It’s been a long time since I was this conflicted about an issue of Daredevil. On the one hand, Daredevil #15 is yet another example of great craftsmanship on behalf of both writer Mark Waid and the art team of Chris Samnee and Javier Rodríguez. Artistically, new concepts are skillfully introduced to illustrate Matt Murdock’s changing world and his odd predicament. In terms of the writing, much of the script reads like poetry. In the space of a few panels, an intimate sort of relationship is created between Matt and his Latverian nurse that is nothing short of moving. In other panels, we get to peer deeply into Matt’s mind as he deals with his situation and even manages to reflect on his recent change in attitude. The issue also demonstrates Waid’s usual knack for great pacing and, at the end of the issue, we see other players from the greater Marvel Universe put to great use.
However, all the neat little details can’t save this issue from being problematic in many ways. I have never understood why Mark Waid’s Daredevil is so often compared to that of Stan Lee, based solely on the tone. This, however, is the most “Stan Lee-esque” issue I’ve seen from Waid, and I don’t mean that in a good way. To be clear, I mean no disrespect to Stan Lee, but there was undeniably a certain goofiness to Silver Age Daredevil that you don’t see very often anymore. What I’m getting at is that there is, to me, a goofiness at the core of this story that the more ambitious and literary layers on top of it fail to fully conceal, and that is why I ultimately find it somewhat disappointing. If you haven’t read the issue, I don’t recommend that you read past the panel below, because in order to get into the more problematic aspects of this issue, I’m going to have to spoil much of it. Proceed at your own risk!
Did we just see a retcon of Daredevil’s powers?
Before you think I’ve gone the excessively anal fangirl route, rest assured that I’m actually not all that hung up on continuity. I don’t really mind retcons, at least not in principle or in most of the cases where they’re applied. I think writers should feel free to tweak some aspects of continuity and to disregard others in order to tell the best possible story. Because, what a well-implemented retcon usually accomplishes is a modernization of a character.
Unfortunately, the retcon of Daredevil’s powers (or, more specifically, the biological foundation of those powers) which we see in Daredevil #15 makes the character goofier than he needs to be, in my mind. I love the relatively naturalistic nature of Daredevil’s powers, and I feel that this change alters them in a way that makes them more arbitrary and fluid rather than just a thought experiment extension of real life. With the new generalized ability to “compensate,” Daredevil sounds more like the mutant Darwin than the Man Without Fear. What would such an ability consist of? Why wouldn’t it have restored his sight in the first place if it is able to do it now? Wouldn’t that be the best compensation of all? Suddenly, Matt’s worries from 1964, that eye surgery would diminish his heightened senses, actually make sense. And it really shouldn’t.
You could always argue that this is a comic book and that it shouldn’t matter much that one impossible set of powers is changed into some other equally impossible ability. That’s true, but I would also argue that Occam’s razor can and should be applied to comic books as well as other real world dilemmas. The simpler explanation, even for something unimaginable, will always, in my mind, be the more elegant.
How is he getting his sight back exactly?
Even more problematic than the power surge mentioned above (which, I fully admit, might only be a problem for nit-picky ol’ me) is that it doesn’t actually explain how Matt regains his sight. It should be mentioned that this is not the first time Daredevil has regained his sight (see my old post “Oh, the blind thing? It comes and goes…”). Usually, it’s happened through some kind of magical intervention, as in the case where Matt has his sight restored by the Beyonder. In one notable instance, it happened in a way that’s somewhat similar to what we see here, in that Daredevil had his brain rewired by S.H.I.E.L.D. in a procedure that also restored his vision. You can read about it in the story arc Flying Blind (see the post I linked to above).
The problem I have with Daredevil #15 is that the ability of Matt’s brain to “compensate” in no way explains why his sight is returning. While the eyes (at least the neural structures at the back of they eye) are considered to be part of the brain, it would take the actual healing of damaged tissues for any recovery to happen, not just a rewiring of the brain itself. As far as I know, Matt does not have a healing factor. Or does he? See why I have a problem with this issue retconning this stuff? There is also the minor detail of knowing that Matt never gets to keep his vision very long which makes things even more complicated. Will the repair work to his brain next issue magically make his sight disappear again and will this entail “unhealing” of healed tissues? I really hope Mark Waid can resolve this in a satisfactory fashion. For the sake of logic, I would almost prefer to see him keep what little visual function he’s regained.
Did he just “sense” radiowaves?
For another hit of Silver Age goofiness, it appears (at least from the artwork) that Daredevil is able to pinpoint the signal transmission dampener on the top of Doom’s castle by perceiving the signal it sends out. This… I won’t even go there.
While we’re at it, another thing I reacted to in this issue is how Matt is able to ascertain that he’s still in Latveria from seeing Doctor Doom’s picture on the wall. How would he recognize a two-dimensional color painting of someone he’s only had three-dimensional colorless interactions with? Unless, he caught a glimspe of himself in the mirror while in Doom’s body all those years ago. I prefer to think of this as his reacting to the presence of a large painting with no regard for the motif. That’s how I keep myself sane.
I’m sorry if my critical mind has spun out of control over an issue I’m sure nine out of ten fans loved, but this issue did represent a throwback to sillier times for me, and I would have preferred to see it play out differently than it did. Having said that, Mark Waid still has many more check marks in the positive column than in the negative one in my book, and I still maintain that this is one of the best runs the book has ever had. It is because of my high expectations and Mark Waid’s usual knack for well thought-out stories (not to mention well thought-out uses of Matt’s powers!) that I find this issue falling short of the run’s usual quality.
On a final note, I want to give two thumbs up to the art team. Chris Samnee clearly shows that he belongs on this book, and his visual creativity is one of the highlights of this issue. We Daredevil fans can consider ourselves very lucky to have him!