Okay, time for another review. With any luck, I’ll have a review for the Without Fear arc as well by the end of the week. Again, I will move on to issue #95, skipping the Milla one-shot Our Love Story (#94), which is also collected in the TPB Hell to Pay, vol 1. It’s a very good issue, as was the Foggy one-shot (#88), but they will have to wait for some other time.
Issue #95 finds Matt back with Milla in Hell’s Kitchen. He has resumed his law practice, now with new partner Becky Blake on the team, and all appears to be well – for a few pages. Although, the first pages actually show things going less than well as Matt ponders his absence and the consequences it has had for Hell’s Kitchen, which has recently erupted in violence. There is a crime surge primarily characterized by smaller crimes diverting attention from bigger crimes, and criminals behaving erratically. After Daredevil witnesses one of the men he’s gone after murder and then commit suicide right in front oh his – um – radar, we finally get to about a precious page and a half of actual bliss. The bliss consists of some snuggling with Milla, and a careful observer even spots a half-finished book on his nightstand. The guy actually found some time to read! He probably never got the chance to finish it though, because when Foggy gets a hold of Matt on the phone to tell him about Melvin “the Gladiator” Potter’s latest troubles, things start to go sour.
At the very beginning of issue #95, we find Melvin Potter with his hands in a very bloody cookie jar. Apparently confused and disoriented, Melvin finds himself in the company of two dead bodies without any recollection of what has happened. One thing is for sure, however – his early release from prison just got seriously derailed. The lawyer handling his case, an old friend of Becky’s, consequently finds himself in a situation he’s ill-equipped to handle and he turns to Becky for help. Becky immediately agrees, but meets a great deal of resistance from her new partners. Matt flat-out refuses to go anywhere near the case and doesn’t want their firm to be involved in any way. Becky stands her ground and wins him over by exploiting the holes in his own arguments, and Matt reluctantly admits that she’s right. This scene is interesting in demonstrating Becky’s no-nonsense attitude, which I hope we get to see more of in upcoming issues. Matt and Becky go to meet with Melvin, who’s been transferred to Bellevue, and both believe his story about being set up. Mostly because Melvin himself truly believes that he is innocent.
But all is not right with Melvin. After being taunted by a fellow inmate, he goes into a murderous rage and kills his tormentor along with a guard. Once again, he regains his composure, shocked by what he’s done. In this first issue of the arc, we also learn that Milla is seeing a psychiatrist, but also, more importantly, that she is being watched…
Before going on to the rest of the arc, leaving behind those who don’t want to know the ending, I’d like to make some general comments. I really like the art in this arc, it’s crisp and clear and the whole tone looks just right, contrasting the normalcy of work and family life for Matt with Daredevil’s dark nights in Hell’s Kitchen. Michael Lark draws a really hot-looking Matt in these issues (as a female reader, that matters – a little bit), and he knows how to make a bunch of people in suits look real. Lark’s handling of the Gladiator, as well as the even more high-powered villains making appearancs in the next arc, shows his ability to make us almost believe that these kinds of characters could exist in real life. The mix of the supernatural with the more realistic elements of our own world is one of the aspects I love the most about Daredevil’s world and this aspect is very much apparent in the art as well as in Brubaker’s writing. When it comes to the storyline, there are fewer things to keep track of than there were in The Devil in Cell Block D and The Devil Takes a Ride. The story is simpler, in a way. This doesn’t make it any less effective, however, but it does make writing this summary/review a little faster. Speaking of which, let’s return to the story, shall we?
In the wake of what happened to Melvin, Matt and Becky find themselves in a bit of a mess. Adamant about protecting Melvin’s rights, they push for a psychological evalutation, and I personally love Matt’s very lawyeresque “Or else, we’ll sue” attitude during their meeting with the D.A. However, at this point Matt firmly believes that Melvin is guilty and listening in on his evaluation also confirms that, deep down, Melvin too knows that he’s responsible for the four deaths he’s caused. Meanwhile, Matt is also starting to suspect that someone may want the Gladiator out on the streets and, as Daredevil, he decides to wait up until early morning when Melvin is being transferred from Bellevue back to Ryker’s. He quickly realizes he is not the only one following the prison transport and the fact that none of the men in the pursuing cars have uttered a word leads him to suspect that they expected him to show up. This is confirmed by an ultrasonic pulse in the explosive device used to open the van, and when an enraged Melvin Potter decides to attack, Daredevil has effectively been taken out of commission. In a great amount of pain, and with his senses less than reliable, he is no match for the Gladiator who is now on the run. The police sirens coming towards him (in what is now a post-Civil War reality), is his cue to leave the scene, and it’s a fairly miserable-looking Matt who shows up at the office some time later. As if his day wasn’t getting off to a bad enough start, Lily Lucca has shown up in town and casually waltzed into the offices of Nelson, Blake and Murdock. Meanwhile, Milla has been approached by an unseen stranger speaking to her off-panel while she’s waiting in the psychiatrists office, in what is definitely a very spooky scene.
Despite his better judgment, Matt agrees to help Lily who describes her new problem with the perfume she was asked to wear. Despite not using it for weeks, she still elicits strong reactions from men, even to the point of causing violent outbursts. She has sought out Matt in the hope of finding the person who made the perfume, reportedly an enemy of Daredevil’s.
Later that night, Melvin Potter, now dressed in the Gladiator costume someone apparently left for him to find, goes on a killing spree in China town, and Daredevil doesn’t get to the scene until it’s too late. Desperate for answers and increasingly suspicious that the latest series of events have been orchestrated by someone behind the scenes, he goes looking for Gus – Becky’s friend and the first lawyer to handle Melvin’s case – who was the only other person outside his own firm and the District Attorney’s office to know the details of Melvin’s transfer. The smell of death meets him a block away and when he arrives at Gus’s apartment, he finds him in his bathtub. He knows that no one else has been in there (good use of senses here!), and that Gus has taken his own life.
He won’t have to keep looking for the Gladiator, however, as Melvin instead finds him the next evening while having dinner with Milla in a restaurant. After being taken out by the Gladiator (perhaps a little too easily, and I have a friend out there who will love me for admitting this…), Matt wakes up in the back of a police car. A mystery voice speaks to him from the crowd, alerting him to the grave danger that Milla is now in, and he sees no other choice than to bust out and hurry back home. While Matt was unconscious in the car, Melvin got to his house and kidnapped a scantily clad Milla (yes, she likes to prance around in her underwear, something which doubtlessly has a greater effect on readers than on her husband, but I digress). Desperate to find her, Daredevil takes to the roof tops to listen for where she might be.
At this point, the story cuts to what I personally think is one of Milla’s stronger scenes since her first appearance in the book. Rather than being the “helpless, blind victim” some readers have made her out to be, she shows a great deal of resourcefulness in her dealings with her captor. She tries to reason with him, and she is almost successful in talking sense into the raging madman that Melvin has become. Her efforts are to no avail however, and when Daredevil shows up, the Gladiator drops her off the building. After saving her life, courtesy of some classic high altitude acrobatics, Daredevil unleashes his rage on Melvin. Again, Milla brings them both back to sanity and the fog surrounding Melvin’s mind begins to lift. Desperate and confused, he tries to kill himself by jumping out the window, but Daredevil manages to stop him by rendering him unconscious.
The beginning of issue #99, the last in this arc, shows Melvin Potter in a padded cell, his mind apparently completely gone. Matt is also approached by a couple of police officers who wish to inform him of the latest killings in the Kitchen (so much for what some critics called a reset to the old status quo…), figuring that it “was the kinda thing you should know about.” Deciding that he’s had just about enough, Matt changes into his Daredevil costume to go look for information while a distraught and agitated Milla comes into the office, dressed in her pajamas, catching Foggy talking to Lily. Not a very good judgment call on Matt’s part to leave Milla alone after what she had just been through the night before, but that was probably what the story required, because what happens next doesn’t end the arc. It sets the scene for the events of the next one. Matt finds the men who have been handing out a new drug to the thugs of Hell’s Kitchen, giving them a sense of fearlessness, and the information they provide leads him to their boss…
Foggy makes another bad judgement call when he decides to take Lily with him to escort Milla home. Her rage and paranoia gradually worsen until she loses it completely on the subway platform and pushes Lily while yelling “Die, bitch!”. Lily, in turn, bumps into an innocent bystander who falls to his death as he is hit by an oncoming train. Shocked, Milla regains her composure, horrified by what she’s done. The last panel shows Daredevil, subdued by the gas of his old foe Mr. Fear, listening to the words: “By the way.. Did I mention that I know you wife?”
This false ending leads us directly into the Without Fear arc that has recently been concluded, effectively making this a story that spans a full year of issues. Without Fear, which I will review in a day or two, has really had readers split down the middle. Some see it as Brubaker’s best arc to date, and others have more or less dubbed it a snooze fest. I’m definitely in the former category.
This arc, meanwhile, gets a 7.5 out of 10. It’s good and solid and sets the stage for things to come, but it’s my least favorite Brubaker arc yet, perhaps because it doesn’t have all of the character defining moments of what came before and after. But, it’s measured on the Brubaker scale, and I’m a Brubaker fan, so 7.5 is still an incredible amount of bang for your buck.