This trade paperback collects the mini-series by the same name that came out in four installments in 2007, and focuses on the story of Matt’s father Jack Murdock. It’s a story I like, despite its many flaws. I think the key to enjoying this book for what it is lies in being able to disregard continuity (I, along with most people, do not consider this to be a definitive account of what actually happened) and look at it as one of many possible scenarios for how Jack’s life and death actually played out. There are several reasons why this book should not be considered canon, but I’ll get to that further down.
This review is not intended as a full reveal, but I will discuss the ending below the dashed line at the end at the end. If you haven’t read this TPB and intend to do so, you should be safe until then. Plot points will obviously be discussed but nothing too detailed.
This mini-series, by writer Zeb Wells and artist Carmine di Giandomenico, takes a rather interesting storytelling approach. It centers around Jack’s final fateful match and then flashes back to earlier points in his life, from the time before Matt was born until the more recent past with Matt in college. This way of telling the story really works quite well and frames it nicely as it moves along.
Aside from the boxing match set-up, there is another theme that runs through this book that doesn’t work for me at all: that of “weakness” versus “strength.” Throughout his ordeal, fighting a match he has decided to throw going in, Jack repeats the mantra of “having to be weak for my son, because he’s weak.” Aside from being rather tasteless in explicitly drawing a direct correlation between a physical disability and “weakness,” this idea clashes with what we know about Matt’s relationship with his father and Jack’s insistence on Matt using his brain instead of his fists.
“I ain’t ever gonna know if I coulda had this fight… ‘cuz I got a son who can’t see. Who ain’t ever gonna be able to protect himself from men like the Fixer. A man who will break his legs — or worse — if I don’t throw this fight. I got a son that’s weak. So I gotta be weak.”
– Daredevil: Battlin’ Jack Murdock #3
This premise does very little to give any credibility to Matt’s and Jack’s relationship, and there are some scenes that even make it look as if Jack is a little uncomfortable around his own son. The way I think most people would see it is that Jack would have every reason to be proud of Matt, and think of him as anything but weak. It’s also somewhat illogical. If Jack equates weakness with an inability to physically defend yourself, then why would he have been so strict about Matt hitting the books and staying out of fights growing up? And, given the fact that he wouldn’t have been able to fight anyway, had he actually followed his father’s instructions, how does Matt’s blindness even become a big factor? I see better than 20/20, and I’m pretty sure I’d be toast if the mob came after me (I never learned any of those sweet ninja moves). No matter how you look at it, it goes against what any regular Daredevil reader knows about what Jack wanted Matt to become – someone who was better than him because he didn’t fight.
With this theme taking such a prominent role in the story, what are the redeeming factors? What makes me feel that this is a book that’s still worth reading? Well, it actually does add some depth to Jack’s personality, and manages to be a fairly believable portrayal of an essentially good, but far from perfect, person finding himself doing everything except the right thing. He’s portrayed as someone with a conscience and a good heart who finds himself in an impossible situation of breaking bones for the mob against his will. He’s stuck in a life he can’t free himself from. For comfort he turns to the bottle and to Josie, of Josie’s Bar fame, with whom he shares a special bond that I won’t go into here. I know that many where annoyed at the attempts to get as many of the dots of the Daredevil universe as possible to connect with this story, but I though it worked okay. It didn’t feel too contrived to me. We also get a glimpse of the circumstances of Jack ending up as a single parent of a boy he initially didn’t even know he had, as Maggie shows up to give him a baby before entering a convent.
Jack comes off as a lifelike and multi-faceted person in this story, and that’s its greatest strength. His feelings toward Matt seem out of character, but aside from that the characterization feels pretty solid. I also like the art quite a bit. It’s a completely different style from what we’re used to seeing in the main book, but it works here and both the boxing scenes and the flashback sequences look good and set the right tone for this story.
The biggest flaw of this series is in the way it ends, and, for many readers, this ending will probably ruin the whole thing. If you can separate the good points from the weak points, you’ll still be able to enjoy this story, but an ending like this one will never be acceptable as canon to most fans. If you don’t want to know how it ends, stop reading now.
Well, it turns out that Jack decides to get back up and fight because he figures out Matt’s secret. Or, rather, he learns that Matt is not as defenseless as he appears to be. He makes this connection in the fourth round from connecting a stick found in the locker room to Matt’s cane, and his son’s black eye (revealed as his glasses fall off his face in that fateful last round) to the injury sustained by a mystery person who came to his aid in a brawl a few days earlier. So, despite how far-fetched the whole thing seems – Jack knows that his son is blind and obviously has no way of figuring out how he would be capable of these things – he pieces the whole thing together in no time. He can now allow himself to be strong, since his son is strong and able to take care of himself.
If this seems like a mighty big retcon, it’s because it is. It changes a lot of things, and it makes Jack’s final sacrifice seem so much less important and awe-inspiring. There’s also a scene at the very end where Jack meets Matt, and tells him how proud he is of him, and how he’s a “real man” now. Whatever happened to the part about not fighting? What happened to being proud of his son because he did everything his father told him to? He studied hard, and even recovered from a life-altering accident to get into college and build a promising future. This is where an otherwise good take on Jack as a character breaks down completely and even contradicts everything the reader knows going in.
In closing, the reader really has to pick the raisins out of the cake (as we say in my part of the world) to get something out of this story. There were enough good things about this series to make it a half-decent read, but enough illogical and contradictory plot points to make sure that it will never enter into canon. I’d recommend this book for Daredevil completists, but borrow it at the library or from a friend.