Some reviews are easier to write than others. Daredevil #13 was one of my favorite issues in a long while, so my last review pretty much wrote itself. In fact, ever since Waid/Rivera/Martín took over the book in the summer of 2011, Daredevil has consistently ranged from “good” to “outstanding.” When Chris Samnee came along as penciler less than a year later (he would later graduate to a well-deserved co-storyteller credit), he put his own stamp on the book, and has continued to reach new heights of excellence. If there’s anything negative to say about a run being “too good,” from a reviewers point of view, it’s that it’s sometimes difficult to find enough variety in how to praise the creative team responsible.
As you may have gathered from this preamble, I find this review difficult to write for very different reasons. And, if you haven’t read the issue – and particularly if you haven’t even seen the preview – be aware that there will be spoilers. Okay, where was I? Am I stalling? Probably. Anyway, as you may recall from last week, I was quite vocal about the preview on Twitter. I may perhaps have been a bit unfair, and perhaps didn’t express myself with my usual diplomacy. But at the end of the day, I defend the fact that I drew certain conclusions from the preview (i.e. the conclusion that the pages presented in the preview would in fact be featured in the issue itself), and expressed my immediate reaction upon seeing it.
My concerns then were never about the story or the context, which I obviously was not privy to at the time, but about the tone set for the main character of the book by the undeniable fact that he, on page three of the preview – and, as it turns out, the full issue – was appearing in court in a red Daredevil-inspired business suit. Which he had been fighting crime in. And then gleefully introduced himself with “Daredevil for the defense!”
I didn’t expect after reading the issue that the tone set by this somewhat jarring image would be one of my lesser concerns – I’ll get to that in a moment – but I think it might be worthwhile to discuss the topic of “tone” and why this matters. What I mean by tone, in this context, are all the little hints in terms of the overall artwork, the characters’ demeanor, their spoken interactions and the plot elements present which signal to readers what the character is about and what kind of stories he typically appears in.
I personally have a pretty generous idea of what can be an appropriate tone for a Daredevil comic while still being recognized as distinctly Daredevil. A Daredevil comic doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, and I’ve generally not seen the relative levity of the last few years as being incompatible with how the character “should” be presented. On the contrary, what’s kept the character grounded for me is how some goofier elements have been balanced by fairly mature themes and a willingness to explore the complexity of Matt Murdock.
I’ve had some issues with the tone of this book before, but they’ve been minor. There were some things in the Silver Surfer story that were maybe not 100% for me, to take one example, but on the other hand Matt also gets to play the straight man, and contemplate the absurdity of earlier eras (his lecturing on aliens at a nearby college, early in his career). I’ve enjoyed this play with Silver Age elements that has been common in the current run, but the humor always stemmed from the way it’s been contrasted with modern sensibilities, it’s never been about giving into that level of absurdity.
Until now. As I caught my first glimpse of the new “costume” one of my first thoughts was to paraphrase a well-known line from the movie Tropic Thunder: “You went full Mike Murdock. You never go full Mike Murdock.”
So yes, clearly, the new costume meant crossing a line that I, personally, don’t feel the least bit comfortable with. I also found the editorial decision to do this now to be completely baffling. This is going to be the issue still on the stands when the Daredevil series comes to Netflix on April 10. At least some people unfamiliar with the character will likely seek out the comic book and get a very strange and atypical idea of who Matt Murdock is and what he’s all about.
What was more disturbing than the aesthetics of the costume, however, was how it’s introduced and what it means for the character. I was initially hoping that this new costume would be part of a dream sequence, and that we’d see Kirsten waking up in cold sweats on the next page. No such luck, and I honestly wasn’t holding out much hope for this particular scenario. Another thought that came to mind was that it might be some kind of stunt relevant to a particular court case. That would have at least limited the scope of the insanity. Instead, it comes about as a deliberate decision to a dilemma that isn’t really a dilemma.
While conversing with Kirsten’s father on a baseball field (I actually really like the artwork here) on the topic of Matt’s upcoming book, they start to discuss the topic of whether the author they’re trying to “sell” is Matt Murdock or Daredevil. Aside from the fact that I’ve never been completely onboard with the book deal idea, I really don’t understand how Matt changing into a new costume for the sake of branding makes any kind of business or marketing sense. The Daredevil costume is the established symbol of who Daredevil is, and this is true regardless of whether people know who is behind the mask. And it is a powerful symbol that means something to people (not to mention that it’s more convenient for fighting crime).
What finally makes Matt decide to go ahead with the costume change, however, is the realization that he shouldn’t have to hide behind a mask and that the last few months have been about being true to himself. Why this would lead to the decision to wear the same costume in court as he does fighting out on the streets escapes my comprehension. Is Matt being “true to himself” by showing up to court in completely inappropriate attire, and introducing himself as “Daredevil”? No, he’s making a mockery of the justice system. Last time I checked, Matt had respect for the courts and his chosen career. His actions here are completely out of character. Kirsten has the unenviable job of playing it straight this issue and voicing the concerns that many of us have. This clearly means that Waid and Samnee are, on some level, admitting that this is absurd. But that’s not good enough for me if it means turning Matt Murdock into a joke.
Matt Murdock is Daredevil, and Daredevil is Matt Murdock. Reimagining this to mean that there can literally be only one mistakes “role” for “identity.” Our sense of our own identities is probably pretty much fixed, and this should never be a problem for Matt either, especially not since he announced publicly that he was Daredevil. But that doesn’t mean that Matt-as-Daredevil, or Matt-as-lawyer, or even Matt-as-boyfriend boils down to playing the same “role.” I assume a different role at work than I do in my personal relationships. Don’t we all?
When Matt assumes the role as Daredevil it is no stranger that he should choose to dress for the occasion than that a police officer wears a uniform while on patrol. The Daredevil costume does in no way stand in the way of any wish on Matt’s part to be true to himself. The “Matt Murdevil-suit” has no reasonable justification to back it up, in my opinion, and thus seems to me to only be a stunt, and one I don’t have the patience for.
Interesting things happen in this issue, a new villain (or is she?) is introduced and the Owl is put to really interesting use. It’s a shame then that I’m so distracted by the new Matt-Devil that I keep being pulled out of the story.
Mark Waid and Chris Samnee have only a few more issues to go, and I can probably live this down and still rank this run among my very favorite of all time. But I can’t in good conscience pretend that I’m onboard with this new direction. I look forward to seeing what this duo has lined up after Daredevil, and I will very likely pick that up, but for the first time in a long time, I’m not excited for the next issue of Daredevil.