Ninja? If so, did any of you actually enjoy it? Let all of us know in the comment section!

Comments

  1. says

    I remember having read an interview of Bendis where he said he had creative differences with the penciler of this series. The original script might not have been respected so BMB had to put his words on a story different of the one he wanted to write. But I’ve never heard Rob Haynes point of view on that matter.
    I think the story is a total wreckage and shouldn’t be considered canon. Yet, I like Rob Haynes art (his commissions of DD on Comic Art Fans are better than his output in this mini).

  2. says

    Why was Matt carrying a gigantic dufflebag full of cash when he arrived back at LaGuardia? And how did he get it through customs?

    One of the few things I found interesting in this story was its “inclusion” of Grasscutter, the sword, though I don’t think you see the sword itself, except in flashback. It’s sought (and borrowed) in its temple by Thor and the Warriors Three in THOR: BLOOD OATH (2005). Mikaboshi gives it to Ares’ son, Alexander, in ARES (2006). Recently, Alexander reclaimed it in SECRET WARRIORS, where he faced Gorgon, wielding its twin, Godkiller. To my knowledge, this was the sword’s first entry into the Marvel Universe, though it’s an old piece of Japanese mythology. So, the story had *something* good come out of it.

  3. Bill says

    I was unaware Grasscutter had any legs beyond this story. There is a tradition of symbolic corruption in the form of specific individuals (Adepts) and items in DD (as we know from Shadowland). But to go back further, I thought “Grasscutter” went the way of “Sakki,” the sword that needed to be bathed in innocent blood, and the symbol of the Snakeroot’s honor in “Elektra: Root of Evil.” I liked a lot things about ‘Ninja,’; I liked the way Bendis places Matt sensibilities against Stones,’ I liked that Matt was a tool for broader mystic machinery without his knowledge or control (even stretching back into Guardian Devil with saving baby Karen), and I liked how exasperated Matt was with the whole situation. Those ninja connections have a lot of holes from creator to creator, and frankly that is one more way Shadowland failed us; by not filling them. Here are a few of my general ninja related questions:

    1. Why didn’t Bendis once use the term “The Chaste” to describe Stick’s boys in ‘Ninja’?
    2. What happened to Stone, his group, and baby Karen? I thought Stone’s absence from the Shadowland was weird. Does Izo know? When Izo was at there castle in Shadowland, where was everyone? Why did they suddenly have a castle?
    3. In Root of Evil, Elektra killed all of the Snakeroot. What happened that they could come back in Shadowland? Why don’t their features look withered anymore?

    Anyway, I hope Shadowland doesn’t make anyone assume ninja stories can’t be cool. I like ‘em.

  4. says

    @Bill – While I can’t answer your questions as to why things *didn’t* happen in SHADOWLAND, I can at least guess as to Bendis’ failure to call them “The Chaste”. Frank Miller never called them that: he referred to them as “The Seven” in DAREDEVIL #187. The only other place I see a name (other than “Stick’s Order”) is in the draft notes for DAREDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR that are included in the most recent TPB, and there Miller refers to them as “The Seven”.

    If I’m not mistaken, “The Chaste” was first used by Chichester in “Fall From Grace”. Between Miller and Chichester, I think Bendis’ loyalties and affection lie with the former, explaining his use of “The Seven”.

  5. says

    To this day I still wait with baited breath for Stick – now a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking seven year-old girl with a staff – turning up with an aim to whip Matt back into shape…

    I’m not even kidding. It would be AWESOME.

  6. Robert says

    @ Colin.
    That is by far the best idea anyone’s had for Daredevil in the last couple of years. Better than my idea were Matt gets picked up by the Starjammers and spends a couple years as a space pirate/ninja.

  7. Robert says

    @ Colin. Why can’t we have both. Stick (as a foulmouthed little girl) whips Matt into shape and gets him on the right track to putting his life back together. He gets his mojo focused and goes back to NY, then right as Nelson & Murdock is about to re-open its doors… ziiiiiip he and Foggy get beamed up to a starship and end up with Corsair (who ain’t dead) and his crew on the other side of the galaxy for a while.

  8. Thomas Wardlow says

    I liked D:N for what it added to the canon, namely why Stick could replace Izo as master of the Seven as well as adding another layer to the Snakeroot/Hand/Seven/Chaste conflict. It also conveniently allows Stone and the Seven to stay out of continuity as long as anyone would like, sense they are now raising baby Karen/Stick. Stone probably should have shown up in Shadowland, as the Seven were about to lose their major conflict with the Hand (ie, allowing the Beast back into the world), but between Elektra and Izo, Stone probably figured that angle was handled and that his priorities were protecting their other front, Stick’s reincarnated soul. Confusing, yes; stable and continuous (with a little imagination): also yes.

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