It’s now been well over a week since Daredevil #32 came out so this review is clearly overdue. I will have reason to, once again, get back to the continued flurry of news and hints about what awaits us after Daredevil #36 comes out, but it feels like we should probably get this issue out of the way first! Since I assume all of you have read it by now, there will be spoilers!
Needless to say, Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and the rest of the team deliver once more. Much of the issue takes place in what is a rather unusual setting for Daredevil, but the story begins where last issue’s cliff-hanger left off, with Matt lured into a trap by the Jester, face to face with someone who appears to be Foggy Nelson hanging from a noose.
I can’t say that I was too worried about Foggy in the weeks between Daredevil #31 and #32. Everything was pointing to some kind of ruse, and this is confirmed almost right off the bat in this issue. But the details of that ruse, and the conflict between the Jester’s expectations from behind the scenes and Matt’s actual behavior, make for an interesting character study. Of the Jester, as well as Matt Murdock. For the Jester, setting a stage is what he does. For this particular character, it makes sense that he would prefer an elaborate ploy that includes making a life-size Foggy dummy, over actually killing the real Foggy; to, as he puts it, “use fiction to show us truths.”
The Jester’s plan is doomed to failure, however. While he quite obviously knows that Matt Murdock is, in fact, Daredevil, he is also convinced that Daredevil’s blindness is an act. (Not only is this the more logical conclusion, even in a world of super-powered beings, but I can see how a villain with such a passion for theatrics would be even more likely to look for signs of pretense in others.) With this in mind, the scene he has set up is perfectly tailored to someone with the usual set of human senses. Matt, on the other hand, gets something else entirely from the experience, much to the Jester’s chagrin.
As always, Mark Waid demonstrates his knack for getting into Matt’s head in ways that I would argue are unparalleled in Daredevil history. The fact that Matt processes the world around him very differently than the average person frequently makes its ways into Waid’s scripts in important ways, and the first few pages of Daredevil #32 are an excellent example of this. In fact, there are so many interesting layers to it, that I’m going to revisit it in a separate post.
With the Jester forced to go to “plan B,” Matt is left having to fight his way out (with very little trouble I might add) while the readers are introduced to the masked leader of the Sons of the Serpent. With little to go on, Matt returns to his office where he finds Foggy, who is busy smelling up the place with cheese snacks, and puts him to work. The two of them start digging up everything they can on the Serpents, in a scene that will eventually take us far from New York and into the second half of the issue.
Before we get to that though, let’s stop and admire this scene. First of all, I’m a huge fan of the “smell effects” on the page that sees Matt step out of the elevator. Because, while Mark Waid deserves tremendous credit for doing interesting things with Matt’s senses, the artists who have worked on this book since the very first issue have been just as dedicated to making them visible on the page. Here, Chris Samnee’s liberal use of “cheese fumes” (that’s a thing, right?), perfectly colored in a nauseating greenish yellow by Javier Rodríguez, combines with interesting panel effects to deliver quite the punch to the nose. All taken together, we really get a sense of just how disturbing, invasive even, the smell of Foggy’s cheese snacks are to Matt.
The following two pages are equally brilliant. We get to spend some time with Matt and Foggy just being Matt and Foggy, researching a case as they have many times before. Much of the interplay between the two (and between Foggy and the images he is confronted with) is essentially silent and conveyed solely through the artwork. One of the pages has a whopping twelve tiny panels that do a great job of conveying the passage of time, and I swear I can hear a tune from some television show I can’t place playing in my head while looking at it. Either Chris Samnee is just that brilliant, or I’m slowly losing my mind. Not that those two alternatives are mutually exclusive…
When Foggy finds information that connects the Sons of the Serpents to the occult, this becomes the impetus for Matt to seek out Doctor Strange. Waid and the rest of the team are certainly taking a risk in having the street-level likes of Daredevil explore the slightly weirder corners of the Marvel Universe, but luckily, they have Foggy provide a credible reason for why the ostensibly political organization may also dabble in magic. Nice job, Foggy! 😉
After a brief chat with Doctor Strange, in one of those scenes that seem much longer than its mere two pages, Matt takes a trip to Stone Hills, Kentucky. If Stone Hills were a real town, it would probably be looking to sue Marvel Comics. Since the state of Kentucky is a real place, I’m predicting an angry letter from the governor’s office with Stephen Wacker’s name on it. Joking aside, Stone Hills does not appear to be a very pleasant place, and as revealed through clues that are evident to the reader, but not to Matt Murdock, it is also run by the Sons of the Serpent.
Matt doesn’t have to travel far before he finds himself in the middle of a good old-fashioned witch hunt, with an angry mob pursuing two figures that Daredevil can’t even begin to make sense of.
Once again, Matt’s unique view of the world affects his understanding of the events unfolding before him. When he was lured into the Jester’s trap in the beginning of the issue, it was his blindness and heightened senses which saved him. Here, it gives him an obvious disadvantage, and through his own narration of the events, it is clear that he realizes that he’s short on information: “It occurs to me that I might not have the clearest idea what I’ve stepped into.”
The issue comes to an ominous end when Daredevil is hit by what appears to be a stray bullet, but not before he gets the chance to try to figure out the motley crew of characters he just saved and why they don’t particularly seem to appreciate his assistance. We can see that they look like the monsters of fiction, whereas Daredevil has to try to wrap his head around people who smell like dead bodies and linen.
Before rounding off, I want to talk some more about the art. Writing reviews often forces you to try to separate all the different nuts and bolts that come together to make a comic. But that is not how you read the story, and with this book in particular, everyone seems to come together to create something that is so much more than the sum of its parts. As has been the norm lately, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee are co-credited as storytellers, and it is easy to see why. Samnee’s art is so expressive that you could honestly follow the story exceptionally well, even with the captions and word balloons removed. You would certainly still need a script to make a story, but there is just such a wealth of information in the art itself, that I’m blown away by it each and every month. And, Samnee handles all kinds of environments with equal ease. The monsters in the woods inhabit the same world as Foggy back at the law office. It all holds together amazingly well.
The overall reading experience also benefits tremendously from Javier Rodríguez’s amazing colors, which give each setting its own distinct feel. This issue, there are frequent changes in scenery, and each scene comes with its own set of sensory associations. The Jester’s house feels damp and dreary, the outside rain looks as cold as it likely feels to the characters on the page. Matt’s office buildings is warmer, but maybe a little stuffy, and Doctor Strange’s house features a more exotic collection of colors that makes you think of precious fabrics and spices. Way out in Kentucky, the town comes across a cold and uninviting, whereas the woods give a paradoxical sense of comfort. I swear I could smell the trees, and hear the torches crackle. For a comic book about a character like Daredevil, it feels appropriate for the book itself to inspire an almost synesthetic experience.
I hinted at the pacing already, but I must say that I cannot believe how much wonderful material these guys manage to squeeze into every single issue, something which is particularly apparent when there is this much going on. And yet, it never feels the least bit rushed. Another thing that I always enjoy is the dialogue, which felt unusually inspired this time around.
This issue was such a treat, and I’m really looking forward to the next one. Daredevil #33 will have interior art by Jason Copland, but the previews of that issue give some indication that we’re in for another treat!